For the past four years, Spin Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Detroit, has been helping high school students and children of all ages access equipment and educational classes to learn more about electronic music and production. Founder Ron Johnson, a military veteran, teacher, and musician, has partnered with some of Detroit’s most influential producers and organizations to impact the next generation of musicians.
From a young age, Johnson has been influenced by the music he listens to. Growing up, he heard how the themes of rap and hip-hop changed over time. He says one of the messages of Spin Inc. is to spread positivity through music.
“It’s not just teaching them how to play music, but how to play music and monetize it where they’d be able to create some type of economic income for themselves, because everyone’s not going to go to college,” Johnson says.
Spin Inc. holds six unique classes for people of all skill levels. There, students can learn basic DJ skills like beat-matching by using Hercules DJControl Inpulse 200 controllers, and advance through courses that empower each person to have a career and a brand upon graduation.
Spin Inc. also partners with the Detroit Institute of Music Education (DIME), another Detroit based music school, where it hosts the Detroit Educational Music Camp (DEMC), a free class now in its third year, highlighting important producing concepts. These efforts provide students with hands-on tutorials, and connect prominent producers with students and community members.
Donavan Moorhead, an electric bass guitarist and DIME student, says he learned about more than just music through these programs.
“I see the patterns in things now because of bass guitar. I learn through patterns and shapes, and it really helped me as far as living my day to day.”
Moorehead says his relationship with Johnson came about from learning and collaborating with DEMC and attending the camp. He says because of how impactful the school was for him, he tells his siblings and younger cousins to get involved. Moorehead also says he understands how important it is to help future generations of kids and musicians.
That is something Johnson preaches too. Johnson has spent most of his life sharing his knowledge with others. Bobby Leach, a lifelong friend of Johnson’s who was involved in helping set up the event that Metro Times attended on Tuesday, says even when they were in the military together, Johnson was all about teaching people.
“He has the same drive and passion back when I knew him in Germany as today,” Leach says. “In fact, I think it has intensified, I really do. He has a look in his eye when you talk about music and it’s definitely infectious.”
Leach says Johnson always shares his knowledge with anyone, and even Leach learns new things from him. “I did not know that techno originated in Detroit, I never knew that. That was a layer of onion I did not know about.”
And this is true. In the 1980s, techno and the origins of electronic dance music (EDM) emerged from Detroit with pioneers like Juan Atkins, J Dilla, and countless others, utilizing new technologies to create sounds no one had heard before. Today, Michigan hosts an extremely popular EDM scene with festivals like Electric Forest and Movement, each attracting crowds of around 100,000 people.
Despite techno’s close relationship with Detroit, many Detroit Public Schools have had to cut many music and art classes in the curriculum. In fact, according to a 2017 Detroit Free Press report, a whopping 51 out of 81 schools offering general education did not have any instrumental or vocal music teachers on staff. People like Ron Johnson are making sure that kids of all ages have safe places to go and learn about music and production.
Johnson says that music with meaning behind the words helps people to understand and cope with situations they might otherwise not know how to deal with. He says anything from dealing with social struggles to learning how to talk to women are all skills he learned through music.
“Music is like water — it can drown you or it can quench your thirst,” Johnson says.
Johnson says Spin Inc. and the DEMC will hold a bigger conference next summer and will continue to partner with local organizations to make sure children and young people have safe and creative outlets to express themselves through music.