Music production

Duluth’s classes connect girls to the world of music production

But, honestly, 12-year-old Nora Finnigan is learning that you can do all kinds of things with this keyboard-sized rectangle of buttons and flashing lights.

“You can make a futuristic clap,” the self-proclaimed music lover said during a recent session of Beats By Girlz.

Musician Shaunna Heckman started the local chapter of electronic music production classes, aimed at girls ages 8 to 13, in 2018 – partly because she wanted to improve her own production skills and partly because she wanted to. give them a stimulating answer to the question “Who produced your album?” “

Students Joslyn Morris (left), Nora Finnigan and Margot Finnigan (partly hidden) watch Shaunna Heckman demonstrate how to mix music created on the Push instrument in front of Morris on Thursday March 18, 2021 (Steve Kuchera / skuchera @ duluthnews. com)

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In weekly two-hour sessions that last eight weeks, young musicians learn to create songs using Ableton technology – first in a tutorial gathered around Heckman, then in practice, plugged into their own stations. .

“If I had had that,” Heckman said in a recent session, “my career would be very different.”

Beats By Girlz is a program developed by Erin Barra-Jean, associate professor at Berklee College of Music, who started the program in 2011 at the Lower East Side Girls Club in New York City. Now there are over a dozen groups in Fort Collins, Colorado; Denmark; Los Angeles; Berlin and more.

Heckman saw a friend running the Minneapolis chapter and very quickly signed on to start one in Duluth. Its next sessions start in April.

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Three girls gathered on a recent Thursday at a space borrowed from It Takes a Village yoga studio in downtown Duluth – where Heckman set up interval music stations alongside two portable folding tables.

During the first part of the lesson, Heckman and the girls took turns creating a rhythm – pushing on the Ableton Push, which acts like a piano but looks a bit like the classic Hasbro Simon playing, to add layers of instruments and percussion, then using the computer to insert texture and rests into the arrangement. You don’t need to have a background in music to use this software, Heckman noted.

Then the band dispersed to create their own arrangements, which included changes in volume, delay and reverb.

“These kids blow my mind a bit,” Heckman said.

Beats By Girlz student Nora Finnigan uses a computer to produce the music she created on a Push instrument on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Steve Kuchera /

Beats By Girlz student Nora Finnigan uses a computer to produce the music she created on a Push instrument on Thursday, March 18, 2021. (Steve Kuchera /

This process comes naturally to Nora, who said she listens to R&B and soul music. But she hears the lessons of Beats By Girlz in all music.

“Every piece of music is manipulated,” she said. “You can’t do without it. ”

Nora enjoys incorporating instruments, which she nails as a welcome surprise, the sound of a saxophone filling the room.

His sister Margot Finnegan, 10, uses a naming convention for her songs that takes on a common color, then adds a fruit that begins with the same letter. His files included songs like “Orange Orange”, “Blue Banana”, “Purple Peach”. His songs are cinematic and have graceful fades.

Maggie Cartier, 12, joined the class via FaceTime to talk about how she uses her classic rock influences to make music. Once she brought a guitar to class and recorded herself playing.

Joslyn Morris, 12, had used another program to make music at home, which made the transition to Ableton easier. She is a fan of indie music, and when she does hers, she favors the drums.

“I have to be able to dance on it,” she said.

This is certainly the case with “Vibezz,” which Morris performed on external speakers while pulling full DJ dance moves as he performed.

And then the hall dissolved into a dance party, as each of the girls took turns following their leads.

    One of Shaunna Heckman's students presses a button on an Ableton Push to create music on March 18, 2021. (Steve Kuchera /

One of Shaunna Heckman’s students presses a button on an Ableton Push to create music on March 18, 2021. (Steve Kuchera /

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It’s been about a year since Heckman, whose own music has dreamy synth sounds, decided to make music his career – helped, in part, by the connections made through Beats By Girlz. She enrolled in the Berklee School of Music and studies music production and the music business – a shift from songwriter to producer.

Earlier this year, Heckman’s advanced Beats By Girlz course helped create music for the Berklee-based group. “Muses” project – which combines women from history with the music of young women.

And in June, Heckman and Beats By Girlz present at the “Celebrating Diversity in Popular Music Education” conference, organized by the Association for Popular Music Education, in Chicago.

In mid-February, she released the song “Sirens Below,” which she describes as having “big Viking-sounding drums and a crazy voice” as part of The Outlaw Ocean Music Project. The series features the music of hundreds of electronic, EDM and ambient musicians around the world who have been asked to create something based on visuals and sounds collected during the five years journalist Ian Urbina was at sea for his book “The Outlaw Ocean “.

“It was an opportunity to make music more cinematic, in a way,” Heckman said. “I write about feeling. I kept imagining gloomy skies, big waves… what is going on so far away that we don’t know? Obviously, so much. It was really interesting and exciting to write that way.

“I didn’t have to think about the lyrics, and it wasn’t personal.”

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