Justin Baker, a 2007 alumnus of the Audio Engineering department at the New England School of Communications has embarked on a mission that will culminate with a new studio built in Choma, Zambia. As this audio engineer works towards a goal that will bring audio to another part of the world, we catch up with him to talk about the Choma 57 project.
NESCom: Can you explain the Choma 57 project?
Baker: Choma 57 is a major fundraising mission to build a recording studio in Choma, Zambia. It will be affiliated with the Choma Academy of Music. This studio is needed for these people on several levels.
NESCom: How so?
Baker: First, music is everywhere in Zambia. It’s the hope for people who are surrounded by situations that say there is no hope. The severity of the issues these people face are like nothing most of us have ever seen. Poverty, lack of clean water, sex trafficking, children orphaned due to Aids. Music is an escape and a source of hope. The Academy of Music in Choma was established to combat these problems and is now teaching over 200 students. We need to capture this. A recording studio can aid in the teaching of these students, can allow the students to share their music, and can spread this hope to other areas of Africa and around the world.
Second, operating a recording studio in an area filled with music that doesn’t have recording capabilities is an instant success. There is opportunity to literally feed families with what would be a very insignificant studio in the U.S.
NESCom: So how do you plan on raising the necessary funds for the studio?
Baker: Our efforts to raise the funds to build this studio are focused on selling a special edition Shure SM57. The SM57 is a legendary microphone. It’s inexpensive, extremely durable, very versatile, and has been almost unchanged for decades. We hope that it will attract musicians and audio engineers from around the world to support this project.
NESCom:Where did the idea originate from?
Baker: I was in a meeting with some friends of mine about the potential opportunity to travel to Zambia in an effort to assist with an orphanage there. I was asked prior to this meeting if I would be interested in going along with the team for the specific purpose of building a studio there. I was intrigued by the idea, but I wasn’t really sure how building a studio addressed the needs of these people or how any of us were going to raise the funds to make it happen.
I sat through the meeting and as I was hearing the stories from others have had just recently returned about how life-changing the trip was, I knew I needed to make this happen. I needed to find a way to raise the money to get there and serve these people in ways I can’t serve people here. I knew that musician and other engineers that I have met over the years were the people I needed to reach out to for help.
NESCom: but why the Shure SM57?
Baker: I have been fortunate enough to have worked in several different areas of the audio industry. Live sound, studio sound, consulting, studio design, etc. There was one item that kept coming to mind that I have used in every position I have ever held as an audio engineer: the SM57. There is nothing that bridges the gap between all of the different people I have worked with like the 57. While I was sitting through that meeting and I knew that I needed to go, I began to think about the financial side of the project. Building a commemorative edition SM57 was what came to mind. The moment the idea came, I knew it was just a matter of the details at that point.
Watch the Chroma 57 project video
NESCom: Who else is involved in the project?
Baker: My full time gig now is at Crosswinds (Crosswinds Wesleyan Church where he works as Technical Director). We are a church in the Rochester area that partners with both the orphanage and the music academy. Poetice International is the organization that we work closely with in order to plan and execute our efforts with the local Zambians.
NESCom: How does the purchase of a Chroma 57 help the cause?
Baker: The lowest price a dealer is allow to advertise an SM57 for is $99.00. The reality is, you can but them at most music stores for about $85. We are selling these special edition SM57s for $120.00. I bring that up, only to say that I am aware that you can buy a 57 for less just about anywhere. Buying a Choma 57 though, has the capability of literally transforming lives by providing a new industry, economic opportunities, and music education for hundreds of Zambians. 100% of the funds we raise from the project will go to the studio and the Academy of Music.
NESCom: What involvement, if any, has Shure had with the project?
Baker: Shure has basically walked along side of us in preparing what needs to happen for us to be sure that we are not breaking any rules. They have helped up to understand what we can do with their product that they have perfected and what we can’t do. We remain in conversation still about how Shure can help with some of the equipment needs at the studio.
NESCom: The story is so interesting and takes you so far away from your beginnings. How have you gone from NESCom’s Audio Engineering department to trying to build a studio in Zambia?
Baker: It’s been a long road that has flown by. As with everything in the communications field, it’s all about the relationships you build. The relationships I have made with people all over the U.S. has shaped where I want to go and who I want to head down the road with. It’s amazing how much you can discover about yourself through other people outside of your cultural context. The initial phase of this project is very time sensitive and the we would really appreciate the support of audio students considering the purchase of a Choma SM57.
For more information on the Choma 57 project, visit http://www.choma57.com/