Neutral Zone opens nation’s only youth-owned recording studio

. March 13, 2013.
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The power and privilege of running what 107one morning show host Martin Bandyke dubbed “the Abbey Road of Ann Arbor” is in the hands of eight local teenagers as the Orpheum, the nation’s fi rst youth owned/youth operated recording studio, was opened for recording sessions on March 16 at The Neutral Zone teen center.

The eight teenagers managing the custom- designed, newly furbished recording facilities range from ages 15-18 and each specialize in the summation of tasks required in running a studio, from working the sound board, to scheduling bands, to managing finances to marketing. Each of
the students, general manager Martin Reidy (18), scheduling manager Alia Persico- Shammas (15), fi nance manager Oriol Burgos- Tsoffar (17), and the marketing team of Scott Aldworth (16), Mary Gallagher (16), Caroline Robb (17), Michael Sandusky (16), and Ryan Shea (15) are each trained as youth engineers.

The Neutral Zone is a youth-driven nonprofi t organization, founded in 1998 as a safe, free community cultural center. Teens, aided by dedicated volunteers (including U-M students) and supported by grants and philanthropic community members, not only gain knowledge through NZ’s more than twenty programs in music, art and education, but also sit on the board of directors.

 In 2001, NZ teens started their own indie record label, Youth Owned Records — the first in the country. The teen center moved to 310 E. Washington in 2007, providing a larger space for recording. When A2-based pop/punk band The Echoes came to record in spring ’09, Reidy “stepped up to the plate,” said NZ music coordinator Chris Bathgate. “(Reidy) took over a session. It was just an off-hand comment at first; teens run
our record label, they book the venue, why on earth are they not running the studio?”

The teens, aided by NZ executive director John Weiss and program director Lori Roddy, developed a plan. Next, they met with entrepreneurial educators at the B Side in Ypsilanti and The Nexecon Consulting Group made up of U-M Business School students to develop a business plan and conduct market research. They took their plan to the community, received a generous donation and “broke ground” in July 2009. Bathgate said the studio’s advisory committee of community members is “vital to the studio’s success.”

The construction, an in-house job led by designer Page Caufi eld and pushed considerably by Bathgate and Reidy, was “a hefty beast,” Bathgate said. It is now equipped with a custom designed control room, tracking room, and isolation booth, able to accommodate pop, rock, jazz, spoken word and film overdubs for the community ($25/hour for highschool aged youth and $35 for the general public.) There is also a DJ booth and a “beat-making” space to teach hip/hop, mc-ing and electronic music composition.

“The NZ is now breaking new ground,” Weiss said at the Orpheum’s opening. “Moving into enterprising, and connecting teens with their passion in music and art with the opportunities to develop some 21st century skills to make them successful, both now and in the future.” 

Bandyke called the Orpheum “magnificent and really noble.” Addressing the staff, Bandyke said, “you’re able to create these lasting memories and make some really cool music and great art.”

“I’m very excited to see what the Orpheum as to do for the community,” said marketer Sandusky at the opening. “And, also, what it has to teach us.”
Musician, producer Carlos Garcia advises management of the studio. Garcia, with Bathgate, worked in advisory roles to show NZ teens the ropes
of recording. On March 16, the session light was turned on and now the teens are running the show.

“The Neutral Zone is a void,” scheduling manager Persico-Shammas mused on her and her fellow NZ staffers after-school commitment to
the center, “but it is a good void. When you’re here—you’re here! It’s really rewarding.”

 The Orpheum works to producequality recordings while teaching youths technical and entrepreneurial skills. To schedule a session contact 734-214-9995, T h e O r p h e u m @ n e u t r a l -zone.org For more info, visit w w w . n e u t r a l – z o n e . o r g /theorpheum