Heard about Studio Zoom yet?

Winner of the 2003 RAMI for Recording Studio of the Year, Studio Zoom hasn’t had a lot of press since the spring event honoring the best in local music and music promotion. It’s odd that Rockford hasn’t given massive attention to the organization that offers free enrollment for students wanting to learn more about the music industry and create a portfolio and even an album to help them achieve creative success.

Located at 1907 S. Kishwaukee St., the studio is in the Abilities Center, which is affiliated with United Way and Goodwill Industries International, and belongs to a national network of community technology centers. Studio Zoom is able to continue its existence through support by grants and donations, although they don’t receive much monetary help from the latter.

The studio provides those involved with free access to computers, the Internet and multimedia equipment. The organization assists in helping area singers/songwriters, rappers, spoken word artists and videographers learn about multimedia skills, how to create Web pages and graphics for promotional and creative use, and aspects of creating both live and digital music. The studio has professional sound-recording equipment, including individual sound isolation booths and a 32-track digital recording suite, and much more to assist users in creating the highest quality of artistry available.

All those who enroll in the Studio Zoom program undergo a comprehensive computerized assessment to identify their learning styles and vocational abilities. After the assessment, a personal training plan is developed to best fit the individual. Each plan includes a review of the technicalities behind the music industry, including information about property rights, royalties, how to create a portfolio, business cards, flyers and all aspects of advertising. Students can take advantage of the recording equipment to make their own CDs using CakeWalk, FruityLoops, ACID PRO and Sound Forge. The only requirements to become a “zoomer,” as they affectionately term themselves, is that all material recorded and performed at the studio is original work. They prefer to take on songwriters who come from low-income background so that people who wouldn’t always have the opportunity to learn about their abilities and the music industry get a good chance.

Cyndi Kohn, placement/marketing specialist, and Jean Farris, director of Career Development and Studio Zoom, gave the grand tour of the studio, showing me the “Zoom Tombs,” or sound isolation booths, and also let me observe the higher grade studio that “zoomers” can work their way up to using. “To me, it’s a good thing. It’s a whole Studio Zoom family,” she commented as we bustled down the hallway. “When you let people shine, it makes underground economy less alluring.” By “underground economy,” I was led to understand the term referred to drug dealing, soliciting and most illegitimate occupations. Farris gave the impression of being a school mistress with whom every student could hang out. Slinging peace signs and talking casually about her own music, she also lays down the rules for “zoomers.” Swear words, drug themes or promotions of sexual denigration are forbidden. “Everyone respects the rules because they know it (the studio) is a gift.”

Luciana Fleming is a Studio Zoom alumnus who won the 2003 RAMI for Composer of the Year. She used to sing with Bea Brady (now Bellinia) and continues to perform live in the Jubilee Theatre’s latest musical The Follies. As a mother of two, she works full time as a security officer and still maintains a career in music. As a result of Studio Zoom, she has had access to excellent education in the music industry. “I don’t even have words to describe what they did for me…it’s been benefiting me a lot,” she oozed with enthusiasm. “They made me knowledgeable about the business behind music.”

Fleming still drops by the studio for their live performances on the second Thursday of every month. Her enthusiasm and affection for the studio is clear when she speaks of the organization. I heard a sample or two of projects that Fleming has worked on while involved with Studio Zoom, and the product was amazing. Cohn and Farris showed a video recording of Fleming singing with fellow “zoomer” Antwan Tobias at their most recent performance, doing one of Fleming’s pieces: “All Guys Are the Same.” Although neither musician has formal performance training, the dynamic between the two was full of energy and love for music. Fleming’s voice is deep, rich, soulful and confident without any irritating nasal tone that is so prominent among modern R ‘n’ B performers, and her enunciation is clear and trained. Tobias’ singing voice is just as trained, cultured to a level he is comfortable with, and the work that Studio Zoom has done has paid off.

Studio Zoom hosts monthly performances for their students to strut their stuff to a live audience. Many of the students have achieved other venues to perform at outside of the studio, which proves that enrolling is a great idea. Since one of the major focal points of the organization revolves around spoken word and rap music, involvement in the Studio is a great idea to bring one of Rockford’s least recognized art forms to the forefront.

But all these opportunities aren’t available by magic. Studio Zoom generally receives grants through the Abilities Center, but that money is running out. As Farris said: “We’re broke. We need money.” Although by all appearances, the area is a clean, sophisticated, structured and technologically well-endowed environment, without community support, the studio won’t last. They accept donations gladly. To be a patron of the arts and to help continue the great work Studio Zoom is doing for Rockford, make checks payable to Studio Zoom, 1907 S. Kishwaukee St., Rockford, IL 61104. Visit their Web page at http://www.studio-zoom.org, or call the Studio at 965-3795 for enrollment and/or donation.

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