Seven years later, Dove Creek has a recording studio

To the casual passer-by, the large structure at the edge of the road looks like a picturesque barn.

MARY MURPHY and Paul Keim operate Dove Creek Studios. They help people find the sound they don't know they want.

MARY MURPHY and Paul Keim operate Dove Creek Studios. They help people find the sound they don't know they want.

To the casual passer-by, the large structure at the edge of the road looks like a picturesque barn.

But step across the threshold and you’re in a whole new world.

I’m not sure if animals once inhabited the 1,250-square-foot building but the previous owner used it to make hand-tooled kayaks. Seven years ago, Paul Keim and Mary Murphy began transforming it into Dove Creek Studios.

Now the “barn” contains an office, lounge, small kitchen area, control room and two formal recording studios. “We totally reconfigured the building,” says Keim. “The only original part is the shell.”

Aside from hiring a carpenter, drywaller and electrician, Keim and Murphy did all the work themselves. As musicians, recording artists and songwriters, they knew exactly what they wanted.

“Our priority was to have really good sound rooms,” says Keim. “We’ve modelled Dove Creek Studios on some of the best recording studios in the world.”

The two formal studios have entirely different qualities. Room A is extremely isolated and constructed like a soundproof box within a box. Even the electrical outlets have been sealed to keep out noise. When the double door is closed, you can barely hear a drum in the next room.

And the type of sound produced in the room can be changed by rolling up the carpet and moving the roof and wall panels. The QRD diffusers, made by Keim from salvaged wood and particle board, are based on mathematical formulas to diffuse reflected sound.

The large and spacious control room is where Paul does all the engineering. As well as a control panel and neatly labelled drawers containing a variety of microphones, the space also includes a comfy couch, chili red walls and lamps.

“We wanted everything to be as technically perfect as possible but to also create a congenial atmosphere that allows the magic to happen,” explains Murphy.

In addition to the microphones and other tools of the trade, there is also a selection of miscellaneous instruments in case something’s needed to fill in. But it’s more about who is recording and the room than the gear, Keim and Murphy say.

So far they’ve recorded people ranging in age from six to nearly 90. Some are polished professionals; others are amateurs who’ve written a handful of songs.

This summer, Dove Creek Studios partnered with the City of Courtenay and Long & McQuade to sponsor the Canada Day Battle of the Bands. Last Christmas, a band from Switzerland recorded half an album, and plans to return this holiday season to finish it.

“Recording is a lot like cooking a meal,” says Keim. “Writing the song is going to the store to buy the groceries. The next step is chopping and prepping the food or recording it, then you have to decide if you want to make a stew, stir fry, chicken pot pie or fried chicken and vegetables.

“You definitely need to have some idea of how you’re going to mix the music before you record it,” he continues. “But people without a lot of experience often don’t know what they want. That’s part of our job, to help them define the sound they’re after.”

“Recording can be pretty high-pressured,” adds Murphy. “It’s amazing to watch someone with talent and enthusiasm but little experience go from feeling shy to being proud and confident.”

Originally from California, Keim plays a variety of guitar-like instruments, writes music and has been recording professionally for about 20 years.

Murphy hails from Ireland and is a singer/songwriter who also plays some percussion instruments and is the author of The Emerald Diaries, a book of fairy stories for children. She also handles publicity and along with Keim, occasionally acts as producer for an album.

The two met 18 years ago. On her way to a recording session, Murphy stopped at a grocery store with her son.

“We saw each other and were smitten,” says Keim. “Uncharacteristically, I started a conversation.”

“I invited him to come to the recording studio,” says Murphy. “We discovered that we had recorded in the same studios, played the same festivals and had friends in common.”

By the end of their third day together, they were discussing who would move in with whom. After having spent 11 days in each other’s company, Murphy, a single mother of two, moved her family to Keim’s house at Lake Tahoe.

Eight years ago, they came to the Comox Valley to play a festival, met Doug Cox and fell in love with the area. And so the idea for Dove Creek Studios was born.

But Dove Creek Studios isn’t used solely for recording. It’s also home base for Keim and Murphy’s personal music touring business and the office of Dove Creek Design, where Keim creates designs for homes and other buildings.

“We’re always juggling a variety of projects,” says Keim. “We work hard but luckily we love our work.”

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