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Posted on Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 5:03 a.m.

New recording studio at Neutral Zone is run by teens but open to all

By Roger LeLievre


From left, Youth Owned Records employees Martin Reidy, Oriol Burgos-Tsoffar, Scott Aldworth, program facilitator Chris Bathgate and employee Ryan Shea check out a new recording booth in the newly remodeled recording studio at the Neutral Zone.

Melanie Maxwell |

Add The Orpheum to the list of recording studios in town. Run entirely by students at The Neutral Zone, Ann Arbor’s teen center, the studio will offer an inexpensive way for young people to explore the recording process and also get some of their work on disc.

Although some studios cater to teen musicians, this is believed to be the first such youth-run studio in the country, according to the dozen or so teens who are most deeply involved in the project. The studio will also be open to the public.

A grand opening party will be held Tuesday, March 16 from 4-7 p.m., with entertainment provided by the teen band Sole Transit and others.

“Who we’re looking for," said Alia Persico-Shammas, 15, a student at Community High School, “are people who want a good high-quality recording experience but can’t necessarily afford to pay the rates some of the other studios in Ann Arbor.

“It’s so incredible. I think it exemplifies all the insane things we get to do at the Neutral Zone that just don’t happen anywhere else. It’s a professional-grade studio — every time I say it, it gets cooler and cooler. We get to record in here and we get to run this place,” Persico-Shammas, an aspiring singer-songwriter, added.

The teens have worked closely with local musician Chris Bathgate, the Neutral Zone’s music coordinator.

“It’s not just engaging youth in music, it’s engaging them in business and entrepreneurship,” Bathgate said.

The idea for The Orpheum surfaced more than a year ago.

A group of teens worked on a business plan with business students from the University of Michigan, put together a proposal and presented it to a group of potential investors. After lining up the necessary funds, they began a remodeling/rebuilding project that was recently completed. Now the teens are anxious to get it up and running.

“We (she and fellow student musician Martin Reidy) met a lot with the Nexecon Consulting Group from the University of Michigan Business School,” explained Persico-Shammas. “That was when we developed our marketing plan and marketing analysis, to see if there was a need for this kind of studio in Ann Arbor. Chris talked to a lot of owners of other studios; they said having another studio raises the bar for everyone.”


The Orpheum grand opening

Who: Music by youth funk band Sole Transit, Max Bowen and a DJ. Also speakers, including radio personality Martin Bandyke, and tours of the recording studio.

What: Grand opening of The Orpheum, a recording studio at The Neutral Zone, Ann Arbor’s teen center.

When: 4-7 p.m. Tuesday, March 16.

Where: The Neutral Zone, 310 East Washington Street.

How much: Free

Info: Neutral Zone Web site; calendar; 734-214-9995.

The students raised $40,000 for the project. Of that, $20,000 was from an anonymous donor, said Reidy, 18 and a student at Huron and Community high schools.

The new facility — which replaces a much smaller studio that had been in the space previously — fills three rooms and includes an isolated vocal room and a DJ room.

The studio, which is expected to be self-supporting, will be run in conjunction with the Neutral Zone’s Youth Owned Records label, which was established several years ago. In addition to helping teens nurture their musical talent, it will also engage young people who want to explore business, marketing and entrepreneurship.

“I’m in it for the entrepreneurship, the management part,” said 16-year-old Pioneer High School student Scott Aldworth. “I also think it’s fun to do that in a musical way, just because I like music, even if I don’t play any instruments very seriously. And also to be a part of something that’s unprecedented … youth owned — I like that idea.”

Studio time will be priced at $35 an hour for anyone in the community who’s not in high school and $25 an hour for high school students. Acts signed to the NZ’s Youth Owned Record label record for free.

Professional commercial studios can run as high as $100 an hour or more, Bathgate said.

The studio will allow teens who play music casually to take their interest beyond just performing.

“There’s a kind of hopeless thing — teen musicians who kind of play for fun, but (recording) doesn’t even cross their minds,” said Mary Gallagher, 16, from Pioneer High School. “This is something that can give kids something to focus their musician skills on, and hopefully set an example for other places in the country.”


From left, Youth Owned Records employees Scott Aldworth, Oriol Burgos-Tsoffar and Martin Reidy are seen through a window as they participate in a meeting in the newly remodeled recording studio.

Melanie Maxwell |

Most of the construction work on the studio was done by Martin, Bathgate and local designer Page Caulfield, with help from teens, community members and musicians. The studio is adjacent to the B-Side performance venue, in the back part of the building on East Washington Street that houses the Neutral Zone.

A facility like The Orpheum just makes sense, Bathgate explained.

“All of a sudden we just realized, the venue’s run by teens, the record label’s run by teens. ... We saw there was capability to run an entire engineering session, why not the business, since we are also interested in developing entrepreneurial skills. That’s where the project started,” he said.

The teens agreed that the time is right for such a project.

“Nothing remotely similar to what we’re doing has ever been done before, (a label) being entirely youth owned and operated,” said 17-year-old Oriol Burgos-Tsoffar, a Community High student.

“It just feels sweet. We’re breakin’ records here.”

Roger LeLievre is a freelance writer who covers music for


Anonymous Due to Bigotry

Mon, Mar 15, 2010 : 1:26 a.m.

While I generally think the NZ is a good thing, I think it's a little naive to think that something that is appreciated in a rich educated white community is the universal solution to crime and antisocial (that is, criminal) behavior. When kids have been brought up in a sufficiently dysfunctional and uncivilized manner, throwing money at the problem in the form of places like this is not going to fix very much by itself. Severe social dysfunction is much much more complicated than "kids not having anything constructive to do".

Kristin Judge

Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 3:53 p.m.

I have had the opportunity to tour the Neutral Zone and see the studio. Dr. E. you are right. This place is a gem. If our community truly understood the return on investment that can be realized by giving youth a safe environment where they can interact with adults and be themselves, we would not need to spend so much money on courts, jails and police. Until we understand that collectively, places like the Neutral Zone will struggle for funding, and we will build bigger jails.


Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 10:59 a.m.

Excellent article on an outstanding accomplishment.

Dr. I. Emsayin

Sun, Mar 14, 2010 : 8:47 a.m.

The Neutral Zone is one of the gems of Ann Arbor. It serves teens in so many ways in a good, clean environment. Students can even get free tutoring daily after school on a drop in basis. What a great community we have that supports this center!