Toronto musicians say they're being squeezed out as closure of east end recording studio looms

A number of Toronto musicians are fearful for what comes next for creatives in the city as a longtime studio and recording space faces possible closure to make way for new development.

Soleil Sounds has played host to musicians and recording artists since 1997

Soleil Sound, a music recording space on King Street East, is under threat of eviction from new developers in the area. (Soleil Sound)

For years, musician Joseph Shabason likened himself to a "hermit" when he wrote and recorded music from the comfort of his home. That is, until he found Soleil Sound, a multi-use space for recording studios and post-production in Toronto's east end. 

"It provided me with this really wonderful place where I could hole up and work, but also draw from the musical community in Toronto," Shabason said.

We take you to the studio where Juno-nominated artist like Royal Wood, Jazz Cartier and Zaki Ibrahim have recorded albums. It will be forced to close its doors, thanks to a new development taking over its space. We'll ask what has to change to keep music thriving in our city. 6:53

The studios served as the backdrop while he recorded his second album and continues work there as he helps produce projects with artists like Toronto electro-indie band Austra. 

But that could all soon come to an end for him and many other musicians across Toronto. The building housing Soleil Sound, at 507 King Street East, has been sold to a new owner, with plans for new development. 

Musician Joseph Shabason says closure of recording studios and performance spaces is a sign that musicians in Toronto are being squeezed out of the city. (Colin Medley)

According to Soleil Sound CEO Oliver Johnson, they could soon be evicted from the space. 

"There's still big business in the music industry and they need space. And they need space that is tailored to fit their needs," Johnson said. 

He hopes to be able to convince the new owners that Soleil will be a "committed long-term tenant," with a stable number of musicians using the space. 

"Whoever understands this and whichever developers can wrap their head around this are going to win."

Whether or not Johnson will be able to keep the studios running will come down to the new developers, a point that many musicians say is a sign a coming crisis for the industry in Toronto. 

A shrinking city for creatives

Composer Robbie Grunwald believes this fight to save the studios has much larger implications — like what the closure would mean for the Canadian music industry and who gets to call Toronto home. 

The possibility that the building on King Street East could be re-purposed as condominiums is not an idea that sits right with him. 

"We have all these condos that are often sitting empty . . . if developers, even a couple, thought 'Hey, let's turn this into creative [space],' they would have long-term tenants that would be bringing in lots of money."

Drake's producer Noah '40' Shebib rented out a music studio space on Geary Avenue, as their careers blossomed, an expense many musicians in Toronto today say they can rarely afford. (Kevin Winter)

Both Grunwald and Shabason also point to one of Canada's most famous musicians — Drake — as a prime example of how giving young and upcoming artists affordable spaces to work, pans out. 

Shabason said Drake's Toronto-based producer Noah Shebib, cheaply rented out a music studio on Geary Avenue in the city's Davenport neighbourhood, when their careers were starting to take off more than a decade ago.

For many musicians today, Shabason said renting such a space out in 2019, is merely aspirational. 

"Look where Drake came from, look at where [music group] A Tribe Called Red came from. They came from environments where they had spaces that were affordable, and where they could be creative."

With files from CBC's Amanda Grant and Metro Morning


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