The high school music scene in Columbia has been steadily growing. More and more teenage bands are beginning a new wave of amateur music writing, and much of it is because of the Academy of Rock, a music program set up to give high school bands a chance to learn about rock music and the way it is performed.
The main staple of the of the program is the “Battle of the Bands” held at The Bridge downtown, where bands that have members 18 and under perform one original song and two covers. The competition in 2015 had six bands, all participants were high school students in Columbia.
Seeing as all of the people involved in the program are Columbia Public School students, it seems fitting that CPS has funded a music recording studio at Hickman High School, Darkroom Records.
To get the project moving, they contacted musician and current Gentry social studies teacher David Aulgur.
“ The idea for Darkroom Records really began at the beginning of last school year,” Aulgur said. “Columbia has always had students who have been interested in music, and a lot of these students have been writing their own music for years.”
Knowing this, the CPS school board office gave Aulgur a budget of $1,000 so that he could begin gathering supplies and recording student musicians. They also received donations of recording equipment and instruments from other school districts and people in the community that wanted to support the program.
“We couldn’t be where we are today with the studio had it not been for people in the community recognizing what an awesome opportunity this studio give kids in our school district,” Aulgur said.
When it came time to find a space for the studio, CPS and Aulgur knew they had fiscal limitations but never wanted them to affect the quality of the music.
“When discussing where to be the studio, it was important that we picked a spot that the school district operated so that we wouldn’t have to pay rent/utilities,” Aulgur said.
After searching through CPS buildings, Aulgur finally decided on small storage room in Hickman High School that had once been a darkroom for photos, hence the name Darkroom Records.
Even though the studio is located at Hickman, any CPS student that wants to can schedule time to use the space at darkroomrecords.weebly.com. This website also features the music that the studio has thus recorded. In the six months that Dark Room has been running, the space has been used to record five tracks from four different student musicians and bands, including the punk band, “Graveyard Youth” and singer/songwriter Olivia Johnson. More bands plan to record in the coming months as Darkroom goes into its second school year of existence.
“When I first heard about the recording studio I was freaking out,” sophomore Sam Ventrillo said, a member of the band The District. “I was just so excited that we now have a professional way to record what we love.”
Ventrillo’s band has used Darkroom in the past as a practice space and plans to utilize it for recording, too, once they write more original songs.
Though recording for a new band can be daunting, Sam and The District feel excited about the opportunity.
“The process of recording will definitely be new to us, because we haven’t recorded anything before, but hopefully we will learn,” Ventrillo said.
Rock bands aren’t the only groups recording at the space, though. Darkroom’s latest addition is a workspace for hip-hop and electronic music. Sophomore Trey Robinson plans to take advantage of this new equipment with the hopes to release a mixtape of some of his rap music this coming year.
“I’ve always loved music. I’ve always loved the production to it,” Robinson said. “Now I have the free opportunity to do something that’s always been a dream of mine. It’s a dream come true.”
When it comes to the beats he wants to use on his new songs, Robinson will look to David Aulgur’s mixing abilities to create the new album.
“I feel like it will be a real team effort which is awesome, because that’s the way it should be in music,” Trey Robinson said.
As the studio begins to grow more and more, the purpose will always be to help local bands get better and be creative.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do since I was a high schooler, playing music in my own band and finding out rewarding it is to be on a stage playing music for people,” David Aulgur said.
As for the future of Darkroom, Aulgur has a number of goals he would like to meet and hopes to see Darkroom become a staple of the Columbia music scene.
Aulgur said, “My dreams for the studio are always developing… Right now our focus is to keep building the studio up by bringing in more musicians, expand[ing] our ability to create purely digital music since so much of modern music is produced that way and sponsoring events that help promote the studio and the student musicians that make the studio a reality.”