Edmonton

'This is the real thing': Morinville recording studio expands

Paul Smith hopes his new expanded recording studio in Morinville offers more opportunities for local musicians. It's one of the largest dedicated live-recording rooms in the province.

'My ultimate dream would be to see local and regional musicians knock it out of the park'

After months of renovations, Smith Music in Morinville has opened its newly revamped recording space­ (Smith Music)

For Paul Smith, the sound of a guitar, bass and drums humming through his spacious recording studio is unmatched. 

"Most recordings nowadays are very digital with digital reverb, and those fake room sounds but this is the real thing. And you can't replace it," Smith said in an interview with CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"It's a little bit like vinyl. When you listen to something on vinyl you feel a different kind of warmth."

The proprietor of Smith Music in Morinville has expanded his commercial studio into one of the largest dedicated live-recording rooms in the province.

The moveable walls within the 2,500-square-foot room will allow solo artists to record individual sessions, or an entire band to record a song simultaneously.

'There is no such thing as a cheap recording studio'

He hopes the new facility — the largest he knows of in North America — will attract more acclaimed sound engineers to collaborate with his clients, and give local artists an edge.

"My ultimate dream would be to see local and regional musicians knock it out of the park … and that they move on to bigger and better things," Smith said. "That is my dream."
The new recording space in Morinville is the largest of its kind in the province. (Smith Music)

The unassuming building — which houses his music store, teaching space and recently revamped recording studio — used to be a mechanic garage. He bought it eight years ago and gutted it.

Now, as the business celebrates its 20th anniversary, Smith decided it was time to improve the space.

"I was feeling like we could record really good demos and do pretty good work but nobody was really hitting it out of the park and we really couldn't offer the major market recording," he said.

"I think with such a unique space, and us building relationships with other producers, that we can now offer a real high end studio in Alberta."

Smith consulted with renowned acoustics expert Ethan Winer on the redesign, and installed a suite of vintage equipment, including a decommissioned console from a radio station in Las Vegas and a reel-to-reel cassette recorder machine once used by CBC Edmonton.

Although Smith declined to say just how much he poured into the renovation, he noted, "there is no such thing as a cheap recording studio."

'There is something beautiful about a big space'

Although they are almost obsolete in today's industry, oversized recording spaces were once in the norm in the 1960s and '70s.

As recording studios became smaller and digital mastering became more common, Smith said something was lost in translation. He thinks larger spaces create a more intimate sound and inspire more authentic performances.

"People have said you don't really need a big space, but then when you actually have it and you hear the difference, you say, 'Ok I realize why the big spaces were so cool,'" he said.

"There is something beautiful about a big space."

He says although small studios are now the norm, there are limitations for what can be achieved.

People have said you don't really need a big space, but then when you actually have it and you hear the difference, you say, 'Ok I realize why the big spaces were so cool.'- Paul Smith, owner, Smith Music

Tracks within each song have to be recorded separately and then layered on top of each other. The logistical challenges of making a small space work can also be challenging — and expensive.

The walls must be covered with specialized foam and the instruments and equipment carefully adjusted to soften the sound. None of that was necessary in his new space.

"The problem with sound in a small confined space, you hit a note and it bounces off the wall and comes back to the microphone so soon. It's a little bit like when you talk in the bathroom," Smith said.

"In a big space, it takes a lot longer for those reflections to come back so as long as it doesn't sound like you're in a canyon, then you don't really need any treatment in a space of that size."

The studio, which will also be used for a handful of live shows a year, has been open since September, but Smith admits there are still a few unfinished elements of the renovations.

"It's been so busy in the studio, its been hard to find the time to get them finished." 

Paul Smith, the owner and operator of Smith Music in Morinville, hopes his new recording studio will give local artists an edge. (Smith Music)

With files from Elizabeth Hames

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