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Sound travels: Music studio relocating to make way for lab space

Life science developer promises to relocate the longtime Brighton fixture, the Sound Museum.

The Sound Museum in Brighton is moving after a developer bought its building with plans for a life science campus, though the developer — IQHQ — has promised to help it find a new home. Musician and producer Chelsea Ellsworth worked in her studio.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Boston’s long-running building boom has squeezed countless music, arts, and rehearsal spaces out of the city in recent years. Now one developer, at least, says it’ll try to find a new home for one of the city’s best-known music studios.

The Sound Museum has occupied part of 155 North Beacon St. in Brighton for 32 years and has been an institution in the Boston music scene for 40. The vast complex offers affordable rehearsal and recording space in the low-slung old warehouse to more than 300 musicians who use it to practice and store equipment and has hosted industry legends from Reeves Gabrels to B.B. King.

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Last year, California-based developer IQHQ bought the property, which sits next door to New Balance’s massive Boston Landing complex, with plans to demolish the building and construct a nearly 410,000 square-foot life science campus consisting of three buildings and an underground garage. IQHQ filed plans for the project with the Boston Planning & Development Agency in September, and they’re currently undergoing city review.

Sound Museum founder William Desmond initially feared his business would be ignored — developers had pushed his recording studio out of past homes before it settled on North Beacon Street. And he knew friends in the city’s arts community that have suffered a similar fate in recent years.

William Desmond, founder of The Sound Museum in Brighton, in one of the rehearsal studios.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“Having development all over the city, it’s difficult for artists and musicians in Boston,” Desmond said. “We have to be concerned. And people rely on me, the musicians rely on me for a place to store their gear and a place to play and call home.”

As the project has moved through city review, several musicians and neighborhood residents have pushed back against the plans, in part because of the loss of the Sound Museum and its affordable practice spaces many artists have relied on for years.

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But in September 2021, IQHQ approached Desmond with an offer to help the Sound Museum build what it calls a “cutting-edge rehearsal and recording facility,” according to a recent press release announcing the collaboration. The firm hired a commercial leasing broker and architect to assist Desmond in finding and designing a new location — which Desmond called “a huge relief.”

“From past experiences, I’ve never had anybody care at all,” he said. “I’ve been doing this business for 40 years in Boston. There were different buildings along the way, and we’ve never had anybody be as concerned as [IQHQ] are about my business.”

Until a new location is found, the Sound Museum will remain on North Beacon Street. IQHQ and the Sound Museum are in contact almost daily about the project, said Katherine Desmond, vice president of the Sound Museum’s parent company and William Desmond’s wife.

“They get that this isn’t just them buying a building, demolishing it, and building a new project,” she said. “They get that in order to do this, they have to be willing to work with the community, the musicians, and our business so that it goes smoothly for all of us.”

The outside of the building that houses the Sound Museum, on North Beacon Street in Brighton.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

This old industrial part of Brighton and neighboring Allston has long been home to a vibrant slice of the city’s music community, and the decision to help the Sound Museum relocate was influenced by the rehearsal studio’s importance to that, said David Surette, senior vice president of IQHQ.

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“[The Sound Museum] is the fabric of the area, it’s always been known for musicians,” Surette said. “We always say when we go into these places that we want to be good neighbors, we want to be known for thoughtful development.”

The IQHQ team is currently in the process of scouting different locations in Boston. Even with the developer’s help, relocating will be difficult — the Sound Museum has prided itself on providing low-cost rehearsal spaces, and prices in the neighborhood have gone “through the roof” over the years, William Desmond said. The sort of large-scale light-industrial space the Sound Museum currently occupies is also in hot demand for both life science companies and delivery warehouses.

Still, City Hall is watching the project closely. Last month, the neighborhood’s elected officials and several other city councilors sent a letter to the BPDA saying they’d need to see IQHQ’s firm commitment to relocating the studio before they could support the plan.

An artist's rendering of the three-building life science campus IQHQ wants to build on the current site of the Sound Museum in Brighton.Ellenzweig/IQHQ

William Desmond has some requirements for the new facility, too: Aside from affordability, he wants the new Sound Museum to be within the city of Boston and comparable in size to the current 40,000 square-foot space the rehearsal complex occupies at 155 North Beacon St. The Sound Museum will pay its own rent once it is relocated, he added.

The silver lining to leaving the space the Sound Museum has occupied for more than 30 years is the modern facility IQHQ has promised to build, with rehearsal space, a performance area, and two new recording studios, William Desmond said.

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“If we could stay right where we are forever, that would be wonderful, but it’s not going to happen,” he said. “So this is the best-case scenario for me, my small company, and my musicians that have been with me for so many years.”


Annie Probert can be reached at annie.probert@globe.com.