With the opening of a dedicated studio at 604 Records’ latest digs in Vancouver’s Railtown district, Jonathan Simkin (head of 604 Records, Light Organ Records and Simkin Artist Management), has realized his longtime dream of providing his artists with a truly multi-purpose space that speaks as effectively to the present state of the music industry as to its future.
The facility was inspired by an experiment at their former offices. “We bought this new building a few years ago and moved in around Canada Day 2014,” Simkin says, “but we’d had a smaller space before that. Basically, a band on the label, The Organ, had made a record, but weren’t happy with it. They came to me and said, ‘We want to re-do our album. We know you’ve spent a bunch of money, but you’ve got this space in the back of your offices. We could record there and it won’t cost you anything.’”
This was before the bottom dropped out of the studio business, when costs per day still ranged from $1,000 to $2,000 in some rooms, he adds. And, based on the success of the record and the ongoing use of that first room by other 604 artists, Simkin decided he’d like to do more recording in-house.
“I’ve been telling the artists, ‘Look at it as a blank slate; it’s up to you to create the work and use the space creatively.’”
“It got used a lot, especially by our ‘baby’ bands, which was nice because they could take their time,” Simkin says. “And I liked that we were making music in the building and our staff could hear it and become a little closer to it,”
Ideally, however, he wanted to create a studio space from the ground up, one that was properly isolated and constructed and would allow 604’s roster and third-party clients to create, record and distribute a diverse array of content, in keeping with the evolving appetite of fans.
Enter former Simkin management client Carly Rae Jepsen and “Call Me Maybe,” the success of which made the idea more feasible. “We were going to do this sooner or later,” Simkin says, “but ‘Call Me Maybe’ sped up the process.”
The location of their existing building was already heavily developed, so Simkin searched up-and-coming areas for the right space; one large enough to hold offices and the studio, and that would be a solid investment.
“That left Chinatown and Railtown, which has become the hottest part of Vancouver,” says Simkin. “Three years ago Railtown was still pretty run-down, but it’s changing rapidly. It’s like there’s a restaurant or condo going up every day, and property values have exploded. That wasn’t the reason we did it, but it was a nice side effect. And it didn’t seem like a big deal. It seemed natural. I’d been thinking about it for so long that when we had the resources I was, like, ‘Okay, let’s go find a building.’”
In addition to functioning as a recording studio – with two production rooms, a control room and a live room – the facility has a green screen, infinity wall and makeup bar, making it ideal for photo and video shoots. The centerpiece of the control room is a vintage SSL console that formerly resided at Vancouver’s Little Mountain Studios, which was used by the likes of Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Aerosmith and Nickelback. “That’s how Chad Kroeger came to acquire it,” says Simkin. “And when I told him what I was doing, he said, ‘The board’s sitting here and if you want to refurbish it, you can keep it at 604.’”
The first streaming event held at the studio was the Oct. 23, 2015, release of the Marianas Trench album Astoria, which included a Q&A with the band, a performance of four songs, and additional content streamed live. “It was a bit of a guinea pig,” says Simkin. “We weren’t sure if the site was going to crash, so we were kind of mellow on the promotion.” Still, the event attracted 11,000 viewers. “And that’s amazing, the power of social media, of going straight to fans and having 11,000 people show up with very little advertising. It was exciting.”
Highly flexible, 604 Studios offers multiple means of monetizing content – none of which involve physical product. A small paid audience (roughly 25 people) can see the show live, and the event can be recorded and offered as a paid download, video-on-demand, or streaming.
Admittedly, building the space was an aggressive move, but the expense, Simkin says, was building the space and acquiring equipment: “Now the bleeding’s over and we’re reaping the benefits.”
The only time Simkin had second thoughts was when Josh Ramsay (lead singer, principal songwriter and producer for Marianas Trench) took a tour of the facility. “Josh didn’t say much,” says Simkin, “which freaked me out because he usually has something to say. So I was, like, ‘What do you think?’ He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Simkin, you’ve got the biggest balls of anyone I’ve ever met.’”
That made Simkin wonder if he’d made a horrible mistake, but Ramsay says, “I thought it was a bold move, and I think you’ve got to be bold. Having a record label where you can record your album, shoot your videos on a soundstage, do live streaming – that all-encompassing entity – is a great concept. It’s set up for where the industry is going. I think what Jonathan has done here is taken an honest look at the future and adjusted for it in a really intelligent way.”
Anything that reduces the time, money and hassle of getting content from band to fans is a good thing. Down the line, as an investment property, it’s solid, and it’s a window for fans to see the creative process for themselves. Says Simkin: “I’ve been telling the artists, ‘Look at it as a blank slate; it’s up to you to create the work and use the space creatively.’”
And they are: one of 604’s bands wants to use the space to do a weekly TV show. Additionally, it’s a rental space, which has already been used for photo shoots, third-party videos and by the TV show The Flash. “It was built primarily for our artists,” says Simkin, “but if we can rent if from time to time, we’d be silly not to do it.”