This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of Professional Sound magazine.
By Andrew King
After opening its doors for business in 1984, it didn’t take long for Lamajeure to develop a reputation as one of the top audio recording and production facilities in Montreal – a reputation that the studio maintains to this day despite the aggressive ebb and flow of the industry surrounding it.
In fact, its stature in creative and corporate circles is one of the few things to remain unchanged throughout Lamajeure’s nearly 35 years of operations.
Originally founded by professional musician Sylvain Lefebvre, the studio was rooted in music recording and production for its first few years of operations; however, as the landscape of professional recording facilities has shifted significantly in the years since, so too has Lamajeure’s array of integrated services and overall approach to business.
Currently, the creative hub at 1110 Bleury St. in Montreal’s downtown core specializes in advertising, interactive media, and original music and voiceover recording for a diverse and ever-expanding clientele. This entails service offerings ranging from music composition and recording for film, television, gaming, and commercials to ad production, French versioning, TV distribution services, and beyond. Of course, they’re always happy to return to their roots and track pop or indie music when the opportunity presents itself, too.
Through its ongoing evolution towards creating turnkey solutions for clients in the advertising, TV and film, and corporate spheres, Lamajeure has seen the size and success of its operation swell to the point that it now boasts a team of 30 full-time professionals, ranging from project and account managers to mixers and technicians to composers and more.
What’s perhaps most impressive, though, is that they’ve done it amidst a trying time in the industry that hasn’t been as kind to some of their peers and competitors on the national landscape.
Studio A control room (Photo: Cynthia Caraz)
“In the beginning, it was actually musical projects only,” shares Lefebvre, listing off a few album projects and film soundtracks from the early years in the mid-‘80s. “It was music, music, music, and the advertising started a little later.”
The move into ad work, which began in the late ‘80s and ramped up into the ‘90s, was driven from two directions; in some cases, ad agencies were approaching Lamajeure directly with potential projects, but in others, musicians they’d recorded in their first few years of operations were being hired to do scores and jingles for ad or corporate work and wanted to work somewhere familiar, with people they trusted.
“When you’re doing albums, you’re spending 200 or 300 hours with those people and get to know them very well,” Lefebvre explains, “so when those musicians were contracted to do advertising, they would often bring that work here.”
“Sylvain has really changed the ad business in Montreal,” enthuses Etienne Boivin, the general manager at Lamajeure. “I’ve been witness to it over the years. He brings a high degree of professionalism to his work, but also has that creative background as a musician, so he’s kind of a bridge between those two worlds.”
When Boivin first joined the staff as Lefebvre’s assistant in 1995, Lamajeure was already well established in that side of the business; however, his arrival did correspond with another major shift for the studio and the recording business in general.
Having just graduated from a one-year recording arts program, Boivin had minimal experience with digital workflows. “At that point, digital was still very new and it wasn’t clear which DAW would become the industry standard,” shares Boivin.
When he was hired in 1995, Lamajeure had just adopted the Pro Tools platform and brought in its second Digidesign 16-track system. “That was really special for me, being there right at the adoption of a digital system,” Boivin enthuses.
Fortunately for the studio, as they’d later discover, they bet on a winning horse in the now industry-standard Pro Tools family, which Lefebvre admits gave them a significant competitive advantage as other studios were catching up on the transition to digital.
Boivin left the studio in the late ‘90s to pursue new opportunities as a freelancer. Business was good, and when his accountant retired, the engineer found himself taking over that side of his fledging operation. That led to him enrolling in an accounting program in the mid-2000s in pursuit of a new career, but amidst his studies, Boivin got a call from an old friend.
It was 2008, and Lefebvre had just split with his previous business partner. Before going gangbusters on a search for someone new and trustworthy to take on some of the administrative duties for the growing business he reached out to someone he figured would be an ideal fit.
“We were out of touch for a few years, but I knew Etienne was very organized, very thorough,” Lefebvre says of his colleague, and so in 2008, having gained experience in several different studios in and around Montreal, Boivin says he “came back to the best one.”
Whereas his first stint coincided with the transition to digital, his second came with its fair share of major changes, this time at his discretion.
For one, they installed a fibre backbone throughout the facility to better facilitate the post, voiceover, and ADR work for which they were becoming well known. Then came the transition from SD to HD video and its related infrastructure.
“We used to do restripes,” says Boivin. “We had a digital Betacam deck for years, so we’d get a final video master on tape and then restripe the sound on it, and that was always a much-needed service.”
In 2009, they were faced with the decision of whether or not to invest in an HDCAM SR deck. “It was a lot of money, especially with the economy not being great,” recalls Boivin, “but we knew we’d get a return on the investment over time, so we went ahead, and that actually started our TV distribution department.”
