At Pittsburgh’s Accessible Recording in Oakland, owner Madeleine Campbell takes the name to heart | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

At Pittsburgh’s Accessible Recording in Oakland, owner Madeleine Campbell takes the name to heart

“Do it yourself, but do it together.”

Now hear this: Madeleine Campbell
Now hear this: Madeleine Campbell

You’ll learn a lot about Madeleine Campbell and her new recording studio, Accessible Recording, just by looking at her desk. There’s a stack of books, including reference guides like Pink Noises: Women on Electronic Music and Sound by Tara Rodgers and Principles of Digital Audio by Ken Pohlman; then there’s more experiential stuff, like John Cage’s Silence. She’s big on John Cage.

There are issues of Women In Sound, Campbell’s zine that aims to “showcase the achievements of women, queer and trans people working in live and recorded sound” and “increase and maintain conversation that is accessible to audioworkers of all levels.” If there’s one value you’d take away from an hour spent with Campbell, it’s accessibility. She takes the word to heart. 

To the left of the console, there’s a modular synth from Campbell’s day job at Pittsburgh Modular. It looks intimidating: a complex system of short wires criss-crossing into tiny outlets, seemingly designed to convey “do not fuck with this, noob.” But if you ask her about it, she’s happy to explain it in language that’s simple and accessible (there’s that word again). She’ll assure you that it wouldn’t damage the console to rip out all the intricately arranged patch cables, which will suddenly become very tempting to do. But you don’t. 

On top of the rack holding the studio’s primary audio units, Campbell keeps two business cards, reading “It’s okay to be vulnerable” and “Shit is gonna be okay.” The flipside of the latter reads, “Calm the fuck down.” They’re put to use on a daily basis. 

The whole desk conveys a person deeply committed to collaboration and maintaining a thoroughly open environment: open to questions, open to experimentation, open to admitting what you don’t know and taking it from there. 

“I don’t claim to be an expert on anything," says Campbell, 25. “I’m learning so much as I go and I want this to be a space that celebrates that.”

“Most simply, what I want for this space is what I really wanted for a younger version of myself,” says Campbell. “A place that’s financially accessible to my friends — and not my friends. And financially accessible to artists who don’t have financial support from a label, who, like me, don’t make a lot of money, but are still working really hard to make meaningful work.”  

Campbell opened Accessible Recording in the Bloomcraft building in Oakland earlier this month, financed primarily through a $8,000 Kiva loan. That’s a tiny figure for a music studio, but Campbell makes it work by not overextending herself when it comes to gear, and relying on friends and the music community for help. Almost every corner of the studio has a story behind it, a favor traded or a serendipitous deal found through a friend. The hardwood floors come courtesy of Sam Pace of Come Holy Spirit, installed in exchange for some housework. Douglas Vento, of Tanning Machine, built the wall and installed the door separating the two sections of the formerly one-room studio. The list of favors and trades is too long to include here, but without them, Campbell would not have been able to open. 

“I absolutely want people to get paid for their work and don’t expect everyone to just trade everything,” says Campbell. “But that is so much of how I was able to get to the point where I am now.” 

click to enlarge CP PHOTO BY JORDAN MILLER
CP photo by Jordan Miller

In terms of community collaboration and DIY, you could do worse than setting up shop in the Bloomcraft building. 1Hood, Babyland, The Good Peoples Group and Justseeds all have offices there. The artist and musician (and close friend of Campbell’s) Jenn Gooch has her WERK studio just across the hall from the studio, and the Glitter Box Theater is on the other side of the wall. The building and its tenants embody what Campbell wants out of the studio. Organizations like Glitter Box and 1Hood blur the lines between activism, art and education, which is an approach she’d like to emulate.  

“I just want a space where people can come, afford, be comfortable, have programming here. Something equal parts studio and creative learning space,” says Campbell. 

On the day City Paper visited, the studio had been open less than a week. Campbell’s ambitious in what she wants the space to be, with plans to begin offering child care for clients during sessions and expanding into skill-sharing programs. But today, she’s mostly trying to appreciate where she is: finally in her own studio, trying to calm the fuck down. 

The schedule is coming together slowly — she still has that day job at Pittsburgh Modular, serves on the board of directors for Girls Rock! Pittsburgh, and is working on the next Women In Sound, due out in June — but there are projects on the docket already. She’s in the process of recording Tanning Machine’s new record and helping Matthew Buchholz, of Alternate Histories, compile samples for his new project about movie scores from sci-fi films from the ’50s and ’60s. 

“This is such a strange and scary time in so many ways, and I feel like now more than ever, it’s such a critical time for people to be creating and producing their work in all different ways,” says Campbell. “My hope is that this can be some small contribution toward facilitating that process.

“Lately I’ve realized … do it yourself, but do it together."

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