Inside Universal Music Canada’s trendy new Liberty Village headquarters
Including state-of-the-art recording studios and a coffee shop known to serve stars like Shawn Mendes
Earlier this year, Universal Music Canada moved into its swanky new office in Liberty Village. The workplace features 45,000 square feet of office space, including three state-of-the-art recording studios, a multi-purpose performance venue and a coffee shop where global superstars like J. Cole, Shawn Mendes and Dave Grohl are known to get their jolt of caffeine before heading into meetings or rehearsal. “We have daily little Field of Dream moments here,” says Jeffrey Remedios, chairman and CEO of UMC. “You never know who you’re going to run into.”
In the 2010s, UMC had its offices in a big warehouse at Victoria Park and the 401. Not much was happening in the area, and when artists drove out there for meetings, whether they were coming from the airport or from downtown hotels, they ended up spending half their day in traffic. So, in 2016, UMC started planning a downtown campus in a trendy neighbourhood where musicians could be inspired. “We wanted to create a place where artists and their partners could connect and collaborate,” says Remedios.
Over the next four years, with the help of local architects at Superkül Architecture, UMC made it happen, creating a clean, light-filled workspace at 80 Atlantic Avenue. Grey carpeting and timber walls abound, giving the space an organic feel. The office was ready in early 2020. Then Covid happened and the UMC team packed up their laptops and worked from home, leaving their new space basically untouched. Now, the staff is back for a three-day hybrid schedule.
Here’s a look inside the space.
On the ground floor, by the front entrance, UMC leases space to the coffee shop Arvo, which also sells beer and wine. “They’re super nerdy about their wine and coffee,” says Remedios. “They take it so seriously—like how UMC thinks about records.”
This multi-purpose event and performance space is also on the ground floor. With a maximum capacity of 100 people, it’s sound-proof and kitted out with a full PA system. In September 2021, Shawn Mendes used the room to rehearse for the Much Music Video Awards; in August, Geddy Lee, Dave Grohl , Alex Lifeson and Omar Hakim were in here rehearsing for a Taylor Hawkins tribute show. Above the bar, repurposed cheap seats from the old Massey Hall function as a sound buffer. Tragically Hip fans will recognize the neon lyrics from the song “Ahead by a Century”—UMC got ahold of Gord Downie’s actual notebook and had the sign rendered in his handwriting.
On the second floor, there’s a private state-of-the-art recording space called 80A Studios. It has a separate entrance so artists can access it without distracting (or being distracted by) UMC employees elsewhere in the building. There is a mirrored-glass installation above the front desk by Canadian multimedia artist Trevor Wheatley and his partner, Cosmo Dean. It depicts coins being flipped, reflecting the unpredictability of the creative process.
Welcome to Studio 1. When J. Cole was playing for the Scarborough Shooting Stars in the spring of 2022, he used this space to make music. It features a giant Solid State Logic soundboard and an Atmos surround-sound speaker system.
This wall features photos of UMC’s current talent, including Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande.
While there are meeting rooms like this one for UMC employees, there is a separate-access co-working space for independent contractors, including artist management teams and label partners. It has a bunch of desks and private rooms.
UMC commissioned artist Kathryn Walter to create the grey carpeted walls, which are found throughout the offices. They provide a bit of a sound buffer and make the space feel organic, soft and natural instead of boring and stuffy.
The Massey boardroom, where the big, important meetings happen, looks like something out of a movie where agents and other bigwigs pound on the table, advocating for their clients. All of the boardrooms are named after famous Canadian music venues (Massey Hall, Maple Leaf Gardens, The Commodore Ballroom).
Here’s the workspace for UMC employees. About 160 people work out of this office on a three-day hybrid work schedule (everyone comes in on Wednesdays). The desks are set up departmentally, in “neighbourhoods,” for a mix of separation and collaboration.
And this is Remedios’s office—a large space, with plenty of natural light, to host important meetings with some of the biggest artists in the world.