At 17, Deontay Blanchard is a man with a plan, and that plan includes someday making his mark in the music business, based in part on the skills he’s learned through his association with Junior Achievement.
Blanchard is currently attending the public charter High School for the Recording Arts (HSRA) in St. Paul. It’s a program designed to help students explore creative endeavors, including music, and for the students to find a way to both achieve a high school diploma and learn more about subject matter that truly interests them.
In Blanchard’s case, he is especially interested in hip-hop, R&B and rap.
“I also produce, make beats and engineer,” he adds. “My favorite part? Hearing my voice,” he says with a raucous laugh.
“My interest in music came from my step-dad, who’s passed away, but he’s the one that got me interested in it,” he says. “I’ve always had a passion for music and this school is based around that. The basic message [at HSRA] is, ‘There is always another option for you, there’s always another option rather than dropping out,’” he adds. “Most kids who drop out never do anything with their lives, and HSRA is like, ‘Here’s another option.’ It’s like a normal school but with more opportunities. … I [came] here because I was behind on two or three credits and I wanted to catch up, and I may also be able to graduate early.”
Blanchard transferred to HSRA during the past school year. One of the programs that the school offers immediately caught his attention, a project known as L-Y-M-E, which stands for Leave Your Mark Everywhere.
Through LYME, and in conjunction with JA, students at HSRA had an opportunity to put together an actual record label and then distribute and promote the compilation on their own.
“Every year our school gets a JA project like LYME, and I got interested when they said that this year, students were going to be able to run a studio-based record label,” says Blanchard. “I was interested in that, and I got a little bit more involved with JA and started going to meetings and meeting with people.”
As part of the ongoing recording project, students got to explore every facet of the music business, from securing funding (money from JA corporate sponsor State Farm supported the project) to finding artists and producing their songs.
“The record label is called Another Level Records,” says Blanchard. “Basically, we get artists from the school or in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area and we created a compilation with songs from our artists and created a CD, booked studio time, all that…I knew this was going to be a hard job when they said, ‘run a record label’ but I was like, ‘I can finally see what this really means to be behind this.’ We had to do a business report [and] create departments. I was in the production department, and we also had financial and human resources departments. We had to do fundraisers to raise money for the shows, so we sold shirts and bracelets and things like that.
“What I did was I was basically the one who engineered a bunch of our artists and got their songs and their quality good,” he says. “I was behind the scenes, making beats for them and helping out with the album cover and all of that.”
Blanchard, who says his first exposure to JA programs came when he was in elementary school and JA brought tutors to his school, joined the JA Company Program at HSRA. The program involves regular class time in addition to studio time for recording.
“In the class, we have meetings about how to run a business, and how to pursue our dreams of running a business, whether that be doing hair or fixing cars or making music,” he says. “It’s like interning, [but] before you go do this job, you get to try it out here.”
Blanchard says he wants to continue on to school to study business, management and accounting, all of which he anticipates will help him pursue his dream of making music professionally.
“[What I learned through] JA is exactly what I want to go to school for,” he says. “It taught me, ‘You want to run a business? Well this is how you run a business.’
“The main thing I’ve gotten out of JA is really like a life lesson,” he says, reflecting on his experiences. “Coming to the end of the year, I’ve realized that JA helped me a lot with my organization; it helped me organize myself. I used to be everywhere,” he says emphatically. “You know how in your room you have your stuff set up? You have books [piled] over here, hair stuff over there, all that. And it was like, ‘You know where you should put everything but you’re just too lazy to do it.’
“After I joined JA, I’m actually a pretty organized person now,” he says. “I’m the person who’s like, ‘Okay, now I’m going to put everything where it needs to be.’ And then I look at it and say, ‘Wow. I got this. Good job!’”