Music lessons for kids sometimes get a bad reputation. The assumption can be that students are forced to play through music they don’t like until a 30-minute timer goes off. Then they have to do it again the next week.
Ryan Freeman has always had a dream to change that, and every day he’s making that dream a reality at The Launch Pad Rock School and Recording Studios. He and a friend opened the studio almost nine years ago in Plainfield, and it’s home to music lessons, a rock band program for kids, and a recording studio.
“We wanted to make music lessons fun again,” Freeman says.
Freeman and his friend T.J. Hampton have been close for years; in fact, they met at a church conference when Freeman was 18 years old. Hampton needed a drummer at his church, so Freeman took the job. Through many discussions, they dreamt up the idea of doing a rock school and a recording studio all under the same roof. They wanted to approach teaching music in a nontraditional way.
“Kids learn differently nowadays,” Freeman says. “Back in the day, they worked their way through method books, taking years to learn how to play songs they heard on the radio. Now, we can custom-tailor lessons to what works best for the students.”
Freeman says that often, kids learn best by learning to play songs they like right away. He can find the song they want at the appropriate skill level and work with them to master it, sneaking in theory along the way.
“We’ve taught everything from Metallica to Katy Perry to Johnny Cash songs,” Freeman says. “We can do different versions of songs too. Once they learn to play a song they love, they’re usually inspired to keep playing for months and maybe even years.”
As far as instruments go, The Launch Pad teaches a wide range. Kids can take lessons on drums, guitar, bass, piano and keyboard. They can take vocal lessons, and Freeman also offers electronic production and recording lessons in his studio.
His business doesn’t stop there. His hope is that the lessons lead the kids into an even bigger opportunity.
“The ultimate goal is to get them plugged into our Rock Band program,” Freeman says. “We started that six years ago, and it’s where they audition and we place them in bands together.”
The bands include students in middle school and high school. They are placed together in groups based on skill level, and each band fills out with a vocalist, bass player, guitar player, drummer and keyboardist. Bands practice together, almost like a group lesson, throughout the year, and then perform at gigs around the city.
“By the end of the year, they know about 15 to 20 songs and they play at places like local festivals, charity events, and outdoor summer and fall concerts,” Freeman says. “It’s really amazing to see how fast they grow when they play together with their peers.”
Before the pandemic, The Launch Pad had six bands rocking out around Hendricks County, playing at places like The Shops at Perry Crossing, Hummel Park, the Hendricks County 4-H Fairgrounds, and the Quaker Day Festival. Freeman hopes to get a few bands put together this fall.
The Rock Band program plays into Freeman’s vision of launching musicians out of Plainfield.
“Years and years from now, we want people to wonder, ‘Why are all these awesome musicians coming from Plainfield?’” Freeman says. “We are already starting to see kids we’ve taught graduate and play professionally after college. It’s really cool.”
In addition to lessons and the Rock Band program, Freeman gets to flex his producer muscles by giving recording lessons or renting out the studio to musicians who want to record and produce an album. Often local musicians want to produce an album. Some know exactly how they want to make the album, while others want Freeman to participate in a producer role.
“It’s like building a house in a lot of ways,” Freeman says. “As a recording engineer, I get to see the skeleton of a song and help build it to the artist’s final vision. Seeing them come back, and walk down these stairs and hand me the finished album we all worked so hard on, is a really proud moment.”
He’s had many proud moments, as more than 100 albums have been recorded in The Launch Pad studio.
Having grown up around music, Freeman draws on his own experience of learning through playing in groups. His dad is a bass player and led worship services at their church while Freeman was growing up. His dad also spent a lot of time playing in a band at local gigs. Freeman remembers there were always instruments around the house, and as a kid he’d pick them up and start playing.
“When I grew up, I wanted to be exactly like my dad,” Freeman says. “I officially started learning how to play bass at 9 years old.”
Through the years Freeman would eventually pick up drums and play at many churches and shows. He began to play at gigs with his dad and other musicians at the age of 14.
“Together we have this rhythmic bond,” Freeman says. “He’s my favorite bass player in the world. Any time I got to play with my dad and his friends were some of my greatest memories as a child.”
His experiences performing and playing in groups guide his work teaching music lessons. Working with others and playing great music are key components in his work.
There are six members on staff including Freeman. His wife Kristyana teaches vocal lessons and handles much of the administrative work, and the rest of the staff is made up of talented, enthusiastic teachers.
“We started this place for kids who aren’t going to necessarily do sports or even high school band programs,” Freeman says. “This place is run by musicians, for musicians. The musical family around here is tight-knit. The music will always be first for us.”
He loves being in Plainfield, and his school has been embraced fully. Tuition is monthly, and includes four to five lessons for the month with no contracts. Lessons are one-on-one, last half an hour, and are available to adults as well.
Freeman’s dream isn’t just to teach music – it’s to empower and equip others.
“Music gives me life,” Freeman says. “I want to share the joy that music has brought me over all these years. In a lot of ways, the music is a byproduct of a greater thing we’re doing by being a positive influence in kids’ lives. We are all about helping them find their confidence in something they can carry on into adulthood.”
The Launch Pad is located at 301 South Center Street in Plainfield. For more information, call 317-721-7775 or visit launchpadindy.com.