by Stephen Dafoe
Morinville’s Smith Music has been making music and musical memories for two decades. The local music school, recording studio, and instrument store celebrates 20 years in business this month.
The company has come a long way from starting in twin offices in the former convent at the back of St. Jean Baptiste Park.
Owner Paul Smith said 20 years ago he was playing on the road, mostly in Western Canada, and looking to make a change.
Country music was big at the time, and the bass player had taken up the guitar early on in his musical career to make himself more marketable to the country, blues and rock bands he toured with at an age where he was not old enough to drink in the bars where he played.
Smith stayed on the road from the age of 16 until he was 20, finally looking to get back into teaching, something he’d done from the age of 12 until he started touring.
“I’m grateful to the musicians that I got to play with,” he said of his road days. “But I didn’t enjoy that part of being on the road where I didn’t get to be with family, didn’t get to have roots. I loved and missed teaching. Going on the road solidified how much I loved teaching.”
Smith had taught music from the age of 12 to the age of 16. At the time of leaving the travelling musician’s path behind, Smith’s brother had recently opened an office to teach approximately ten students. Smith decided to join him in business, and the brothers ran the business out of two offices in the old convent building downtown. Smith bought his brother out in 2001, and when the Town sold the convent building, the business moved to 100 Street where the Dance Studio is now. From there, he moved shop to the current Hunters Print and Copy location before buying his present building.
The enterprise now occupies the former Morin’s Auto on 100 Street, and Smith has transformed the one-time garage into a state-of-the-art studio over the better part of the last decade.
The latest transformations took place over the summer and are nearing completion for the business’ next phase of growth.
“We’re kicking off our 20th year with a renovation to expand the business,” Smith said, noting that his wife Henriette’s business System Health will also be housed in the facility, along with Ron Cust’s collectibles business. “My wife and I sat down and looked at what the two businesses needs now. If we had a clean slate, what would we do? This [year] was the year we cleaned the slate and kicked it off. We’ve got everything from a state-of-the-art control room for the studio to a sound-isolated massage studio for her clients, to a movable wall system so we can have great rooms for teaching and do live events and concerts.”
The renovations on the music side include an increased control room and a soundproof vocal booth that will double as a recording/learning suite.
Smith said he consulted with world-renowned recording professional Ethan Winer about the appropriate studio acoustics for the entire space, in particular, Smith’s new control room.
The business owner said Smith Music’s building has approximately 4000 square feet of space, all of which is being utilized from floor to ceiling to maximize services offered.
Longtime friend Ron Cust will be joining the new look with Ron’s Collectibles, something Smith thinks is a natural fit.
“With the cool things that Ron has like vinyl records, it’s a good fit,” Smith said. “We’re a vintage recording studio, so to have all the vintage collectibles that Ron has — it just accents the business. The goal with Ron and I is to be a time capsule of several decades of music and culture.”
In addition to the vintage items on display and for sale, the shop will also be doubling the number of guitars and other musical instruments available for purchase.
“We’re going to be able to go from stocking about 60 to 65 guitars to 120, plus have room for things like drum sets. We’ll also have a room where we can set up and try out amps and effects.”
Smith wants to be able to use the space for more than teaching, recording, and selling. He is looking to increase the number of live performances the venue does each year above the normal student and band camp concerts now that it can hold 120.
Some of those live shows will undoubtedly be the product of one of the shop’s new offerings this year. Smith Music will be branching out in the areas of teaching offered at the local business.
“We’re going to have some bands geared for age and musical ability: 12 and under, teens, and adults. It’s a combination of age and experience. Some 15 and 16 years are ready to play with adults.”
Smith did a trial run last year on the band concept and with the expanded offering he anticipates the cost of the program will be a nominal $15 per session drop-in fee with participants expected to attend each week.
Additionally, Smith will be offering a limited number of students a custom program aimed at people looking to make a career in music. “The curriculum will be based on live engineering, studio engineering, and the music business,” Smith explained. “It’s not going to be a large classroom. It’s going to be small numbers. It’s going to be aimed at giving you the information you can’t get in college. It’s going to give you experience and time in a school-of-hard-knocks setting.”
Smith said he has been grateful to the community for their support over the past 20 years. Starting from just he and his brother in a couple of small offices, Smith now employs six teachers.
“We’ve been able to have a music business that is the size of what is more typical in a larger centre,” he said. “We’re grateful for that.”