With light rail ‘becoming a reality,’ Mode Music Studios has to build a new band – of backers to cover their move

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Imagine a band, orchestra, choir, mega-group of more than 500 musicians, stretching from the century-old brick building at the north end of Delridge onto the neighboring West Seattle Bridge, playing a song together. Maybe “Don’t Stop Believing.” Or “Let the Music Play.”

That would suit the determined mood of Erin Rubin, whose Mode Music Studios has that many students, something you might be surprised to hear, given how unassuming Mode’s building looks to passersby as they head to or from the bridge or the industrial zone below it.

Mode Music Studios (a WSB sponsor) is not the entirety of her tuneful 10-year-old enterprise, either. Erin also leads nonprofit Mode Music and Performing Arts – headquartered in the same building in the 3800 block of Delridge Way SW – which brings music and theater into schools, and into the lives of students whose families might not be able to afford it otherwise.

Not all small-business owners run nonprofits too. But most know the challenge of keeping a business not just surviving, but thriving. In the past four years or so, that’s been especially grueling. “When you’re trying to tread water, since the COVID shutdown and the bridge shutdown, it’s been one thing after another … you aren’t able to make the moves you want to, now it’s just kind of survival mode.”

“Moves” has a double meaning for Erin, Mode Music Studios, and Mode Music and Performing Arts. She is almost certainly going to have to move, with the likely location of Sound Transit‘s Delridge light-rail station spanning the location of her business and others, including music venue/restaurant/bar The Skylark next door, Ounces Taproom and Beer Garden just down the block, and other North Delridge businesses to their west, including Alki Beach Academy and others in the Frye Commerce Center.

Erin and her neighbors stress that they are not trying to stop the light-rail project. “I welcome public transportation but I’m concerned we’re gonna lose a lot of what we love.” Despite the near-certainty that her business will have to move, the building is not included in the recent “early acquisition” decision, meaning she’s in a unique kind of limbo. The circumstances are so difficult, Erin sent an open letter to the Mode community last week, as we noted here; we spoke with her the next day, just before Mode’s monthly all-ages open mic at The Skylark next door.

“We are in need of your support, now more than ever. After almost 10 years in our building on Delridge Way, the impermanence of our location is becoming a reality.” …

Erin told us she’s been thinking about the open letter since January – realizing “I have to write something, teachers and families are asking … … I don’t want to lean on the community but (people) have been asking how they can help.” While writing her letter, “I only started crying when I started talking about being a little kid, growing up (here).”

“January 1st, 1984, I was brought home from the hospital to a humble mother-in-law apartment on 54th and Genesee.”

Her West Seattle roots run deep. Her family moved out of WS for a while, but “we never lost connection with West Seattle … we’d come back to Alki Beach” and favorite businesses. Then she moved back as an adult, to raise her own family and to start her business: “My daughter came home to (a house at) 46th and Lander – I started my business in that house.” Her daughter is now almost 12. “She took her first steps in that house – she’s a ballerina now.”

The impending Mode move is a bit of déjà vu, as Erin had to move from that house on fairly short notice.

“10 years ago, I was given 90 days to leave my rental home in the North Admiral district that housed my family and the two teaching studios I created out of my basement.”

They found a home to live in in Westwood but she needed somewhere else for her studios. She found the Delridge spaces because of Skylark proprietor Matt Larson – with whom a close collaboration continues.

(Mode onstage at Skylark: Photo courtesy Erin Rubin)

“I couldn’t find any commercial space anywhere. I’ve done this (before). This space is a unicorn space.” Sound Transit policy, she says, is supposed to acknowledge that, with more consideration for those who face a lack of comparable space. “They were supposed to go back to the drawing board. … They should have evaluated our business (earlier in the process).” She finally got them to “come see what we built here,” to try to explain that the relocation package offered to businesses is insufficient. “My rent increase and buildout alone would be 10 times more than what they’re offering.”

“Our approximate cost for the Mode Music Studios build out in a new location is between $300k and $450k to replicate what we have on Delridge.”

