Entertainment Facility for Teens and Adults

The Music Factory

We have a way of keeping teen-agers entertained and occupied during their many hours of idle time. A very wide range of kids will be benefited by this program. It can be operated as a non-profit enterprise (the way we intended to do it) or as a for-profit company.

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A few years ago, I owned a very large factory and operated my moderate sized manufacturing company out of it. A considerable part of the building was unused. This was in a fairly small town (22,000 people).

A friend of mine was in college at the time (1984), and he had strong social connections with many of the High School students, since he had been a very good athlete when he had been a student in their High School. He and I had many long conversations regarding the fact that they generally felt that there was nothing for them to do during the summer, while school was out. Many of them would wind up following some outgoing student, and often they wound up experimenting with smoking, drinking a lot, doing drugs, and doing minor vandalism in the community.

We both felt like there should be something that could be done to help solve this situation. Eventually, we came up with the concept of the Music Factory. I am convinced that it is an excellent idea, and I believe that many communities would benefit from a similar project there.

This concept was developed in the Spring of 1984. This presentation was first placed on the Internet in May 1999.

I already owned the building, and that part of the building already had industrial supplies of electricity and water. I didn't see that there would be much additional cost, so early one February, several of us started working on a part of the building that was about 7,000 square feet, on two floors. We removed almost half of the second floor, and used the lumber to make an enormous stage (32 by 15 feet, with several levels, for entertainment bands to run around on. Above the stage and a 20 by 32 first floor dance floor, the ceiling was now 22 feet high.

The building was brick, and we lined the lowest 3 feet with wainscoting paneling, with the next 4 feet high being an area of mirrors all the way around. We mounted a bunch of additional lights (of various colors) up on the rafters, and set up a complete wiring system for them, and a separate wiring system to handle 16 channels of sounds from microphones on and around the stage. A DJ stand about halfway back in the building had the mixer board for all 16 channels, as well as a cassette player, a phono turntable, and an FM radio source. (This was before CDs were popular!)

We did NOT install a heating system, since we only intended to operate the Music Factory for the three months during the summer when kids needed something to do. The State of Indiana indicated they would certify the Music Factory for occupancy of 704 people. (We had thought in terms of maybe 50 might come on any one evening!) With this in mind, we build a six-stall rest room area, three for males and three for females.

Our intent was a diverse and interesting place to visit. The Mayor's secretary offered to donate a ping pong table for the rear area. There was a built in freight scale already there. Instead of trying to remove it, we expected to find some way that boys could push upward on a weight-lifting type bar. If anyone would push up with a force greater than twice their body weight, we'd give him or her a free can of soda! (No cost to try!)

In the rear area, where the bathrooms and the scale and the ping pong table were, we made a small concession stand area, like at High School basketball games, where soda and chips and pre-made sandwiches would be available. A couple soda vending machines would be there, too.

We did all this at minimal expense and with a lot of hard work, with intent of being a positive service to the community.

Central to the concept of the Music Factory was the various entertainments that were to occur on the main stage.

Each night of the week would have a specific format:

The entire concept of the Music Factory was as a NON-ALCOHOL facility! We wanted people to have a chance to learn that they could have a great time without getting drunk or stoned. As word got out about what we were doing, several Alcoholics Anonymous groups from nearby communities called to indicate that they intended to regularly bring busloads of members! (Pretty cool!) The second floor was intended specifically for adults. There was a separate small dance floor up there. We felt that most adults would prefer to have their own space, where teen-age kids at the next table wouldn't regularly be jostle them! We figured that the young people would like that too, of not having to deal with old people in their faces, down on their main floor!

Regarding the Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday contest nights: We would never be sure just how many competitors would want to compete on any particular night. Or just what they would do. If something was in bad taste, we would stop it, but otherwise, if someone had the nerve to get up there and play Lady of Spain on an accordion, we'd say to GO FOR IT! There would be no cost to compete. A particular evening's winner(s) would be determined by applause of the audience. That winner would win two things. First, entry to compete after 12 weeks, against all the other week winners, for the $200 Grand Prize. Second, a tee shirt that says I WON ON AMATEUR NITE AT THE MUSIC FACTORY.

Competitors who lost could buy a tee shirt for $4 that says I LOST ON AMATEUR NITE AT THE MUSIC FACTORY. This is relatively close to the cost of the shirts.

