Justin Bartley, Founder of Visionary Muzik Academy
They are a Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) enriched music program serving youth of all ages.
In their program, they utilize music as a tool to empower all scholars with the skills, values and cultural understanding to successfully navigate high school and beyond by striving to increase student engagement and commitment.
Connect with Justin on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- How VMA started
- What separates VMA from other music programs
- Success stories
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:04] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Atlanta Business Radio. Brought to you by on pay. Atlanta’s New standard in payroll. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:25] Lee Kantor here another episode of Atlanta Business Radio, and this is a very special one. This is part of the GSU radio series where we spotlight some of the great work that’s being done at GSU. And this is particularly important because this is part of the Main Street Entrepreneurship Seed Fund. This is a group of entrepreneurs that are trying to make it with the help of the Main Street Entrepreneurship Fund and GSU. And we have one of the participants, Justin Bartley, and he is with Visionary Muzik Academy. Welcome, Justin.
Justin Bartley: [00:00:58] Hey, Lee, Thanks for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:59] I am so excited to learn what you’re up to. Tell us about Visionary Music Academy. How are you serving folks?
Justin Bartley: [00:01:06] All right. Well, I’m the founder of Visionary Music Academy school program for music production and songwriting. But we focus on the students who are in our program just a tad bit more than the music I’ve been teaching for about 14 years now. And then just listening to the feedback from my students and over that time, teaching this program has kind of just born out of what the children had to say. You know, music has been taught the same way traditionally for so long. I just believe it’s time to shake it up. My kids believe that it was time to shake it up. And here we are, Visionary Music Academy.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:43] So can you talk about the genesis of the idea? When did you kind of say, you know what, I have some ideas about a curriculum that might be a different or better way to do this. How did that come about? Can you talk about kind of the beginnings?
Justin Bartley: [00:01:56] Yes, well, absolutely. The very beginnings. My first year in education, I was a kindergarten teacher and I was blessed to be given the opportunity to slide in as the music teacher. However, the school didn’t have much of a budget for traditional, you know, classroom instruments, soundproof walls, and a lot of the intricate things that take place in music classrooms that, you know, we don’t always think about. So I had to get creative in order to have an effective class. And one thing I knew I was going to have every day, we might not have instruments, but I knew I was going to have students every day. So we started learning and working with body percussion, learning how to make sounds and create sounds with the things around us literally having no instruments. My wife brought a little voice recorder halfway through my first year and I started recording the things that were happening in class, and I said, Well, you know, this is actually kind of special. This is not in any music curriculum, in any music theory class I might have studied. This is something being created right now in the moment, and it’s worth capturing. It’s worth being a part of a music class. And I believe it was worth including in music education. So just from the recordings of early voices, early ideas from the kids each year of teaching, the program kind of just evolved into what it is.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:16] Now and then when did you start realizing, Hey, you know what? This is something that can be its own business. This doesn’t have to just be one class in it, you know, throughout the day or throughout the week at a school. This is something that valuable enough to the community that could stand alone and people will come and participate.
Justin Bartley: [00:03:36] You know. Well, to be honest, um. I’ve always felt like it could be, but I wasn’t sure what the avenues were to make that a reality. And Main Street really opened the doors for me to see that there is way, you know, there are ways to make opportunities for the class to still be as valuable as it would be in the school, but just taking it to other places. So our main street really helped me see the capabilities and also just, um, you know, having a family of my own. I love teaching all day, but I would love to be able to be, you know, just in control of more of my time and still doing what I love. And I’ve been learning that week by week, workshop by workshop. Chile’s has been a blessing.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:17] So how has Main Street helped you kind of discover the possibilities? What are some of the the things that they were asking you about and maybe guiding you towards?
Justin Bartley: [00:04:31] So I think Thank you. That’s actually a really good question. Just for me personally, Um, I think I’ve been focused on what happens in the classroom for so long. Um, I haven’t done the best job of taking what I know is valuable out into the outside world, outside of the classroom and the stories that the children are telling the music that they’re creating. Um, it’s so important that now my main street has helped me to kind of light a new fire into finding ways to share that music with the world, to share those stories with the world. And that’s kind of the drive, you know, it’s kind of pushing me to to explore a new identity, like a new intersection in my educational practice and in just in my life. Brightness. So, um, I think does that answer the question?
Lee Kantor: [00:05:23] Sure. Now, for the people who aren’t familiar, can you explain what is what makes a visionary music academy special and different? What how is it different than maybe some of the other programs that are more, you know, kind of been doing the same thing? That’s been done before?
