Students’ Studio Stays in Sync With College Music Scene

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Many people know Jake Gaba ’16 for his video “Guy Dances Across China in 100 Days,” which he shot last fall during his Dartmouth Beijing Language Study Abroad Plus Program. Since posting it to YouTube in January, the video has been viewed more than 607,000 times and earned Gaba an invitation to appear on a television show on one of China’s major networks, CCTV1.

Jake Gaba and Xavier Curry

Jake Gaba ’16, left, co-founder of Symbiotic Studios, recorded “Escaping Dawn,” the first album by Dartmouth Aires member Xavier Curry ’14, right. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

In Dartmouth singing circles, however, Gaba is known just as much for Symbiotic Studios, the music recording and video production business he co-founded with Devon Koch ’16. “They do really impressive work and are known on campus as the go-to guys,” says Dartmouth Aires member Xavier Curry ’14, who recorded his first album, Escaping Dawn, with Symbiotic Studios.

The two former French residence hall floor-mates launched Symbiotic Studios during their first year at Dartmouth. Koch, an avid filmmaker who has served as president of Dartmouth Stories Growing Films, had already garnered viral video success in high school with a rap video, Derive So Hard, which he made with friends about the AP calculus exam. The two say that after meeting so many talented singers at Dartmouth, including Koch’s first year roommate, Dartmouth Aires member David Clossey ’16, and Dartmouth Idol contestants, they were inspired to help their fellow students gain more exposure.

“When we went to Dartmouth Idol our first year and saw all these incredible singers who could have gone to Berklee School of Music or conservatories but came to Dartmouth instead, we thought this would be a great way to help promote them,” Gaba says.

Koch filmed a video for Dartmouth Idol contestant Mike Tree ’13, and Gaba, who played several instruments as a child, began teaching himself how to record in the Department of Music’s BritTrax studio. He started recording his first album last spring with Curry and, after he and emailed edits back and forth with Curry, who was in China during fall term, the album was released in March under Curry’s stage name, “Xavier A.”

Koch and Gaba, the musical director for the a cappella group Sing Dynasty, also filmed several campus a cappella group performances and a video for the Sugar Plum dance troupe, as well as some events during Dartmouth’s week-long 2013 Digital Arts Exhibition. But Koch had to take a break last winter from making videos for Symbiotic Studios in order to help director Jonathan Sigworth ’12 finish filming Stickup Artist, a 22-minute short film. So Alexander Stockton ’15 stepped in to film Symbiotic Studios’ videos for singers Amber Dewey ’12 and Nate Graves ’13.

Koch, who is spending his second straight term working in his hometown of Palo Alto, Calif., will resume his on-campus collaboration with Gaba during summer term. In addition to recording and filming music videos for their fellow students, the two plan to make more videos that feature Gaba in order to capitalize on the international following he has gained due to the dancing across China video.

Ultimately, they’d like their YouTube channel to serve as a clearinghouse for great college music nationwide by enlisting friends at other colleges to produce videos of talented singers at their schools. But when it comes to content creation, they aren’t wedded to one master plan.

“Our channel is one big experiment, and we’re trying to figure out what people are most receptive to,” says Koch. “But our primary goal is to have fun and promote things we support.”