A Short History of Recording Studios in Toronto

Cherry Beach

By Bill Delingat

The modern recording studio owes a great deal to that phonograph invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 and its early recordings, made outside of a studio environment. Early recording studios often lacked isolation booths, baffles, and sometimes even speakers. Designed for live recording of an entire band or performance, they attempted to record a group of musicians and singers, rather than to record them separately.

With the introduction of multi-track recording, it became possible to record instruments and singers separately and at different times on different tracks on tape. From then on, the recording process shifted to isolation and soundproofing. In the 1960s, recordings were analog, made using ¼-inch or ½-inch eight-track magnetic tape. By the early 1970s, recordings progressed to using 1-inch or 2-inch 16- or 32-track equipment. Most contemporary recording studios now use digital recording equipment and the number of tracks is limited only by the capacity of the mixing console or computer.

Toronto, the heart beat of the Canadian banking and economy was a natural place for attracting international and national artists to record and relax in a metropolitan atmosphere using state of the art equipment without the street hassles and urban pressures of New York or L.A. Billboard reported glowingly in a 1972 story on Toronto’s emergence as Canada’s recording capital.

Having built it, they did come; the steady stream of top flight artists including The Rolling Stones, Rush and Rod Stewart, ushered in an era of booming business for the Canadian music scene and recording industry.

Studios like McClear in the heart of the downtown scene at the nondescript McClear building, at 225 Mutual St., near Carlton and Jarvis Sts., flourished until the digital age came in.

Recently that famous building on Mutual was demolished to make room for a parking lot and its history now rests with the stories and recordings of some of the great legends that recorded inside. The roll call included Rush, a regular visitor, Ringo Starr (to record vocals — for Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.), Aretha Franklin (to re-record “Respect” for the film Blues Brothers 2000.), Rosemary Clooney, Steve Winwood, George Hamilton IV, Anne Murray, Chubby Checker, Bachman-Turner Overdrive, James Brown and, Gordon Lightfoot (to record Old Dan’s Records.)

“Its beauty,” said former McClear owner Bob Richards “was that people could come and go and nobody really knew. They had no idea.”

Richards, 62, bought the facility in 1979 from RCA Records, which had used it as its Toronto studio since 1954. RCA bought it from CHUM, which built it in the late 1940s as the studio for the fledgling radio station. Richards was a former RCA employee who turned McClear into one of Toronto’s three most important studios. By 1974, Billboard reported, the studio was producing three-quarters of all Canadian country albums. That was in addition to rock bands like Bachman-Turner Overdrive, music for films and television programs like CBC’s “The Tommy Hunter Show,” and jingles

Much of that business vanished in the 21st century, he said, as computers and home studios diminished the need for large orchestra-ready studios like McClear. It was also clear to Richards that the landlord for 225 Mutual would not let his company extend its stay indefinitely. He took McClear into bankruptcy in 2005.“I’m a little saddened that it’s gone,” said former house chief engineer Jeff Wolpert. “It could have been designated historical. It had a lot of great ghosts.”

“Someone should at least put a plaque out front,” said Richards.

Scott Yellan, property director for Arsandco Investments, referred further questions to Primrose public relations manager Mary Theodosiou, who said she did not know whether the owners of 225 Mutual would honour Richards’ request for a plaque.Richards said he watched the demolition. It was difficult for him. But he took comfort in his McClear memories.

“We had a good run,” he said.

In the 21st century, some of McClear’s contemporaries have managed a successful transition from the analogue to the digital age. We’ve selected a few of the 20 year plus studios that through adapting and with a strong client base, have continued from the heydays of rock n roll to a mainstream business in the digital age.

Kensington Sound
Located in the heart of Kensington Market, one of Canada’s most eclectic, artistic neighborhoods, Kensington Sound is one of Canada’s oldest recording studios. Recently renovated, the studio has developed into the quintessential combination of old and new, where analog and digital technologies are effortlessly combined to provide the ideal environment for the creative, soulful mind and at the same time offer seamless and productive efficiency.

With a vintage circa 70’s British Midas console, outboard Neve compressors, and a great selection of precious vintage microphones, Kensington Sound provides a truly authentic vintage ‘front end’ recording platform that is second to none.
From there, the digital domain is state of the art Logic Pro 9 with a 27” Quad Core i7 iMac. The studio will also be offering 2″ 30 or 15 ips. recording on its MCI tape machine as well circa 70’s (all formats supported i.e. 8, 16, 24 track). Monitors are high-end boutique Tetra speakers (based in Ottawa, Canada) exclusively designed for Kensington Sound’s parameters. Interested parties can check out the studio by appointment

Phase One
Since opening its doors in 1974, Phase One has been privileged to be an integral part of countless albums, more than 100 of which have gone gold or platinum.

Some of the best known Canadian and international artists have recorded here .The studio’s earned its reputation by maintaining top notch equipment in excellent condition, having a skilled and down to earth staff, and looking after the large and small details that keep our clients relaxed and happy.

A Hammond B3 organ w/ Leslie 122, Yamaha C7 Disclavier Pro, great mics, comfy lounges, clean kitchen with a variety of coffees and free parking are just some of the reasons why this studio has built a rep for excellent customer service.

Cherry Beach
Cherry Beach Sound is a full service facility for music, mastering, voice-overs, audio postproduction, Film / TV commercial production, digital multimedia, and audio enhancement.

They’ve been at it for 28 years during which it’s grown into the multi-million dollar studio it is today. Cherry Beach prides itself on an atmosphere of comfort and professionalism, with a mandate to pursue perfection in delivering the highest quality and value of service to its clients, and to maintain its position as a leader in the recording industry.

Number 9
Number 9 Recording Studio's is famous for music, narration, post production and ad production with complementary departments in recording schools/courses, CD duplication, DVD duplication, DVD authoring, graphic design, web design, video production, audio and video transfers and pro audio rentals.

Number 9’s been providing professional audio services since 1981 and this better than a quarter-century of industry experience has allowed the studio to hone its skills and develop versatile methods to properly serve anyone who steps into the studio.

This Toronto facility houses two live floors, one more useful as a "general purpose" space and the other custom-built for a unique C. Bechstein Concert Grand Piano. Alternately, they’re geared to provide quick edits and to handle projects that don’t require a full-scale recording studio. A client list that includes the Barenaked Ladies, Rush, Amanda Marshall, K-os, Van Morrison and The Rolling Stones, speaks of the studio’s international reputation for delivering a quality product.

With all the technology debates swirling around the world of professional audio, one thing everyone can agree on is that success in the recording studio business can be very difficult to achieve, let alone sustain. Metalworks, located in Mississauga, ON, has not only sustained its success, but has evolved into three diverse business lines. Its three decades of success are the culmination of many things – including a staunch refusal to be a one-dimensional operation.

Since founding the recording studio, Metalworks has added Metalworks Institute (the educational division) and Metalworks Production Group (the sound and lighting division). The three companies thrive in a symbiotic relationship.

Metalworks originally had its start as a sound and lighting company. Canuck metal band Triumph’s drummer Gil Moore founded the business in 1975 and, over time, his band would come to rely on the capabilities of the company more and more. By 1978, the members of Triumph had set up a demo studio and just months later “professionalized it” so they could cut their own records there. Soon after, the band helped the studio to become one of the first 48-track recording facilities in the world.

For In-depth info on the studios, check these links