Updated: Feb 15
By Justin Gray (Songwriter/Producer/Founder www.wearemdiio.com)
Canada's support for the arts is legendary. If you are Canadian, you should be accessing every grant available. I did…in the early years as I was developing my craft, I received awards from a government foundation called FACTOR. The foundation Assist Canadian Talent on Record. Their number one interest was in helping Canadian musicians “make it.” On at least two occasions, I had received some grant money to help my dream.
I consider myself quite lucky to have come into music production at a crucial time. I learned how to be creative on 16-track analog tape, and eventually 24-track. And right around 1996, ADAT and DA-88 became a popular recording medium. It was cheaper, and allowed you to easily stack machines and tracks as needed. Analog concept, digital media. It didn’t sound great. Early digital recordings were harsh and unforgiving. And so we tried really hard to make it sound like analog. It still doesn’t, but our listening proclivities have accepted today’s audio caliber. Kind of like photos. Film just looks better, but now our eyes are trained to see digital as crisp and clean.
Ironically now we have plug-ins to emulate old analog gear and even “tape.” Half the time, I am trying to make things sound worse. On purpose!
But I learned on tape, then transitioned to digital tape, and eventually in 1999 went full Protools. I consider myself lucky to have classic knowledge and modern techniques. Anyway…back to 1997.
As much as I loved Number 9, it will always hold a special place in my heart. But now that Elie and I had split up, it felt like it was time for me to move on. I needed to close that chapter.
As they say, “when one door closes, go through the window.”
What was interesting, however, was the geographic proximity to a very very large and prominent recording studio in downtown Toronto called McClear.
McClear and Number 9 shared a parking lot. So once we broke up Groovetunes, I decided to walk across the parking lot and introduce myself to the owner of McClear. A gentleman by the name of Bob Richards. Although at the time, the split up was slightly devastating, it was necessary.
Bob was another turning point.
Like Elie, Bob was several years older than me. Even older than Elie. And although he wasn’t a creative per se…or an engineer, he was an astute businessman.
McClear had 5 studios!
I noticed that they had a small studio. Studio two. It was barely ever used, because McClear’s focus was on the other much bigger rooms with their beautiful SSL consoles, and other smaller post-production suites.
Meanwhile, Studio two was empty. And so I decided to present Bob with a business proposition.
Every production dollar that came in, we would split, 50-50, and he would charge me no rent for the space at this incredible facility. He would also give me discounts when I needed to use bigger rooms, but most of the time the concept was, I would sit and work in my little room, and bring all of my clients in there.
The biggest acts in Canada, and even the world came to McClear to make their albums. In those halls, I met people like John Leckie who had recently produced Radiohead’s “The Bends.” He had also worked with George Harrison, Pink Floyd, and one of my personal faves Simple Minds. He was in town working on a project with a Canadian Jazz icon Holly Cole. Every day over coffee we would discuss recording and production techniques. He told me that he would records drums without cymbals, and then overdub the cymbals. It was easier to control sibilance that way, and create more dynamics because you could control the metal without compromising the sound of the kit. Woah…He’d also worked with another Canadian favorite of mine “The Grapes of Wrath.”
I hung out with Erykah Badu, and Paul Schaeffer, and the entire Blues Brothers band and talked about our favorite soul and gospel albums. I even had John Landis sitting in my studio. Little old studio #2.
Shit…I would pass the Rush fellas in the hallways, and Geddy would say “Hey Justin!”
Just being in that building in the atmosphere of greatness raised my game. I even hung out with Joni Mitchell in the back of Studio 3 while she chain-smoked as she graciously talked to a young and dumb fanboy. Me.
Bob and I went on a tremendous run together. Started making more money month after month with a room that was generating almost no income for him, it started to actually become a profit center. He would invite me and my girlfriend (now wife) Daphne to his house in Rosedale for dinner and wine.
Okay…so remember Beat Factory Records? They were a small startup record label with some funding from EMI. Their main model was to put together compilation albums of mostly Canadian R&B and Hip Hop artists and release them. The big projects they did were known as Groove Essentials, and Hip Hop Essentials. It was a coming of age to be included on those CD’s. The MacAuley Boys made Groove Essentials Vol 1. As did JackSoul.
Same concept as what I had done with Donald K Donald, I took the opportunity to reach out to the (at the time) VP of A&R for Beat Factory. A gentleman by the name of Rupert Gayle. Remember the little skill I had picked up as a kid reading record liners? So, I bought the CD, opened the credits, and started sleuthing. I told Rupert that I had worked with two artists on their recent compilation CD, and that I would love to meet him to discuss other opportunities. He graciously agreed, and we would eventually connect at their offices on Spadina Rd in Toronto’s Chinatown to discuss their roster. Honestly, I probably would have interned for them, but Rupert had other ideas.
Rupert and his partner Ivan really opened the door and my mind to the idea of writing for other artists. I had let my own artist dream wither years earlier, so the possibility of being able to write and hear someone else sing my song was really exciting.
And so my first session turned into my first cut! Rupert was already an accomplished writer at the time. Together we wrote a song called “Stay” by one of their artists Jazmin.
Hearing someone else sing a song I wrote was mind-blowing. Plus she was AMAZING! I went on to work with several of their artists, until a literal gift was dropped in my lap.
Beat Factory, a record label recognized as the hot bed for rhythmic music in Canada signed…a Boy Band???
And now…3 Deep.
Things were about to get insane, fun, and wild.
Welcome to 1998.
See you next week, and stay in the creative light.