Disclosure: Dean Marino is a friend of mine, and I work with his band Papermaps — many of you know this. I do not, however, have any secret information behind this article. It’s just an opinion, a theory, and a tribute to a place that has long been a major part of Toronto’s music scene.
As a music promoter at a venue that I consider to be mid-size or just below, I listen to a lot of independent Canadian music. Inevitably these artists have a limited amount of capital with which to make their demos, recordings, albums, etc. As a by-product of that last fact, a promoter like me who spends all day every day researching and listening to bands gets a pretty strong knack for listening to lower-quality recordings and pulling information out of them. Well, at least you’d better get good at that fast if you want a chance to make this career work. For me, when I listen to music I try to listen for what they are already doing well, what they are going to do very well, and where the music is headed. Then I try to figure out how to describe it and who to pair it with.
Other times, a band will take the whole D.I.Y. ethic a bit further and record an entire EP/LP with little to no help from a studio, or with help from a very cheap or in-house studio. Do not be mistaken, I have absolutely adored some albums that have been done this way — specifically for certain genres. But the majority of the time they end up in a strange lost world that exists somewhere between demo and album-quality recordings. Such recordings are hard to sell, hard to get reviewed, and hard to move your career forward on. But the state of the music industry in 2012, the economic times — and well, just the fact nobody has as much money as they want — has in my opinion led to a huge spike of these types of recordings.
But every once and a while I got a treat that arrives in the form of an email, a physical album, a Facebook message, or something saying X band has just recorded X album over at Chemical Sound — the studio that’s worked with the likes of the Black Keys, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Schomberg Fair, the Elwins, and on and on and on, along with so many bands who haven’t received the prominence of above bands but whom I absolutely adore anyway. When it was a Chemical Sound recorded product, all of my guesswork was done for me. I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that the recording was going to be top-notch. Now all I had to do was decide if I actually liked it or not. For the most part, I did.
That, for me, is the main reason I’m sad to see Chemical Sound going away. Granted — it does seem like you can still hire out Dean and Jay to do your recordings on a freelance basis which is awesome. Chemical Sound offered a service that was priced within the range of most bands that wanted to do something to take their sound and recordings to the next level. It was priced just beyond where casual bands would be interested in paying it, and well below where only bands with Factor funding or financial backing could afford it. That price point in and of itself is my theory on why so many of the recordings came back awesome. Bands who were willing to find a way to pay for a quality product are bands with a passion to produce a quality product, you know?
But that’s where my theory can also be problematic — with improved technology and more and more basement operations popping up to do recordings for bands at little to no cost, and with bands just deciding to do it themselves, did the number of bands willing to go to a place with a tried-and true-rep like Chemical winnow out? If so, that, my friends, is a rather terrifying trend.
I have no problem listening to music from the lost world between professional and demos, and some of my favourite bands exist exclusively in that world, but most people don’t have the time for it. Maybe that will change but I don’t see it happening right away. All I know is that I am going to miss those emails hitting my inbox with a press release for the latest awesome band to record at Chemical Sound, and that the lost island just got a lot more crowded.
Much respect to Dean & Jay for providing an amazing service for so many years. All the best.