By Vish KhannaThe Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) offers young music students a truly empowering and utopian academic experience. Initiated in 1997, the RBMA is an annual meeting place for professional music figures involved primarily in DJ culture and aspiring producers, singers, and musicians of all stripes from around the world. Originally based solely in Berlin, the RBMA visits a different city each year, setting up headquarters equipped with state of the art production facilities and talented engineers at the ready. The RBMA accepts 60 applicants a year, splitting them over separate two-week terms, and providing an intensive, practical learning environment. After stops in Dublin, London, São Paulo, Cape Town, Rome, Seattle, and Melbourne, this year’s terms take place in a non-descript, multi-story building on Queen Street in Toronto where a typical RBMA day is anything but.Accustomed to a certain amount of incredulity, enthusiastic co-founder Many Ameri patiently clarifies the purpose and origin of his ten-year old initiative, which is nominally associated with a hyper caffeinated club drink. Along with business partners Christopher Romberg and Torsten Schmidt, Ameri runs a multimedia production company called Yadastar. In 1997, energy boosting beverage manufacturer Red Bull approached Yadastar about implementing some method of fostering discourse about underground dance culture.
"They had grown out of this whole club environment and were interested in creating this institution that would have the substance to stick around,” Ameri explains. "There’s a healthy scepticism when these brands get involved in something like this because [scenesters] try to protect what they have. That’s why we were interested in creating something where you can actually take the responsibility, do your homework right, and do something that was so good for this environment, you would get the respect for it that you deserve.”
With insight from a panel of journalists and music industry veterans, Yadastar’s pragmatic formula for the RBMA remains intact today. In a nutshell, academy reps are assigned in cities across the planet based on their relationship to their respective music scenes (i.e., journalists, artists, promoters etc.) and they notify musicians about the application deadline. After submitting an extensive questionnaire and a demo, successful applicants are notified that they’ll join 29 other students for an upcoming RBMA term.
Almost every day for two weeks, an international student body shows up at the academy’s HQ for the following: a late morning breakfast; a noon lecture; an up-scale lunch; another lecture; a night of musical collaboration with fellow participants; either attending or playing a live show; and quite often, an after-party back at their hotel. Rather than enforcing particular learning structures, the RBMA is admirably free form; students don’t pay tuition and none of the work produced is evaluated or solicited for future use.
"If you look at each and every one of these people, they somehow have the drive to change something in their lives and their local scenes and, after these two weeks, everybody knows that you can’t stop them,” Ameri says. "If they really want it, they can do it and that’s the core of what we do. We believe we select the right people and then shake them a little bit and we see what happens. Then it’s up to them, as the artist or creative person they are.”The aforementioned "lectures” are informal interview sessions, where all manner of musical dignitaries — including the likes of ?uestlove, Tiga, Biz Markie, King Jammy, and the late Bob Moog — share a couch with a moderator to discuss their experiences in the music business.
For a recent Toronto lecture, London-via-Boston dance and hip-hop pioneer Arthur Baker held court for a wide-eyed assembly of students. Producing the first significant sessions by Afrika Bambaataa ("Planet Rock”) and New Order ("Confusion,” "Thieves Like Us.”), Baker went on to make unprecedented, authorized re-mixes of Bruce Springsteen hits ("Born in the U.S.A.”), re-mixed Bob Dylan’s Empire Burlesque, and co-produced the all-star album Sun City: Artists United Against Apartheid with Steve Van Zandt. Recounting his transition from struggling DJ to top-tier producer, Baker’s frank talk was an inspirational example of what the RBMA strives to present to the next generation of artists.
"When I started in music, producers would always have time for me,” Baker says. "They’d really be surprised that some kid would wanna know about it so basically, if someone comes up to me, I always try to have time for people because no one ever dissed me. I mean, when I was 15 I met Muddy Waters at a gig and he spent a couple of hours with me because I wanted to know about the blues. In the past, musicians were really open and maybe now, they’re not as open. So, when I get an opportunity to do things like this, I do ’em because I realise how important it was for me; it’s good karma.” To view extensive video of lectures and performances, visit