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“Beat Making Lab”–born at UNC Chapel Hill—launches Partnership with PBS Digital Studios

Chapel Hill, NC – Stephen Levitin and Pierce Freelon have joined forces with PBS Digital Studios for a special series of online videos based on their highly successful Beat Making Lab program in the music department of The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Levitin, an acclaimed music producer known as Apple Juice Kid, and Freelon, who also serves as emcee and frontman for the Durham, NC-based jazz/hip-hop quartet The Beast, will produce and edit the “Beat Making Lab” series that documents their experiences bringing the tools and techniques of digital music making to young musicians in developing nations. The first episode chronicling the Lab’s work premiered last week on a new channel on the popular PBS Digital Studios YouTube page.

The partnership includes twenty episodes, one released every Wednesday, that cover four international beat making workshops run by Freelon and Levitin: Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo; Portobelo, Panama; Dakar, Senegal; and Suva, Fiji. The participants learn the techniques of beat making through composition, sampling, and songwriting. The results are computer-based electronic dance music and hip-hop songs. Viewers get a glimpse into not only the intricate process of beat making, but the daily lives of young, aspiring musicians from very different walks of life.

“Beat Making Lab is a perfect example of what PBS has always been about: community, art, education and a global perspective. We are thrilled to be working with such passionate and creative partners, who share our mission to inspire, enlighten and entertain,” says Matthew Graham of PBS Digital Studios.

Assembled by Levitin and Freelon, the Labs featured in the episodes are the first of their kind to be held in these regions. After the workshops wrap, the software and equipment used there is donated to a community center or arts organization, creating a permanent local Lab.

“Our purpose is to establish something that will be there for these kids for the long-term,” says Levitin. Freelon adds, “We are creating a sustainable opportunity so they can explore how they make music and how they interact with other musicians.”

In addition to the standing Labs, Levitin and Freelon are developing an open-source platform to eventually replace the software currently needed to fuel the Lab. The new software system will be free, multi-platform and allow musicians to share beats and re-engineer tracks in a fully-collaborative environment.

Beat Making Lab began at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill in 2011 when Levitin cofounded an undergraduate beat making class with music department chair Dr. Mark Katz. Musician and professor Pierce Freelon joined the team in 2012, and together with Levitin, developed the beat making curriculum for application in a community setting. Using crowd funding, the two secured the initial financing for the first Lab in Goma, an eastern city in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“Goma was intense – DRC has been involved in a long-term conflict and the kids in the community are living through it every day,” says Freelon. “They are pouring themselves and their experience into the music. The Lab isn’t teaching them how to do that. They already know that part. The Lab just gives them the tools to make it fresh and exciting. It’s this incredible process of collaboration and creativity. That’s what makes Beat Making Lab perfect for PBS: documenting these kinds of stories through the universal language of music.”

The first episode introduces the Beat Making Lab concept and details how this first Lab in Goma was established. The second, which premieres this Wednesday, March 20th, will showcase the full music video produced there.

Since launching last year, PBS Digital Studios videos have been viewed 31 million times by more than 300,000 subscribers.


Links: www.beatmakinglab.com, PBS Digital Studios Channel: www.youtube.com/beatmakinglab



FOR UNC Chapel Hill: Dana McMahan, dmcmahan@email.unc.edu or 919-434-1229
FOR PBS Digital Studios:  Caroline Capute or John Michael Kennedy, PBSDigital@goodmanmedia.com or 212-576-2700