That’s up to nearly 10 times the oft-quoted ST baseline. And money’s far from the only issue: Erin has 520 students and 50 teachers. “That’s a lot to relocate.” And the new space has to meet many specifications. “I have to build walls that are soundproof … we can’t have residential above us, rock bands make noise. … We have to find an older building or a warehouse, we’re going to have to build everything from scratch.” Mode Music Studios has nine spaces; Mode Music and Performing Arts has one teaching room, and while MMS could be flexible (maybe White Center, for example), MMPA has to stay inside Seattle city limits, because it receives city funding.

Many people are on the lookout, and she has “an incredible real-estate agent who’s been looking for me for a long time,” but if something turned up right now, “I don’t want to look at it because I can’t have it” – the official relocation assistance won’t be available until after the route is finalized, and with it, the list of properties ST will need. “We’re toast no matter what, even if the station moves a little bit …”

Mode offers both private lessons and student rock bands, teaching both kids and adults, as well as summer rock bands for ages 6-18. Erin founded the nonprofit, Mode Music and Performing Arts, six years ago, and have brought music and theater into 1,000 kids’ lives since then. “It felt so good because we were able to do so much more; it took us a while to establish, but we had stuff to show for it.” MMPA “makes MMS much more accessible,” for one, with scholarships for lessons. For two, it’s running 25 programs in schools right now. That includes lessons and free afterschool programs at local schools – Pathfinder K-8, Highland Park Elementary, and Roxhill Elementary among them. They’ve expanded into middle school and high school, too, with programs even including improv. “It’s really fun.” Mode offers “pay what you can” programs too, and works with organizations from PTSAs to Solid Ground (families in transitional housing, including a domestic-violence shelter). And programs aren’t only lessons – students get a chance to perform, too. The music teachers span many instruments and genres: “We have woodwind, brass, strings, some with classical backgrounds who found their way into rock … something for everybody; we’ve got a great crew.”

Those 50 instructors are all “teaching artists” whose income is supplemented by their work at Mode. She has teachers who are former students, even – one who was 6 years old when Erin taught her, and now she’s 21. Erin remembers what it was like to be a teaching artist – she was working at Easy Street Records/Café when she was encouraged to teach music.

Now, she’d like the Sound Transit decisionmakers to do some learning of their own. “What we’re in need of is a bigger relocation package, one that actually covers our expenses, calculates them. They’re supposed to vote (later this year) and they still don’t know how many employees I have …” Her lobbying has been like “beating your head against a wall.” (To intensify matters, West Seattle’s other major music school – the School of Rock – also has to find someplace new, because Jefferson Square is expected to come down for Junction station construction.)

With eight years passing since the ST3 vote, and another eight until the West Seattle light-rail extension is expected to open, Erin suspects “this is a surprise to people,” that businesses and homes will be demolished from North Delridge to The Junction as part of the project. “We’re not trying to shut it down – I’m happy to move my business,” but right now that requires community help, so the music doesn’t stop for those 520 students and 50 teachers. “We’re in full operation – we don’t want to lapse we would love to find that new location, get it all ready, and then when that [Sound Transit] note’s on the door – we move – it’s not gonna be easy moving a lot if equipment, a lot of teachers … we’re gonna do it, though!”

You can join Mode’s band (of supporters) by going here.

10 Replies to "With light rail 'becoming a reality,' Mode Music Studios has to build a new band - of backers to cover their move"

  • Arbor Heights mom April 16, 2024 (8:14 am)

    Erin is so great and Mode Music is the kind of business that makes West Seattle special — we need to keep the cool kids in the neighborhood. I hope Mode finds a new location so we can keep her in the neighborhood. 

