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Setting a New Record

How Verso Studio Helps Re-Define Westport Library

Article by Robin Moyer Chung

Photography by Brendan Toller

Originally published in Westport Lifestyle

I walked down the hall to Verso Studio, Westport Library’s (WL) recording studio, past their Library of Things. I stopped, as always, to search for the metal detector. But once again some other lucky cardholder got to it before me.

So I continued to the studio, empty-handed but hopeful, because I enjoy free money.

Then I entered the studio and, Westport, no metal detector on earth can compare to the riches within. A recording studio! I don’t mean an conference room with a tape recorder for immortalizing family anecdotes and toddler sing-a-longs. We have a “hybrid analog recording studio… designed by leading industry experts and thinkers for first-rate, distinctive, and powerful results.”

Do you know what WL is doing with Verso? Everything audio. Podcasts, bands, audio books, virtual hypnosis appointments. And do you know who’s doing all of this? YOU. And experts. But, still, you.

According to executive director Bill Harmer, “We want to re-brand libraries for the community. We’re about higher learning, not just a repository for books.” People learn in different ways - art, books, podcasts, music, so WL is re-defining the purpose and reach of the institution by embracing different educational mediums. And who better to create content than the residents of a town boasting some of the most creative minds in America?

Heading Verso are two outstanding industry professionals, Travis Bell (Audio Studios Manager/Sound Engineer) and Brendan Toller (Marketing Manager of Verso Studios). More on them later.

Okay, where to begin…

While at VersoFest this spring, WL’s new three day music festival, Bill filled me in on a new endeavor. No doubt you recall, from an article in this magazine several years ago, that Bill knows a lot about music. In Trefz Forum (big space on the 2nd floor) Verso Studio recorded performances of “…original music from unsigned musicians in the community, from as many genres as possible,” says Bill. “We’ve captured some incredible moments.”

Then, with all of this music, they released a debut album this May under the label “Verso Records”. I mean, have you ever heard of a library producing a record? Why not? Because they don’t. Until now.

But Bill points out, “Libraries publish books. So why not make records?”

In addition to records, Verso Studio professionals are eager to teach and assist everyone.

Which helps to explain our sudden preponderance of podcasts. WL first reached out to Dan Woog to record “06880: The Podcast” (see article XXX in this issue). Since then, numerous folk - Tom Henske, Miggs and Trace Burroughs, Scott Ruden, Berenice Angelini, and more - have learned how to record their own podcasts.

Let’s take Berenice. She lives in Westport, but anyone with a library card, no matter the library, may have up to two hours a month to record and four hours a day in the the post-production facility (editing, programming, etc. There’s a fee for commercial users but it’s less than typical recording studios.) So Berenice is recording her podcast about being a French national in America and plans to interview fellow French nationals about their experiences.

WL is also encouraging writers to create audiobooks. “Many midlevel authors can’t create audiobooks through a publisher,” Bill explains.

Recording may sound daunting to the inchoate caster of pods and audio-fiers of books, but WL isn’t just a world class recording studio, it’s a community resource. There are classes, individual instruction, and other opportunities to learn how to use the equipment and software to the best of its - and your - ability. Which is great because, frankly, it looks kind of intimidating. WL also plans to offer a core curriculum in the fall and even a certification course.

Starting with hands-on instruction from the experts I mentioned earlier. Travis has mixed over 1,000 live events and over 300 records, including the hugely successful independent record “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin” by Low Anthem. Brendan, a musician and filmmaker, has seen several of his films in the festival circuit, including “Danny Says,” a chronicle of the life of The Ramones’ Danny Field, deemed by rock-doc enthusiasts as “One of the greatest releases in rock.”

Community amateurs of all ages, with Brendan and Travis, ran the three full days of VersoFest this spring. “When it was all done, it seemed like they were floating above the carpet,” Bill smiles. “It was this incredible communal vibe.”

“Incredible” is an apt descriptive. I left the studio and walked back down the Library of Things hall, buzzing with awe and excitement. I hardly cared about the metal detector, which I bet doesn’t even exist. I’ve decided to make my fortune recording a podcast.

WestportLibrary.org/Services/Verso-Studios

Verso@WestportLibrary.org

(203) 291-4828

Training:

WestportLibrary.org/Services/Verso-Studios/Training-and-Events/

To purchase Verso Records: Volume 1

VersoRecords.BandCamp.com

Verso Summer School:

Spring and summer of 2022, Verso Studios is offering video editing classes and a DJ class with hip-hop pioneer, Dooley-O. In addition, Verso Studios Crew Call gives all ability levels and ages (12+) the opportunity to take part in Westport Library’s media productions in support of programming. Lead by Emmy award-winning Verso Video Studios Manager, David Bibbey, Crew Call members gain hands-on media production experience with state-of-the-art equipment. 

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