Nonprofit empowers youth through music and podcasts
By Zack Sherzad
Thirteen years ago, John Hamilton left Sacramento to pursue a career in digital music production. He harbored a deep passion for DJing and knew he would not be able to meet his goals if he stayed in his hometown. There simply weren’t any opportunities in the sleepy Capital City.
“In 2007, you had to be in a music city—an LA, a New York, a Nashville, an Atlanta—to really network, make moves,” Hamilton says. “Unfortunately, Sacramento has been shipping talent away to places like LA and New York.”
Having enjoyed success as a touring DJ, Hamilton’s back with a vision for his hometown that speaks to his passion for paying it forward. He believes expanded access to music production education can benefit the Sacramento community in multifarious ways, ranging from economic to emotional.
“Music sparks the culture of an entire city, and there are so many periphery roles around having a media entertainment industry thriving in your city,” Hamilton says. “And now that everything is distributed online, you don’t need to be in New York or LA to pursue a career in the audio production industry. That creates this opportunity for a place like Sacramento to become this kind of creative oasis, if the city and the community support it.”
Hamilton’s nonprofit is called Department of Sound, which he co-founded with Board Chair Tyler Garnett in 2018. The organization offers both online and in-person music and podcast production workshops to middle and high school students in the Sacramento area. The curriculum is already in 17 Sacramento schools, and has provided high-quality, experience-driven audio production knowledge to more than 2,000 students.
“Music production is a really good tool to help kids be creatively empowered, develop creative confidence and connect with their peers,” Hamilton says. “Access to music and sound should be treated as a utility, not a luxury.”
The nonprofit’s programs are structured in accordance with Hamilton’s philosophy of free access. Because Department of Sound has partnered with Spotify to provide its production training on Soundtrap—a browser-based platform with very low system requirements—the program is accessible to anyone with a Chromebook and an internet connection, or even just a smartphone.
Pre-COVID, Department of Sound had been delivering its curriculum to after-school youth centers, but the lockdowns froze the programs indefinitely. “We said to ourselves, let’s not think about the money right now,” Hamilton says. “How do we get this content out to more kids?”
The answer was to consolidate the curriculum into a top-quality, streamlined online music and podcast production class, and to post it online at no cost. Since the start of the lockdown, people from all over the U.S. (and 17 other countries) have signed up for Department of Sound’s production class.
The lessons are assembled on a foundation of top-level experience in music production, and include contributions from Grammy-winning mix engineers Ariel Borujow and Ben Arrindell, among other musicians, rappers and producers.
Department of Sound has received grants from the city of Sacramento and SMUD, both of whom are enthusiastic about the program’s long-term economic and cultural impact in the Sacramento region. Cities across the U.S. are paying attention too—and have expressed interest in funding similar programs of their own if Department of Sound’s initial “pilot program” proves itself in Sacramento.
For more information or to make a donation, visit deptofsound.org.