Upon entering Beat Lab Academy, visitors are drawn to a table covered in gadgets that bare a striking resemblance to video game controllers. Beat Lab, located across from Spitz on Colorado Boulevard, is a school that offers beginner to advanced music production courses. The “video game controllers” are actually instruments programmed to Ableton Live software and allow users to create and perform original electronic music. Designed and built by Beat Lab founder Yeuda Ben-Atar, the gadgets encourage visitors to interact with electronic music the way a classical performer would interact with their instrument on stage.
Beat Lab Academy’s courses are four to six weeks long, and the Beat Lab Certification Program runs for four months. The idea behind the courses is to revamp traditional music education for electronic music, a style that is often self-taught on one’s laptop at home, according to the website. To take a course, a student only needs to bring a laptop and headphones, Ableton Live and a MIDI controller.
Live performance is central to Beat Lab’s pedagogy of creating an interactive environment, in which instructors not only teach students how to use Ableton software, but expose them to the process of sharing and performing music.
“We’re using the computer as a musical instrument, bridging the gap between the producer and the musician,” Larry Corbi, head of business development, said.
The Beat Lab Certification Program comprises three levels, “Foundations of Music Production,” “Artist Progression” and “Become a Super Producer.” As they advance through the levels, students learn not only to become technologically proficient in using Ableton software, but also are introduced to many other aspects of working in the music industry, from music theory to entertainment law.
At the end of each level, students participate in a class jam. Each desk connects to a central sound system, and, after agreeing the previous session what scale to perform in, students layer music one after another to create one beat.
The full Beat Lab Certification Program — a four-month-long, 126-hour course — costs a steep $4,295. Though the program originally cost $3,500, Beat Lab augmented the price due to an increase in enrollment and the need to hire more instructors. The individual three levels are $1,495 each.
Ben-Atar, AKA producer Side Brain, is one of the first and few Ableton Certified Trainers, according to the Beat Lab website. After teaching private lessons for several years, he founded the academy and became its first and only instructor. Following Beat Lab’s first semester, demand prompted Ben-Atar to hire more instructors. Daniel Andress Sanchez, Thavius Beck, Paul Dateh and Johnnie were all added to the roster.
Five Occidental students and graduates were enrolled in Beat Lab’s last session, including seniors Mackenzie Angell and Divya Sarathy.
Angell produces under the name NAMU, and has, since graduating from Beat Lab, released an EP entitled “Braindrops.” Though his exploration in electronic music began after his graduation from Renaissance Arts Academy in Eagle Rock, Angell says that joining Beat Lab helped him to take producing seriously after falling out of practice in the past.
“I thought, what can a producing school teach you when there’s so many tutorials and videos online?” Angell said. “But being in an environment where you have to go to class and do homework got me on a roll again.”
Before enrolling in Beat Lab, Angell founded Occidental College’s music production club Sound Collective (then Supersonic) with Devon Ivey ’15. Beat Lab worked with Sound Collective to present a live electronic music demo at Occidental March 23.
Divya Sarathy took Beat Lab’s four-month program this past summer. Aside from learning how to use Ableton Live software, Sarathy built relationships within a community of musicians.
“[Beat Lab] was just connecting us to the right people and helped us build our music network,” Sarathy said.
In following its mission to create a hands-on learning experience, Beat Lab provides its students with the opportunity to bridge the gap between musicians and listeners. On five Friday evenings this fall, Angell was charged with hosting jam sessions at Align Gallery on York Boulevard.
“We’re trying to establish a collective-like vibe and bring in all kinds of musicians, not just musicians who make electronic music but play instruments and work in different genres,” Angell said.
Art vendors sold their work and performed live art for audience members, and patrons sat at tables in the back courtyard during the performances. Angell intended to draw a crowd based on the environment, rather than having people expect specific performers.
When Align Gallery requested that Angell start asking the art vendors for donations, however, he decided to cease their partnership. Angell plans to continue hosting the event at another location.
“Right now we’re trying to find a different venue where we can grow together, where we can help blow them up and they can help blow us up,” Angell said.
Angell will be moving forward without Beat Lab’s direct involvement, though he hopes to maintain a mutually beneficial relationship. While Beat Lab provides performers, Angell will furnish a space for students to practice their new skills.
“Beat Lab is our core mechanism for finding musicians,” Angell said. “These events give students a place to perform where they feel safe, where you don’t need the credibility of SoundC.loud followers to share your music.”
Beat Lab began hosting free workshops before they opened to attract potential students. Since then, they have hosted about one workshop per month, including one specifically for Occidental students Feb. 15. Upon noticing that less women attended the workshops than men, Beat Lab began to offer workshops exclusively for women, which now occur about every other month.
“This industry is dominated by men, so we wanted to give women a safe space to learn and practice their craft,” Corbi said.
Beat Lab partners with The Athena Collective, a group of all-female producers and talent bookers, to host the events, inviting a different female instructor to lead each workshop. Previous instructors include The Athena Collective Founder DJ Christina Rose (Christina Leorosa) and DJ Sosupersam (Samantha Duenas).
Beat Lab is currently working with Center for the Arts Eagle Rock to design a free 10-week workshop series geared toward beginners. Center for the Arts Eagle Rock reached out to the academy based on their core principles of performance and interactivity. Beat Lab hopes, then, to take part in the Eagle Rock Music Festival, organized by the Center, when it returns next year.
Corbi and Ben-Atar keep the Beat Lab Academy doors open for graduates who want to return to use the space to work on their music.
“Because Beat Lab is still a small school, just starting out, it has a family vibe,” Angell said. “We treat it like a home base.”