The Next Generation Of Music Is Here In Ann Arbor

Martin Bandyke stands on stage at the Neutral Zone during the grand opening of the teen center's newest venture, The Orpheum.

"This will be the Abbey Road of Ann Arbor," Bandyke says into the microphone. "The merging of art, business and technology." It's Ann Arbor's newest recording studio, a $40,000 venture with a unique twist.

Bandyke concludes his introduction and cedes the spotlight to Martin Reidy and Alia Persico-Shammas. The 18-year-old Reidy stands over six feet tall with big hair and a shy smile. He speaks in a low, measured voice, pausing a few beats longer before saying anything important. Standing next to him is 15-year-old Persico-Shammas. She looks 15 but carries herself like a savvy young professional. When she speaks, it's like talking to the head of a public relations firm. Together, they are the talent and the brains behind the Orpheum, launching a groundbreaking venture in our backyard  – and they're not even out of high school.

The First Student-run Recording Studio In The Country

"It's the first student-run recording studio in the country," singer, songwriter and Neutral Zone Music Coordinator Chris Bathgate says into the microphone at the grand opening. "Maybe the first in the world, though there are rumors of a teen punk recording studio in Russia." The crowd laughs. Bathgate thanks the Orpheum's donors and Neutral Zone volunteers and recognizes the Orpheum's teen staff. They bound on-stage in green Orpheum t-shirts and introduce themselves. A crowd made up of volunteers, friends, family, and a handful of suits with expensive haircuts salutes them. They count down from five and flip the "In Session" light on for the first time. Reidy looks anxious to get into the studio. Persico-Shammas does too. There's already a waiting list to use the facility.

Before the Orpheum was born, the Neutral Zone had a makeshift space where Reidy and his band cut an album. They recorded two guitars, a bass, and drums on one track and Martin provided the vocals on another. He learned how to produce music by trial and error, recording and editing at home and developing a passion for the process. At the same time, Persico-Shammas was busy working with a number of Neutral Zone programs, including Youth Owned Records (the Neutral Zone's own label) and Breakin' Curfew.

Reidy was frustrated with substandard facilities and Persico-Shammas was frustrated with a choke point in the process of recording, distributing, and promoting youth music. Recording studios in the area weren't affordable for a lot of youth bands, many of which didn't stay together long enough to record anyway.

"The youth music scene is like flash paper," says Bathgate. "Bands come up fast, gather a following, maybe put out a record and then break up or change line-ups. It's tough for them to play together long enough to be ready to record."

Without a tangible end goal, most burn hot and fast and flame out just as quickly.

"It's the same thing with a lot of projects," Bathgate says. "Few people stick with something for long."
Reidy and Persico-Shammas have proved the exception. Together, they sought a solution to their immediate problems and a goal for youth music to work towards.  They gathered support, developed a business plan, secured financing, and laid the groundwork for the Orpheum. It was a long process but the Orpheum slowly transformed from concept to a real recording studio. One year later, they stood on-stage in their green Orpheum t-shirts, ready to get to work

Martin Reidy and Alia Persico-Shammas

"There's no model for this," says Reidy. He's the general manager of the project – an 18-year-old high school senior supervising the technical side of a $40,000 facility with no real framework to base it on.

"Martin [Reidy] is in the liner notes of a lot of projects," says Bathgate. "He's the reason the Orpheum started."

Reidy wasn't thinking long-term when he joined forced with Persico-Shammas to build the Orpheum. He wanted a space where he could play music, record, and help his peers do the same. Recording and editing music in his home set-up was a start, but he needed more room to grow. Others in the industry saw Reidy's passion from afar, including Jim Roll, owner of one of Ann Arbor's most successful recording studios, Backseat Productions. Roll has played an integral part in helping with many of the technical aspects of the Orpheum. Though they don't know each other very well, Roll has heard about Reidy's aptitude and sees promise in the teen's future.

"Technical proficiency is important, but a vision and the hunger to put things together are more important," says Roll. "People who care about music and work on it will stand out. People like Martin will succeed and find a way."

"He'll also be a test subject for the Neutral  Zone," says Bathgate. "We can document his journey and use him as a trailblazer in the community."

Reidy plans to attend Washtenaw Community College in the fall and eventually transfer to the University of Michigan to pursue a Bachelor of Science degree in sound engineering. "There aren't many opportunities like the Orpheum in the area," he says. "We're building a community and making a strong music scene even stronger."

Persico-Shammas has blazed her own trail at the Neutral Zone.

"She's been involved with six different programs since she started volunteering as an eighth grader," says Bathgate. The Neutral Zone doesn't allow eighth graders to volunteer, but she had such a presence that they had to accept her. Persico-Shammas is a business woman, a marketer, and a poet. Quite an acclaimed poet at that, winning a number of awards and competing nationally in poetry slams.

"She's down to business, a real pro," says Bathgate. As scheduling manager, Persico-Shammas is the face of the Orpheum to its clients, booking performers and running the logistics of the operation.
"She's basically in charge of the business side of the operation and she's only 15," he adds.

The impact of the Orpheum

Reidy and Persico-Shammas are building something special, the impact of which won't truly be felt for years.

"The Orpheum will definitely help the local music scene," says Roll. Despite some natural competition from a new recording studio, Roll is supportive of the new venture and its trailblazing teens.  "They are creating a surrogate for growing up in a musical family," he says. "It can't help but increase and refine the talent pool. I wish I could say I understand all the machinations, but I don't. I just believe in it."

Reidy and Persico-Shammas have created something that will foster existing musical talent and help train musicians and technicians, growing from the ground up.

"Youth talent is under the surface but very aware of what's going on," Bathgate notes. "In five years, they'll be the ones going to shows at the Blind Pig or playing in front of those crowds.  There are some very driven bands right now just waiting to record and make an impact. The true impact of the Orpheum might not be felt while Martin and Alia are still teenagers, but it will be felt."

Richard Retyi is Assistant Director for Athletic Media Relations at the University of Michigan. He writes a biweekly(ish) column for called "Lie to Your Cats About Santa". His first previous article for Concentrate was Hole In the Wall Nightlife.

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All Photos by David Lewinski
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