Breaking Records with Ismael Garza

Most artists enter the recording studio hoping to break records, but few studios have responded in the same way as Barron Studios. Last summer, the Houston-based recording studio set a Guinness Book World Record for Most Solo Vocal Performances on a Song with their #HTXCYPHER, a track that features roughly 315 vocalists and clocks in at just under five hours.

Full Sail University Recording Arts graduate Ismael Garza is Staff Engineer at Barron Studios, and played an essential role in tracking vocals for the epic, record-shattering song. With a team of eight running sessions simultaneously between four rooms, the day-long adventure was certainly different than the typical studio experience.

“People received color-coordinated wristbands that corresponded with our rooms. Each artist was given a number at registration,” says Ismael, who pulled a six-to-seven-hour shift in what wound up being a 12-hour workday. “The majority of vocalists were rappers, but we did also have a lot of singers and pop vocalists show up, too. We encouraged anybody to come through and be a part of a project that was intended to do something big for the city of Houston.”

The city’s long-standing, flourishing hip hop scene has certainly helped bring Houston into the spotlight in the past, and even played a huge part in getting Ismael into the recording industry in the first place. Growing up in Ohio, Ismael would frequently visit relatives in Texas and spent numerous summers in Houston. He was 13 years old when he first heard chopped and screwed music, a remix technique that originated from Houston that slows a song down to a sluggish tempo that offers an almost psychedelic vibe.

“Hearing that music made me want to become a DJ. At the time I was playing snare drum in school, but after that, I caught the bug. I got turntables for my birthday that year and I was DJing nonstop after that,” he says, noting that he was regularly getting paid gigs by the time he entered high school. “By my senior year of high school, I knew that I belonged in a studio and wanted to have some kind of career in music. I went to Full Sail to learn more about production, and wound up learning the ins and outs of the recording studio. I fell in love with it.”

Ismael’s biggest takeaway from his Full Sail experience was the interning skills that were taught to him throughout his courses. After relocating to Houston after graduating in 2011, he was able to land an internship at Barron and months later already found himself working sessions in a facility that has hosted the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Devin the Dude, Big Daddy Kane, and Bun B for studio time. Today, as the studio’s most experienced engineer on staff, he has helped to mold the process by which Barron selects its current crop of interns.

“[Full Sail alumnus and Barron Studios’ Senior Engineer] Dorothy Chan and I have really set the mode for how we hire now. It’s really important for our interns to have education and some hours of experience in the field because it does help quite a bit,” he says. “Pretty much everything that I learned about how to be an intern at Full Sail informs what we look for at Barron Studios. Making yourself useful to the studio – whether it’s doing small tasks like fixing cables or cleaning – can really catch someone’s attention. If you care about the studio, you’ll get rewarded with more tasks.”

Record-breaking endeavors aside, Ismael finds himself working in the studio he started his career in for at least 50 hours a week. Though the sessions may be long, his love for the craft ensures that it never really feels like work.

“I love working with artists. I wear multiple hats here. Sometimes I’m a vocal coach, sometimes I’m a button pusher, and sometimes I might even help co-write a line or two,” he says. “Sometimes it might feel like a job, but once I start working on cool stuff, it makes it all worth it.”