A day in the life of a recording studio

By Josh Kaiser. ’12

Two years ago, a small local band played at a fundraiser being held in The CAVE at PLU. Since then, they have grown to become one of the most well-known groups local to the Seattle/Tacoma area. The band is Roman Holiday, and I recently had the chance to sit down and talk to the band’s co-creator and manager, Mark Simmons.

Mark is also the owner of Pacific Recording Studios in downtown Tacoma, and I made the drive down Pacific Avenue a few days ago to talk to him about what it’s like to own and run a recording studio and work in the music industry. He got his start playing guitar in high school in the late 1980s, and became increasingly interested in the “gear” side of things.  His interest in guitars and amplifiers soon gave way to an interest in PA systems, and eventually recording equipment. He bought himself an 8-track recording setup, and started to record some of his friends in his garage. When his friends started recommending him to their friends and he started having a steady stream of customers, he decided that it would be worthwhile to start a real studio. In 1998, he rented a space in a building on Pacific Avenue that he thought had a lot of musical potential. By the mid-2000s, business was booming, and Simmons decided that it was time to move up. He bought a new space a block from his old location and built his current studio from scratch. Since then, he says that they have been through a lot, from having to turn people away in 2005, to suffering the effects of the economic recession in 2010-11. He says that business has been picking back up, and the studio is still far from going under.
The studio offers services that cover nearly all parts of the audio industry- they record music, audio for video, voice-overs, and many other recording services. They also provide mixing and mastering services, and the front office is filled with equipment to print and duplicate CD artwork and the CDs themselves.
A typical day at the studio includes juggling phone calls, emails, and meetings to “cultivate work,” and working on various ongoing projects. Aside from working on projects, Simmons also teaches clients how to use ProTools recording software, gives tours, and provides consultations for clients. He generally works 12-hour days, seven days a week. Typically starting around 10 or 11am, he breaks for “lunch” around 3pm, and continues working until around midnight. One of his employees offers songwriting lessons, as well.
The studio gets most of their clients through word-of-mouth referrals from previous customers, and many clients are long-term ones who come back again and again. In recent years, they have started to get involved with social media and online advertising as well. Approximately 75%of their clients are from the Puget Sound area, but they also handle many clients from out of state. Another way that they draw clients is by sponsoring events like battles of the bands and open mic nights.
Simmons has worked with several big names in the music industry, including Sir Mix-a-Lot and Ray-J (who he said was extremely difficult to work with). He also recorded voice-overs with a group from WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) when they were on tour in the area, and remembered the wrestlers as being nice guys who could barely fit through the door. He has worked extensively with Vicci Martinez, who became known after performing on the TV show “The Voice” last year; her back-up band is made up of the musicians from Pacific Studios.
Over the 18 years he’s worked in the industry, Simmons has also acquired some great stories, including one where a reggae artist set up candles all over the studio, and while dancing around managed to set himself on fire. Then there was the time that the lead singer for a metal band showed up three hours late, covered in red Sharpie, new tattoos, and spouting “5-minute sentences about a combination of religion and World of Warcraft.” Apparently the singer had just quit the drugs he’d been doing cold turkey, and the withdrawal sent him into a psychosis that he still hasn’t recovered from.
When asked for advice to people who want to get into the industry, he stressed the importance of taking advantage of opportunities and keeping one’s options open. A good work ethic is a necessity, as are good “people skills.” He also said that in order to really “make it,” it’s important to know what good sound is, and how to create it, because today’s audiences have been brought up with very high standards for production and quality.

The following is a music video from Roman Holiday- Mark Simmons makes a brief cameo as the man with glasses who walks by in the first few seconds of the video.

“Jolene” by Vicci Martinez:

Categories: Art & Music

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