A Cappella Groups Agree On Studio

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Michael R. Miller ’09 (right) and Michael E. Lee ’09 work on recording the Logs’ new CD on Saturday in the Logs’ recording studio on the third floor of Walker Memorial.
Andrea Robles—The Tech

One year after a contentious debate about the terms offered by the Logarhythms for sharing their recording studio, MIT a cappella groups have agreed to another two years under the same terms as before. Campus a cappella groups have found other ways to obtain more recording time, including building their own makeshift studios and using off-campus studios.

The agreement, which allows other a cappella groups to use the Logarhythms’ studio in Walker Memorial, covers a two-year period. It had been previously ratified in the fall of 2005. Although some amendments were proposed this past fall, the 2005 agreement was re-ratified in November to cover the period from Sept. 2007 to Aug. 2009.

The current agreement offers MIT a cappella groups two options to use the studio for free. The first provides 30 hours over the two year period to be distributed over any two predetermined weeks. Groups that choose this option also have the option to request a Logs member run Pro Tools for them. Pro Tools is the combined hardware and software system that provides much of the audio recording functionality of the studio. The Cross Products are the only group who have elected to use this option.

The second plan provides 160 hours to be distributed over six predetermined weeks. Groups that choose this option must run the Pro Tools console themselves. The Chorallaries, Muses, Resonance, and Toons have all agreed to this plan.

Techiya did not join the agreement and does not have any scheduled studio hours for the current period.

Toons Propose Amendments

The Toons, who had refused to accept the agreement in 2005 and had recorded off campus, proposed amendments during the meetings this past fall. Some amendments suggested increasing the time provided by the Logs to the other a cappella groups, while other amendments proposed more flexibility in the scheduling of the studio. Currently, groups must schedule all of their individual weeks at the beginning of each two-year period, and specific hours for each week must be scheduled at least one week in advance of the predetermined week. The agreement stipulates fines for groups found using the studio outside of their scheduled hours.

To pass, amendments require unanimous consent from all of the a cappella groups; none of the amendments passed.

The president of the Toons, Praveen Subramani ’10, explained that “the process of a cappella recording has changed a lot in the last five years.” Tastes have shifted toward favoring “more of a processed sound,” so it “takes a lot more time and resources to record an a cappella CD.”

Subramani also felt that the recording studio was “not being used to its full potential.” For the Toons, “our goal basically is to increase the utility of the studio,” he said. He also added that “it would be great if it was truly a shared resource among all the groups.”

The Logarhythms presented a different view of the situation. Michael R. Miller, ’09, music director for the Logs, said “the real problem isn’t that there isn’t enough time but that they’re not using it efficiently.” With too many hours, groups tend to goof off in the studio instead of productively recording, a tendency that Miller said that the Logs had experienced. Having a limitation on hours “will help people get work done,” he said.

In regards to proposals for more flexible scheduling, Stephane C. Essama ’08, former president of the Logs, said that the Logs “wanted to preserve our ability to use the studio.” Benjamin A. Bloomberg ’11, studio manager for the Logs, said, “we feel that we want to be able to go in there any time [when inspiration hits, to record].” Essama added that the proposals for more flexible scheduling were, in the Logs’ view, too imprecise and “too hard to implement.”

Groups find more recording time elsewhere

Instead of seeking changes to the recording studio agreement, some groups have developed other means to increase the recording time available to them.

Resonance, which has purchased its own Pro Tools system, does not depend on the Logs’ studio, said Resonance president Levi M. Schmidt ’10. He said that Resonance is “satisfied with the negotiation that we had and the agreement that was reached.” Other than the cost of a Pro Tools system, “it’s pretty easy to set up a studio,” he said. Only some ceiling tiles, a microphone, and a room are needed, according to Schmidt.

The Muses have taken advantage of their producer’s studio in Boston to procure additional recording hours. Use of that studio was included in their CD producer’s fixed rate, said Shanying Cui ’09, president of the Muses. “We really weren’t too concerned [about the agreement],” said Cui. “More hours couldn’t hurt,” she added, but, echoing the opinion of the Logarhythms’ music director, she said that “if you give someone too many hours, the productivity goes down.”

The Chorallaries have their own portable sound booth, a single-capacity padded box that was constructed by one of their alumni (according to Essama, a cappella recordings are usually recorded one singer at a time). Tess E. Wise ’10, the Chorallaries’ representative to the fall meetings, said that, even though “modern a cappella recording is a huge time drain,” the availability of their own makeshift booth caused the Chorallaries to be “satisfied with the numbers of hours we had.” She said, “we aren’t desperate for more.” On the other hand, Wise added that “in an ideal world, we’d like more hours.”

Groups satisfied with Logs ownership

During the construction of the studio, the Chorallaries had expected to be able to buy in to an equal partnership with the Logs in return for office space that they lost to the studio, according to an April 2003 article in The Tech. However, the Logs never offered a partnership. Nevertheless, Wise said that the Logs have “put a lot more technology into the studio than was originally planned, so it makes sense for them to be in charge.” Wise added, “We really appreciate what the Logs are doing” in spending the time to manage the studio.

Essama echoed the sentiment that it is the Logs’ contribution of time more than money that makes it fair for them to maintain primary ownership of the studio. In building and operating a studio, “it’s the amount of man-hours that’s the limit, not the cost,” said Essama.

Concerns still remain

In addition to free hours, the agreement allows groups to purchase additional studio hours from the Logs. According to the text of the agreement, funds from these charges and fines stemming from misuse of the studio are to be used “solely for studio upkeep, maintenance, upgrades and overhead.” According to Miller, the rates provided by the agreement are significantly below those found at other Boston-area recording studios.

However, Hans E. Anderson ’08, chair of the Undergraduate Association Finance Board, expressed reservations about offering groups funds to take advantage of this provision. “We don’t want to give money to a student group to give to another student group,” he said.

In addition, Anderson expressed concerns over the supposed confidential nature of the agreement. “CONFIDENTIAL — DO NOT DISTRIBUTE OR DUPLICATE” is written at the bottom of all of the pages of the agreement document itself. None of Bloomberg, Essama, or Miller knew the reasoning behind this notice, and Essama said he would have to talk to Logs alumni to find out. A Tech reporter was sent a copy of the agreement from an a cappella group member.

The Logarhythms built the studio in spring 2003 using a combination of their own funds, interest-free loans from some of their members’ parents, and an interest-free loan from the UA. The loans have since been paid off by the Logs.

In order to consolidate enough space for the Logs to build a recording studio, in 2003, the other a cappella groups relinquished the joint office space allocated to them by the Association of Student Activities. The original plans also included the prospect of other groups being able to buy in to a partnership in running the studio, but friction developed when the Logs decided not to extend partnerships and claimed full ownership.

These issues were once again brought to the forefront in the fall of 2006 when the UA Senate passed a bill to improve the terms of use for the studio in light of repeated requests to the UA Finboard for funding to record off campus. The bill was vetoed by then UA President Andrew T. Lukmann G, and the debate evolved into a more general discussion of student group property rights.

Since then, said Anderson, “from a Finboard perspective, [this] issue has panned itself out.”