The Wesleyan Argus | A year of reconstruction for Red Feather Studio

Wesleyan’s student recording studio, Red Feather, is making a comeback this semester. The club has managed to reinvent itself despite many obstacles and is now happy to return to recording student artists – and even a vocal part for Sammy Rae and the Friends. Members hope to rebuild a community dedicated to creating and recording music in Wesleyan. Now Red Feather 2.0 is charting its own course, and members say it’s a good thing.

Red Feather Studio (which I joined last fall) is located in the basement of the University Organizing Center (UOC) at 190 High St., a building whose upper floors serve as meeting spaces for various groups of activists on campus. Red Feather members meet every Sunday at the UOC to discuss upcoming activities and potential budget requests for new gear, exchange tips for check-in, and build community in general.

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Most club activities take place outside of these meetings, when Red Feather members, after attending a studio training session, use the space to pursue personal projects and record other student artists. The successful revival of the studio is the result of hard work by its members after many setbacks.

Before the pandemic, Red Feather was a much bigger club than it is today, according to chief engineer Sam Eaton ’22. Eaton recalled that during their first and second year, Red Feather meetings typically drew up to 30 people, with the studio booking several recording sessions per week. Weekly meetings were devoted to assigning Red Feather engineers to student groups or artists who had requested recording sessions. Once the session was booked, Red Feather engineers would meet the artists in the studio and help them record music, sometimes for several hours. The work was intensive and very demanding.

“The student groups knew [Red Feather] is where you go if you want to save,” Red Feather chief financial officer Mia Liang ’23 said. “You go to sound co-op if you want to play live, you go to Red Feather if you want to record.”

According to Liang and other members I spoke to, Red Feather was a well-known institution in the Wesleyan music scene. This popularity had its drawbacks, however: engineers often worked long and late hours, and the work was unpaid. Additionally, the frequency with which the studio booked recording sessions meant that introductory trainings for new engineers could be difficult to schedule.

“It was impossible to find a time when people were available to train you,” Jalen Lee ’23 said.

Lee joined Red Feather as a freshman with little recording experience and found that the busy environment was not conducive to preparing new members for the demands of recording other artists. Kevin Goldberg ’23 recalled a similar freshman experience.

“You had a couple of training sessions and then you were expected to record student musicians,” Goldberg said. “For me, that’s actually what scared me away.”

Goldberg had recording experience since high school, but worried that his relative lack of expertise would be a liability for student artists coming to Red Feather for help.

Despite these issues, everyone I spoke to emphasized that Red Feather was a vibrant and dedicated community of engineers and musicians. And in a campus music scene that some members have noted tends to skew men, Red Feather had many female members and leaders.

When the campus closed in March 2020, all clubs had to close or move remotely. The following fall, when students returned to campus, many clubs were able to switch to an online format. However, performing and recording music in small rooms with little ventilation was impossible to achieve under last year’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“Red Feather has come to a complete stop,” Liang said. “And slowly things started to open up again, but we really kept quiet… Only the administration team was on the key list last year, at least for the fall and early spring. ”

Additionally, Liang noted that a large portion of Red Feather’s junior and senior leaders had graduated the previous spring.

That left only a handful of junior administrators to maintain the studio’s knowledge base and presence on campus. In the spring of 2021, Liang and Eaton met Matt Rubinstein ’21, then Red Feather’s chief financial officer, and Chloe Malushaga ’21, then chief engineer.

“We all sort of started talking about what the changing of the guard would look like, so to speak, and how we could revive [Red Feather]“, Liang said. “And honestly, a huge way that happened was just word of mouth.”

Recording experience is not a prerequisite for joining Red Feather, and these early outreach rounds were aimed at attracting people who could help build Red Feather’s recording expertise.

The band began reaching out to music majors and others who might have some recording experience, such as students taking recording and sound design classes. Lee recalls being approached last spring by Eaton and Liang, who assured him the club would operate in a more informal and open manner than before the pandemic.

