Darkroom Records creates opportunities for local bands

Zay Yontz, Features Editor

With an increase in free time because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hickman High School junior Arjuna Raghu took it upon himself to start writing and producing music with his siblings Hickman High School freshman Surya Raghu and  Jefferson Middle School sixth grader Pasha Raghu. Though each member of the band started playing music years ago, Arjuna Raghu said he was on the lookout for a band he could play in, and he found it within his own home.

Drona, which is the Raghu sibling’s band, has played in several live performances, and they really became a band when they performed at a Darkroom Records showcase in September. The concert showcased a variety of different bands and artists from Darkroom Records at Stephens Lake Park Amphitheater. Darkroom Records had its first showcase in two years in September after shutdowns because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One of their most recent shows, sponsored by Darkroom Records, was at the Niche Columbia Experimental Music Festival Nov. 9. Drona was also able to play in a concert sponsored by Hitt Records. Raghu said Drona was able to perform after a last-minute arrangement with the program.

“Our most recent performance at the Dismal Niche Columbia Experimental Music Festival was also sponsored by Darkroom [Darkroom Records]. Jenni [Pereyra] from Darkroom [Darkroom Records, Battle High School], contacted Dismal Niche and helped arrange the show,” Raghu said. “It was unbelievable to be invited to play at this festival. Darkroom [Records] does have very nice recording facilities, but it’s definitely much more than that. Darkroom [Records] also fosters a local young musical community. It gave us huge opportunities to perform as a young band, and gave us a platform to begin performing for people.”

In addition to producing over 30 songs from their studio in Raghu’s bedroom, the band is constantly writing and recording more music.

“We have jammed together and learned cover songs since we were really young, which allowed us to learn our instruments and figure out how to play music with each other,” Raghu said. “During the pandemic, we had copious amounts of time to write music individually and get tighter as a band. In the spring of 2021, we began practicing our original music because we wanted to perform over the summer.”

Gentry Middle School social studies teacher David Aulgur and Battle High School AP World History teacher Jordan Smith created Darkroom Records in 2014; they play a large role in the amount of concerts Drona plays in. Since starting the program seven years ago, Aulgur said he has seen significant growth. 

“In the last seven years, we have grown to have studios at Hickman, Battle and Rock Bridge High Schools, worked with local student musicians from all across the Mid-Missouri area, developed an internship program that has graduated students to college programs focused on music production, management and performance,” Aulgur said. “We are proud to have helped many local artists play some of their first shows and many have now made music a major part of their lives.” 

Musical expression can be one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences one can have. To feel the validation of creating original music and releasing it for the world to hear is a powerful expression of a person’s thoughts, feelings, passions and beliefs. .

— David Aulgur

In addition to creating opportunities for artists to play, Aulgur said Darkroom Records’ internship program has also allowed students to learn about many aspects of the recording process. Senior Rachel Stevens, bassist for the band SelfHug, began her internship at the RBHS branch of Darkroom Records this year. Stevens goes into the studio everyday with a variety of different bands and artists to record.

“I’m recording [for RBHS Sophomore] Brendan Knight. He’s doing metal albums. So we’re doing a bunch of moving around mics and figuring out what works,” Stevens said. “It’s a really small studio, so we are still in the process of learning how everything is going to go”

Along with the opportunities that Darkoom Records creates, they also set up many of their students to continue to play music in the future. RBHS Darkroom Records supervisor Elliot Cade said that Darkoom Records creates an outlet for students to learn skills regarding music while also being able to play in live concerts after highschool.

“It’s been incredible to see the growth of some of our students. There have been multiple musicians who came into the studio as middle schoolers who today are producing their own albums and headlining shows across Columbia.” Elliot said. “We are just really glad that we could be a part of their journey, to help give them the resources at an early age to explore their own musical talent and couldn’t be more proud of all the students who have used our Darkroom Records recording studios.”

The program was never originally intended to be as large as it has become, Aulgur said. As more bands and artists have started to use the recording studios, Aulgur said he has seen how accessibility has produced a lasting impact for each artist.

Have you used the Darkroom Records recording studio? Let us know in the comments below.