Occupy Studio fosters community, offers hub for creativity

Occupy interview
Nikai Morales/THE REVIEW
​Occupy Studio, currently one of two recording studios in downtown Newark, began as most small businesses do: a dream manifested into reality.

Managing News Editor

There’s yet another gem on Main Street — nestled underground in the same building as Frolic and Buddy’s Burgers and Fries, Occupy Studio is quickly becoming this college town’s heart — promoting a sense of community in a way that the city has been trying to push for years.

Occupy Studio, currently one of two recording studios in downtown Newark, began as most small businesses do: a dream manifested into reality. Owners Kyle Hickey and Nick Holmes from North East, Maryland, had been friends since elementary school and both attended the Florida Institute of Recording Sound and Technology in 2011.

Hickey said it all “clicked” for him in 2009, when he came across a “nice microphone,” an MXL V69, after recording his first project on a Rock Band USB microphone with Audacity, a free audio editing and recording software. Holmes described how it all started “for them and for fun,” but in November 2017, the idea to own and run a storefront for music production was pitched while hanging out in their basement.

Over the years, the owners had been collecting gear, inadvertently preparing for the inevitable opening of the studio.

“Since school it was the goal to open up a recording studio,” Hickey said. “[Owning that gear] drove us to this point.”

By January 2018, the lease was signed, and Occupy was officially opened as of May 2018. And it has been doing extremely well since.

Apart from Hickey and Holmes — who both still mix and master, Occupy has two more in-house producers and engineers: TJ Opiyo and Chris Roethel. Opiyo is additionally a songwriter, but all four men are the heart of the studio, capable of doing most anything on an artist’s song.

Roethel has played guitar on tracks for artists before, while Opiyo has added drums and is self-described as “really with the synth[esizer]s.”

They were also both on a similar trajectory to the owners — they started out writing songs or making beats for themselves. This, coupled with a background in music, aided both men in their work to date.

“I’ve been making beats for the longest time,” Opiyo said. “I went to high school for vocal music — everyone on the internet knew me as a producer. In my young adult life, everything came together; being a music student and knowing to make beats — I combine the two to this day.”

Occupy’s most popular recording options are two-to-four hour sessions, charging by the hour, but it was stressed that no artist leaves without at the minimum a “rough mix.”

While Opiyo and Roethel agree that making music for artists is different than making beats just for themselves, they stress that outside perspective helps everyone.

“We’re all very open-minded,” Roethel said. “We’re not too critical, not too dismissive [of what artists personally bring to the studio].”

But what’s special about Occupy is that aforementioned sense of community. Naturally, being on Main Street, they get a lot of clients from Delaware and the surrounding area. Famed UDance performers Waldo Black and Marielle Kraft have been patrons of the studio — in fact, the 2019 line dance was recorded in-house.

Roethel noted that there seems to be a “Delaware sound brewing up,” when asked what he found most interesting about working with local artists.

“It’s like in the air around here,” Roethel said. “There are like-minded people coming here; artists coming together. I just feel like that bubble’s going to burst soon, they’re going to breakthrough.”

According to Opiyo, there was one Occupy Social event where it clicked for him. The studio holds a block-party-esque get together every third Saturday of the month. In a sort of open mic situation, they have their artists showcase their music, someone DJs and everyone comes together to appreciate the music.

“Every single person that touched that mic [last month] was good, like, good-good,” Opiyo said. “There are so many hidden gems around Delaware. There’s nothing else that really exists like Occupy. People that have been doing this stuff by themselves in their bedrooms but not really sharing that stuff — [Occupy became] a spot for people to be comfortable sharing that out.”

Holmes touched upon the studio’s Spotify playlist called “Local Love.” It’s Occupy’s collection of sorts, described as “an eclectic playlist curated … to shed light on local talent.”

“It’s gotten to the point where it’s a f—ing good playlist,” Holmes said. “If someone says, ‘Hey, I need some new music,’ I could easily send them that.”

That, in itself, is the best way to describe Occupy. The support doesn’t end when studio time is up. Hickey pointed out that studio blocks have no buffer time. If an artist’s time is up at 7 p.m., for instance, they’ll be leaving the building as the next artist comes in. But that’s on purpose; they want that interaction to take place.

On who inspired them to get involved in the music industry, the producers cited artists like Prince, John Mayer, Scratch Perry, Quincy Jones (“an alien,” according to Opiyo) and Kanye West.

“[West] inspires me to take risks — people love that he doesn’t care,” Opiyo said. “I take risks with my sound because of that.”

“These guys are my inspiration,” Holmes said. “Without Kyle [Hickey], I wouldn’t be here, getting to do what I love every day. Sometimes I see more than they see in themselves — and it really inspires me, like ‘how can I take my business to the next level?’”

The dedication is incredibly apparent when speaking with the four producers. Their long-term goals are all pretty similar — plaques, Grammy Awards — Opiyo’s personal dream is to work on a Disney movie.

“I just want to be able to always be working on music and what I want in the moment,” Roethel said. “I want to be in a situation where I can say ‘I want to do this,’ and then do it. And also take care of the people I love. But I want a Grammy, for sure,” he added, to which the room burst into laughter.

For the owners and producers, their days are long. The environment they go to work in may be more of what could be described as ‘chill,’ but what they’ve created — this hub for community — is special.

“It’s like a family,” Holmes said. “When I walk in and I see [strangers], it’s like I expected them to be here.”

“We’re just a bunch of kids — yes, we’re grown-ass adults, but we treat this like it’s just another day with some good friends,” Hickey said. “I’ve never seen [another] place where I could just walk in and it was run by average people.”

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