Music hub aims to serve as centre stage for local scene

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Music hub aims to serve as centre stage for local scene

Some of Ottawa's best-known musicians are turning a little building on Gladstone Avenue into a one-stop shop where budding artists can do everything from learn an instrument to perform and record.

"What we're starting here is a school, a performance area, soon to be a recording facility and just a musical hub for musicians, students and teachers," said Rey Sabatin, one of the founders of Spaceman School of Music and Performance Centre.

If that name sounds familiar, it's because the new centre is next door to venerable Ottawa shop Spaceman Music, a favourite spot for local musicians to gear up and connect.

Most of the staff at Spaceman are working musicians. Some have been buying, selling and repairing all manner of musical instruments since 1986, when the shop first opened its doors as Songbird Music.

"Spaceman music has always been a place where you didn't just walk in and buy a guitar and walk out. You always got into a conversation," said Sabatin, who gained local fame as guitarist and lead singer of The John Henrys, and currently fronts Ottawa band Hundred Pacer.

"We wanted to extend that to a teaching environment. It's not just a bunch of rooms with some chairs and a teacher waiting to teach guitar, and there's a desk downstairs that takes your money and then you leave. We want a place that means more to you when you come here, and we have a space big enough for you to come and hang if you're a student."

Opportunity knocked

When the drum shop adjacent to Spaceman Music moved earlier this year, Sabatin and his colleagues saw an opportunity.

They retrofitted the old two-storey house with additional soundproofing and created a welcoming lobby where students can socialize. The main floor includes a small performance space adjacent to the piano instruction room. Upstairs are three rooms available for players of other instruments. Any instrument.

"Basically, if you want to learn to play the bouzouki, I'm going to try to find you a bouzouki teacher," Sabatin said.

Besides teaching newbies and offering them a place to perform, the centre also aims to give working musicians a place to practise and teach, so they can earn money to help pay the bills.

"It's basically a place for us to play a bigger part in the industry that's kind of fed us for over 20 years," Sabatin said.

Tapping into city's music strategy

In business, as in music, timing is everything. Earlier this month the city adopted its first official music strategy, hoping to encourage artists and music businesses to develop Ottawa's cultural scene.

Part of that three-year plan involves adding to the number of live venues and studios in Ottawa. That's something Sabatin and his partners are hoping to tap into.

"You want a place to perform? It's small, but we have a place. You want a place to practise? We have a place for that.... I mean, we're here."

No get-rich-quick scheme

Sabatin's business partner, "Slo' Tom" Stewart, has been at centre stage in Ottawa's music scene for decades. His current band, Slo' Tom and the Handsome Devils, is a local favourite, though Canadian music fans may also remember him from 1990s punk act Furnaceface.

"We are all musicians and have been involved in the local Ottawa music scene for many, many years, so we try to do what we think is needed, and it seems that being able to have a performance space and have lessons and be more connected with the community is what is needed, especially downtown," Stewart said.

Sabatin and Stewart are hoping to build the centre up slowly, and are striving to give it the same community feel that makes Spaceman Music the local scene's go-to spot.

Still, they've been in the business long enough to know it's no get-rich-quick recipe.

Stewart said he's OK with that.

"If we can break even and be a big part of the Ottawa music community, that's what our business plan has been for the last 40 years, so we're going to keep trying to break even and keep trying to keep the lights on."