The Ever-Evolving Studio B
A Look at the Past, Present, and Future of Oberlin’s Live-Performance Radio Station
By Nell Beck | | April 27, 2018 @ 2:05 pm
The staff of Live from Studio B in Wilder Hall.
Photo courtesy of Becca Winer.
“Lazy Sundays” don’t exist for Live from Studio B, Oberlin’s live-performance radio show. While the rest of campus is sleepy and slow, perusing the omelet bar at Stevie or lining up for a bagel at the Local, a small corner of the third floor of Wilder Hall is alive and buzzing.
“We don’t have Sunday brunch because we have to be in the studio by noon,” Becca Winer, the executive producer of Studio B, tells me. “So before the first session of the semester, we had a big brunch at my house. I made a bunch of waffles for the new staff and we were just hanging out. There was a really beautiful moment when we were all full of waffles and the sun was really bright and we all went to my bedroom and laid on the bed and just giggled for a long time.”
“Wait,” says Sara Calderon, one of two audio producers, “that totally did happen, and I really didn’t know any of you that well, either. And I didn’t think anything of it!”
“I think that’s a metaphor,” Cena Loffredo, the other audio producer, adds. “We all didn’t know each other that well but we all decided to jump right into, uh, the… bed.”
“I love that metaphor, honestly,” Sara says.
Composed of six staff members - soon to be five, with the Winer’s impending graduation - Studio B is intimate, in more ways than one. Every Sunday at 2pm, local and touring artists gather in the tiny studio at the top of Wilder to give a live, hour-long performance. It’s a small room that they work in, with just enough space for an occasional chair-jump (you can see Emma Lee Toyoda’s performance on the Studio B website or on YouTube). The walls are masked by sound-absorbent, ceiling-high shelves of records, and various camp lights are strung about and repositioned according to who is performing. The control room, where the audio producers mix and the executive producer talks to the performers, is visible through a thick window. At the end of the hour, ears are buzzing and the performers - who could be anyone from locals and Oberlin students to big-name acts like Frankie Cosmos and Girlpool - have a very professional recording up on Bandcamp and video on YouTube, all at no cost to the artist.
“You wouldn’t be able to get this service for free, I think, at this level, anywhere else,” says Winer. “And we’re so here for it.”
Studio B was founded in 2013 by Charles Glanders, a TIMARA major who graduated in 2014. Inspired by radio sessions such as KEXP and AudioTree, Glanders spent the summer before his senior year planning how to use the space of Studio B, which he tells me was “largely unused, with the exception of a couple of one-off recording sessions and a radio drama show… I figured it could be beneficial to the college and community to try and do a weekly broadcast of live acts. This snowballed into the recording and video project it is today.”
Now, Glanders is a live sound engineer going on the road with bands, but also works as a house engineer at venues in Chicago. Looking back on the progress made by Studio B, he says that it “has turned into something much greater than I could ever have imagined. Becca Winer has done amazing things with the show in her programming and her staffing… [they] have fulfilled and gone so far above and beyond the goals that I set out to reach when I first started the program.”
In a show of how much Studio B has changed since its inception, this is the first time that there are no men on the staff.
“It’s really cool for me,” Fiona Brennan, one of two video producers, says about it. “I’ve been on staff for a bit and it’s often women video producers and male audio producers, and I feel like there was this divide that was very much like, ‘women do the video, men do the audio’... I definitely felt like it was something I couldn’t do, so it’s really cool to have non-dudes behind the scenes of audio production. That’s, like, not a thing, that non-dudes are behind cameras and in the booth, so I thought that was really cool, and it’s a much more accessible space for me now.”
The music industry, specifically the behind-the-scenes aspect of it, is far too often strictly dominated by cis male people. According to a study done by The University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, non-males are drastically marginalized in music production. It found that 98% of 651 producers were male, and only two out of the remaining 2% were females from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. The fact that Studio B has made strides away from that narrative is exciting. And it’s affecting, and impressing, many of the artists who come to Studio B as well.
“There was a really beautiful moment when Sara and I were with Margaret McCarthy, who performed under the name Mid-Atlantic Rift,” Loffredo says, “and she was just so happy that this staff was working with her, and was talking a lot about how she’s so excited to see people like us… being in these fields of video, audio, production, all of that. There’s just the excitement that this is the future, and she was just talking about what great vibes it was for her and how comfortable she felt, and that’s just the best thing that we can hear from an artist when they’re working with us.”
But despite certain gains, the staff of Studio B recognizes that there is still a long way to go in terms of making Studio B open and available to all.
“It’s challenging because Studio B is unavoidably really inaccessible,” Winer says. “It’s a room in Wilder that’s always locked and only six people on campus have access to the key, and we can only have so many people in the studio at a time.”
It’s unsurprising that many students might view Studio B as off-limits and exclusive. It’s small, and it’s also very professional. The staff provides high-quality work, which can be very intimidating, especially for those who might just be starting out in music or performance. Broadcasting your own work, live on radio and video, is undoubtedly scary for those who are not used to doing it, or have never done it before. But Studio B was created, as Glanders says, as “a place where both the community and the college could come together to appreciate live music… I wanted to create a platform that bands, engineers and videographers could use to hone their skills and build a portfolio.” Studio B was created for those who are starting out, who are excited about music and production and want to broadcast their work further.
