Spin Inc., is a 501(c)(3) organization providing DJ and Music production education to young adults. The program serves Detroit communities as a creative and educational alternative to negative music influences. In fact, research shows, music is beneficial for mental development and improves creative capacity.
Music choice also influences personalities. Music training can significantly improve motor and reasoning skills. One study shows that children who have three years of musical training perform better than those who did not engage in training activities. Children and teens also tested better in vocabulary, mathematics and non-verbal reasoning skills.
Time Magazine reported in 2013 that even when the country was upside-down economically, DJ schools such as Dubspot, a New York-based DJ and music production school, received triple enrollment, showing that when our country is at its worst, people turn to music.
Detroit is the birthplace of “Techno Music”, born by legends Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Kevin Saunderson, and Eddie Fowlkes. Juan Aktins noted that his experience working as an apprentice on the “Electrifying MOJO” show led to his success and his ability to mix original music.
Spin Inc. provides a positive impact using the transformational powers of music in health, education, and well-being.
Spin Inc. stands at the forefront of an exciting musical industry that was founded upon a passionate desire to bring positive musical opportunities to the youth and young adults of the greater Detroit area. Since 2015, the organization has established local partnerships with the Detroit Public School System. Currently, Spin Inc. holds classes at the Detroit School of the Arts (DSA). They also partner with the Detroit Institute for Music Education (DIME). They host local DJ classes, tutoring, and education in the business of DJing. Spin Inc. hosts and provides S.T.E.A.M. aligned courses for DJ and music production for local high school students, as well as community workshops and seminars for the greater Detroit area.
One EDM had an opportunity to sit down with Ron Johnson, director of the Spin Inc. program at the Detroit School of the Arts to discuss how Spin Inc. contributes to the community.
One EDM: Tell me a little bit about yourself and your background
Ron Johnson: I am a native Detroiter, born in 1970. I went to the military when I was 18, I Stayed in Germany for two and a half years.
How did you get involved with spin inc?
I started Spin Inc. in 2015. But I started deejaying back in the mid-80s. I got exposed to house music in the early 80s from listening to Cybertron which is Techno, but house music specifically. I found out about it at a club called Rock n Talk in Windsor.
How did you find out about Rock n Talk?
One of my partners was telling me about the club. I was 15-16 years old at the time. We went over to Canada. What I heard was banging. It was phenomenal. Memorable. It was one of the fondest, most memorable moments of my teenage years.
In Europe, I heard a lot of the same music that I heard in Detroit, at the warehouse. At different after-hours clubs back in the late 80’s that played house music, I heard the same music in Germany. I partied in Frankfort. At that time, it was the Dorian Grey that was in the airport, and it was playing Detroit music. So that is how I know that Detroit is very impactful in the evolution of music, especially Techno, EDM, and House. Detroit “House” is a specific type of House.
Why did you decide to start Spin Inc?
I started Spin Inc. to help save children’s lives and to give them access. A lot of my friends growing up probably had about 10-15 brothers that passed away while living in Detroit. I lost a lot of friends in the crack era. A lot of programs that are not existent now had helped our children avoid getting into negative situations or have negative outcomes. For example, I listen to music today, and it’s different from the music in the 80’s. Especially Hip-hop. It’s negative. I wanted to create a program to help teach the children, to give them a broader range of music to listen to and to enjoy. More so than things that are counterproductive to our community. That gave birth to Spin. Inc.
What projects are you working on?
We just finished the DEMC, which is the Detroit Electronic Music Camp. That was a week-long series of workshops and master classes that kicked off with a historical tour at Submerge Museum. We worked in conjunction with DIME, who hosted the master classes and workshop for the duration of the week.
How are you using DJing to teach students music theory, cultural theory, and math skills?
Music theory: We teach children song structure. What is a bar? What is a phrase? How to understand how many bars are in an intro. A lot of children don’t know that. So, by teaching them deejaying, they are actually listening to the different cues in music that show the transition to another portion of the song.
Culturally, a lot of the music that is played today doesn’t have the real social consciousness that is needed to help expand children’s minds. So, playing the music that is coming from the 1980s came from the golden era of hip-hop where a lot of consciousness was interlaced in the music. The messages were different. Going from Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five with “The Message”, or “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” with the Public Enemy, or “Hey Young World” with Slick Rick. They had a social context. So, by playing that, we aspire to inspire children to create different music and have more responsibility in their music making.
