Teen center strikes a chord with recording studio

A pair of headphones and blank compact discs sit at the mixing station in the EX3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center music room in Federal Way. - Jacinda Howard/The Mirror
A pair of headphones and blank compact discs sit at the mixing station in the EX3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center music room in Federal Way.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard/The Mirror

Beyond the turntables and behind the thick Plexiglas door and soundproof walls is a realm where teenagers can let their thoughts flow freely in musical form.

Members of the EX3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center, located at 31453 28th Ave. S. in Federal Way, are offered the chance to fuel their creativity and build a sense of self through the center’s music composing and recording opportunities. The center features a soundproof recording studio that is available to all teen center members.

It’s a way the center’s members can express themselves, music studio instructor Andrew Baker said.

Music has played a large role in Baker’s life since he was a teenager. He has been a DJ for 14 years and has recorded music, free of charge, for musicians who did not have the means to pay for the service elsewhere, he said. Baker, a New Zealand native, recently completed his education in music and audio production at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

Now, he is receiving his first chance to put his knowledge to use. He spends his days teaching teen center members, who are all sixth- to twelfth-grade students, how to create and record music, while constantly testing their comfort levels.

Currently, Baker is working with a handful of members who have shown an interest in hip-hop and rapping. Some teenagers have musical experience, but others do not. Many just want to get into the recording booth and freestyle rap, Baker said.

This move is a good place to start becoming more familiar with music, but making it big in the music industry requires more than quick thinking, Baker said.

“I encourage them to be a little more creative,” he said.

The production and recording process that Baker instructs includes expanding the teenagers’ knowledge of music genres and testing their personal creative boundaries. Baker encourages teenagers to listen to a variety of music, contemplate lyrics and work on complete songs.

The adolescents mostly listen to hip-hop and rap, but many do not fully realize what it takes to create the product they are listening to, Baker said. Being taught how to use the audio and recording equipment is a way the teenagers learn more about music creation and production, Baker said.

“You can’t really just show them the equipment without trying to teach them how a song is put together,” he said.

The teen center’s recording studio does not offer everything one might find in a professional studio, but it offers a variety of equipment. Baker often brings his personal equipment with him to the studio. Turntables, mp3 players, mixers, monitors, recording software and instruments, percussion and vocal microphones are all available.

The equipment necessary to create and record one’s own music does not generally come cheap. At the teen center, a day’s worth or five hours of recording, for up to four days, costs $175, according to the EX3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center Web site at

In some circumstances, a $25-an-hour fee may apply. When finished recording, the teenagers get to keep one copy of their work, according to the site.

“In a professional studio, they would be getting charged a whole lot more money,” Baker said.

Professional recording studios charge anywhere from $50 to $600 per hour, Baker said. For the teenagers with limited recording experience, the fees could accumulate fast if they were to pursue their interest in music elsewhere. At the teen center, they have time to create their masterpiece along with guidance to assist them in their quest.

The experience is beneficial. The adolescents are eager to record and they revel in the thrill of hearing their music and voices on CD. A few are shy and hesitant to allow others to listen to their music, Baker said.

But slowly, they are becoming more relaxed and comfortable with themselves and the composing and recording process, he said. Some have even begun to show an interest in writing their own music — lyrics, drum beats and bass lines included, Baker said.

“It’s one of the beauties of music,” Baker said. “If people hear a song they like, they start smiling.”

Contact Jacinda Howard: or (253) 925-5565.

Learn more:

To learn more about the EX3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center and its music composing and recording opportunities, visit To record, contact Andrew Baker at (253) 681-6500 for an appointment.

The EX3 Ron Sandwith Teen Center also offers a course in how to be a DJ. Those involved will learn how to spin, scratch, fade and loop on turntables. Once teenagers have completed their training, they are considered certified and able to perform at teen center activities, program director Samantha Sanders said. To learn more about the DJ courses, call the center at (253) 681-6500.

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