Student Bands Find Support on Musical Journey

June 5, 2015
Kathleen Thornton
The band Valey, comprised of Valerie Perczek ’14 and Neal Donovan ’14, performs in Studio B. Photo credit: Studio B

Many students are drawn to Oberlin for its reputation as a musical mecca. Concerts are frequent, boasting internationally renowned artists and world-class performances. However, many Oberlin students have the urge not just to observe but to create, making the ability to write, practice, and record their own music a priority. Thanks to several recent student-led initiatives, every step of the musical journey, from the practice space to the recording studio, is now more accessible than ever.

As recently as fall 2014, the only practice space geared specifically toward student bands was located in room 404 of Wilder Hall. Band members would line up on the steps of Wilder on the second day of classes, and at 8 a.m. the first eight bands in line would be given permission to use the space for the remainder of the semester. “You had to be ‘in the loop’ to know that you had to be there on the second day of classes,” says rising junior Siobhan Furnary, co-president of the new Gear Cooperative. After becoming a chartered organization fall 2014, the co-op took control of the practice space this February to make its resources available to more students, eliminating the cap on bands and expanding practice hours.

The Gear Co-op has done more than just make practice space available. Co-op volunteers have raised funds to obtain musical equipment such as amplifiers and a communal drum set for the space, noting that many students lack access to such equipment. The co-op has a full volunteer staff and hosts twice-weekly trainings to familiarize interested students with the gear and the policies of the co-op. Equipment and space are free, and more than 70 students have already been trained.

“Anybody who has the slightest desire to make music, even if their band is not fully formed or if they’ve never practiced before, can get trained and practice in 404,” Furnary says. As the organization tries to secure more practice hours and a larger rehearsal space, Gear Co-op staff members say they hope to make music-making even easier for students.

But practice space isn’t the only concern—recording music is also a top priority for college musicians. That’s why the student producers of Studio B, the live broadcast studio of WOBC that hosts a weekly live music show, have opened their space to students as a fully functioning, completely free recording studio.

“What separates us specifically from other spaces on campus is the ease with which you can actually make a high-quality recording in here,” says Nathan Swedlow, who was executive producer of Studio B this spring. The studio had been in operation on and off since the 1950s, but has operated in its current iteration for two years. With allocations from the WOBC budget, Studio B has obtained gear and software required to make a high-quality recording. The goal, the organizers say, is to get people comfortable enough with the studio so they can record and mix their own band’s music from start to finish. This year, the three Studio B producers, recent 2015 graduates Nathan Swedlow, Sophie Harari, and Evan Zierk, trained more than 30 students. They recently began hosting a weekly drop-in training session, available to students interested in learning recording and mixing basics.

Together, Gear Co-op and Studio B give non-conservatory students opportunities to make their own music. Located together in the Student Union, Swedlow considers the coexistence of the two new organizations to be a “streamlined and easy way for bands to record and practice in Wilder.” Seizing on this moment of opportunity, students hope to keep the campus music community growing and thriving. “We are striving to create a community, not just individuals making their own music. These efforts foster an environment for collaboration,” Furnary says.

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