Written by Joe Armstrong, Content Specialist, Downtown Main Library
The West End Branch Library just got a new soundtrack courtesy of its youngest customers! "The Place I Want to Be" is out now, featuring lyrics and vocals created exclusively by the kids and teens who visit the West End Branch.
They recorded the anthem with help from the West End Branch Manager Keloni Parks, Library Customer Advisors Jody Jones and Rayya Crawford, and Reference Librarian Kent Mulcahy. The budding artists creating the album artwork with help from the Robert O’Neal Multicultural Arts Center (ROMAC).
Listen to the whole track below or on our YouTube channel.
Writing the Anthem
The one-of-a-kind track was created at the reopening celebration of the West End Branch renovation. Any kids and teens who attended were welcome to create lyrics, perform their verses, and create a custom piece of art that would become the song's album cover.
Rayya Crawford, a Library Customer Advisor, first helped develop lyrics with the kids. "There was an outline that made it easy to follow," she says, "We had a list of keywords, so I had the kids pick about 1-3 to include in each verse. I also tried to mix up the flow of each kid I helped so that no one verse sounded the same." What resulted was an original song, complete with unique verses and a chorus written from scratch.
Rapping to the Beat
With lyrics in hand, the kids were ready to record, but they didn't know they'd have a custom-made beat created by Library Customer Advisor Jody Jones. Starting from scratch, Jody knew the song had to be unique enough to reflect the West End Branch. "I went to work in my studio spaces to come up with a beat that was engaging, not too busy, and aesthetically pleasing for the youth," Jody says, " and the kids really showed out. It’s not easy to stand in front of a mic and record, but these kids really knocked it out of the park."
West End's Pop-Up Studio
Reference Librarian Kent Mulcahy helped the kids take their newly created lyrics onto the track using one of the branch's two new reservable study pods. "The kids had fun putting the headphones on and spitting into a live mic," Kent says, "They loved seeing their vocals transferred into sound waves on the recording software, too. A couple of the kids who didn’t want to rap ended up asking a ton of questions about the recording side of the process, so it was fun to show them that side of the equation."
After a day of recording, it was clear West End had a hit on their hands. "Most of them nailed what you hear on the song in two or three takes," Kent says, "I hope, once they hear the finished product, they’re so proud of themselves."
An Album Cover That's Fit for a Hit
Right next to the pop-up "recording studio," work was also underway on creating artwork to accompany the track. Artist See Drye, representing the Robert O’Neal Multicultural Arts Center (ROMAC), guided the kids on creating their own graffiti-style art. "I take the action of making art, and filter it through the lens of Social-Emotional Learning," See Drye says, "and help kids find their confidence. Find their interest and purpose. Find things to change in their life. Being black young men and women in the city recognizing their voice."
See Drye set up two stations within the booth: one for them to practice and another to work on what would be the actual canvas. After a day of practicing, sketching, and drawing, the collaborative artwork came together to create the album artwork. Two canvases were made and completed, and all the names of those who participated were reflected in the art. "I think the kids were unique and talented," See Drye says, "Seeing them get creative and going past what they think their limits are and start believing in themselves was really cool."
Just the Beginning
With the release of the West End Anthem, Library staff believe this is just the start of new artistic creations to be made at the West End Branch. "It really warms my heart," says Branch Manager Keloni Parks, "I'm so happy they got an opportunity to express themselves."
"The finished product is fun and amazing," Rayya says, "You can tell the kids had fun and really felt like they were recording artists! It is definitely a product of the kids’ passion and proud about being West End customers!"
"During the mixing and mastering process, I found myself driving around smiling because they made a real song!" says Jody, "I just hope they’re as proud of themselves as I am."
"As you hear in one of the kid’s verses, they’re very proud of the fact that they make projects in their library," Kent says, "It takes a lot of courage to make something new and share it with the world, especially for young people. The fear of getting made fun of is just so powerful. Even for some of the kids you hear on the song, they went back and forth all day before finally gathering the courage to record something. And all the while their friends were pumping them up to get in there and go for it. Once they did, they always had the biggest smiles on their faces during playback.
Listen to the full track of the West End Anthem on our YouTube channel.