Justin Bartley: [00:05:43] Oh, man. I think the what makes it special, what makes every single group special is the the purpose is not just to create music. A lot of other music programs are, you know, elite in precision and practice and and just habits. I’m a trained, you know, trained trombonist myself. And there are certain things that I do find valuable that I learn from traditional music education. But there’s also just a component of self that I feel like has been missing in music. I believe music is connective. So everything that we do in Visionary Music Academy starts with connecting, connecting as a group, connecting with our communities, making connections with music. Um, you know, we live in a world that’s moving so fast, focusing on, okay, we’re going to find this new trade, learn it, master it, and then we share it. Well, now that’s a beautiful part of it. That happens in that in that practice, when you really learning the instrument or you growing and you stretching yourself. And I believe sometimes we can rush through it. So I focus on the kid. We focus on just holistic development first and finding out who you know each child is and that person is who’s going to start creating music. They find out you know who they are, what they gravitate to, how they want to connect with music, and then they engage as opposed to just picking an instrument and having that. So I like to take my time and getting to know every, every, every scholar who participates in visionary music academy and helping them set their goals and achieve those goals.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:17] So can you share can you can you share with the listener maybe what an early class looks like for them if they were to participate? What what can they expect to happen?
Justin Bartley: [00:07:30] So in early in the early stages of visionary music, we are trying to deconstruct some of the things that we might be carrying with us every day that are the result of anything any preexisting idea that is not coming from our genuine self, from our authentic selves. For example, if you go into a music studio and somebody gives you the headphones and points you to a microphone, you might think, Hey, I have to sound a certain way. I have to mimic a certain artist, my favorite singer, I have to be you know, I have to meet some level of quality before what I put out into the world is acceptable. So the first few weeks, the first few classes we work on breaking those those misunderstandings and misconceptions down and understanding that the most important thing that we’re going to create together is a representation of ourselves, a representation of who’s behind that microphone, who’s got the pencil in their hand. It’s not me writing the songs. Every song that we’ve ever created and posted has been 100% written by the kids. So that’s the that’s the the angle we take. It’s uncomfortable at first. So a lot of the first few classes are just getting to know yourself. Um, getting to understand that the reality that every kid brings to a classroom or to every arena they’re in is valid, their reality is valid. So that’s the, that’s the first few classes before we even really touch any musical apparatus or any, any controllers or music production gear. We just break down misconceptions and start being ready to unlearn the things that have been staring us in the wrong direction and receive whatever else is out there for us to grow in.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:12] Yeah, that brings up an important point. A while ago I interviewed a woman that shared this about artists. She said that when a child is in like kindergarten or pre K or first grade, they think everybody’s an artist. Everybody believes they’re an artist. But when they get around fifth grade, only a handful of people still think of themselves as artists that they’ve, you know, somebody has criticized them or somebody has give them wrong information and they’ve kind of squashed that ability to be an artist. And only the handful of people that could really draw well consider themselves artists at that stage. And it’s really sad that in my mind, everybody is an artist and, you know, the people who aren’t choosing a path or at least a hobby in the arts is they’re doing it because of their own kind of baggage they’re carrying. It has nothing to do with the reality that’s within them.
Justin Bartley: [00:10:12] Absolutely. Absolutely. I think that’s a very important piece. Like you said, we live in a world man where we’re judged on the out of the ten thing or the nine things we might do right out of ten. You know, we get judged on the one thing that we can be better at, and that’s an idea that we got. You know, kids don’t deserve to walk around, you know, bearing the weight of failure or or feeling like their best isn’t enough. We got to take time and rebuild those values in our culture, in our society, man. So that’s really a huge component of what Visionary Music Academy is.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:44] Now, is there an age group that you specialize in, or is there a range of ages that are the most appropriate for VMA?
Justin Bartley: [00:10:51] So right now, I’m targeting middle school to high school students, just as I’ve spent the majority of my career teaching kindergarten through eighth grade. And I’ve seen the fruits of the program. Right now, I’m teaching middle school fifth through eighth grade. And these are students that have been with me since they’ve been in kindergarten. So I’m able to track their stories from, you know, being five years old to 13 years old. And now I’ve got students who have graduated college and, you know, pursuing careers now. So I eventually hope to have a program in place for all ages, five years old, all the way through life, 25 years old, man, there’s no age. You know what I mean? That encouragement is too much. There’s no age too, that there shouldn’t be an age cap on on, you know, when a young mind or a young person stops receiving encouragement or stops feeling free to explore their dreams and their passions. So as long as the doors of Visionary Music Academy are open, the prayer is that we will be able to serve all ages, all young people.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:56] Is there a story you can share that maybe somebody that’s gone through the program and has been able to get to a new level?