Others found their way to the studio through word of mouth in the fall. However, as new people began to come to meetings and gain access to the studio, other setbacks occurred. In October, Frank Ribli ’23 and I were recording at Red Feather when we discovered water seeping from the walls of Room B1. Fortunately, the leak had only soaked the carpet, sparing B1’s audio interface, drums, and other water-sensitive musical gear.

We alerted Eaton and Liang to the issue, who learned from Physical Plant that the part was prone to recurring leaks. Not only did the moldy carpets have to be thrown out, but all the equipment had to be moved.

“Music equipment is usually not very waterproof,” Liang said. “So that immediately became a problem. Fortunately, we were able to coordinate with the Textbook Exchange Program (TEP), which uses B3, to be able to share this space. »

With input from members of the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA), including Sophie Chang ’24, Hazel Allison-Way ’24, and Ben Garfield ’22, Red Feather and TEP have crafted an arrangement: At the start and end of the school year, the TEP will operate from B3; the rest of the time the books will remain on the shelves, but Red Feather will fully rule the space.

The arrangement allowed Red Feather to return to one of its pre-pandemic hallmarks: recording student groups. A few weeks ago, Goldberg used B3 to record Gert, a campus band consisting of Eaton, Ben Gertner ’24 and Rory Dolan ’23.

“It was a lot of trial and error in a lot of ways, you know, mostly because we were recording in the room which is also the textbook swap room,” Goldberg said. “It definitely took a bit of time, but I think it worked out pretty well.”

Eaton expressed similar sentiments about returning to recording.

“It was kind of the first time I’d seen this since I was a freshman or sophomore,” Eaton said. “It was sick and it gave me a lot of hope for the future… now Kevin could do the kind of thing that people were doing my freshman year where they would just do engineering for people.”

Goldberg’s session for Gert, which was mostly devoted to miking drums (a complicated and time-consuming process), wasn’t the first time this year the studio had recorded student artists, but the session marked a milestone. return to the level of complexity that had characterized the pre-pandemic red feather.

Recording student artists is just part of what Red Feather managed to bring back this year. Members of Red Feather have pointed out that the club has become a place to explore musical recording possibilities beyond serving as engineers for student artists (although this remains central to Red Feather’s mission).

For one thing, Red Feather didn’t just register students artists this year. In early March, Eaton and Liang learned that members of Sammy Rae and the Friends, who were on campus playing a show at Memorial Chapel, wanted to record in the studio. Although the resulting session was occasioned by miscommunication – Red Feather engineers set up the studio to record a full band, when in fact only the guitarist showed up to record some vocal ad-libs. – it was a memorable and exciting experience for everyone. involved.

Red Feather engineers also used the studio this year as a space for composition and experimentation. Pablo Puente ’22, a music student who joined Red Feather this year, said the studio gave him the freedom to explore songwriting in new ways.

“I think a big thing for me learning music recording for the first time was using it as a form of composition where I couldn’t experience a lot on a piano,” Puente said. . “It opens up new ways of thinking about songwriting…I’ve been thinking about production from the beginning.”

Others have pointed to Red Feather’s potential to foster an experimental and open approach to recording music.

“Every time I record, I don’t do anything the same way twice, just because, I don’t know, I get bored easily,” Goldberg said. “When I came [to Red Feather] in first year, you were kind of told to do everything the same way just for consistency, because you work with tons of other people.

According to him, there is never just one right way to record. Going forward, Goldberg hopes Red Feather will continue to encourage people to experiment and make mistakes together, sharing what worked and what didn’t, knowing that everyone hears music from different manners.

Members hope that next year Red Feather will continue to recruit new people and expand its reach on campus. Thanks to a student budget committee request filed by Liang, the studio will have thousands of dollars worth of new equipment to experiment with and record with. Anyone, regardless of previous recording experience, can access the studio’s resources and community by coming to meetings and/or attending a training session.

“I could never have used all of this without Red Feather,” Eaton said. “Helping as many people as possible benefit from it is the goal.”

Irene Westfall can be reached at [email protected].

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