Image courtesy of Saturday Light Brigade

11 music programs helping Pittsburgh youth break into the biz

Kids have a natural inclination to create, and technology makes recording music, blogging and podcasting more accessible than ever. For young people who want to dig deeper into media production and the music industry, Pittsburgh offers a range of workshops and camps.

Saturday Light Brigade

Image courtesy of Saturday Light Brigade
Image courtesy of Saturday Light Brigade


For nearly four decades, Saturday Light Brigade (SLB) has engaged young audiences over the airwaves. In 2004, SLB launched a state-of-the-art studio at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side, expanding its programming capabilities.

In collaboration with over 40 local schools and community programs, SLB provides instruction to kids from 8 to 18 through oral history projects, journalism and live recordings of their own original music, writing and drama.

Because radio requires minimal resources, youth can create world-class projects that emphasize language skills and imagination.

“Radio is a tremendous equalizer,” says Executive Director Larry Berger, who also hosts the weekly Saturday Light Brigade program on WRCT (88.3 FM). “All can participate regardless of physical capabilities or appearance.”

Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra Audience of the Future Program

Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra
Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra

Since 1995, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO) has operated the Kraft Heinz Audience of the Future Program. From November to April, high school students attend monthly sessions where they plan and implement a PSO concert from start to finish.

With coaching from PSO staff members, the teens attend rehearsals, promote the concert, sell tickets and produce a video. Proceeds from the concert benefit the arts and music programs of participating schools and organizations, including Baldwin High School, North Allegheny High School and Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra.

“This program is wonderful because the concert is planned and implemented by students, for students,” says Lisa Hoak, director of learning programs at the PSO. “Participants have the opportunity to develop their creative skills, as well as question, collaborate, experiment and discover throughout the whole program.”

WYEP Rock Radio Camp & Reimagine Media

WYEP has hosted Rock Radio Camp at the WYEP Community Broadcast Center for more than six years. During the weeklong summer program, campers from middle schools across Allegheny County learn about careers in music and radio, hosting a radio show, marketing, venue management and audio editing.

Introduced in 2011, the station’s Reimagine Media program teaches participants about writing music reviews and blogging, audio editing and podcasting. As a culminating project, the students produce an annual compilation CD of teen musicians.

Many program participants return to WYEP for internships. One former camper has set up a radio station in his house. And Pittsburgh native Daya, a performer on the first “Reimagination” CD, recently went platinum with her hit single, “Hide Away.”

WYEP Rock Radio Camp
WYEP Rock Radio Camp

According to Matthew Spangler, director of education and community engagement, “These programs combine technology, engineering and the arts to create a unique out-of-school experience. Youth have the opportunity to direct where the program can go, based on what interests them.”

Hip Hop on L.O.C.K.

Image courtesy of Hip Hop on L.O.C.K.
Image courtesy of Hip Hop on L.O.C.K.

Founded in 2007 as Hip Hop Fundamentals, Hip Hop on L.O.C.K. (HHOL) promotes leadership development, organizational skills, math, science and literacy through hip hop music, dance and industry know-how.

HHOL partners with Pittsburgh-area schools and programs like the Dignity & Respect Campaign and the Black Male Leadership Development Institute to provide essential skills for participants to create a mock record label.

Youth from 8 to 18 learn the basics of writing, producing, recording, mixing and mastering an album. Students also share their talents through teaching in the community and fundraising for nonprofit organizations.

“Students understand the ethos of success: The best way to move forward is to give back,” says founder and Executive Director Emmai Alaquiva.

Alaquiva says hip hop is here to stay: “The transformative power of hip hop culture is all around us. You have Big Bird rapping on Sesame Street and successful theater artists like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who created Broadway’s Hamilton, freestyling with the president.”

1Hood Media

1Hood Media image courtesy of Njaimeh Njie
1Hood Media image courtesy of Njaimeh Njie

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, 1Hood Media is a collective of socially conscious artists and activists who use hip hop to raise awareness about global social justice issues through media literacy training and workshops on songwriting, music production and arts entrepreneurship.

Media literacy is at the core of 1Hood’s after-school programming and workshops. Students age 13 and up generate art from their discussions of mainstream media, representations of race and gender and their own personal lives.

The most rewarding part of working with youth, says CEO Celeste Smith, is “the moment when they realize their voice matters and someone is willing to help the world hear it.”

