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Tom Catmull and the Clerics ended up recording Glamour Puss there, and though the album might not have been the instigator for a snowball effect, it definitely led the pack in local releases that would be recorded and produced at Club Shmed that year. Popular Missoula bands like Rooster Sauce, Vera and Volumen followed Catmull, and the number of studio albums he recorded passed 40.
Shmed started getting calls from musicians, sometime a dozen at a time, wanting to record within a week. Fearing that if he said no they'd go away, he started cramming people in for sessions. If they couldn't afford the $35–$40 per hour fee, he'd often make them a deal. Keith Moore from Bird's Mile Home helped remodel part of the Maynes' bathroom. Deny the Dinosaur painted the house, Mason Jar String Band tore out the basement stairs and Streetlight People built the family a wooden deck—all in exchange for albums.
In one three-week period Shmed had musicians in from 10 a.m. to midnight without much of a break almost every day. The hours he wasn't dishwashing, he was in the studio. He'd spend late night recording sessions working with a diverse group of musicians—country jam bands like Miller Creek and anthemic pop rock bands like The Racquet. The next morning he'd clean up the studio to prepare for several hours of lessons with the 10 or so young music students to whom he taught a combined curriculum of piano, guitar, drums and bass.
"I started not sleeping," he says, "and I started feeling what it would be like to have a nervous breakdown, feeling trippy and psychotic and weird. And my heart started beating fast and I was like, 'That's it.'"
It was time to take the plunge. Shmed quit his job as a dishwasher and, delighted to find out that the musicians were willing to wait a few weeks or a month to record, he started spacing out his studio time so that he wasn't burning out. Sometimes his studio calendar would appear empty and Shmed would feel the dread well up, certain that he'd have to go back to Denny's or somewhere else and scrape dishes. But month after month—and often at the last minute—the recording slots filled up.
"Record sales and live music aren't doing as well as they used to," says Shmed, "but the amazing thing I realized is that people are still recording. Bands need good sounding music for their MySpace pages because as soon as you put your music on the Internet it's like a lottery ticket: You never know who might listen. I feel like if I record bands long enough, one of them is going to hit it big."
Shmed, now 37, also began to rethink how to define success for himself. His earlier years in L.A. often made him think that being the frontman of a famous band was the only doorway to happiness. But he's changed his tune.
"The guys behind the scenes—the mixers and engineers and producers and songwriters—those guys work forever," he says. "As a studio owner, you can be over 40 and still be cool and hang out with the next generation of bands."
And even though he likes to imagine that somewhere down the line Secret Powers will enjoy a cult following, fame seems increasingly less important to him.
"I want Secret Powers to be kind of like The Grateful Dead where we can still play shows when we're older," he says. "The last show we played at the Palace I looked out at the audience and pretty much everyone in the crowd was in a band that I recorded. And that's fine with me."
Two months ago, in March, Shmed got a surprise phone call. Charles Nichols, associate professor of music at the University of Montana, asked if he could set up eight microphones in Club Shmed for Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The internationally acclaimed South African singers, famous for their collaboration on Paul Simon's Graceland and the soundtrack for The Lion King, had performed at UM the night before as part of a nationwide tour and were looking to record on their only day off. Shmed didn't have enough mics, but he called up another studio owner in town, Jim Rogers, to bring in more equipment. Ladysmith brought in their own engineer and recorded a song using the vocals from the now-deceased wife of one of its singers.
"They told me that the woman singing was one of their wives who was murdered in South Africa and they were flying in her vocal so they could sing with her one last time," says Shmed.
It was an experience that he wouldn't forget, like the moment he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Only this time, it all took place in his studio.
While business has been brisk, and Shmed's certainly established a level of success, the studio still presents challenges. At a recent Secret Powers practice, for instance, Shmed explains that there will be no recording. His computer has crashed and after trying to revive it he's decided he has to empty his bank account to buy a new one.
"What else could I do?" he says. "The studio has to work to keep going."
But he's in good spirits. He sits at his double-screened monitors, always bouncing his leg in excess energy, dominating the attention in the room with his mile-a-minute gravelly voice, telling story after story. The other members of Secret Powers listen, laugh and crack open cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon they get from the studio's vending machine. At this moment, Shmed's talking about visiting his grandmother and the creepy deformed guy who lurked down the hall of the nursing home, about being on the "Tom Green Show" and about once, back in the old days, accidentally smoking rat poop. Nobody can stop laughing.
Despite the computer crash, Shmed's relaxed because the studio's schedule is filling up for the next few weeks. Local country great Russ Nassett is in the middle of an album. Butter, the dark folk band that's now a mainstay at the Top Hat, will be in the next weekend. Bacon & Egg (a hip-hop offshoot from Volumen) and songwriter John Brownell are also in the mix. Even though Shmed still has his moments of anxiety, these days even he admits the future of the studio looks bright.
"I always feel like its all going to fall apart," says Shmed. "When I was working at Denny's scraping off plates and dealing with mean customers I was scared. I thought I'd made a mistake. But someone told me, 'The more you give, the more you get back.' That's like the end of Abbey Road."
Shmed still dreams sometimes of getting that call from New York or L.A. for a big music project that will be his big break. But he's not sure he'll ever go back to L.A. for good.
"First of all, I've realized there's more money to be made off other people's dreams than my own," he says. "But also, for instance, yesterday was one of the best days of my life. I woke up in the morning and did some recording. Then Wartime Blues called me and they said they wanted to record a song here. I'm so excited because I've always wanted to record them. I'm here with my family, got the kids in the backyard, Carrie's happy. And I'm thinking it just doesn't get any better than this."