The nearest I had ever gotten to a recording studio was the marginally soundproofed room our high school band practiced in. Our film class also had some basic microphones that somehow always picked up someone coughing in the background rather than whatever dialogue we were trying to shoot. It isn’t surprising that I was mesmerized by the high fidelity equipment inside Empire Sonic, the area’s premiere recording studio. However, I think it is safe to say that Empire Sonic would satisfy the most committed audiophiles and discerning musicians too.
The recording studio was in a nice residential neighbourhood with a beautiful view of Okanagan Lake. I pulled up at the address and walked past a sailboat to the front door where I was greeted by a well behaved dog and Evan Ferguson, the owner and operator. He invited me in and we stepped through into what seemed a completely different building. Natural light was gone and warm spot lamps glinted off thick glass partitions and by far the largest mixing board I had ever seen: a 1980s video post-production layout from France with 48 analog channels that can act as busses. It had taken an engineer hundreds of hours to reassemble it in the space. Evan had more old-school toys to show me.
An old Wurlitzer electric organ hooked up to a Leslie rotating speaker filled one recording booth. Nearby, a reverb board picked up from a church in the Netherlands leaned against a wall. The massive steel plate inside a box vibrates and translates sounds to magnetic pickups at each end, distorting inputs without any electronics. Guitars of all styles adorned the walls and a nice drum set sat in one of the soundproofed rooms. Chrome accents on amps and speakers of various vintages sparkled. Modern computer programs and digital accoutrements finished off the complement of equipment available to studio clients. As I took it all in I could not help but imagine the time invested in making this space into such a streamlined work area.
Clients should not feel intimidated by the impressive setup though. Evan takes musicians of all skill levels and types. He is just as comfortable cutting a demo track for a band that has never been out of the garage as he is recording voiceovers for a popular Canadian television show. A headlining metal band had recently booked the entire space for three days as a relaxed and private practice space before a show.
“We are more accessible than people think,” Evan explained as we sat down on leather benches behind the mixing board. “Our rates are about half of Vancouver’s.” This places all the equipment and the services of a professional within reach for people who might otherwise be recording with laptops or smartphones.
Evan was also pleased to point out that Empire Sonic has become a “destination studio” that brings people to the Okanagan. He hopes to build on this as he expands the business. I Am looking forward to this too, as we can always use a little more music!
Photos and Writing by Chris Munger