By Michael Raine
Born and raised in Edmonton , Stew Kirkwood has spent his entire life immersed in the Alberta capital ’ s music scene . And like so many professional recording engineers who grew up surrounded by music , his current profession wasn ’ t so much a plan as it was an inevitability . As such , he now spends his days as the studio manager , head engineer , and staff producer at Dept . 9 Studios , Edmonton ’ s newest fullservice recording destination for creators in music , film and TV , the web , and more .
“ My father is and was a musician , so as a child our basement was generally packed with gear . I would always sneak down there to beat on the drums , tinker with the Moog Mini and Hammond organ , and , of course , loved getting crazy with the [ Roland ] Space Echo ,” Kirkwood reminisces .“ I was doing fourtrack reel-to-reel recordings with my dad and the odd school chum in and around grade three . I loved the ability to overdub and alter tones . I was already a Beatles nut , so upon hearing ‘ Being for the Benefit of Mr . Kite ,’ my ears were perked to the possibilities of studio recording and creating new sounds .”
Nonetheless , as he remembers it , launching a professional recording career was more of a happy accident ; something Kirkwood fell into by simply being the guy in the band with a recorder .
“ Getting into the industry was a bit of an accident . I had a Roland VS-1680 hard disk recorder and was making demos for my band at the time . Then , friends and colleagues from other bands started hearing what I was doing in our rehearsal spot and began asking me to do their demos . From there the slippery slope began with the purchase of an AKG D112 [ bass drum microphone ],” he explains .
That experience set him on the path of building , owning , and operating his own business in west Edmonton called Sound Extractor Studios . From 2002 to 2020 , Kirkwood ran Sound Extractor , where he produced more than 200 records . Though his passion has always been recording and helping foster the careers of independent artists , he also had occasional A-list artists stop at Extractor for quick recording sessions while passing through on tour , including Keith Urban and Justin Bieber .
After closing Sound Extractor Studios a couple years ago , Kirkwood was brought on board at the new Dept . 9 Studios , which has positioned itself as a high-end , one-stopshop for recording and producing music , film / TV , and web content .
“ I couldn ’ t resist the opportunity to work with an even more expansive gear list and to broaden my work scope by getting more into the film industry as a composer , as well as the myriad of facets that encompass audio for film , be it ADR , Foley , or mixing in Dolby Atmos ,” Kirkwood says . “ Currently , I ’ m still recording artists in and around western Canada with high hopes of attracting national and international artists . I ’ m also mixing my latest solo album and delving into new plug-ins as I remix my back catalogue of recordings dating back to 1996 .”
In terms of his career highlights to date , Kirkwood is very reticent to boast , but he concedes that “ highlights have been plentiful .” For him , the greatest part of his life in music recording has been “ working with and becoming friends with some of Canada ’ s artists and getting the opportunity to work with international artists . For one reason or another , my studio and my skills allowed me to work with Keith Urban , Justin Bieber , Shinedown , and Florida Georgia Line on an international front . I ’ m still waiting on my Grammy for tracking some Keith Urban demos .”
More generally speaking , he adds , “ my favourite part of the audio industry is working with others and pursuing our vision of greatness . I also enjoy achieving the tones and emotive qualities that are in our heads .”
And when it comes to challenges , the complete upheaval experienced in both the music and recording industry , on both a business and technological level , is what comes to mind . “ The biggest challenge I ’ ve found is educating the newer generations of artists and bands about the importance of a producer , objective ears , and a pro level recording studio . But it ’ s all cyclical and the pendulum swing always swings back ,” he says .
In the short-term , Kirkwood ’ s primary goal is to simply stay on top of current production trends and technological advancements while continuing to study the influential minds who shaped the music production industry . “ The long-term goal is to produce Paul McCartney , but I ’ ll settle on landing a Ringo album !”
Away from the studio , Kirkwood has his hands more than full as a single father of three . As for leisure , whenever he can find some rare spare time , “ I love hiking , biking , yoga , restoring vintage instruments , and whipping about Edmonton on my Vespa ,” he says .
Michael Raine is the Editor-in-Chief of Professional Sound .
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