Lakewind Sound Studios
For Fred Lavery, home has always been filled with music—and today his Nova Scotian home is also the location for a music business that reaches out across Canada and beyond.
“My parents always made music available to us,” he says, recalling his childhood in tiny Point Aconi on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island. “My dad brought home instruments like guitars, a mandolin and a piano, and he and mom sang a lot. There was always music in our house.”
Lavery followed the musical path laid before him and picked up the guitar, piano, bass and other stringed instruments along the way. By his second year in university, he had decided to sing, write and play music full time. He reached a respectable level of success in those early years, working with Canada’s godfather of Celtic music, John Allan Cameron, and landing a hit on regional radio in 1977 with the band Road. Lavery collaborated with other musicians, and performed and recorded his own material as well.
By the mid-1980s, however, his career trajectory changed. He was diagnosed with spastic dysphonia, a rare vocal condition that ended his singing ambitions.
“That led me to the production end of the industry,” says Lavery. “I started doing freelance music production with CBC Sydney and independent record production in the local area, as well as in Halifax and Toronto. It gave me a lot of valuable work experience with some of the best engineers and producers in the country, like Paul Mills, Daniel Lanois and Chad Irshick.”
Today, Lavery co-owns and co-operates Lakewind Sound Studios, a state-of-the-art facility standing behind the musical household where he grew up. The idea came about as a result of Lavery and his friend and musical collaborator Gordie Sampson wanting to build a recording studio together in the mid-1990s.
“Just a basic thing to record our own things and pitch our songs to various people,” is how Lavery explains it. “But as that took shape, more people found out we were doing that and wanted to work with us. They wanted us to record and produce them, so when the opportunity presented itself, we ran with it.”
Lakewind Sound Studios is a part of the east coast’s rich musical history. Since 1996, the studio has hosted sessions with some of the finest recording artists Nova Scotia has ever produced: The Barra MacNeils, Jimmy Rankin, Natalie MacMaster, Rita MacNeil and Matt Minglewood.
“When we established the studio, we became aware that there was a market out there,” he says, “because we had a bit of a track record, a profile and a certain amount of respect from the music industry in general.”
Lavery and Sampson have worked hard to earn respect from their musical peers. The studio has won seven consecutive East Coast Music Awards and five Music Industry Association of Nova Scotia awards. Among their many individual achievements: Lavery received the 2001 ECMA SOCAN Songwriter of the Year award for “Get Me Through December,” a track co-written with Sampson and recorded by Natalie MacMaster and Alison Krauss; in 2007 Lavery won the prestigious Industry Professional of the Year award at both the ECMA and MIANS annual celebrations, as well as the MIANS Producer of the Year award for the second time; and Sampson took home the 2007 Country Song of the Year Grammy for his part in co-writing Carrie Underwood’s hit “Jesus Take the Wheel.”
Another key component to the studio’s success is Lakewind’s engineer, Michael Shepherd. Shepherd is a young fellow, about half Lavery’s age, but already he has earned a couple of MIANS Studio Engineer of the Year awards and the 2008 ECMA for Studio Engineer of the Year. He grew up about 10 minutes down the road from where the studio sits, but was trained at the prestigious Ontario Institute of Audio Recording Technology in London. Lavery says he had him on his radar the entire time Shepherd was at school, recognizing his talents early on.
“We’re fortunate enough to have him come back to Cape Breton.”
Owned and staffed entirely by Cape Bretoners, the studio attracts those from the local music community as well as national and international recording artists.
“Many people who love the traditional Cape Breton music come here,” says Lavery in describing the “come from away” clientele. “When they come into the studio, the reaction is always the same. They just can’t believe that there’s a facility like this here, with the expertise that’s available.”
Lavery is pleased, too, to have access to such high-calibre talent when he hires local musicians for sessions.
“We’re blessed with some very high quality talent in this area. The fact that we have a tradition of great music in this part of the world, and the fact that both Gordie and I were part of that before we got into this end of the business, well, it was just a natural progression for us to provide this facility and allow musicians from this area to make and record their music here.”
A number of low- and no-interest loans from organizations such as Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, along with considerable investments of their own, allowed the two men to expand their initial studio into the beautiful and modern studio it is today.
“Part of our philosophy is that we were not going to shortchange ourselves or our clients. We wanted to have a studio where you’ll see the same things as if you went to Nashville and walked into a studio there,” Lavery explains. “You’re going to have that same feeling, you’re going to see the same equipment and you’re going to get the best in service.”
With their musical backgrounds, both Lavery and Sampson understand the lure of those recording studios in Nashville, Toronto or LA. But Lavery is confident that Lakewind holds its own. Its services include tracking, digital editing, mixing and mastering, and pre- and post-production for film and television. Post-expansion, it also boasts a state-of-the-art, orchestra-sized recording room and a new digital audio console that gives clients ample recording and mixing options.
Ultimately it’s about more than high-tech wizardry and a display of awards. It’s about the comfort and trust that comes from working with people who understand the passion, but also the realities of the music business.
“We say that our clients become lifelong friends,” Lavery says. “We try to make everyone understand that their music is just as important as the person who was in the day before or the person coming in next week. It’s really important for us that people leave with that feeling that they’ve been treated well and they’ve gotten the best work that they could from us."