Jeffrey Remedios, CEO and Chairman of Universal Music Canada, knows all about volatility. “Now that music is so ephemeral—songs recorded on someone’s bedroom laptop routinely make the Billboard Top 100—there’s a real desire to create a sense of place,” he says.
Remedios is the indie darling who brought the Broken Social scene to the mainstream as co-founder of the arts and crafts label. When he took over the top job at Universal in 2015, the company’s offices occupied a secluded stretch of highway in suburban Toronto and served primarily as a shipping warehouse for CDs and merchandise. Only artists come to visit if they have a formal meeting schedule. Remedios began envisioning a shifting creative campus with state-of-the-art recording studios, listening rooms, a small, intimate concert space, and a hybrid workspace where artists could jam with the marketing team, A&R people, and even the accounting department.
The new office, in downtown Toronto’s Liberty Village, welcomed Universal’s entire team of about 160 employees in April. It’s an expansive loft-like space punctuated by black-spruce beams and filled with natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows.
The vibe is factory converted, but the building is actually brand new. It is a collaboration between Universal and the development company Hallmark, and is the first commercial building in Ontario in a century to use wood construction. It has more than 7,000 square meters of workspace and 789 square meters of retail, with Universal occupying half of the former and all of the latter. Hullmark brought in architecture firm Quadrangle, and Universal hired sustainable-design firm Supercool to decorate the space.
On the ground floor there is an Arvo artisanal cafe and wine bar open to the public. The building also houses Universal Music Canada’s Academy, a 100-seat concert venue. Shawn Mendes used it as a rehearsal space for two months for his performance at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards. The Academy features an Art-Deco bar and a bandshell made of wooden chair backs sourced from Massey Hall. A neon sign that reads “No Dress Rehearsal, This Is Our Life,” a song from The Tragically Hip’s “Ahead By A Century,” was created in Gord Downey’s own handwriting.
Upstairs are three recording studios designed by renowned acoustic engineer Martin Pilchner – the aesthetic is a boho living room with Persian carpets. Unlike a typical dark, cavernous recording studio, these spaces have natural light, which required a feat of engineering: architects built rooms between larger, windowed rooms to let in light while maintaining acoustic integrity.
There is also a lounge with green velvet armchairs and a teal mid-century sofa by Supercool. The office walls are lined with a fuzzy wool-felt installation by artist Kathryn Walter, which casts a natural acoustic-dampening effect on the space. The company has commissioned original artworks from contemporary Canadian talent, including typographer and muralist Ben Johnston and mixed-media artist Tahsin Al Hasan. There’s also a fully insulated listening room where Universal artists like Jamie Fine and Johnny Orlando can blast their latest tracks without disturbing the workers nearby.
The staff, a sprawling team that includes executives, marketers, accountants and recording engineers, work in banks of desks grouped together. Employees are required to be physically at work three days a week. Creatively, the campus thrives. “It’s very refreshing to be back in the office after the pandemic,” Remedios said. “Art and music are about human connection.”