Local Business

A Musical Getaway

Retreat and record at the Valley’s newest holiday offering—a vacation rental/recording studio

Richard and Jeannie Spencer’s recording studio/vacation rental offers visitors the chance to focus on their music without distraction. “A band or musician can get away from all the business of life, create the time to focus on their art and then go out into the music studio and make it all happen,” says Jeannie. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

For Christmas in 2007, Jeannie Spencer gave her musician husband, Richard, a gift certificate to a recording studio. Finally—at least in theory—he was able to book some time for himself guilt-free and create the recording he’d been planning in his mind for so long.

The much-appreciated gift, however, presented Richard with an unexpected challenge: finding uninterrupted time during which he could actually put his ideas to paper and write the songs he wanted to record.

Though neither Jeannie nor Richard could have known it at the time, that small gesture from a wife to her husband and the unexpected challenge it presented would plant the seed of a new idea that would finally blossom during the hot, dry summer of 2015.

This past July, on MusicFest weekend, the Spencers welcomed their first guests to the “Comox Valley Recording Studio Getaway,” their brand new vacation rental that aims to solve that perennial problem of part-time musicians.

“Richard has always said that the one thing he lacks with his music is the time to ‘get into the zone,’” explains Jeannie. “He’ll say, ‘I wish I could just go away for a couple of days, without all the distractions of life, family and work, and just focus on the music.’”

So that’s exactly the kind of getaway they created.

Until July, Jeannie had been operating a hypnotherapy practice out of the ground floor of their West Courtenay home, which they’d renovated to suit the purpose. When she moved her practice into a new office in Tin Town, the Spencers suddenly saw the opportunity to create the kind of space that Richard, and presumably countless other musicians, had been longing for.

Any hotel, vacation rental or B&B, of course, can provide a place to escape the chaos of day-to-day life and focus on the task at hand—be it creating a musical masterpiece or writing the great Canadian novel. What makes the Spencers’ getaway unique is what Richard, a contractor by trade, built in the backyard four years ago. While guests relax (or work, as the case may be) in their tastefully adorned three-bedroom vacation rental for as little as $72 a night, they also have access to a homemade, purpose-built recording studio.

“It’s a modest recording studio in the sense that it doesn’t necessarily have all the latest technology that you’d find at a huge Vancouver studio, but the sound of the room is simply amazing, and Richard’s done some beautiful recordings in there,” says Jeannie. “We say ‘Come stay and play at the Recording Studio Getaway!’ A band or musician can get away from all the business of life, create the time to focus on their art and then go out into the music studio and make it all happen.”

Guests of the Getaway can get an entire day in the recording studio for just $200—a substantial discount off Richard’s going rate for booking the recording studio on its own, and a fraction of what musicians would likely pay for studio time elsewhere. Within that rate, Richard also includes his time mixing and mastering the recordings, and he’ll even work with artists to add depth to their recordings by way of extra drum, guitar or bass tracks.

“Sometimes a little extra bass or some subtle backing vocals are all you need to add a bit of complexity to your recording and really take it to that next level,” says Richard.

“I’ve played lots of instruments and performed a wild variety of musical styles. I’m happy to help out however I can, and without stepping all over your creative direction.”
Jeannie is decidedly less modest about her husband’s musical prowess.

“He’s a very talented musician,” she says matter-of-factly, noting that her husband has opened for big-name bands like Trooper, Nazareth and Honeymoon Suite. “He has the gift of music in him and he’s immersed in that energy, but he’s also really good at following the vision of the musicians he’s working with. Whenever you’re doing anything creative, you want to make sure that the person working with you is in line with your integrity and what you’re trying to create.”

Richard Spencer and his band make use of the recording studio for practice. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

Richard Spencer and his band make use of the recording studio for practice. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

A quick glance at Richard’s musical resumé instantly confirms Jeannie’s inherently biased perspective. (And with an Airbnb profile that refers to him as “Rock God Rich,” it had better!) His projects have ranged from a children’s CD called Dragonland to his current role with a CCR tribute band called Completely Credence that recently sold out Campbell River’s 467-seat Tidemark Theatre.

All of which is simply to suggest that, when artists book time with Richard in his humble recording studio—especially when they also book accommodation at the Recording Studio Getaway—they’re getting much more than what they pay for.

Evidently, the value of Jeannie and Richard’s Getaway is not going unnoticed. In the four months following that initial booking in July, the vacation rental has been booked eight times by guests from across Canada, from the Okanagan to La Belle Province. While two bookings a month may not sound like much, when you consider the fact that the Spencers basically created their escape on a whim and have done no advertising other than posting a listing on Airbnb, it’s virtually meteoric.

