While bedroom engineers have the luxury of being able to mine for sounds and explore every sonic crevice with reckless abandon like an inquisitive child, things are a bit different at Tampa Bay’s bigger studios. Equipment is more expensive, abundant and insured, the software is up-to-date, and vintage amps and control boards can be found under the same roof as the modern mixers and microphones the upper echelon of recording artists are accustomed to using.
The clock is usually running, too.
“I have a work vibe where I like to make people comfortable — establish a collaborative, creative environment. Sometimes that means you’re not the guy with the clipboard and the stopwatch,” explained Mark Prator, co-founder of Red Room Recorders. “That’s backfired on me every now and then because you end up just wanting to talk and not to do this or that — in that case, I have to assume that I didn’t interact that well [with the client].”
That’s the worst studio horror story Prator can come up with (and he declined to officially comment on the week-long VH1 special-worthy session with one of modern hip-hop’s biggest names, who apparently terrorized him and the Red Room staff in unimaginable ways). Prator and partner John Wesley have been allies since their teenage years, and it was Wesley’s own home that first housed Red Room more than a decade ago. Operations moved around for a bit before eventually ending up in Ybor City, where the studio is nestled inconspicuously between the old Larmon’s Furniture parking lot and storied Ybor watering hole New World Brewery. “I’ve been a Florida boy since I was 8 years old. Ybor is a mix between urban and a bit of history,” Prator said. “It’s right for me and it’s right for Wes.”
The aesthetic of the historic district brings added appeal to visiting artists. “They see the vibe and it perks them up a little bit,” Prator added. “Once they realize they aren’t working in the swamps and see the culture, they really dig it.”
Over the years, Prator, 51, and Wesley, 53, have enjoyed diverse clientele ranging from international pop acts like The Format, Gavin DeGraw, and Better Than Ezra, to beloved locals like folkie Geri X, rock 'n’ roll outfit The Beauvilles, rap duo Yo! Majesty, and world-famous post-hardcore band Underoath, to rising local rockers like St. Pete's vintage-hued Black Coast Royals. A who’s who of metal and industrial music makers — including Genitorturers and Morbid Angel — have tracked and mixed here, and a long-standing relationship with death metal demigods Obituary morphed into sessions with international party-rawk boy Andrew W.K. “You do something long enough and one connection gets another connection,” Prator explained. “Recording is about relationships — and we’ve always been kind of good at that.”
Those links even spawned an extra hand: Tallhart guitarist Chris Brickman, who lends a session hand when the book gets too stacked for Prator and Wesley to handle alone.
Cultivating those ties keeps the doors open at Red Room. In an era when the tools to learn the basics of recording are abundant, it’s Prator and Wesley’s passion for contributing to good art that keeps new and upcoming artists coming through. “The ones who grasp it all and become proficient on their own are vital because by the time we get the tracks to mix and master, they’re already good, and we can fine-tune them collaboratively even more,” Prator said.
With more than a half century of recording experience under their collective belts, the Red Room team remains committed to fine-tuned quality. While acknowleging the need to keep the lights on. Prator insists that the crucial factor in their success is picking projects they love.
You’re “never gonna go anywhere” being motivated wholly by the money, he’s learned. “You can’t be in it just for the check,” he said. “You have to enjoy it.”