The purchase made them the first audio recording studio in Montreal to own such equipment and enabled them to offer services like dubbing and closed-captioning, which meant they could save their clients even more time and resources. “And then if they had revisions, they could manage even really late edits, and we could send master tapes directly to stations,” says Boivin.
At the end of 2010, Lamajeure took over another Montreal-based post-production business – Coté Post – as its namesake, well-known businessman Bob Coté, was set to retire. They folded the largely tape-based dubbing house into their mainly digital operation and welcomed Coté’s two project managers to the team, leading to a boost of business from a heap of new clients.
In the years since, Lamajeure has been transitioning even further towards providing complete, file-based turnkey solutions for its clientele.
Mathieu Morin, Maxime Navert, Jacob Gauthier Robitaille, Sylvain Lefebvre & Étienne Boivin (Photo: Cynthia Caraz)
“Ad agencies are looking for creativity and creative input,” Lefebvre explains. “We basically become producers of good audio for their projects, both in terms of music and dialogue. We take charge with directing the voiceovers, figuring out what we need for sound effects, and being able to properly compose and record the music.”
It was in 2012 that composer Maxime Navert, who had been with the studio for four years at the time, launched Lamajeure’s in-house music department, the most recent component of its integrated service offerings. Basically, at the core of its business model is the fact that Lamajeure isn’t a studio where someone just hits “record”; instead, they’re offering top-to-bottom creative input to help clients bring their visions to life.
Whereas the ad agencies used to hire composers directly, leaving the composers to hire the studios and musicians to realize their work, now, the agencies are coming directly to Lamajeure for a turnkey product. Subsequently, the studio has developed close and collaborative relationships with many of the major ad agencies in the area.
The top-to-bottom integration of services means they can save clients time by handling different components of a project simultaneously while reaping the benefits of it all being done under the same roof by a tight-knit group of professionals.
“When we do ads now, as I’m doing sound in the studio, they could be doing [video] encoding in the machine room at the same time,” Lefebvre offers as an example. “That also means that one hour after we’ve completed the music, the client can have a master done and delivered to any TV station across Canada.”
That type of turnaround is virtually unparalleled and, in an age where deadlines are continually compressed, is a significant selling point.
“We’ve developed an expertise, but more than that, we’ve developed a team with a system, and it’s hard to compete with us with that system,” says Boivin as a testament to his earlier statement about Lefebvre and Lamajeure’s impact on the industry in Montreal.
While advertising and the various creative and technical components of it are now Lamajeure’s core business, they’ve been taking on more digital and online media projects of late – “less-traditional” media, as they call it – like interactive and immersive experiences and museum-type exhibits for the likes of the Canadian Olympic Committee and Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world and a major tourist attraction. These are typically led by Navert and his creative vision.
Of course, they do voice and music recording for film, TV, and gaming projects as well, which continue to get more elaborate – surround sound, audio for augmented and virtual realities, etc. – in tandem with the evolution of consumer technologies.
Lefebvre says that being consistently ahead of the curve, whether that relates to the adoption of new technologies or services in anticipation of industry trends, has been central to the studio’s success over the years. What enables them to do so is their constant reinvestment in the business – not being afraid to take risks and explore potential new opportunities.
For example, Lamajeure was one of the first studios in its area to install an optical internet connection, facilitating larger and faster file transfers.
“That’s been part of my heritage of quality work from the beginning,” Lefebvre attests, again recalling the studio’s musical roots. “Over the years, I was always looking to be better, to improve – the best equipment, the best space with the best acoustics, always upgrading our systems...”
Of course, in an area of the business that puts a lot of stake in client care and interpersonal relationships, having a staff that can instill or maintain trust and confidence in a client is crucial. This is yet another distinguishing factor – and point of pride – for Lamajeure.
When Boivin rejoined the team in 2008, he was one of about 10 permanent employees; just 10 years later, that number has tripled to 30 full-time employees across three departments: recording and post-production services, original music, and TV distribution. That includes six full-time project managers to handle scheduling, booking, and project follow-up, along with Toronto-based Business Development Director Cynthia Littler, who provides a full-time presence for the studio in the Ontario market.
“As we developed more services and the TV distribution department took off, it became more about managing everything seamlessly,” says Boivin. “It was a very interesting phase for us to be able to grow our capacity but still be totally certain that nothing was falling through the cracks.”
Lefebvre takes over: “We also get a lot of last-minute projects, and I think it’s key to have enough staff that you never have to turn down work. We’ve trained everyone to be very versatile as well, so we can respond to whatever a given project might require and still deliver a perfect product.”
As such, they’ve managed to keep turnover relatively low in an industry where that’s not typically the case. “We have a lot of staff who’ve been with us for five, 10, even 20 years,” boasts Boivin.
