It’s just an average looking house in central Tooele, but upon entering through a side basement doorway one soon realizes it’s much more. It’s a place where country crooners strum guitars, rockers wail into microphones, and violinists fervently fiddle.
“It can get pretty loud down here,” said Christopher Toohey, owner of 7th Street Studios, a music instruction and recording business he built right into his once empty basement. “Even though these walls are pretty sound proof, we can still shake the house.”
Toohey, a construction worker by trade, has been living his lifelong dream of working in the music industry for the last four years and hopes to soon put his construction work on the shelf while he continues to help aspiring artists reach their dreams as well.
“When we first started looking around at houses out here all the ones we saw had finished basements,” Toohey said. “I was probably the only buyer who didn’t want that. I would have just had to knock it all down.”
Instead, Toohey and wife Malaena built their home and purposely left the space as empty as possible to allow for an atypical layout to be created.
“When you build a studio you don’t build typical walls,” Toohey said. “You build off-set studs so everything is floating. Nothing is solid so you can keep it sound proof and isolate the sound.”
This design includes slightly-angled interior windows giving a visual from room to room and uniquely decorated walls — a feature that is more utilitarian than aesthetic.
“They are just egg crates, but they keep the sound waves from reverberating all over the place,” Toohey said. “I had every restaurant in town saving them for me and now I’ve got thousands of them and I don’t even need them anymore.”
The studio features five rooms used for practice, instruction or recording. The largest room is equipped with drums, a keyboard, microphones, amplifiers, and everything else required for a full-scale band to jam together, and smaller rooms specialize in single voice or instrument recording or individual practice.
The list of groups Toohey has worked with in the last four years is vast and includes names like Buckaroo Balladeers, Burning Authority, Beg for Forgiveness, Junk Drawer, Life Barrier, and Memories Never Die — all mostly Tooele County based.
“People always ask me what type of music I’m recording out here,” Toohey said. “Ninety percent of the time it’s either scream-o or country. There’s a whole bunch of classic rock bands and people into indy rock out here. I get them in occasionally, but most of those people have their own recording studios. That’s just how it is with all the high-tech software available now.”
A high proportion of Toohey’s recording customers are actually former music students, who first came in his doors wanting to learn to play the guitar or needing help forming a band and obtaining the right sound.
“Some people come in with almost a finished project and just need some mastering,” Toohey said. “Some come in with all the words, but need help with the music. They have an idea and we work with it. But most people that we record are students or past students. They’ve been through my program and they are ready to record.”
That music program begins usually with a guitar being placed in students’ hands.
“Guitar is the new piano,” Toohey said. “As soon as they’ve got a couple cords down I’ve got them playing songs.”
He teaches them mainstream songs that students are often familiar with and find exciting like “99 Red Balloons,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Radio Active.” Then observation on student’s progress often leads to encouragement to try other instruments like keyboard or base.
“Next thing you know they are playing base or drums and seem like they were made for that instrument,” Toohey said. “There’s also some that just aren’t meant for music so I put them on the light show or have them help with equipment or do backup vocals to keep everyone involved.”
Recording music, regardless of genre, can equate to many hours of work, but it’s work that makes time fly by for Toohey. That’s what happens when you combine work and pleasure.
“Sometimes we’re down here doing a recording session and 10 hours will slip by,” Toohey said. “We started at 4 p.m. and then all of a sudden it’s 2 a.m. and no one realized. You’re doing what you love and time seems to be a bit irrelevant.”
Recording an average song typically takes about five hours — but that’s if the song is already put together and well-rehearsed.
“Then when we think we have a final mastered project, I give everybody a recording and tell them to play it for everybody and anybody,” Toohey said. “Get all the opinions you can get, even if they aren’t musical. Play it on every format — a cheap discman, a high-performance stereo, a crappy car stereo — and in between all those formats we are going to narrow down the mix so that it sounds good on all formats. Sometimes a really good mix has to be flattened a bit so it will sound good on every format. So basically when we think we have it all done, there’s probably a few more hours of fine tuning.”
But there in lies the reward for Toohey.
“There’s two things I like most about this job,” Toohey said. “I like the final product of a recording project — whether it’s a full album or just a couple songs — and I like the final product of a live performance — whether it’s a band I’m playing in or one I’ve coached or taught. It’s really rewarding. Some come together really easy and some are very difficult with a lot of steps involved.”
Overall, it’s all about finding a niche for both the beginning student or the already-developed songstress.
“I just want to help people realize their dreams and realize that they can express themselves through music,” Toohey said. “And if they don’t think they can, get them to a point where they believe in themselves.”
Toohey himself still plays in bands and has for 25 years. While he mostly plays base now, he’s dabbled in more classical stringed instruments and even plays the piano.
“Growing up I always wanted to be a rockstar — touring and being on stage,” he said. “It’s a tough thing to do though. I’d like to see someone I work with really break out and make a career out of music, but if you can’t do it as an occupation, definitely don’t give it up. Just keep it as a hobby and as a means of self expression. Music gives people direction and it gives them something to work toward.”