Instruments line every wall in every room in Niagara-on-the-Lake native Jay Baty’s basement studio. Acoustic and electric guitars, drum kits, various electric bass guitars, ukuleles, even something dubbed the Frankenslyde (more on that instrument later).
It all sets the scene for what Baty hopes becomes the go-to studio for local musicians and those from outside of Niagara to get the professional sound quality they are looking for on their recordings and livestream sessions.
For now, Freshly Squeezed Studios sits in the Niagara Falls basement Baty shares with his partner Tami Rigg. She runs a holistic hypnotherapy business on the main floor, while Jay plies his musical trade below. He hopes to one day move his equipment to an off-site location.
Since his days playing in bands while attending Niagara District Secondary School, Baty has always known he wanted a career in the music business. The guitar player’s high school bands included Pan’s Progress (a Grateful Dead-styled group that featured horns and two drummers/percussionists playing extended jams) and later a band called Anglo Saxon.
Following high school, it was Mrs. Johnson, formed with childhood neighbour, close friend and fellow Trojan alum Danny Lamb. Today he plays guitar in Theatre Crisp, a funk/rock/hip-hop collective of seven that includes horns, a DJ and percussion from professional tap dancer Dave Cox.
But all through that, Baty realized that if he wanted to make a living in the music industry, he would have to explore ways other than just performance to do so.
He enrolled in Mississauga’s Metalworks Institute to study production and music business management. His goal was to grow his talent in all aspects, especially with regards to live and in-studio production.
After graduating from the two-year program in 2011, he caught on with Niagara A/V Systems, doing live sound at various venues across the region and beyond, including Toronto’s Harbourfront and in Niagara Falls at the Queen Street Theatre and Fallsview Casino. Now called Production Service Industries (PSI), he hopes to be back with them when live music returns.
He also connected with legendary Niagara musician Rick Rose, and helped him build his Tangerine Studio in Niagara Falls. That facility was located first in Rose’s Niagara Institute of Music school, then moved to a stand-alone location in an industrial plaza near Morrison Street in Niagara Falls.
During that time, Baty had been piecing together his own recording equipment, a hobby he said began 12 years ago, when he laid a guitar on top of some square microphones, setting up a rudimentary single-track recorder wired to his Windows 95 computer.
When Tangerine closed, Baty went full-speed-ahead to upgrade the equipment he had been amassing to a fully digital set-up.
To date, he estimates he’s sunk at least $60,000 into Freshly Squeezed Studios. He offers full production services out of a number of rooms in his basement.
“I’ve got all the bells and whistles to make beats,” he says, “and all the wonderful plug-ins, Auto-Tune, VocAlign, all the things artists are using these days. To compete with the corporates, I had to upgrade. Doing live sound helped me with the transition, because live sound jumped into digital quicker.”
Baty claims that the warm sound musicians often say analog recording gives them can easily be replicated digitally at Freshly Squeezed. With a push of a button, he can return to any pre-programmed setting on the 48-track console.
He uses a number of professional microphones to record, and has an array of equalizers, compressors and effects at his disposal to punch up the sound to a client’s liking.
He refers to his sound board as a live desk, one he can easily remove from the studio to use at live gigs. It’s customizable, imported from the U.K., and connected to all the other rooms in his studio (a vocal booth, a drum booth, and a live jamming room).
The walls in the spacious control room are lined with soundproof panels Baty created himself. He seized an opportunity to acquire yards of fabric for free through his connection with Rose. He cut the fabric to size and set about wrapping the sections to 2-by-2 foot frames of Roxul insulation. He estimates the fabric would have cost him close to $10,000.
Baty says his inventiveness is something he inherited from his father, an instrumentation technologist at General Motors. Jay learned how to solder at 12 years old, and that skill came in handy when running the cables himself from room to room and back to the console.
“I was one of those kids who loved taking things apart,” Baty remembers. “I would unscrew an old VCR and check out the parts. I would never put anything together back then, though.”
He remembers getting his first guitar at age 10. He grabbed his father’s videocamera, headed to the basement, and danced around to music from Rob Zombie and California band No Doubt.
It took three years before he finally decided to sign up for lessons from Jeff Bond of Niagara Falls, who he calls today his “favourite human.”
First and foremost a musician, Baty says performing is where he derives the most joy, but he also gets a great amount of pleasure helping others realize their musical dreams.
He describes two artists he’s worked with recently, one a refugee of sorts from Ukraine, and another from Trinidad and Tobago. He talks of helping each find the best way to use their vocal range and limitations, suggesting ways for them to bring their musical visions to fruition.
At times he has to be a bit of a psychologist, convincing clients to get beyond their fears of taking their music to the next level.
The Freshly Squeezed website (freshlysqueezedstudios.ca) lists some of his past productions, including Mrs. Johnson, Rita Carrey and local band The Broken Lyre. He has also worked with Canadian rapper Classified and Vancouver pop punk band Living with Lions.
Baty and bandmate Kyle Petch produced and engineered It’s an Obligation, the most recent release, by his current band, Theatre Crisp. The nine tracks on the recording are sonically punchy. Baty weaves the scratching and cutting from DJ K-Flip seamlessly into the mix with guitars, bass and drums, punctuated by blasts of horn, while frontman Petch raps and sings through each track. The production would stand up to anything you might hear on pop or rock radio in 2021.
Earlier this week, he released his latest production, a music video for a song called Good Day by bandmate Petch under his alias humbleHAB. The track was produced, recorded and mixed by Baty.
And about that Frankenslyde mentioned earlier.
“It was a school project for Metalworks institute,” Baty exclaims. “I built it out of parts laying around the house, with the head of an old guitar stuffed into a 2×4. It was supposed to be an acoustic instrument but I just wanted to build it so bad that I went with the electric slide guitar. I still got 96 per cent on the project!”
The Frankeslyde found its way into a recording by Milton-based singer-songwriter Michael Banks. At about the two-minute mark of Cardigans, Baty can be heard sliding up and down the fretboard, providing an eerie, pedal steel-like punctuation to the final minute of the track.
It’s a perfect example of how a good producer can quietly put his own personal stamp on a recording, while maintaining the integrity of the song.