Assemble Sound unites musicians in old Corktown church
BY ZACH MICKLEA
OU News Bureau
For 146 years, the green brick church on 17th Street in Detroit has been a gathering place for people and philosophies.
Constructed in 1871 as St. Paul’s German Evangelical Church, the building has convened countless congregations. Now, the building has new residents.
Less than two years ago, the church sold to three friends who had a vision. At that time, it had been sitting empty for five years.
“Our goal was to create an environment that fostered artist development,” Garret Koehler, one of the buyers, said. “We also needed to connect that development to real economic opportunity.”
Welcome to Assemble Sound — a collaboration of musicians, producers, songwriters and music industry professionals who write and record music, educate the community on all things involved in the music industry and help artists create a sustaining career through their music.
Koehler partnered with Seth Anderson and Nicole Churchill. Anderson acts as the studio manager, Koehler works as the general manager and Churchill handles the licensing department.
The building started with what could barely be considered a roof, but the team worked quickly to repair it. Walls and parts of the ceiling needed to be taken out to make room for the live room on the second floor.
The sanctuary has been restored to a fitting style of its original grandeur, featuring the authentic 40-foot vaulted ceiling, a 360-degree balcony and an exposed pipe organ.
Assemble Sound is now home to about 25 local musicians, such as Tunde Olaniran, Flint Eastwood and Valley Hush — known as resident artists — across all genres. They are allowed access to the space for writing and recording 24 hours a day, seven days a week and free of charge.
The resident artists share equipment and engage in consistent programming such as song critiques and production how-tos. Koehler estimates 70 percent of studio use is affiliated with a resident. Non-residents are welcome to use the space but are required to pay for such services.
“We want to put out work and help others put out work that is expressive, meaningful and impacts broader culture,” Koehler said.
Jon Zott is a producer and Rochester native, living in Detroit and member of the resident artists. He described the programs as bringing “all different types of people within the production line into the same building.”
He has been with Assemble since December 2015 and said his favorite part is sharing equipment.
“We can pool all of our money together to buy really nice equipment,” Zott said. “That just elevates the quality of the work.”
The only stipulation is that all sessions are scheduled on a community calendar and remain open to other residents to sit in — part of the learning process.
The idea for the project spawned while Koehler organized events in Detroit under the name Assemble in 2013 and 2014. He spoke with musicians in the area who were interested in creating a collective recording studio. It was then when Anderson approached Koehler about opening a space.
Churchill moved back home to Detroit after six years of living in Los Angeles, working in the industry. With her help, Assemble Sound acts as a music licensing company that places independent music from southeast Michigan into movies, television shows and commercial advertisements.
Their clients include independent filmmakers, Disney, Netflix and Viacom.
“We are unapologetic about using synchronization licensing to help artists build sustainable careers in music while remaining rooted in Detroit,” Koehler said. “As we grow, we will develop ancillary services that further help artists do just that.”
Assemble U is another program offered at the church. It consists of monthly panel discussions on topics that include touring, branding and merchandising, licensing and publishing. The events are free and open to the public.
Koehler and team plan to expand the church into a music campus that stretches a half-block on the street. They are interested in turning one of the buildings into a five-bedroom bed-and-breakfast for touring musicians and industry workers to stay while visiting the city.
“We want to create environments where music becomes a vehicle for broadening and enriching people’s perception of their own community and identity,” Koehler said.
Assemble Sound is at 2300 17th Street, Detroit, MI 48216. Applications to submit for artist residency and its music library can be found on the website.
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