Studio C control room (Photo: Cynthia Caraz)
Nowadays, both Boivin and Lefebvre say Lamajeure is more focused on its talent and internal systems than the gear they’re using; as such, they’re currently expanding their music department.
The week that the two spoke with Professional Sound was the same week they welcomed another mix engineer and music producer, and they're now recruiting more full-time composers.
“We’re creating an ecosystem where people will have fun and be inspired working together under our roof, each with their own individual spaces but having access to our live room for tracking or any other resources they might need,” says Navert, the 34-year-old composer and music department head who’s now been with the studio for over a decade.
Moving forward, as the business continues to expand and Lefebvre gets closer to retirement, it’ll be Lamajeure’s younger staffers that will be charged with maintaining and enhancing that ecosystem. Fortunately, nobody seems phased by this inevitability; in fact, they all seem to welcome it.
“We have plenty of depth here,” says Navert, and that depth will be invaluable as Lamajeure maintains and develops its operations beyond ad-based projects.
“The majority of the business is advertising, but we still get to make albums and record scores, and we want to keep all of that alive,” he says, noting that experience and expertise in one segment of their operations almost always come in handy in another. “It keeps us very flexible and responsive,” he adds. “We want to create a place where everyone – musicians, composers, sound designers, mixers – is coming together in an environment of collaboration.”
The low turnover and employee dedication have been critical in maintaining continuity from one era to another, offers Mathieu Morin, the studio’s chief mixer. He’s been with Lamajeure for 20 years and can draw from his experience with vastly different technologies and workflows over that time to ensure the quality of what he and his team are outputting either meets or exceeds their longstanding standards.
Mixer Jacob Gauthier Robitaille, who has been at the studio for seven years, says the staff recognizes how critical the ongoing investment in the facility and its infrastructure has been to their success. “Our equipment selection and the design of the space just elevates the quality of everything we do,” he says, “and that’s something we can’t lose sight of.”
Mixer and music producer P.O. Rioux, the newest addition to the team, came to Lamajeure from another local studio, and adds to Gauthier Robitaille’s point. “This studio was built properly over 30 years ago, which means that even new studios with all the top new gear won’t have this infrastructure. It wouldn’t be realistic to build a studio [of this calibre] today.”
He also relishes in the opportunity to work on full-size consoles and sought-after music recording gear instead of everything being in-the-box, which is far more typical of studios specializing in advertising and corporate projects in the current landscape.
But like his new colleagues, he realizes it’s about a lot more than just the facility and the tools occupying it. “There’s plenty of knowledge here and I feel really lucky to have joined the team.”
Ultimately, it seems Lefebvre’s ethos of maintaining the best possible facilities to produce the best possible product – with no shortcuts – has been instilled in the next generation.
“The people are tight, the walls are tight, the machines are tight, and so the product is going to be tight,” says Morin. “I know everything that’s been done in this studio has been done properly, no matter how expensive. [Sylvain] is constantly reinvesting in the business, and that’s been a major advantage to us. Nothing is ever left at ‘good enough.’ That’s not how we approach the facility and that’s not how we work. Agencies are happy to pay for this kind of service when they know it’s going to be of the expected quality every time.”
Studios of all kinds are continually being pressed from both ends by smaller budgets and tighter timelines, and while Morin says Lamajeure has not been totally immune to those trends, the corporate and advertising sectors haven’t been hit as hard as others. Subsequently, the studio has been able to not just adapt thanks to its well-established and continually refined internal systems; they’ve actually continued to grow, now boasting five full recording studios on top of multiple editing and scoring suites.
“Yes, budgets are shrinking, but the number of clips and spots being produced is increasing,” explains Navert, pointing to the digital domain as a big driver of that. “So advertisers are doing more spots in a year and have to produce more content.”
That’s led them into new media like the aforementioned immersive experiences and augmented and digital reality. “We love those kinds of projects,” Navert enthuses. “It’s a whole new playground for us, because it’s really changed the way you’re mixing and some of the technology you’re using.”
Morin adds that as Montreal’s reputation as a creative and cultural hub continues to spread around the globe, Lamajeure is anticipating more international projects and collaborations in the near future. “We have more and more customers in the States and around the world – Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore – and it’s really interesting because we find ourselves working more with other companies here in Montreal on these major international projects.”
It’s been quite the adventure for Lefebvre and his team thus far, building Lamajeure into one of the most reputable recording and production facilities in Montreal, then the country. Now, they’re maintaining that legacy with a new generation of engineers and composers while pushing into new markets around the world, making it anyone’s guess what the next few decades might have in store.
Andrew King is the Editor-in-Chief of Professional Sound.