The Hustle

How an after-school DJ program beats the odds

Building Beats makes clever use of free software to compete in the niche after-school market.


March 8, 2020

Convincing a city to drop money on DJing classes for its underserved schools isn’t easy. So when Phi Pham strides into meetings with city officials, the founder of Building Beats comes with proof that DJing teaches life skills. 

Students uploading their music to SoundCloud? Teaches an entrepreneurial spirit. Performing at assemblies? That’s public speaking. Giving and receiving feedback with peers? A master class in conflict resolution.

As a nonprofit, Building Beats has a lean staff of only 3 full-timers. But by making clever use of free beat-making programs like Soundtrap, it’s squaring off against robotics, chess, and dance programs to land contracts in a niche after-school market.

Pham farms out projects to a group of 19 instructors who double as DJs or musicians in their daily lives. Contracts with schools make up 80% of his revenue, and almost all expenses are salaries. 

Building Beats has its sights set on delivering cost-effective programs to schools across New York City — and, soon, Los Angeles and D.C. So far, it’s striking a chord: In many high-poverty schools where Pham has landed, Building Beats is the only music class offered.

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