A cover charge of $1 would be charged each person for the entire evening. On nights when live bands would perform, the cover charge would be $2. These funds would offset the costs of the various winners' tee shirts and the several $200 Grand Prizes. The money brought in from the concession stand would help pay the (students?) who would man that concession. The vending machines would help pay the wages of other part time student employees, like football players as bouncers. That's as non-profit as anything could be!

Since we were to be open only during the summer, when school was not in session, we felt that hours from 5 pm to Midnight would be appropriate.

We arranged with the town Police to always have at least one undercover Police Officer at the premises. Our concern was not within the Music Factory, but in the parking lot and in nearby streets, where some people might be trying to enjoy the music while still drinking, doing drugs, or other improper activities.

We figured that a LOT of teenagers (and others) would regularly come to the Music Factory because of the diversity of entertainments that were offered. On Amateur Night, they may come to cheer or jeer their friends. Every kind of music would occasionally be featured, and the dance contests would also draw a big crowd.

We also expected that local "garage bands" would have a new incentive for practicing hard. They would now be guaranteed of an audience after they had half a dozen songs down. In addition, a tap dancer or violinist or accordion player or opera singer would finally have a good reason for the endless hours of practice in their avocation. In other words, MANY people would benefit, for many different reasons.

You have the general idea now. We went to a lot of time and trouble (and expense) to try to do a public service for the community, entirely at our expense (not ever asking for any government money or any other donations). We designed it entirely as a non-profit operation. We thought we had found a wonderful solution for what High School kids could do all summer, that didn't involve alcohol, drugs, sex, vandalism, gangs, or other such activities.

Since it was to be a summer only operation, we planned to open on Memorial Day weekend, and close Labor Day weekend. About May 20, we started nailing up posters on telephone poles, but they were rather unnecessary for the kids, because they already knew EVERYTHING about the Music Factory. Some had even already started practicing what they intended to do on Amateur Nite! The town newspaper saw the posters and then sent a reporter. The next day, a really nice, large story appeared in the paper!

The day after that, (I believe Wednesday) about seven men in three piece suits showed up to talk to me. They asked a couple superficial questions. When they asked whether I had a liquor license, I clarified that being non-alcohol was an important part of what we wanted to do. I also confirmed that we were going to open in two days, on Friday evening.

One of them then told me that if I tried to open, I would be put in jail! This was quite unexpected! He then made a speech from two hundred years ago! "Do you know how popular this will be? Do you know how many kids will come? Do you know how much trouble that many young kids will cause when they get together? Do you know how many young girls will get pregnant in cars in the parking lot? Do you know how much drug dealing will be going on out in the parking lot?" He never left any time for me to answer any of those assertions. He already decided he knew the answers. If I would have thought about it at the time, I probably should have asked him if he thought I was the Devil himself! His statements sure seemed to come from such an opinion.

At no point was I allowed to point out that we were trying to do a public service for the community. THEY sure never found any way to occupy all those kids during the summer. The newspaper regularly had stories about the vandalism and other trouble the kids would get into during the summer. No one ever presented a possible solution. We did!

In any case, it turned out that one of the seven guys had been flown up from Indianapolis, and he was from the State Building Inspector's Office. By the time he was done, he had found over 100 building code violations, most of which were related to handicapped accessibility. This was interesting, because a brother of one of the guys who did a lot of work that Spring had spent his entire life in a wheelchair, and he had occasionally come while we were under construction, and didn't have any significant problems.

Even though we provided two separate stairways up to the (adult) second floor, they insisted that I put in a $300,000 elevator, in case a handicapped person wanted to go up to the second floor! Our bathrooms had a step up (no ramp!) the bathroom doors were not wide enough for a wheelchair, we didn't have handicapped toilets, or hand rails. More than two-thirds of the alleged violations were associated with the bathrooms and handicapped accessibility. After handing me this phenomenal list, he laughingly commented that, since we were non-alcohol, we actually weren't required to provide ANY bathroom facilities! I could hardly react! I commented that I was going to be allowed to have 704 people in the building, with no bathrooms??!! He said YES!