“We put it up (on Airbnb) in April, just sort of fishing to see if we’d get any response and if it was worth investing in,” recalls Richard. “We had three inquiries pretty much right away. One person wanted to book for seven days and another wanted to stay for over a month. Jeannie and I looked at each other and we said, ‘Whoa, this could really go!’”

Founded in 2008, Airbnb touts itself as “the easiest way for people to monetize their extra space and showcase it to an audience of millions.” The way it works is simple: anyone with space they’re willing to rent out, be it a vacation property, a guest suite or even just a spare bed, can list it on the site. Travellers scour the site looking for affordable or unique accommodations; if they like a particular offering, they can book it online right then and there. As of this writing, airbnb.ca boasts more than 2,000,000 listings (including more than 1,400 castles according to the website) that span nearly every country on the planet.

Though she’d heard of the site before, Jeannie says she didn’t think seriously about Airbnb until a girlfriend told her she’d been using the service to rent out a spare room in her downtown Vancouver apartment. What really struck a chord with Jeannie, she says, was that her friend couldn’t stop raving about all the great people she’d met just by offering them a place to stay.

For better or for worse (Airbnb has its share of critics, and not just from hoteliers), the Spencers have discovered just how easy it is to turn an empty room—or in their case an entire empty floor—into both an income-producing property and an opportunity to expand their social horizons.

Since that initial listing, the inquiries haven’t stopped. Nor, evidently, have the rave reviews from guests. The Recording Studio Getaway has a 4.5 out of 5 rating on Airbnb, and its listing is replete with no fewer than seven glowing reviews. (Remember, there have only been eight bookings as of this writing.)

“This lovely space was quiet and relaxing to return to each day,” writes Donna, the Getaway’s inaugural guest. “(Jeannie and Richard were) terrific hosts willing to make our experience enjoyable. We even scheduled a recording session during our stay. A convenient extra for any musician!”

Though not all guests have taken advantage of the recording studio, the reviews indicate that there are plenty of other reasons to love the Recording Studio Getaway, from “friendly and hospitable” hosts and “flexible check-in and check-out times” to “luxurious” towels and beds that are “soooo comfortable!!!”

“I think this can only get bigger, better and more fun,” says Jeannie, noting that one guest who just completed her first book plans to return shortly to record its audio version with Richard in the studio. “We’re drawing toward us so many creative, inspired people. There are so many different paths that open up when you connect with other like-minded people.”

“I think this can only get bigger, better and more fun,” says Jeannie, with Richard outside the recording studio. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

“I think this can only get bigger, better and more fun,” says Jeannie, with Richard outside the recording studio. Photo by Boomer Jerritt

“We’re always interested in meeting new people, and we’re always available to chat,” says Jeannie. “At the same time, though, we respect that many people just want a place to stay and do their own thing. Our guests aren’t coming to see us; they’re coming to have their own experiences.”

Jeannie’s words echo those of Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky during a recent interview for Inc. Magazine, which named Airbnb its Company of the Year for 2014.

“Airbnb is about so much more than just renting space,” he said to Inc. reporter Burt Helm. “It’s about people and experiences. At the end of the day, what we’re trying to do is bring the world together. You’re not getting a room, you’re getting a sense of belonging.”

For their guests, say Jeannie and Richard, that rich social experience is what it’s all about. It was that realization, in fact, that catalyzed their second offering on Airbnb—an experience arguably even more distinctive than a vacation rental that comes with its own recording studio.

In August, after seeing the popularity of the Recording Studio Getaway, Jeannie and Richard decided to spruce up their old Airstream camper, add a few homey comforts and post their second Airbnb property: The Airstream Getaway.

“It’s an original Airstream from 1975,” says Jeannie, her eyes sparkling with nostalgia. “It’s definitely higher end and we’ve put in all new sheets, mattresses and dishware, but it’s still that unique experience. People walk in and they love it.”

From the tidy stack of firewood lying in wait next to the fire pit, to the unopened box of pancake mix (and even an egg!) awaiting guests in the Airstream’s cozy kitchen, the Spencers have done all that they can to create yet another magical experience on their quiet property on the edge of the forest. Because, again, the experience is what it’s all about.

“Both of these, the Airstream Getaway and the Recording Studio Getaway, are experiences,” says Jeannie. “This isn’t just a place to rest your head; it’s a place where you can live in the moment and create something—even if it’s just great memories.”

The Recording Studio and Airstream Getaways are located on Timberlane Road in Courtenay. Find them on www.airbnb.com or call 250-898-8373.