Six students in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department (ECE) have taken advantage of an innovative departmental learning center, called M5, to launch their own enterprising recording studio, which looks to attract lots of business from local musical groups that have trouble finding affordable recording facilities. The new student business is named Studio M5, fittingly enough, and its market plan is to offer professional recording services for reasonable rates. Studio M5 is already attracting recording artists ranging from a classical music professor, to an acappella group, to a funk band.

“Our main target market is the Five College community,” says Chris Garry, who is a sort of CEO-in-waiting at Studio M5. “Our chief asset is that we are much less expensive than any of the established recording studios in the area. We are the place to come for local musical groups who don’t have the money to hire out big studios. That’s our niche.”

Garry will take over as head of Studio M5 when its founding member, James Rutter, graduates in May. Studio M5 was only a gleam in Rutter’s eye only a few months ago, until ECE Professor Baird Soules, who is in charge of the experimental learning M5 facility, offered him a space to establish a recording studio.

“The way this started,” says Rutter, “is that over winter break I locked myself in my basement with my band and some other musicians, and we just recorded a bunch of music. I came back here, and Professor Soules had this room in M5 that wasn’t being used, so I said to him, ‘I’m very involved with recording right now, and I’d like to make really good use of this space.’”

It was a perfect use for M5, which is a year-old open learning environment whose mission is to enable ECE undergraduates to boot up their technical interests through experimentation, exploration, interaction, and entrepreneurship, based on the model of students teaching other students. Studio M5 is very much in the spirit of M5 itself, in terms of both its built-in entrepreneurial and learning functions.

“One purpose of the business is to get a bunch of ECE students interested in audio engineering,” says Garry. “We want it to be a place where musically talented engineering students can express themselves and learn a bit more about audio engineering. And then there’s another side of it in which Five-College students come in here as part of the business.”

The equipment, in this case, includes a digital audio workstation for recording, routing, manipulating, and mixing sound; “isolation pads,” which create the effect of a recording booth; and a selection of good microphones.

“These various mikes are as important to a recording engineer as an extensive color palette is to a painter,” says Rutter. “They create the color and texture of a recording. The mikes are the basic tools we have for capturing a professional recording.”

One of the most important elements of a digital recording studio is the software. The software used by Studio M5 is Apple’s Logic Pro, a complete set of professional applications that lets you write, record, edit, mix, and perform. Apple claims that Logic Pro is also the largest collection of modeled instruments, sampler instruments, effect plug-ins, and audio loops ever put in a single box.

“Good software allows us to compensate for not having the money to create an expensive recording studio,” says Garry. “If you want to make good-quality music in your recording, you need microphones to record the vocals and to take audio samples, and you use those samples to make beats for the music. And you need the powerful software to mix that together.”

“With Logic Pro, I can have a singer sit over there in between those two isolation pads,” adds Rutter, “which take the place of a sound booth for us, and I can get this really nice recording of just the voice. No acoustical artifacts. Then I can add all those effects to really beef it up.”

The Studio M5 crew doesn’t want ECE students to forget that the facility is there to serve them. “We don’t want ECE students to get the impression that this is exclusively a student-run business and they can’t come down here to find out about sound recording,” says Garry. “We are glad to teach them about the studio, and ECE students are welcome to use the studio. We’re not just here for ourselves. We want to make all the resources here available to ECE students.” (April 2010)