Justin Bartley: [00:12:03] Yes, I have a few. One, the first one that comes to mind, there’s a young lady who was in my class my first year teaching at my current school ten years ago. She was a seventh grader in my class, wanted to be the first person in her family to finish school. She was writing songs, writing poems, rapping about wanting to become a pediatric nurse. Um. May 20th, 23, She graduated from Georgia Southern, the campus down in Savannah with her degree in nursing. A few weeks ago she texted me, Hey, just let you know. I got my I got my nursing license. I’m a registered nurse getting ready to be a, you know, working at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. So that story to me, she literally has changed the trajectory of her entire family just by doing what she set out to do. She started writing about it, started rapping about it, and she started doing it from seventh grade all the way through life. And now she’s well on the road to be, you know, a success, a legend in her community, a legend in her family. And that’s the story I share with my current students. Every new group. She’s still here. She pops in. She comes and helps kids, you know, with their verses. So the idea her story is still being written. So the most beautiful thing about the program is we keep you know, we keep the doors open for for all young people to keep coming back and keep creating more stories and inspiring new stories. So.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:30] Well, congratulations on that. The impact is real and it must be very rewarding for you to see that happen. Something you dreamed of in your head to come to reality and impact not only an individual, but, like you said, their family and the community around them. And it goes beyond the music, right? This is the her success. The music maybe is a soundtrack to it, but it doesn’t have to be the career path for it.
Justin Bartley: [00:13:56] Precisely. Precisely. That is it. It’s about the music. Again, like you said, it’s one of the byproducts. But the idea is taking a community, specifically young voices who are usually marginalized and often brushed to the side. And my job is to help them maximize their voice, to help them, you know, become valuable assets in their community, wherever that is, wherever life takes them. I want them to feel comfortable and passionate about what they believe in, being able to voice what they believe in anywhere they go. So that’s absolutely it, man. It’s we’re truly trying to build a family, man. We make it a real family experience.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:32] So what do you need more of? How can we help?
Justin Bartley: [00:14:36] Um, right now. I need more. I’m going to need a team Right now. It’s just me. Um, and now that I’ve seen the program work and I feel like I’ve acquired just enough experience to hopefully inspire more people to come on board and implement the same values that we’ve built and visionary music in more places. It’s it’s bigger, like you said, it’s bigger than music. Um, these are things that the school doesn’t necessarily have time to slow down and hone in on. We’re focusing on the social, emotional learning and support of, of every child that we encounter. And our schools definitely have programs and, you know, fail safes in place to try to do as much as possible. We can never do enough, you know what I mean? We live, like I say, these times. It’s a different day and age now, man. And every every medium, everything that we can do to help these kids, I think is necessary.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:31] So if somebody wants to learn more, connect with you or learn more about VMA, what is the coordinates for that? Is it do you have a website? Is there any social media place for people to kind of plug in or just connect with you on LinkedIn? What’s the best way?
Justin Bartley: [00:15:47] Absolutely. To connect with me on LinkedIn. Justin Bartley On LinkedIn, our Instagram page is at Visionary Music Music, and we spell it differently because we do it differently. Um, so that’s where we are right now. The website is currently under construction, but also you can find the music on SoundCloud, just Google Us Visionary Music Academy. We are on SoundCloud, we’re on Apple Music, Spotify. Hey Alexa, play visionary music. Siri play visionary music. We’ll pop up. So yeah, man, we have songs, um, with no promotion, no marketing, no real marketing scheme. We have about 120,000 plays so far, you know, from just about every country that has Internet. So, you know, the messages are getting told, the stories are being heard, the kids are being represented. I’m just ready to take it to the next level.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:38] Well, thank you so much for sharing your story today, Justin. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Justin Bartley: [00:16:44] Hey, that means a lot coming from you, man. Thank you, Lee. I appreciate.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:47] It. All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll see you all next time on GSU ENI radio.
About Our Sponsor
OnPay’s payroll services and HR software give you more time to focus on what’s most important. Rated “Excellent” by PC Magazine, we make it easy to pay employees fast, we automate all payroll taxes, and we even keep all your HR and benefits organized and compliant.
Our award-winning customer service includes an accuracy guarantee, deep integrations with popular accounting software, and we’ll even enter all your employee information for you — whether you have five employees or 500. Take a closer look to see all the ways we can save you time and money in the back office.