Denver metro area recording studios offer sound options

Some are free for recording; others have seen artists such as Kanye West, The Lumineers

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Music of various genres. Podcasts. Work presentations on a green screen.

Slam poetry. Music videos. Making movies for film school.

These are the types of works patrons have produced at free recording studios through the Arapahoe Libraries district that stretches across a swath of the south Denver metro area.

“And this is all free to anyone — not just our library (members),” said Tim Fritz, a digital media librarian for the library district. “We don’t ask for a card.”

It’s a service that has seen patronage from both younger and older local residents — from people living around the Sheridan Library studio in the district’s western end, to residents of other areas utilizing the district’s other two studios in the west and east ends of Centennial.

“We had a (kid) come in and use the Sheridan studio, and he’s now a touring rapper,” Fritz said, referring to a performer with the stage name Jay The Rarest. “There a high school right next to the studio, and when school gets out, the studio’s booked.”

The district’s three studios closed in March, along with Arapahoe Libraries locations as a whole, as the spread of COVID-19 gripped Colorado. But the libraries are considering checking out some of the studio equipment — such as for digitizing film or possibly loaning out keyboards — as the trend in public-health restrictions signals that studios may stay locked up into 2021.

On the other hand, some commercial recording studios in the Front Range have seen their work pick up as Coloradans have more time at home amid the pandemic, said Dave Devine, a senior lecturer of jazz guitar at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Artists have used that time to “record the basic parts at home and send the parts in to finalize them in a studio,” said Devine, who has played the role of producer in metro-area studios. He’s also set foot in studios as a member of bands and ensembles and as a session musician to record for other artists.

Some local spots are well-known

Metro-area residents looking to step into a recording studio have a variety of options, including some that have seen big-name music artists.

One that might be “shocking” to hear about is west Denver’s Side 3, located in an industrial area near North Santa Fe Drive.

The studio has recorded Kanye West, Devine said, as its website shows. Their clients also include “Green Day, Ed Sheeran, Lil Wayne — it’s insane,” he added.

Mighty Fine Productions in east Denver is “renowned and does a variety of music,” said Devine, who lives in Lakewood. Colorado Sound in the Westminster area — another spot Devine mentioned — lists Colorado folk band The Lumineers and neo soul pioneer D’Angelo among its clients.

In response to the pandemic, Mighty Fine started livestreaming concerts from its studio, Devine said. Avoiding the virus has turned some to home recordings, he added.

“You can record yourself on your computer and drop the file in the ‘cloud,’ and the engineer can turn them into magic,” Devine said. “The engineer I was talking to today from Longmont said he has more work than he can handle because people have more time.”

Some recording studios are located in people’s homes, too, which may make them more cost-effective without “overhead” costs of a building with plumbing, electricity and taxes, Devine said. “But another thing is it feels (like) a much more comfortable environment. They’ll go make you coffee … it feels much more communal.”

For amateur artists, a home studio can be a great place to start, Devine said.

“You can look online for home studios where maybe the time is more flexible,” Devine said. Some will start there, and if an artist thinks a recording needs something more, they can take the project to a bigger studio, Devine added.

Prices can be steep: Devine estimated most places in town can cost between $500 and $750 for a day of recording. He wasn’t sure on home studio prices.

An artist recording a vocal performance might say, ‘$700, that’s a lot of money,’” but it’s an opportunity to sing into equipment that may be worth thousands of dollars, Devine said.

Free studios still a quality bet

Fritz, the digital media librarian for the Arapahoe Library District, said that in Smoky Hill and Southglenn libraries in Centennial, “you get a professional-grade studio,” and at Sheridan Library it’s a little less sophisticated but still capable.

Electric guitars, keyboards, DJ equipment and electronic drum pads are among the gear patrons can use at the library studios, Fritz said. Middle-aged residents often come in to produce audiobook readings, he added. Fritz helps newcomers learn about the equipment, too, and before the pandemic, studios could be booked for up to three hours daily.

As the studio closure continues, Arapahoe Libraries is planning to check out some equipment but isn’t as certain about providing large items such as guitars because of the cleanup they require, Fritz said.

“I think we’re all hoping like January” to open the studios back up, Fritz said. But the library district has to play it by ear given changing public health guidelines.

The Douglas County Libraries location in Parker offers “state-of-the-art software and equipment to create videos, musical compositions, animations, e-books and more,” according to the district’s website. Denver Public Library locations also offer multiple recording studios listed on that district’s website.

The Studio at the Wright Farms library also offers “state-of-the-art video, audio and design equipment and software,” according to the website for the Anythink library district in Adams County.

Wright Farms library sits near East 120th Avenue and North Holly Street in the Thornton area. The recording studio at Wright Farms was closed, according to its website in early November. Other metro-area library studios are likely to be closed or restricted as well.

Fritz wants to get the word out, particularly to “underserved populations,” about the fact that his libraries offer studios.

“Many people don’t know that the places exist, and then when they (find out), they’re quite shocked,” Fritz said.

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