CBC’s historic Glenn Gould Studio shifts away from recording sessions to hosting events

Toronto musician Robbie Grunwald says the state-of-the-art facility is too expensive for the average musician to rent

When local musician Robbie Grunwald recently applied for an Ontario Arts Council recording grant in May, the CBC’s Glenn Gould Studio was at the top of his list of places to work. 

A venerable space equipped with state-of-the-art 48-track recording technology, the studio is beloved for its storied history and superb acoustics. Grunwald had previously participated in recording sessions there as a musician, and he was excited by the prospect of using the space to record his own work.

That is, until he saw the price tag.

For four hours of studio time, he was quoted $1,100. Four days in the space, including piano rental and tuning, would run him $11,000 – almost the entirety of the grant, which is usually also meant to cover packaging, artwork and design, manufacturing, promotion and equipment rental. 

Grunwald estimates the price to record at other top-end Toronto studios to be about $1,000 for a 10-hour session.

“I don’t know a single musician or project with that budget,” says Grunwald. “And you really need more than a four-hour session.”

Grunwald’s experience points to an ongoing problem that has affected the CBC’s ability to provide accessible studio space to local musicians. Between 2012 and 2015, a series of federal budget cuts reduced its funding by $115 million. In a pointed critique of the cuts, Liberal MP Scott Simms, then the party’s heritage critic, likened the Harper administration to “wolves… at the door and circling.”

As widely reported, the broadcaster was forced to scale back across all departments and, evidently, within its studio space. The CBC declined to comment on the rates quoted by Grunwald, saying that such information is “competitive,” but indicated that studio space is scarcer than it used to be.

“We currently have two recording studios available for rent in the Toronto Broadcasting Centre, including the Glenn Gould Studio,” says Emma Bédard, the CBC’s senior manager of public affairs, in an email to NOW. “In the past, we had a total of seven similar studios.”

While the Glenn Gould Studio remains fully operational, the space is no longer primarily used for recording sessions. 

“Approximately 20 per cent of our bookings to date this year are for music recordings, and that’s in line with recent years,” says Shannon Jaffer, senior manager of sales and marketing at the Glenn Gould Studio, in an email to NOW. “We also host live performances, musical and otherwise, and other events for CBC or external companies.”

The studio remains an income stream for the broadcaster. 

“Any revenue we generate from Glenn Gould bookings first pays for the operating costs of the Glenn Gould Studio,” explains Jaffer. “The remainder is funnelled back into CBC budgets and toward our public broadcasting mandate: creating Canadian content for our audiences.”

The fact remains that the vast majority of local musicians like Grunwald are unable to afford recording there. And the studio’s gradual shift from use as a recording facility to a venue for high-profile events doesn’t sit well with Grunwald.

“It just feels like an injustice,” he says. “Tons of really special and great gear is going to waste. It’s such a horrific waste of money that this wonderful facility paid for with public money is not being used for recording.”

The CBC has begun to expand its operations in other areas. According to Bédard, the broadcaster has doubled its investment in live music recordings this year. Whether this investment will restore gutted studio space or provide lower-cost access to musicians remains to be seen. 

* A previous version of this story did not include piano rental and tuning in Glenn Gould Studio’s quote.

music@nowtoronto.com | @silkspectres

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