For some, making it means selling a million albums, or topping the charts for months at a time. For producer, engineer, mixer, studio owner, and OIART grad Siegfried Meier, making it means something else entirely. "People always ask me, 'What are you going to do when you finally make it?'" he says. "I say I've already made it. I have my own studio, I make a living recording great music and working with fantastic musicians. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Meier owns and runs Beach Road Studios, an audio recording resort on the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario. It's the type of getaway that bands dream of, a rural retreat packed full of vintage analog gear and instruments, along with state-of-the-art digital recording tools. He's produced records with bands Kittie, The Salads, Bordertown, Thine Eyes Bleed, Chasing Mercury, Seconds To Go, The Dunes and many others. "Working with great musicians and making great music is really why I got into this," he says. "It's the way chords go together, the way a vocal tone or emotion or melody or hook just grabs you. It's the music. At the end of the day, that's what it's all about."
Music has always been a part of Meier's life. "I've probably been into music since I was 2 years old," he says. "Growing up I was always around music. I had tape recorders—I'd record music off the radio and record my own silly songs. I would create fake album covers for make-believe bands I was in, pretend I was on stage. It was just part of me."
Meier didn't actually start playing an instrument until fourth grade. He learned to play the organ first, then eventually moved on to guitar. He played in several bands during high school, laying down original tracks at small studios. "Eventually I realized that the people we worked with in studios weren't really interested in working with us. And that was always disheartening. So I thought, 'You know what? Why don't we just put our money into equipment and do the work ourselves at home?'"
The guitarist poured his money into recording gear. He cut a few records for his band, then started working with other bands and musicians to pay for more gear. "It got to the point where I was recording other bands so I could afford a new mic, or mixer, or compressor," he says. "That's when I realized that this might be a good thing for me to get into seriously. And I knew that if I wanted to record and produce for a living, I'd need to go to school. As much as I thought I knew on my own, I knew that learning more technical stuff at an actual school was definitely something I needed to do. There's only so much you can read in books and there's only so much information on the internet you can really trust."
He found OIART in 1998, took a tour, and signed up. "OIART was the one school that stood out among all the others as being a great school with intelligent people teaching the courses," he says. "And taking the tour only hammered down that fact more, because they absolutely do know their stuff. The teachers are all professionals with years of experience in the recording industry. They have knowledge you just can't get anywhere else."
Meier studied music recording at OIART, learning how to handle analog and digital gear. He also got some music theory, a valuable addition to his education. "You learn a lot about the physiology of the ear," he says. "They explain what we feel when we listen to sounds. Those were things that I had always pondered about, and a lot of things that nobody on the internet or any book could really explain to you. It helped me tremendously, especially when I was working with bands in the studio."
The producer followed his studies at OIART with a one-year internship at the school and then a stint in Los Angeles at a few upscale recording studios. He eventually returned to work at EMAC Recording Studios in London, Ontario. Three and a half years later, he left the studios to start his own.
"I grew up envisioning a space that a band could live at, in a country setting, very relaxing," he says. "I thought of places like The Chalet north of Toronto, Le Studio in Quebec, Allaire in upstate New York or Dark Horse in Nashville. Bands like Rush, The Police, David Bowie and countless others used to record at studios like those. They were almost like resorts. You'd stay there and record your album without distractions. Beach Road is modeled after that."
Building a Retreat
Beach Road Studios was a vision ten years before being built, but now it's a recording resort, complete with gear and musical instruments Meier has collected over the years. "A band can just show up and make a record," says Meier. "I have everything they need, from guitars to drum sets, to vintage amps to guitar pedals. I can record on two-inch tape or straight to digital. I have analog compressors and Pro Tools plug-ins. It's really a recreation of the studios that big bands recorded at years ago, but with all the modern amenities."
The studio is a throwback to the golden days of the music industry, days that Meier admits are long gone. "The music industry is changing a lot," he says. "Bands don't sell 10 million records anymore. They don't usually work with huge record companies. Everything is getting smaller and the tools for producing a great album are easily accessible. You can spend $50,000 and have a state-of-the-art studio. That means more small facilities will be opening and more entrepreneurs running their own shops. That makes what you learn at OIART even more valuable, because as a producer, you'll probably be doing your own thing."
It's not bad news. "Sound and recording and music are always going to be here," says Meier. "How we get it, how it's created, that's going to continue to change. But music is always going to be there, so learning something like Pro Tools and the basics at OIART is extremely valuable. If you have the skills, you can adapt to the changing environment and create your own space to make music and have a career."
“That means more people than ever will have the opportunity to make their living making and recording music”, says Meier. "Everyone who graduates from a school like OIART has a chance of starting their own studio," he says. "That's a big departure from 10 years ago, when you simply didn't have the option. It's an exciting time to be getting into music."
Level Playing Field
Affordable tech can turn anyone into a producer.
"Anyone can be a producer now," says Meier. "All you need is a laptop and some basic gear. The trick is being good. You need to have talent and people skills to be successful. You need good ears and you need to know what you're doing. A lot of it you're born with, but some of it can be taught—and you can learn it at a place like OIART. I can't stress people skills enough. That's why working in retail is so valuable. You learn how to interact with customers and clients, how to deal with difficult people, and how to work through any personality conflicts and get things done. Don't pass up the retail work, it can really help you in the long run."