The music that comes out of Youth On Record is not only good but it does good.
"I started playing music because I was going through a hard time in life," ninth-grader Issac Zamora said. "Playing music relieves me, relieves me over everything. I feel free."
Youth on Record reaches out and redirects at-risk and "written-off" teenagers through the power of music.
Youth on Record partners up with local professional musicians who go into Denver Public Schools where kids are way behind academically.
"The students who we're working with are the oldest in Denver Public Schools with the least amount of credit," Youth on Record Executive Director Jami Duffy said. "These are kids who have come to the United States after living in refugee camps. These are students who have experienced chronic homelessness. These are kids who have been in and out of youth residential treatment facilities because of severe trauma."
The intensive music classes brought to the school incorporate music theory as well as curriculum on how music effects society. There are introductions to different types of music: instrumental, computer generated and spoken word.
"I've been in their seats and I've been them at one point," hip-hop artist Ill Se7en said. He's one of the 12 "partner artists" who spend time in DPS schools teaching.
"When we first get in there, the students are reluctant to be open and expect us to be teachers not knowing that we're musicians," Ill Se7en said. "By the time we're done doing the beat production classes, the poetry classes, they are usually really connected and wanting to express more within that art," Ill Se7en said.
"To have musicians with the same backgrounds of the kids is just a magical experience and it's really motivating for young people to go to school every day," Duffy said.
Youth on Record works with a thousand teenagers every year. According to data collected by Youth on Record, 85 percent of its students have shown an increase in attendance. Seventy-one percent of Youth on Record students have improved their GPA.
Outside of the classroom, students come to the Youth on Record studio that is nestled in Denver's Mariposa neighborhood. This vibrant work space makes up the ground floor of a Denver Housing Authority residential building.
The studios are less than a block from the 10th & Osage RTD station, so students either commute to the studio by light rail or by school buses.
"Being here, you not only create, you can create a variety of opportunities for yourself in different ways, like through engineering or playing an instrument or writing," Ill Se7en said.
Inside the concrete walls there are work spaces where kids collaborate and break out into jam sessions. There is also a professional recording studio with a lot of the equipment donated by local musicians and as gifts from individuals, businesses and foundations.
This recording studio has welcomed in acts like Twenty One Pilots, Arrested Development, Vinyl Theatre and HoneyHoney.
To mark the one year anniversary of moving into the DHA building, Youth on Record produced it's first CD featuring the professionals.
The students sang on some of the tracks on "YOR Sessions: Vol. 1" but were the ones behind the controls during those recording session and mixed and mastered the songs.
"When Twenty One Pilots came in, I didn't know who they were because I'm more in the hip-hop scene, but later when I told people, they were like 'wow,'" 16-year-old Sly Guevara said.
Guevara, who goes by "SG" when he is rapping, is excelling at audio engineering because of his time at Youth On Record. He recorded, mixed and mastered each track on "YOR Sessions: Vol. 1."
"The credits he has now as a professional audio engineer are impressive," Sly's mentor and professional engineer Joe Richmond said. "The first time somebody told me that he was 16, I was like 'no way is he only 16 years old.'"
Guevara recognizes and values the opportunities that have opened up to him because of Youth on Record. His future looks brighter than it ever has.
"It has really opened doors for me," Guevara said. "Just in case I decide not to make it as a rapper, I could always become an audio engineer. If I need extra money for college, I could get audio engineering gigs. Also, to make my own sound, I have audio engineering to help me out with that."
The students at Youth on Record are now getting booked for gigs around Denver. In May, they covered music by Prince ahead of the showing of "Purple Rain" at the opening night of the Film on the Rocks series at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.
On June 25, Youth on Record will perform at the Westword Music Showcase, an outdoor musical festival in Denver's Golden Triangle neighborhood.
Youth on Record started in 2008 under a different name. Back then, it was called flobots.org because it was founded by members of Flobots, a Denver rock and hip-hop band. Art to Action was a music program in residential treatment centers.
In 2011, Flobots handed over the reigns to the staff and partner artists at Youth on Record.
At first, the program relied on family foundations for funding, but now Youth On Record has corporate sponsors like Denver Housing Authority, Bonfils Stations, Davita and Childrens Hospital Colorado to name a few.
The KTCL 93.3 radio station is also a big supporter of Youth on Record.
It is through that partnership that professional acts stopped in to record at Youth on Record while on tour in Denver. The plan is for even more artists to record at the Mariposa neighborhood studios. The play list for the second annual Youth on Record CD is already building.
The current CD, "YOR Sessions: Vol 1" sells for $10 and benefits the programs at Youth On Record.
To learn more about Youth on Record, visit: http://bit.ly/1M3rUPU.