In 1998, Chris Macek and a friend made an album titled “Why?” on Chris’ computer in Rockport. They made some CDs and handed out copies of the homemade effort around their high school. The album’s liner notes said “Recorded at Barron Studios.”
“The studio started as a joke,” says Chris. His brother Todd Macek laughs from the other end of their studio office coffee table littered with music magazines. Chris is reclined in his chair; Todd turns his table into an ottoman. The two are in their natural habitat: Barron Studios.
Nestled in the Rice Military neighborhood, the creative space equipped with three recording studios and six engineers is a home to Houston’s thunderous hip hop community. This year alone, Barron worked with 1,100 artists and recorded 7,000 songs.
Recalling the studio’s inception, Chris says that he and a friend recorded rappers in their house while studying at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi. In 2002, they assembled a closet vocal booth complete with rope lights, a cheap microphone, and a black sheet to cover their wardrobe. Two years later, Chris moved into a Houston apartment with Todd and the brothers leased a 2,800-square foot loft in Downtown Houston next to Minute Maid Park for a recording studio.
“There were no walls anywhere when we got in. It was just a bathroom and everything else was wide open,” says Todd. He and Chris googled how to frame walls and hang doors, built a one booth recording studio by hand during Christmas 2005, and began taking sessions in early 2006.
Chris and Todd balanced recording sessions, managed the business, and maintained careers outside of the studio. By 2010, they outgrew the loft, and their juggling act, and landed in Rice Military in 2011. “We both had quit our day jobs at that point and were like ‘OK, let’s go,’” says Todd.
As the new location grew, so did the studio’s staff. Barron’s internationally diverse team of recording engineers came to represent Hong Kong, Latvia, South Africa, Nigeria, and Ohio. “I feel like we are an accurate representation of Houston. It’s people from all over,” says Chris. Still, the wide-ranging crew presented its own challenges.
The Macek brothers realized they needed to harness their engineers’ varied backgrounds to one operating system in order to make the Barron experience replicable to all artists, regardless of which engineer recorded the session. Todd and Chris implemented training techniques.
“Our goal is to liberate the creative spirit and support the artistic community. So what we believe, like in general, is that creative endeavors make society better,” says Todd. He adds: “The sheer act of just making music makes your life better. Our vision, our mission, is to be a spot where people can come and can do that. So whether you’re famous, or first time on the microphone, it doesn’t matter. Your creative spark is important and when you come here we’re going to take care of that.”
Chris says the studio’s commitment to helping artists translate a song out of their head and onto a tangible recording is similar to going into the community to remove barriers that hinder people from communicating. He and Todd believe there has been a culture in Houston where people seated at the top of the musical ecosystem were reluctant to share their success with up and coming talent. So they came up with a series of projects geared toward linking the community together.
In 2012, they created a monthly podcast called B.U.R.N. Labs to showcase some of the best songs recorded at the studio that month. In 2015, they earned a Guinness World Record for the most solo vocal performances on a song by hosting a massive summer event at the studio. More than 300 rappers lined up to record verses for the song which clocked in at five hours long. (A record recently broken by the country of Nepal.)
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This year’s projects connected communities for both engineers and artists. In the fall, Barron’s engineers mentored aspiring audio engineers at a free weekly training series dubbed Barron Sunday School.
Earlier this year, Todd and Chris organized a pop-up studio event in Austin during South by Southwest to record an EP. The brothers called on producers, writers, and artists from Houston and beyond to contribute to the project which enabled collaborations from artists who probably never would have met without the platform in place.
Even with a stacked resume of collaborative projects, Todd doesn’t foresee the studio turning into a record label. “I think 2018 is the best time in the history of the world to be an independent musician.” He says that he would rather guide artists along their journey by providing them with information they need to pursue their dreams.
“You don’t set yourself apart by holding someone else down. Not by being negative. We do it by being positive and forward looking and helping other people,” says Chris. “I mean look at what happened during Harvey. That needs to translate in music and I believe it is happening more. I like to think that our approach, our incessant positivity to people, you know, starts to rub off, you know, in a good way.”