I find everyone's stories interesting. On one hand that could help me keep writing this blog forever, until I have discovered the story of every person in every house and every owner of every business. Where people are from, how they got to where they are and why they are in the Heights is infinitely interesting to me. However, it could also be the downfall of this blog. Maybe all of you don't find this as intriguing as I do? Someday we'll see. Someday I'll start diving in to the lives of average people doing mundane things and see if you stay with me...
But today is not that day and Mairi and Paul are not those people. No one who deals with musicians on a regular basis has an average or mundane life. And dealing with musicians is just what this Houston-bred couple does from their metal building on 19th Street.
Nestled between the crazy fire salvage warehouse and Gen's Antiques, the funky metal building that houses 226 Recordings is a cozy and welcoming space for musicians to record. The front of the building houses a recording studio. The back of the building houses a family.
Once you're buzzed in through the gate, you enter through a small reception area. A computer is set up for entertainment while you wait. Another door will take you to the "live room" which can accommodate an average sized band. Knowing nothing about the ins and outs of a recording studio, I was so impressed at all the thought that goes in to each space. The live room has all kinds of stuff to prevent echos and "keep pure sound." From ceiling diffusers to bass traps to an absence of right angles, everything is set up to prevent bounce backs and help the band get only the sounds they produce.
The "live room" can accommodate roughly 8 musicians
Singers may want to stay with the band, but if they want a separate space there is a standard vocal booth or 2nd isolation room for a single person. These rooms have similar features to the live room but also creates a slightly different sounds, giving vocalists options.
The vocal booth with window to keep an eye on your band
I know less than nothing about the recording process so my tour with Mairi was a real learning experience. I learned a lot of jargon and technical terms- things I wrote down in my notebook that I can't make sense of now. I couldn't help but scribble everything down. She was so enthusiastic about it! I enjoyed learning more about the process, but in the end what I really wanted to learn was how does a young family end up building a recording studio in a metal building in the Heights?
Paul and Mairi both grew up in Houston. They were friends in high school and were friends when they parted ways for college. Mairi went to UT, and Paul headed to the West Coast to attend Pepperdine. After college, she came back to H-town and Paul went to LA. He ended up working at the famed Cherokee Studios where he was able to work in the heart of the classic rock establishment.
Like happens to many, though, Paul tired of the pace of LA and decided to come back home. He and Mairi had remained close throughout and when he returned to Houston, their relationship progressed. To get back to Houston, Paul had taken a job doing real estate development but when you have the kind of background he did, you can't just walk away from music. Working full time at real estate, Paul operated a small recording studio out of his apartment. He also worked for Fellowship of the Woodlands, a local mega-church, doing live sound mixing and editing for their tv broadcasts. Eventually having his own studio was always in the plans.
Next thing you know, economic downturn and real estate slump. Paul and Mairi saw this as the perfect time for Paul to jump ship and return to his passion and talent. He was able to get a decent job working for a local studio that also teaches audio engineering. In fact, even after opening 226 Recordings, Paul has remained at that studio teaching.
As career paths changed and a family started, Paul and Mairi searched for a place to settle in. They started out looking for a house with a decent garage. They really wanted work and home to be on the same property. Being natives, they know Houston well and really were set on the Heights. Yes, they love the "feel" of the neighborhood like the rest of us, but for business purposes it's also convenient and central for clients from all over greater Houston. Often people who grew up in Houston have mixed feelings about the Heights. I regularly run across people who still envision the Heights of 20 years ago. Mairi knew better, though. Growing up, her mother's best friend lived in Garden Oaks, and she has friends who settled here over the years. So, they looked and looked for that house that could accommodate their needs. And they couldn't find it.
During the time they were searching for a home Mairi was working in commercial real estate. She came across a lot, a parking lot to the rest of us, for sale on 19th Street and that was it. They decided to start from scratch. It took about 9 months to get all the permits in order and 7 months to build the space. They hired a studio designer to create the recording space and took what was left on the back and created a home for them and their infant daughter Clara. When the house was complete, Mairi left real estate to manage the studio business and care for Clara. It was ideal to have the work and living spaces together.
18 mos old Clara helps out in the studio's control room
I asked Mairi what it was like living on 19th Street in the middle of a commercial district. I kind of expected an "it is what it is" answer, but that is not what I got. She referred to the store owners as her "neighbors" and said they all drown Clara with attention. She said "When you live in a [residential area], you can't just walk outside and in to your neighbors house" but she can. The merchants on her block were totally supportive, even when construction of the building took up Gen's parking lot. She likes the fact that it's kind of the "opposite of a neighborhood" by being full of activity during the day and then totally quiet at night. Of course, it suits the work they do as well. "Bands can hang out in the [front courtyard] and not disturb anyone." She also loves how she can walk so many places. That, she says, is a "Heights thing."