Mathematical skills: just like in bar structure, if you have 4 beats within a bar, I ask a child, “If you have 8 bars, how many beats do you have?” They have to mathematically come up with how many notes are in 8 bars. 8×4=32. By using those examples, we are actually helping children to look at math differently, especially multiplying
Also, we are using Conductive Ink to help students to be more involved with science, engineering, and building schematics. A lot of the equipment that children have access to here, they generally don’t have access to at home. We want to be able to help them build their own instruments. We also want them to be able to use software that they can download onto their tablet or their own computer.
How do you plan to connect children to the art of Djing?
Spin Inc. started with the intent of going into neighborhoods and adopting parks. We help clean up the park, and we DJ in the parks so that the music can go through the neighborhoods and help change the vibrations of the neighborhood. In New York, a big shout out to Grandmaster DJ Kool Herc and the other DJs from New York, especially Grandmaster Flash. I’ve seen them get down. There’s the question asked, “how do you take back the streets?” You have to start back in the parks. Playing for the music. Playing for the people in the neighborhood. As a matter of fact, I have a date coming up shortly, just playing for the people in the neighborhood. Which in turn, gets the children interested to ask “how do you do that?” How do you make that turntable do that? Exposure.
Where do you get financing for Spin Inc.?
We have some sponsors. Splice has been a financial donor. Out of my own pocket. I have a lawn care service. Snow removal. Close friends that see the work that I am doing and know that it is a good thing for the children. But outside of that, we are self-sustaining right now.
What are some challenges that you have faced and how have you overcome them?
Financially, we haven’t had an operating budget over the last four years. We are working towards finding donors that believe in the program and see its worth and will donate and help sustain it. Another way is perseverance. Get out there, talk to people, show them the program. Keep affecting children’s lives to the point where the parents are like “Wow. I thank you for this. You really helped my child.” In turn, someone will see it and help finance it. I was told the South by Southwest Conference started off grassroots. Everything starts grassroots, but until somebody sees the worth in it, then it will be put into place where it needs to be.
What would you say have been your biggest successes?
Starting in 2015, we started with Juan Akins with Spin sessions 101 class. We started with Juan Atkins the first year, and we have had over 80 students since then. Also, we recently held our third Detroit Electronic Music Camp, (which, next year, will be a conference). We are working towards making it bigger as far as our programming and having more international speakers and DJs come out and talk to the youth.
Also, we are developing our own classrooms that will be in the Midtown area, that’s very exciting for us right now. We also got access to do a program in Dearborn. Expanding. We are going to be in certain places. Strategically, our program will expand to the middle school level, where we can actually utilize the middle schools to feed students to DSA, which is a $134 million high school. It’s really underpopulated and it is a beautiful school! We want to develop programs to be able to attract children to the school to take advantage of the opportunities that are here.
Have you had any alumni become successful? can you name any names?
Yes. We have had two students: DJ Taco and DJ Candy. I have several students who have already been booked for shows. For private parties and stuff like that. Just starting off. That is something that they can do now, actually make a living at. Coming right out of high school, or even in high school, fulfilling their passion for music and deejaying. And to have several females come out of that…deejaying is usually a male-dominated genre, but now more young women are becoming DJs – that’s the life.
What styles of djing do you teach? Hip hop, EDM, House, techno dubstep, all of the above?
We teach them the format coming from house/techno because of that 4/4-time signature. Understanding that, it’s easier for them to understand mixing. From the Hip-Hop aspect, we do teach them how to beat juggle. We want to develop turntablism and a basic understanding of music theory and song structure.
But there are courses at the DIME and DSA programs that get into using GarageBand. We use Ableton to show them how to create a song. We generally let them pick which type of song they want to create.
How many turntables do you have?
We have two sets of turntables, two sets of CDJs. The remainder of the equipment is the equipment that we have used over the last couple of terms. Hercules DJControl Inpulse 200s, I got those this year. We had been using Pioneer, Traktor, Serato. A lot of our equipment has been donated because we are a non-profit. So, it’s not the latest models, probably a year or two away from the latest models, mainly to have equipment available for the children to work on.