Free Music for Free People builds a community for youth musicians in Denver

When Mona Magno – aka “Monalicious” – first had the idea to form Free Music for Free People in Denver, it was because, as a musician with many musician friends, she wanted to be involved in the music industry and wanted to support all of the people she knew who were making music.

“I knew so many people making music I just wanted to promote them and provide an opportunity for my friends and the artists I was discovering locally, as well as wanting to do something amazing but not having it be all about money,” she says. “I wanted to do all these projects and thought, ‘Can’t we just get together and do awesome stuff in the name of music?'”

That was in the summer of 2013, when Free Music for Free People was born. Magno initially ran it by herself, then brought on some friends to help out including Diego Florez, Community Director and MC.

The Free Music for Free People team

“Monalicious had this grand master idea; she’s definitely the mastermind,” says Florez. “What was happening was because we were young – 15, 16, 17 years old – people would not let us play in venues because we weren’t of age, so we started partnering with venues to let us put on shows.”

They partnered with local places like Gypsy House Café, Mutiny Information Café, and Mercury Café to get youth artists out on the stage alongside peer youth artists or other artists they looked up to, without it costing the artists themselves money to do so.

“We had a lot of friends saying, ‘Oh, we’re getting booked’ but being expected to sell tickets then ending up having to pay money to these people [if they didn’t sell enough],” Florez explains. “We thought, ‘Well, we can do this by ourselves, we just have to create the means to do it.'”

Florez is a poet, musician, and artist. Born and raised in North Denver in a strong Chicano community, he has been actively involved in poetry events hosted by local community organizations.

“I went to my first poetry event in the sixth grade and really fell in love with the atmosphere of people sharing their work and experiences,” he says. “I started to write myself and that led to writing independently until high school.”

Florez dropped out at age 16 after his mom was deported, though he continued writing and later had the opportunity to be on the national Minor Disturbance youth poetry slam team in Denver, which opened up the doors for him to teach music fundamentals and lead workshops. A musician who plays multiple instruments, Florez also plays in a group called Los Mocochetes, which he describes as “protest music with a groovy vibe,” as well as a neosoul-jazz-blues-R&B project that’s “more laid back,” and a group formed by some of his students.

Florez is the Community Director of Free Music for Free People, which involves reaching out to form partnerships with businesses and other community organizations as well as hosting events as the Master of Ceremonies. The organization first started with a “super ambitious goal” of hosting three shows per week, which they made happen with yoga and meditation classes featuring healing musicians, open mics, and hip hop cyphers, but they certainly learned some things about event planning along the way.

“We learned so much about putting on events and how to schedule events in a city,” Florez says. “On certain days people weren’t coming out because bigger events happening. Now we’re looking to do more like 10 events a year but really intentionally plan them and promote them, make sure we’re partnered with different people and really be able to create an awesome, meaningful experience.”

There are now a few open mics and fundraisers as well as two hip hop cyphers and a huge annual spring showcase/birthday show. Their next hip hop cypher is coming up this Thursday, April 13, and their Fourth Annual FM4FP Spring Showcase is on May 19 in partnership with We Are Change Colorado, a peoples media and activist organization.

Magno says that while they’ve decreased the number of events they organize each year, they have been expanding more into media, producing videos for artists in studios, at venues, and performing live at their events to provide publicity for youth artists, and also partnering with festivals like ARISE Music Festival.

“We wanted the world to see what we were doing,” she says of the videos. “We’re going to continue to expand and collaborate, moving more in a media direction and continuing to make connections at new venues and filming really amazing music. We’ll also continue to do fundraisers and really allow the inspiring momentum of the live music atmosphere to generate change in the world and support organizations that do things in their communities.”

She adds, “We’re trying to contribute to the community wherever there is a need. If something is fostering a community for youth, then that’s where we like to go.”

(1) How do you like to collaborate?
Really we collaborate with anyone who is interested and motivated. We enjoy collaborating with organizations and people who can mutually benefit from the project.

(2) How do you a start a project?
Each project starts with a small idea or need in the community. And then we run with it and dream big! We find out who’s interested in being involved and draw up a plan to take on the new project. Some plans and ideas work and other might need some change to really take off.

(3) How do you talk about your value?
Most of our value can be seen in our product, whether that be a show or a video. We’ve never been an organization to boast about what we’ve done, we’re quite humble but we are very excited about the work we do and the project we’re working on.

(4) How do you define success?
Great question, the standard for success constantly changes and evolves as the organization does. If we inspire one person at the end of a show or with a video then we have definitely succeeded! Moments like those make all the hard work worth it.

(5) How do you fund your work?
We are pretty much a passion project at this point – the product of many people coming together in the name of music. We have put together several fundraisers and we usually take donations at all our events. We generally steer away from involving money in our projects, which has its limitations but can also generate more creativity.

Answered by Mona Magno.