Sam Pfister on SMC's Merger with Searcher Records

Searcher Records recently merged with the Student Musician’s Coalition. I sat down with the SMC’s President, Samu Pfister, to find out more.

Searcher Records: Tell me about your organization, Student Musicians Coalition.

Sam: It is a student org that was created a few years ago by the university to oversee the practice spaces that are in the basement of Shenkman Hall. And so we operate five practice rooms and one for storage equipment etcetera.  We’re sort of the alternative to the music department because the music department is very specific. You can study jazz, you can take lessons, you can be in band, but there’s not really opportunities for non-music majors or minors to have a place to play or have equipment to use, which is a serious issue living in the city,  since you can’t just put something in your dorm and jam in the dorm. So we provide practice spaces for bands, anywhere from two to fifteen member bands. And right now I think we have about twenty different bands that use our space, including the Colonies which play at a few places around D.C. and Ben Koolen which are some GW alumni and they're actually playing at Firefly this year, so that’s really cool. We also provide equipment rentals for student organizations and non-student organizations around campus. For example, if one of our bands has a gig at 9:30 Club, we’ll give them a PA system etcetera to bring with them so they don't need to rent that stuff. We’re kind of seeing to the needs of the bands on campus because it’s really expensive and really hard to do yourself, and so that’s a really good opportunity to have literally hundreds of students play that otherwise wouldn't get the chance to.

Searcher Records: What is the size of your organization right now?

Sam: Right now we have a little over a hundred members at any given time that are involved in the 20 or 22 bands that we have currently.

Searcher Records: How did you get involved with the organization?

Sam: I’ve been playing piano since I was like seven. I taught myself and everything, and then senior year of high school I joined our jazz band. Then when I came here, we actually have a really good jazz studies program in the music department, so I joined one of the jazz combos, went to jazz jams every week, things like that. But then at the end of my freshman year, so end of the spring 2015, they slashed the music department to the point where, unless you were a music major or minor you couldn't take lessons. And, like, half of my music professors couldn't teach anymore since they weren't on budget. So it kind of sucked that there were very few opportunities for me to actually play unless I declared a music major or minor, which for a time I did, but it just wasn't for me. At the time I was also in a band in the Musicians Coalition, and I just kind of decided to take a bigger role in that organization. I started doing rental manager things my freshman year, ended up doing finance last year and now I’m the president of the organization. And in the past, it sort of had a very small role on campus where we’re just sort of confined to the members we have. But in the past year and a half I’ve really tried to increase the outreach of the organization by playing around campus, setting up concerts in the basement of Shenkman, or on March 25 we’re playing in Square 80, we’re gonna have a few bands playing there, reaching out to more student organizations, other musicians that I know of that are looking for places to play and sort of expanding our role on campus and sort of engaging the music community.

Searcher Records: What are some of SMC’s current goals?

Sam: We actually have a few goals. It’s our goal by the end of the semester to turn one of our practice rooms into a recording studio. Right now we do have a recording studio on the Vern, but it’s woefully understaffed, the university mismanages it because they're the ones who oversee it. They don't know how to work with students to get what they want at the recording studio. I think literally they staff it two hours a week, so unless your schedule fits those two hours, you can’t use the space. And it’s in West Hall on the Vern, so you have to go up to the Vern, which is the worst part. So they have this awesome fully-equipped recording studio that’s really going to waste, and so we decided that we’re gonna do that in one of our practice rooms, so we’re putting up foams on the walls, we’re gonna buy the equipment and everything. It’s gonna be completely free to our members, which is really important because recording fees can go up to $400 an hour at some of the cheaper places around D.C. I also want to have a technician staff in the SMC who will be able to help them with recording and everything like that, so getting quasi professional recording would be so amazing for so many students who want to be able to do that. So that’s one of the goals, and I also want to increase community engagement; have more concerts. One of the things that I think merging with Searcher Records will help with is the ability to get Student Musicians Coalition bands playing gigs across DC at 9:30 Club, other places, because I know Searcher has a lot of connections and we can sort of combine our connections for the benefit of the musicians in our group.

Searcher Records: How do you think the merger will benefit SMC and how will it benefit Searcher?

Sam: I think the benefits for Searcher Records is it gives them sort of a home. Since we have a physical space for equipment, for gear, for people to practice, and Searcher Records prior to this did not. It will really be awesome for them to sort of be landed and have a place where they can have something as simple as have meetings, or a place to store their equipment or to be able to have access to our equipment and everything. And for us, again, it helps us with outreach for our membership, giving them opportunities to play, meet other bands, be part of a record label, have the ability for someone to be able to promote them. And also, in the past, really it’s been a struggle to find people who are willing to help manage the space. And it takes a lot to manage five, six rooms with, you know, equipment in them and everything. Searcher coming in has really re-energized and brought a new crowd of people in who are willing to contribute and help upkeep the space and make it continue to function and grow.

Searcher Records: What do you think the merger will accomplish overall?

Sam: I hope moving forward we can continue to have a larger role in the music community at GW. I think one of the best things is playing in public on campus. At the end of my freshman year in response to the budget cuts, we put on a 24-hour protest concert, and we had some of the jazz bands play, we had the pit band play, we had different DC musicians come and play, and we went through the night and everything, and I think that was really cool, that was definitely one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at this college, and I kind of wanna make that a consistent thing. A couple of weeks ago we just set up in the basement of Shenkman and just started playing for like three of four hours, and no one told us to leave, it was great! And so that’s kind of something I wanna keep doing, because people love hearing live music. So definitely continuing to engage in the GW community, doing that, I really hope merging with Searcher will give more opportunities to SMC bands to go play shows, because a lot of people don’t even know how to reach out to a venue to say, like, “hey can we come play here?” And Searcher knows exactly how to do that, they have connections, it’s great. And finally I hope it just bolsters the overall sense of comradery among musicians, and in the past it’s been very weak. But really in the past year and a half I’ve started noticing that all the musicians here know each other, they all play together at different times, and I kinda wanna continue that unification of musicians at GW because I think it’s just a really beautiful thing.

Searcher Records: Any last words?

Sam: I’m excited to see the actual merger happen. I think it’s gonna be good once we combine our resources under one membership, and provide better opportunities to musicians, which is really the goal.

Alexandra Hardle