Music 101: Student-Run Record Label in North Philadelphia Boosts Kid-Artists

Mikel Louis, who claims King Kells as his stage name, is a North Philadelphia student who now has his first album out. Louis says the opportunities he’s had only came along because of Inner Power Records, a free, student-run record label.

Inner Power Records, is an after school program production label in North Philadelphia that aims to boost local Philadelphia artists. Through Project HOME, a community determined to break the cycle of homelessness and poverty that houses the after school program in its Honickman Learning Center and Comcast Technology Labs, Inner Power Records began in 2012 and aims to reach high schoolers who are interested in music and have big dreams: becoming the next star.

Inner Power Records teaches kids the ins and outs of music including writing, composing, recording and performing.

“When you say record label, especially to kids in the inner city, their eyebrows start to rise. Music is big in the city, man. It’s a way for kids to escape their reality or put down their reality on record,” Paul Dunnaville, digital music instructor of Inner Power Records, said.

At Inner Power Records, North Philadelphian kids come together sharing “fresh” ideas and different talents.

“I learned how to make music, make beats, instrumentals, all that… it makes me wanna keep doing it,” one of Dunnaville’s students said.

Others already knew music but say that Dunnaville inspired them.

“I love music, but he made me want to do it more,” Amr Ruffin said. “I started young. I was in second or first grade. I left in third grade and came back in eighth and so on.”

Others have already had some success because of the program. Louis, a.k.a King Kells says, “I owe my first album to the program… since then, it’s done pretty well. It’s available online and we have physical copies here at the center.”

Louis began with the program when he was a high school freshman. Now he’s at the Community College of Philadelphia earning credits while putting together a song called "Purpose."

“The music is the way I get to talk about the things I’ve done... I think this project has changed my viewpoint into a better more positive outlook,” Louis said. “I hope that my music has the ability to… help people change themselves through messages through my songs, as well as saving a life while bringing someone closer to God.”

Regarding Dunnaville, Louis said, “I can’t say enough good things about him… He makes the music program happen, from the beats to the performances to the shows… he carries it with a strong arm.”

Dunnaville says the idea for this label came in 2011 when it became “something I sensed the kids wanted to do.” He, however, has had years of experience in this industry.

In 2003 he worked for the nonprofit Education Works where he taught after school programs. Then he came to Project Home in Northern Philadelphia and asked himself, “What should I do with all this talent?”

“Initially, the class was designed just to teach them the fundamentals, and I was like ‘Let’s take it a step further,’” Dunnaville said.

This program received no “push back” from the community or Project HOME, according to Dunnaville, because it was a chance to keep kids out of poverty. `

Summed up, the label is a “basically a mock record label. Because we’re not out there as heavily as a real label would, but we operate in the same fashion. We have a production facility, a recording booth where we lay tracks and vocals.” Once they are old enough, Dunnaville said, he starts talking about the business aspect of music.

One of Dunnaville’s students, Louis, performed at Wawa Welcome America in July.

Every day Dunnaville said he tells his students to "take a look at what you have in front of you and use it to your advantage.” The kid-artists have access to state of the art computers and software.

“New York has it poppin’, Atlanta, so people always think if you’re from here you need to somewhere else to make it. No, with YouTube and other technology you can make it right here… Philly is a landmark. A lot of people have come through Philly and made it, so why can’t these kids too.”

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