NU a cappella groups do the Vocomotion

Andrea Damewood

Pick up any three CDs by any one of Northwestern’s numerous a cappella groups and chances are they all came from the same place.

Evanston resident and NU alumni Freddie Feldman founded Vocomotion, a recording company that records albums for professional and college a cappella groups in the area.

Vocomotion, located on the 1100 block of Church Street, has recorded albums for a number of NU a cappella groups since 1999, including Freshman 15, Purple Haze, Asterik, Significant Others and Brown Sugar.

“People that are in college groups aren’t always music majors, so they’re not necessarily going to go on to be musicians after college,” Feldman says. “I want them to be able to experience recording and have an album.”

Feldman graduated in 1997 with degrees in music and computer engineering and was part of the only a cappella group on campus at the time, a five-member male group called Five O’clock Shadow. He was also one of the first members of Purple Haze when the group began in 1996.

After graduating he took a job with a computer engineering firm in Evanston, but only until he could save up the capital to do what he really wanted.

“I put every penny past my rent and food into buying studio equipment,” Feldman says.

In 1999 he recorded Purple Haze’s first album, which won a Best of College A Cappella award. His recordings with NU groups have since garnered four other BOCA awards and one Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award, which Feldman called “the Grammys of a cappella.”

A combination of musical and technical know-how led Feldman to invent the TH60 Throat Microphone, a tool developed to aid vocal percussionists. The microphone is fitted to a collar the performer wears near their throat to project sound better than conventional microphones.

“I designed the circuits of the microphone and the collar myself,” he says.

Feldman says he has sold the microphone, which sells for $300 to $500, to people living as far away as Finland and Japan.

Marcus Ricci, a Weinberg sophomore and co-musical director of Purple Haze, says recording differs a great deal from live performances.

In the studio, he says, only a few members record at a time, building the tracks layer by layer instead of singing together as an entire group.

“You have to have the same energy you have with the group in a small setting,” he says. Purple Haze is currently cutting its second album with Vocomotion.

Groups pay $40 to $50 an hour to record in Feldman’s studio; they often pay the fee with concert revenues. But some says the result is worth the cost.

“The money’s a pretty big deal, but it’s worth it,” says Ricci. “It’s cool, because you have the opportunity to tweak the sound.”

Music junior Aaron Holloway-Nahum, co-musical director of Freshman 15, estimated it takes Freshman 15 about three hours to record one song.

Vocomotion is also recording Freshman 15’s second album, which is slotted to be released in spring.

“The pressure’s different in the studio. In live performances you’re performing for an audience, and they won’t jump all over you if you miss a note or sing a little off-tune,” Holloway-Nahum says. “In the studio, mistakes cost a lot of money.”

But the resulting album becomes something that both the groups and their fans value. Medill sophomore Erica Futterman owns Freshman 15’s “New Hotness,” which she purchased at a show for $10.

“I’m friends with some of the guys in Freshman 15, so it’s fun,” she says. “It was also fun for my friends back at home to hear it, because obviously it’s a big thing on our campus. On other campuses it’s like ‘A cappella what?’, so they were really blown away by it.”

Holloway-Nahum of Freshman 15 says that the creation and recording of music is one of the main purposes for his group.

“But in the end, it’s sort of a keepsake for the group and it’s great for a fan to get the music.”