No matter what I proposed to try to comply with their rules, they would block it. Closing off the second floor. Closing the bathrooms. It didn't matter. They would come up with more things. At one point, I was upstairs (in the adult area) with one of them, when he made a statement about a kid getting drunk and climbing up on the hand railing and then falling off and dying as his head smashed when it hit the concrete dance floor below! It didn't even seem worth trying to point out that it was non-alcohol, the balcony was meant for adults, and that his statement applied to every handrailing in the town, on bridges, balconies, etc. That statement made it absolutely clear that they were going to make absolutely sure that the Music Factory was never going to be allowed to open! Unbelievable! One of the most wonderful thing anyone had ever offered to do for that town, and they destroyed it.

Separate for all the time and expense involved, I was really disappointed for the kids in the town. Many had become REALLY excited about having somewhere interesting to go each night. Actually, afterwards, when we didn't open, some became very angry at US. Some broke in and destroyed many of the speakers and mirrors and other things. The town obviously never told anyone that THEY were why we never opened. WE sure intended to!

I have created this web-page to present what could be done, in almost any community in the US. I tend to prefer the non-profit approach, but also non-municipal. Just a generous public service from some local company that has an available facility. It seems to me that government involvement would engender too much of an authority figure in the picture. We were going for an environment where there was MINIMAL authority figures present. I already mentioned that we intended to hire some of the big football players as bouncers. If they represented the authority figures, without adults hovering over the scene, it would be more relaxing to many young kids. Many of them are rebellious, remember?? Many kids never go to High School dances, because teachers are always there spying on everything you do! That's what some think! And, sometimes, they're even right!

We also lean away from a company operating such a facility as a profit-making venture. If they did, accountants would start looking to maximize profits (or minimize losses) and the whole mood of the place would change.

In our case, we actually DID have a long-term hope for the project. If it was as popular as it seemed likely to be, and if it had the ambiance of a casual, fun, non-authoritarian environment, and if it maintained that situation for several summers, we intended to some day quietly put a poster up near the stage, announcing a Sunday morning concert by a Christian Rock band. Hopefully, some people would show up for it. If so, they would find Gideon's type Bibles lying on each table, but there would be NO outright sermon or anything structured in a religious manner. Kids are smart. They would figure out the connection. Between listening to the Christian words of the music and possibly browsing through the convenient Bible, they might become slightly more receptive to Christianity.

When we built the stage, I also designed it with the distant future intent of using in as an Altar in a Church environment. More correctly, as a Chapel. Some friends who had had very serious drug or alcohol addictions, and who became reformed through Christ, understood the concept, and mentioned that they intended to often be present, in case any individual felt the need to talk to a Christian. But, it would NEVER be forced on anyone or thrown in their faces.

Depending on how the Sunday morning adventures went, we intended to make suitable adjustments as time went on. Eventually, we might ask some of those people to tell their life stories.

Well, we thought we did everything right. And we thought we did those things for the right reasons. We still think the premise is sound. Maybe the time and place were not right when we tried to do it. It was a super-conservative town, and I did not grow up there. I very much hope that someone who reads this recognizes the wonderful possibilities in the Music Factory concept, and then enables it to blossom in their community. Contrary to what I heard that day from the suits, I do NOT see anything bad that could come from it, and a LOT of good can be accomplished by it.

I have known 20 year olds who had practiced opera for 15 years. I would ask, Who do you sing for? No one, was the disappointing answer. They put that much of their life into an endeavor, and no one will ever benefit from it. They knew that they weren't good enough for Carnegie Hall in New York, and who else hires opera singers? There were recitals, of course, at their studio, but the only people ever present are other students and their parents. The Music Factory would give such a person a venue for offering their skills in public, and it would offer the community some exposure to the Fine Arts.

Please consider doing it in your community!

For the record, during these efforts in LaPorte, Indiana to provide a Good Deed for the community, I came to be aware of a Bad Cop in the LaPorte City Police Department. That Cop was clearly even proud of himself, as one evening, he took me to the relatively empty Police Station and then down into their Evidence Room, to show me how he had essentially unlimited source of drugs for his beautiful girl friend, out of the many packages in that Evidence Room which contained many kinds of drugs I had never even heard of! His assumption that he could freely brag about his actions to me was poor, in that ever since then, I have been troubled that I did not turn him in. A Bad Undercover Cop. A Philosophical Dilemma for me.

This Music Factory concept was first developed in the Spring of 1984, and almost came into operation on Memorial Day weekend that year. It was first presented on the Internet in May 1999.

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C Johnson