When Rush drummer Neil Peart announced that Revolution Recording was the best-sounding studio he'd ever recorded in, it was like music to João Carvalho's ears.
“He has recorded 19 albums in the best studios in the world,” says Carvalho, a veteran mastering engineer who launched the Toronto studio in mid-2011 along with Juno-winning producer Joe Dunphy and label executives Kim Cooke and
John MacDonald. “It was validating to hear.”
Validation was something the partners craved after toiling for five years to get Revolution Recording's doors open. In fact, when Carvalho first floated the idea in 2006, he was mostly met with raised eyebrows. Now, in addition to Rush, such musical talents as Feist, Great Lake Swimmers, Sarah Slean and former Waltons front man Jason Plumb have recorded at Revolution.
In recent years, many of downtown Toronto's studios shuttered their doors, forced out of their spaces and replaced by massive condo developments. Besides, the increasing accessibility of at-home digital recording technology had already begun to decimate their customer base.
To stand out from the few studios that had survived, Revolution had to offer more, in the way of both space and equipment. “Doing something average didn't make sense,” says Carvalho.
Revolution's owners spent three years developing their definitely above-average, multimillion-dollar concept: a recording studio in the heart of the city, housed in a large, open structure they could customize and equip with both modern technology and restored vintage gear. They found their 8,500-square-foot location in 2009, and spent the next two years transforming the former furniture warehouse into three recording spaces.
“A lot of the equipment here is hard to come by,” says Dunphy. The studio boasts rare microphones, the same models used by the likes of Sinatra and the Beatles, as well as sought-after audio processing equipment such as Fairchild 660 limiters. But their pièce de résistance is a reconditioned mixing board from Neve's revered 8000 series, of which there are only a handful in the world. Artists from The Who to Norah Jones have recorded on this series, placing Revolution among the most elite studios on the planet.
The result of this risky gamble? Musicians flocked to Revolution even before it officially opened its doors. As well, the studio received a coveted TEC Award nomination for outstanding creative achievement for studio design.
“It came to the point that we felt like people weren't taking no for an answer any more, and we just had to say, okay, let's record,” says Dunphy. They started recording last June, when parts of the studio were still under construction.
The music executives behind Revolution may be striving for high end (in fact, its top-notch equipment is good enough to record orchestras), but they recognize that their success largely depends on smaller artists.
“Our business plan is actually built around independent artists,” says Dunphy. They won't say no to the likes of Rush and Feist, but “in February, we have a violinist no one has ever heard of recording here for four or five days,” Cooke says proudly. “Our studio is open to someone like that as well.”
3 things to know before you start
Respect your partners
Revolution's owners have been friends for as long as 15 years. “We know that our personal relationships are important,” says Dunphy. “If one of us objects to a decision, we don't do it. We move on.”
Don't be afraid of the banks
“I remember going down to banks thinking, I'm in the music business, what am I doing here?” says Dunphy. “But after they looked at our plans, projections and resumés, they saw the possibility.”
Network, network, network
Revolution has done no official marketing. Instead, thanks to the partners' extensive networks, they've relied on word of mouth. “That's the best advertising,” says Dunphy.
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