“I think a lot of times, people think of Studio B, and they hear the name Frankie Cosmos, and they’re like, ‘I have to be as good and as famous as her,’” says Leah Treidler, another video producer, “and that’s just not true. It’s really about the local artists that we really want to boost, it’s not about these touring bands that come in. It’s amazing that they come and that we can offer them this service but really, this is for Oberlin students and community members, for people who really need that boost.”
“It is scary,” Winer says. “But we really try to make it a fun environment for every artist that comes in… Studio B used to be, like, grungy logo, very dark, with very punk advertising, and now we look like we might be a children’s TV show. We just want to be super friendly and accessible and make everyone feel welcome.”
Mobey Irizarry, a third-year CAST and TIMARA major who has performed on Studio B three times, twice as their solo act, Xango/suave, and once in a band called Pink Whiskey Playhouse, calls Studio B “super invaluable.”
“Every time [I’ve played] I’ve felt more and more at home in the space. Becca Winer and the various crews she has worked with have always been incredibly fun to work with and feed off of… It’s an incredible resource and privilege to have professional-quality videos of your music online for free… The videos have been really useful to get more people to listen to my music, and as supporting material when booking shows for tours in places where people do not know me or my music.”
But despite the great service offered, Studio B has still struggled with racial diversity. If you ever find yourself scrolling through the Studio B website, adorned with thumbnail images of each session, you might find yourself looking at a lot of white men. Winer, though, has done a lot of work to try to change that over the past few years, and, to a good extent, she has. Diversity among the performers at Studio B has drastically improved - the majority of performers who have performed on Studio B this spring have been people of color - but Studio B is still working to do more.
Loffredo points out that “we’re thinking about that all the time, about who we bring to Studio B and why we bring them to Studio B, and how we can keep making it better. It’s really cool to see how different it is now from when it started, but it’s also really clear how much more work needs to be done.”
While Studio B is certainly making strides toward a more diverse cast of performers and musicians, that same diversity is lacking within the staff itself. It is vastly important, of course, for Studio B to promote and support the work of people of color, especially considering the fact that an overwhelming amount of their guests have been white; it is just as important, though, that they are taking a hard look at themselves as well.
“Since Studio B was started 5 years ago, there has been very slow and very little progress made in diversifying the production staff itself. We're not proud of this but can't ignore it,” the staff said in a statement by email. “We hope that opening up the space to a more diverse range of artists and performers in our community is the first step to increase POC involvement behind the scenes in Studio B - in our Workgroup ExCo, at our events, and especially in the producer’s booth, and are working hard to promote inclusivity to a much higher degree in order to make that happen in the future.”
Far too often, we see public organizations, whether it be in the world of radio, music, journalism, etc., promote diversity on the surface, without actually doing the same within their own workforce and leadership. If Studio B really wants to make a change, they should be cognisant of their own behind-the-scenes shortcomings as well.
Perhaps this will improve through Studio B’s increased effort to reach the wider Oberlin community, rather than just those already involved with WOBC. Originally another WOBC workgroup, they turned it into an ExCo in the spring semester of 2017. Even though students still have to apply and then be accepted, it does lead to much more visibility for those who have never been involved with radio programs at Oberlin.
“Something that’s cool about doing an ExCo and not just a workgroup is that we’re opening up to the whole campus,” Brennan says.
With just over a month left in this semester, Studio B is in a moment of transition and change. Recently, the station has expanded to include non-musician artists, with performances by the cast of Angels in America and the Oberlin College Stand Up Collective. They have also started a new Studio B series called “WOBC Remote,” in which artists perform in different spaces across campus - it recently debuted with a performance by Mid-Atlantic Rift in the Science Center Greenhouse.
“Sometimes people don’t realize they can come to us with ideas, and should come to us with ideas, to break the mold of Studio B. We’d never done a Remote session before… which was totally Margaret’s idea,” Loffredo says.
And, come May, Winer will graduate and Jane Rissover-Plotke, currently a first-year, will take over as the new executive producer of Studio B.
Before meeting Rissover-Plotke, Winer didn’t know how she was going to leave Studio B. “There were definitely times when I was worried… like, ‘Can we find anyone crazy enough to do this crazy thing? But then we always find someone crazy enough to do this thing! Look at us, we’re all crazy! And finding Jane was just like, ‘Ah, yes -’”
“You’re crazy too!” Loffredo says.
Rissover-Plotke is eager and ready for her new title as well. “I talk about Studio B with my friends all the time,” she say. “I’m really excited to have new voices be heard, because that’s one of the most important things, knowing that what you care about, what you’re passionate about, matters, and that other people are curious about what you’re interested in. It’s just really cool to be a part of a group.”
“I think it’s time for a fresh new face of Studio B,” Winer says. “This is the best staff I’ve ever worked with and they’re all continuing on… the future of Studio B is bright as day.”
Contact contributing writer Nell Beck at firstname.lastname@example.org.