  • Tracey April 16, 2024 (9:15 am)

    Someone posted this last week and I am going to post it again.  Great read.https://www.whereiamnow.net/post/here-s-why-west-seattle-needs-a-comprehensive-transit-plan

    • Bbron April 16, 2024 (10:34 am)

      not really. all the conclusions the author makes aren’t based on anything said by SDOT/ST or the history of what has played out with the other stations opening. it’s a good article for the data they collect, but is heavily biased. some highlights include: only using median income to see which neighborhoods need more transit attention is flawed as it ignores how a large chunk of population in neighborhoods here are retired folks rich in assets; the author states that only low income folks should be needing to commute from their neighbors which is kinda a general anti-movement or anti-transit take (cause who uses transit to get around in general?); never brining up the difference in resources and space it requires to “just add more buses” vs. the light rail, as we already don’t have the staff to run the buses as of now, and definitely will struggle to do so if the goal is to increase frequency and expands hours. overall the article is an attempt to retroactively add data to an anti-light rail opinion.

  • Jeff April 16, 2024 (10:22 am)

    Great! Glad to hear businesses not asking for sympathy and running to local news stations to try to derail lightrail (no pun intended!). I will be donating as I love Mode Music.

  • West Marge April 16, 2024 (5:17 pm)

    Waste of money. Waste of resources. The light rail is a cash cow and will only significantly effect a small group of commuters, while displacing hundreds of humans and local wildlife. Where’s the no build option? Environmental impact on those living in the plume of cement so a handful of Seattle commuters can get a ride to SODO? https://rethinkthelink org/https://www.whereiamnow.net/post/here-s-why-west-seattle-needs-a-comprehensive-transit-plan

  • 98126res April 16, 2024 (6:53 pm)

    🤔 Why are we doing this again? Let’s stop the West Seattle link. A sledge hammer is not needed, and this will be a sledge hammer. For example, Jefferson Square will be totally removed. Is it even needed?  We should not agree to a dumb idea. Guaranteed many people have no idea about this.I attended consultant led PowerPoint presentations, looked at their maps, and tried to follow the worthless maze of online commenting.    Sound Transit banks on confusion and fatigue and outlasting the public. West Seattle is a unique neighborhood and link.  We need to maximize OUR BEST options, be creative and solve problems – safety is a big question, metro buses already run light – BEFORE starting a new gargantuan project. More prudence is needed. The transit industrial complex wants to be fed and will cause upheaval and grief in our nice community… and FOREVER change it.  Ask yourself, Why are we doing this? 

    • Arbor Heights Resident April 16, 2024 (9:10 pm)

      Sorry, but you really lost me with the “transit industrial complex” line. Our society, economy,, and landscape have been totally redesigned to accommodate the auto industry’s products. Their lobbying efforts over many decades have led to the destruction of countless “nice communities”, and the gutting of our cities, just so they could sell more products. Every urban freeway- I-5, 405, 509 to name a few- came at a huge cost in pollution, noise, and safety. Countless buildings and natural areas were leveled and paved over for parking. Far from needing to “outlast the public”, the public has voted for Sound Transit to build an alternative to car-centric urban planning.

    • Brendan April 17, 2024 (12:47 pm)

      I do fail to see how expanding public transportation is a change that is a net-negative in any way. There will be shifts in local landscape, sure, however it increases accessibility of WS to the broader Seattle and King County communities. I – and the voting public – welcome that. You say Sound Transit wants to outlast the public, however, the public voted on this in 2016 and approved it. I struggle to see how Sound Transit is in the wrong vs those seeking to repeal what the voting population approved in a 54% – 46% vote. It’s a shame some in our community refuse to accept change for the greater good. Here’s to hoping that changes. 

      • ObviousArmadillo April 19, 2024 (1:15 pm)

        Exactly! I also like to think of it as a huge resiliency for west Seattle. We are a peninsula with very few car access points. We saw just how fragile we are with the bridge closing. That god it was during the pandemic, it would have been a huge problem 2 years earlier. Having the train makes us stronger and more resilient and allows for many more people to not drive. 

  • 98126res April 18, 2024 (10:18 pm)

    Recommend everyone who lives or works in West Seattle (and south) to go to and READ the two excellent websites below ASAP that lay out convincing research, and constructively argue against the unnecessary $4 billion West Seattle light rail extension.  It would displace 100s of people and demolish homes, apartment/condo buildings, wildlife, greenspace, and commercial businesses.  The second website offers a foundation for a Comprehensive West Seattle Transportation Plan.

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