By Anna Kay
It may not come as a surprise that some of the greatest work is accomplished in the most unlikely places. Although working from what may not be viewed as the most important music center in Canada—albeit one of the strongest economically in the country at the moment—the work of one individual has not only been receiving a lot of attention, but also claiming top ten spots on Canadian radio. Producing some of the best work heard in country music today, Bart McKay, musician and record producer, works from his studio, three times awarded Canadian Country Music’s Recording Studio Of The Year, in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Growing up in Manitoba, McKay’s music career began early on. As a young adult, with a brief venture at the University of Manitoba, McKay felt the draw back to music. Starting out in Portage la Prairie, he was fortunate to have opportunities working with experienced players like the Double Eagle Band, Steve Bell and others who went on to have successful careers. Later, after joining the Johner Brothers from Saskatchewan, McKay found himself working in the studio and producing their recording projects. Soon requests from other artists presented themselves. Because of the success McKay’s work began having at radio, one project led to another.
When asked what has led to his success in such a competitive market McKay says, “At this point, it’s all about people liking what they hear. A great sounding product brings more business. Good production also gains attention and support from program directors who choose to add your work to their play lists.”
Recognition in the industry for the artists you are working with helps to spread the word as well. “I’m grateful for the success that many of the artists I have worked with have had.” Gord Bamford and Shane Yellowbird are two clients on McKay’s roster who have experienced radio play in the top ten most recently. Some of his up-and-coming clients to watch for include Chad Klinger, Six West, Tiffany Dowhan and Todd Richard.
As far as success goes, McKay feels that he owes a lot to his mentors. “Although it takes a lot of hard work, you only become as good as the people you surround yourself with. I’ve been fortunate to have positive and talented colleagues, who I respect and from whom I’ve learned a lot. Part of achieving success in this business comes from supporting one another. It’s about teamwork, loyalty and acknowledging those who’ve helped us get to where we are. It’s important to encourage and promote each other. It’s a tough market and there are a lot of great people doing the same thing I am. I’m thankful for the recognition I’ve received, especially from my peers.”
McKay points out that staying current musically, using innovative techniques, and acquiring the best quality gear you can afford helps the process. Making it a priority to surround oneself with some of the most proficient session players in Canada is a definite asset. “The magic that happens when tracking a great band is second to none. Having the best players on the session, who inspire and challenge one another, makes for impressive tracks to work with. Most often, after the band leaves and the vocals are recorded, there’s just me left to do my thing. It involves a lot of switching of hats from musician to engineer, to producer and to mixer, but the process is related and intertwined. Reading up on what others are doing, referencing work that I admire and asking questions of people whom I trust and look up to is helpful.” McKay has been diligent lately, either speaking with or traveling to meet some of his biggest role models including Ed Seay, Jeff Balding, Kevin Churko and Matt McClure. “I’m always striving to learn more in order to make every song, every album, and every project better than my last.”
When asked why Bart McKay Productions calls Saskatoon home he replies, “My family has roots here. We’ve become ingrained in the community. Saskatoon is a beautiful city especially during the summer; it’s where we call home. In this digital age of the internet, email and the ability to send files electronically, it’s possible to do what I do just about anywhere. The trickiest part is getting all of my favorite musicians together in the studio since they often come from every corner of the country.”
Despite this minor challenge, McKay says, “I’m just thankful for the opportunities that allow me to be successful in the music industry in Canada. Initiatives by organizations like Factor, Socan, and SaskMusic who offer funding to artists and support artistic educational endeavors are invaluable. Also, legislation through Cancon protects Canadian entrepreneurs, guys like me, by encouraging the promotion and sustenance of the industry. I feel fortunate that I can make a living here doing what I enjoy the most!”
Awards, recognition and success, not to mention top ten singles in a national market—not bad for a studio and musician/producer/engineer tucked away in the middle of the Western Canadian prairies!