Story:Jaimie Vernon

Located near the intersection of Donlands Road and O’Connor Drive in East York stands an old movie theatre that, set against the charming bakeries, beauty shops and convenience stores, remains a silent, dark blue sentinel. Well, at least on the outside. If you walk through the faded Art-Deco lobby and climb the staircase to the top of the building you’ll find, hidden in a penthouse suite, a modern music recording facility called Studio 92.

I’m here to interview the new owner of the studio, Mark Nakamura, and I’ve brought along a musician friend to eyeball the facility as a potential customer. We’re greeted at the door by former co-op student, now full time employee Brent MacMillan who immediately ushers us into the ‘live room’ where one would expect musical magic to happen. The room has a vaulted, soundproofed ceiling and the 24-foot hardwood floor is more than suitable for ballroom dancing – or half an orchestra.

The area within is almost as wide as it is long and it’s as quiet and soundproof as necessary to record vocals and instrumentation without worrying about ambient interference from outside or elsewhere in the building. The eye is immediately drawn to one corner of the room where an impressive G-3 Yamaha baby grand piano sits. Brett gives us a quick recital. On the opposite side is stacked a plethora of rock staples – a Hammond B-3 organ plus fully functioning Leslie speaker and a plentiful choice of vintage tube and solid state guitar amps. My musician friend, Desmond, is suitably impressed and voices his desire to do some recording with a full band there.

A large bay window connects the ‘live room’ and the control room and through it we soon see our host Mark Nakamura. He’s engaged in a juggling act with his PDA and lunch. We soon make introductions and he’s immediately disarming and attentive.

Mark quickly explains the history of the facility which had been owned by Norm Barker who had previously run a small studio out of his home at 92 Woodville Avenue in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. When the previous owners went to sell, Norm brought the studio and the #92 with him. Not long after he had a ton of concrete poured and over-layed with the hardwood flooring to create the soundproofing necessary. A Megas soundboard was installed and remains to this day. Hip-hop artists prefer it to the standard Neve consoles which have always been a staple of the rock world.

Mark Nakamura became a long-time client of Barker’s, bringing in recording artists to produce while dabbling in scoring and voice-overs for jingles and commercials.

“When Norm decided to retire I bought the operation for self-preservation. As a musician and producer I loved this place and didn’t want to see the studio fold,” opines Nakamura. His first act was to upgrade the digital recording software from Digital Performer 6 to Digital Performer 7 so that editing and tracking could be expedited quicker. The studio’s 2” analog reel-to-reel machine currently sits unused but may be put back into service as the studio is re-born.

Since re-opening in August, Nakamura has had a grand vision for Studio 92. Portable rack-mounted dollies filled with effects and processors will be used in the ‘live-room’ to facilitate musicians’ desires to control the output of their instruments ‘on-the-fly’ as recordings progress. The control room is being renovated and post-production hardware and software will be added to Digital Performer’s interface so that audio can be digitally synchronized with video. This will allow the studio to still cater to independent recording artists and also fulfill the needs of corporate clients by re-purposing for voice-overs, scoring, as well as video and movie post-production including editing and CGI work. 

Since 2001 Nakamura’s been running RA Media Enterprises which provides I.T., website hosting, and digital encrypted delivery to radio as well as tracking services. This has been a sidebar to the work he has been doing in the past decade through Cinemania Inc. - the distribution wing of a film company partnership with his brother Ken Nakamura, CEO of The Nakamura Group Advantage (TNGA).  TNGA is a production company developing and producing filmed content for clients who wish to marry that content with music as part of Nakamura’s new media vision.

It is this filmed content that he hopes to bring into Studio 92 to dissipate what are known as ‘soft costs’ of producing movies. Investors and financiers like nothing more than having the costs eased with use of in-house facilities, where rental and staffing through outside vendors can adversely inflate a budget.

Studio 92 would offer producers and film/TV studios an affordable rate if the Nakamuras were already on board as partners in their projects. Currently, there are half-a-dozen movie productions they’re focusing on including a WW2 horror flick called “Fangs of War” and a homegrown action-thriller starring Bruce Greenwood and Colm Feore entitled “Wireless”.

But Mark’s roots are still his passion for music. The studio is going to be the hub for facilitating new music artist development and from which he can launch his Plato’s Cave record label. The intent is to do an end-run around the traditional major label way of breaking talent by not spending all their resources trying to crack the narrow field of commercial radio. He, instead, wants to use his movies to showcase artists and there are even plans for a comedy television show featuring the trials and tribulations of karaoke singers to which he can supply music content.

Mark Nakamura’s success continues to ride on his ability to work laterally with partners and investors, contrary to the current business environment of administrative heavy corporations (such as major music labels) working from the top down. And it will be this innovation in business that will ensure Studio 92 has a banner 2012 and beyond.