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akaMatisse performs at the Deane Cameron Studio at the Allied Music Centre.

Introducing A New Massey Hall When Toronto Needs it Most 

Apple Music celebrates the opening of the Deane Cameron Recording Studio with an all-star cast of talent.

by Emma Johnston-Wheeler

Photos by Jag Gundu

Massey Hall and Apple Music celebrated the official public opening of their Deane Cameron recording studio in a very grassroots Toronto way: with an intimate performance by Juno Award winning artist akaMatisse, followed by a Q&A with Apple Music podcast host George Stroumboulopoulos.

The pair sat down on the live floor adjacent to the new recording studio, which is housed in the Allied Music Centre, a seven-story tower containing an entire musical ecosystem that includes the legendary Allan Slaight auditorium, new music venues, full equipped writing rooms for artists, and dedicated stage spaces for education and community outreach programming. The revitalization project marks Massey Hall’s most significant changes to date, following its last major renovation in 1948.

At the heart and soul of it is the new recording studio, which utilizes spatial audio technology and is named in memory of late president and CEO Deane Cameron, who drove the Hall’s revitalization before his passing in 2019. He is remembered warmly as a champion of the Canadian music industry, a legacy which Massey Hall hopes to continue through its artist development program tailored for musicians that have the potential to perform at Massey Hall, but presently lack the resources and reach.

akaMatisse and George Stroumboulopoulos in conversation at the Deane Cameron Recording Studio on Feb, 22.

“There’s a reality in this city–small venues are under threat, they’re closing more often than they’re opening. And that’s not good for the entire ecosystem,” said current president and CEO Jesse Kumagai. “We’ve created spaces where there’s an opportunity for pretty much every artist and every fan to engage here. And I think we’re gonna see more and more collaboration as artists are coming in and out of this building and using the tools that we have.”

Many of the new spaces were designed with this collaboration in mind, and allow for flexible use. The writing rooms serve as creative suites for artists to do everything from composing and cutting demos to picking up emails or having a quiet phone conversation. Other general purpose rooms are conducive to educational programs, social events, panel discussions, and conferences, but one room stands out in particular: a new 100-seat theatre, unnamed as of yet, that doubles as GA standing-room space thanks to retractable risers. Kumagai says the space will be used for concerts as well as showcases for emerging artists who may one day perform on the main stage at Massey Hall.

akaMatisse is one such an artist, who still finds it surreal that his Lowkey concert series has found a home at the new TD Music Hall. In a Q&A with Stroumboulopoulos, he shared that his relationship to Massey Hall came to him at an older age when he started attending shows in the city. He knew then that he wanted to perform on that stage one day. 

 

“There’s a reality in this city–small venues are under threat, they’re closing more often than they’re opening. And that’s not good for the entire ecosystem.” 

Jesse Kumagai (Massey Hall president and CEO)

 

On Feb. 22, Matisse performed a lowkey concert on the live stage adjacent to the recording studio, alternating between keyboard and grand piano while accompanied in turn by violin players Kai and Julien, saxophonist Aubrey McGhee and singer Adria Kain (performing their unreleased song “One Melody.”) Only a couple of days prior, the artist and his collaborators recorded their performance as a Dolby Atmos mix.

The recording studio is equipped with Mac Pro, M2 Ultra processors, and a Solid State Logic System T S500 64-fader console, which VP production Doug McKendrick calls the patching Grand Central Station of the facility. It’s interconnected, which means that performances can now be recorded from anywhere in the building, including the main stage at Massey Hall, TD Music Hall, the basement bar, the Muskoka Spirits lounge, and the new, unnamed 100-seat theatre that will open imminently. 

The SSL System T production platform was recommended by producer and engineer Eddie Kramer, who has worked with artists like Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin. The Apple tech is considered so reliable that even NASA uses it for streaming at the international space station. 

“Increasingly, we’re seeing demands from artists for the ability to record their performances here,” president and CEO Jesse Kumagai told RANGE. “That, in combination with our strategies around artist development, and trying to solve a problem in the city with small venues being under threat, led us to a point where we had an ecosystem where we could provide that recording content and support those artists along their journeys as they progress up through through larger venues until they can play Massey. It all works in service of itself. The recordings help us promote those artists and vice versa.”

The Deane Cameron Recording Studio utilizes spatial audio technology and is named in memory of late president and CEO Deane Cameron.

The artist development program has been underway for several years, providing artists and their teams with support and opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise had to help them advance in their career. The new spaces are a way for Massey Hall to double down on this work, said Kumagai.

He feels that akaMatisse’s Lowkey concert series is a great example of a project that has the potential to build its way up from smaller venues, ultimately benefiting from the advancements of the Hall. It also represents another one of the goals of the revitalization project, which is “to broaden the genre of music and energy in the crowd,” said Kumagai. 

akaMatisse’s Lowkey performance blends classical with jazz, Afrobeats, and soulful electronic music featuring a varying ensemble of orchestral musicians and singer-songwriters. “I think the psychology of the Canadian artists is that they have to do everything themselves, so I think when they finally realize there’s a space like this… it’ll create a new generation of artists who are now comfortable with having support, and get to benefit,” Matisse said of the opportunity to use the Deane Cameron recording studio.

“When I came up, there was nothing like this type of thing, you had to do everything from the ground up. So I think four or five years from now you’ll find artists who are blowing up, and this is one of the channels they’ve come through. That’s my hope.”