Arts Greenhouse


Carnegie Mellon University’s Arts Greenhouse also uses hip hop as an entry point to promote creative expression among local youth. An initiative of the university’s College of Fine Arts and Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the program has served teens from lower- and middle-income neighborhoods throughout Pittsburgh since 2004.

Workshops tackle everything from social issues to creative writing and performance. Youth between the ages of 12 and 18 learn from CMU faculty, student volunteers, professional artists and musicians, including Pittsburgh jazz legend Mark Strickland and Nico Slate, a history professor who connects art and music to current events through the Social Change 101 project. With access to CMU’s state-of-the-art recording facilities, participants produce original music, which they perform live.

According to Program Coordinator and Lead Instructor Paul Crocker, many students are shy at first. “Watching them gain self-confidence and find their voices as artists has been truly inspiring,” Crocker says.

Assemble Mixtape Camp

In keeping with its mission of fostering creativity through STEAM, Assemble has added a Mixtape Camp to its roster of summer programs. The five-day session is modeled on the successful Community-Sourced Mixtape Project piloted by Jess Gold and Amos Levy at the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. As with the shelter project, Mixtape Camp will introduce kids between 11 and 13 to podcasting, music production, zine-making and other forms of indie media.

Levy finds that children aren’t inhibited by anxiety about the final product.

“I love working with kids because they approach learning, the world and new experiences in a different way than adults,” Levy says. “It’s much more experimental and experiential.”

Tuff Sound Recording

Image courtesy of Kitoko Chargois

Levy is also a production assistant at Tuff Sound Recording (TSR) in Point Breeze. There, he works alongside owner and Head Engineer Herman “Soy Sos” Pearl, who counts rapper Mac Miller among his clients.

The Tuff Sound Apprenticeship Program (TSAP) is offered to youth between the ages of 16 and 22 throughout Pittsburgh, making a special effort to engage women, members of the LGBTQ community and youth of color, who are often underrepresented in audio engineering.

Through the program, apprentices have already gained experience recording live musicians, mixing multi-track sessions and running live sound for a school assembly. “The apprentices make wonderful leaps and bounds in just one semester,” Levy says.

Girls Rock! Pittsburgh

Image courtesy of Girls Rock! Pittsburgh

Since 2013, Girls Rock! Pittsburgh has empowered self-identified girls between the ages of 8 and 18 through music. The camp is an immersive introduction to various facets of the music industry: Girls learn instruments, form bands, record songs for a compilation CD and perform in a live showcase, all in the span of a single week.

Madeleine Campbell, a Girls Rock! volunteer and audio engineer, walks the girls through the basics of a recording session before they lay down tracks for the camp CD.

“The biggest highlight for me is watching their faces light up when they hear themselves play their first chord or sing their first note through their headphones,” remarks Campbell.  “I want them to know they don’t need a million-dollar professional studio to start recording themselves and their bands.”

Sunburst School of Music

Image courtesy of Sunburst School of Music

Located in the heart of Squirrel Hill, Sunburst School of Music has grown exponentially since opening in 2011. Today, its 15 instructors deliver programs for a variety of ages and abilities with the common goal of helping kids discover and play music they love.

Through private lessons, camps, recital concerts and recording studio sessions, Sunburst teaches kids between 6 and 17 everything from instrument fundamentals to playing on stage, songwriting and show promotion. Sunburst’s five-day summer and spring break camps revolve around specific artists and themes, which have included reggae, a DIY rock opera, a recording camp and a tribute to David Bowie.

“We love showing kids where the music they love comes from,” says Sunburst owner Alex Stanton.

Real.Life.Music Camp

Image courtesy of Real.Life.Music Camp
Image courtesy of Real.Life.Music Camp

Since 2006, the Real.Life.Music Camp has operated out of Mr. Smalls Recording Studio on the North Side. Developed and directed by Liz Berlin of Rusted Root, the camp provides young artists with music industry experience and knowledge through seminars on topics from band dynamics to establishing a web presence. More technically-oriented youth may choose to attend camp on an audio engineering track instead.

Participants leave camp with a professionally recorded demo of their own original music, a professional band photo and a host of resources to shape their musical careers. At the end of the session, students perform in a concert at Mr. Smalls Funhouse in Millvale.

Whether your kid is a budding performer, audio engineer, conductor or show promoter, Pittsburgh offers countless musical opportunities. Learn more about tuition, scholarship opportunities, upcoming events and more at each program’s website.