For nearly 10 years, Pharlon Randle had the same routine: wake up, make the rounds as a school bus driver in Mt. Morris, head home and oversee studio sessions for his business, Bangtown Productions & Recordings.
During that decade, Randle helped produce about 60 albums by local punk rockers, rappers and R&B crooners. And while he didn’t know it then, the experience – combined with the time he spent with the kids in the morning – was the perfect preparation for what would become Bangtown’s nonprofit spin-off: BPR Studio on the GO.
“A friend of mine asked if I would teach some students at Swartz Creek Alternative Middle School how to write and record their own music,” Randle says. “I did, and before I knew it, I was getting calls from schools everywhere.”
That was in 2006. Today, Randle estimates the program has provided hands-on instruction in music and video production for at least 15,000 students in Genesee, Kent and Kalamazoo counties.
“The kids get a lot of technical experience,” Randle says. “Some of them are now producing on their own or are pursuing careers as rappers or singers. That’s a good feeling –– to know they got their start here.”
Flint Northwestern didn’t offer a program like Studio on the GO when you were in school. How did you learn these skills?
I was in a funk band from age 15 to 22 and learned a lot from people in the community. Gordon Strozier of Ready for the World (an R&B band founded in Flint in the 1980s) would let me borrow his keyboard and use his sequencers. I also learned a lot from Bernard Terry, the engineer who recorded us at the Silver Sun in Flint, which is now called Area521studios. He was very patient. We were kids who didn’t know what we doing, but he took his time and made us sound good.
Wasn’t Bernard Terry one of your studio instructors?
Yes, he led classes in the very beginning. I’ve brought on about 10 producers over the years. That’s probably one of the greatest things that’s come out of Studio on the GO. It gives producers and video directors an avenue to mentor and give back to the community. It also gives them another way to make an income.
What are you most proud of as it relates to your business?
My partnership with the Boys and Girls Club in Flint, which has been my fiscal sponsor since 2011. In 2008, I volunteered with the organization, and the class I worked with came up with a song that they ended up using in a PSA. The organization decided to try out my programming for two days a week for a couple of months, and the first two songs we did won national contests. After that, they offered to convert one of their classrooms into a studio, and we’ve had a presence there ever since. It just goes to show: when you give from the heart, good things happen.
What’s been your biggest challenge thus far?
There are always challenges. Right now, it’s trying to establish a board of directors for Studio on the GO. I’ve gone to several workshops and classes. I make a point to learn as much as I can about the stuff that I’m not as comfortable with.
Have you been impacted by the Flint water emergency?
No, not like the restaurants. I just read that one of my favorite soul food restaurants, Beverly’s (Cakes and Catering) on Dort Highway, closed because she had lost so much business. For me, my business isn’t directly impacted by the water. Although, I could see it becoming an issue if people start moving away. It’s hard to predict what the outcome is going to be.
What advice can you offer to other entrepreneurs?