Under the supervision of Drexel University associate professor Toby Seay and independent New York City based music publisher Reservoir, a number of music industry students maintained and completed 16 unfinished tracks from the 1970s. Their completion is a part of the aptly-named class “Uncovering the Philly Groove,” which was offered as a course for the first time this spring 2015 quarter.
The story began in the 1960s, when scores of Philadelphia-based artists and groups, including the Delfonics and First Choice, recorded their music under the Philly Groove label. In 1974, however, the label was canceled, resulting in 275 unfinished songs being locked away and forgotten for decades.
That is until 2012,when Philly Groove was acquired by Reservoir Media Management and the company began a search for these missing songs. It was soon discovered that around 40 Philly Groove tracks resided in Drexel’s music archives, after the University received a collection of music from the world-renowned recording studio, Sigma Sound, after it closed its doors in 2003.
Seay said the idea for students to finish and publish these tracks came about during a discussion between Reservoir Media Management and Drexel’s music industry program.
“We were looking for a way to collaborate on a project since we had some common interests,” Seay said. “Those interests are rooted in MIP’s Audio Archives, which hold recordings from the famed Sigma Sound Studios,” he continued.
Beyond the technical aspect of the student projects, there is also a more creative slant to the course. Those enrolled in the class are expected to compile raw vocal and instrumental takes and, using modern mixing technology, apply the finishing touches to songs recorded 40 years ago. According to junior Matthew Kleinman, the challenge is a rewarding one.
“It’s amazing to work with tracks that were recorded by professionals so long ago,” Kleinman confirmed.
Reservoir is also excited for the potential of these student-completed tracks. Faith Newman, the senior vice president of creative and business development of the New York
“[I’m] hoping to see students take on multiple interpretations of each track,” Newman said. “Sonically, it would be amazing to contrast sounds that might have been used on these recordings in the ‘60s or ‘70s with what a contemporary producer would do with them today. I’d like to see the class embrace the creative challenge of realizing both what was intended when these songs were recorded and what we, years later, can imagine,” she continued.
As far as the fate of the finished projects, Reservoir still controls the rights to the original songs. “Since the content is owned by Reservoir Media, these recordings are entirely in their hands. The goal of the project was to simply provide Reservoir Media with listenable mixes of these multi-track recordings. That was accomplished during this project,” Seay said. “Our other goal was to start a conversation about these legacy recordings, through public events and the press, to shine a light on both the Philly Groove materials and the MIP program.”
Regardless, the professor emphasized the value of the experience, and both for Drexel’s MIP and the music industry as a whole. “For students, this is a chance to jump time in recorded music history, using the skills they’re learning today to resuscitate a project that was started by professionals years ago. For the music industry faculty, ‘Uncovering The Philly Groove’ is a chance to demonstrate, in a very tangible way, the kinds of creative opportunities the music business continues to offer,” Seay concluded.