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Practice makes perfect

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22 November 2018

In a sector where enterprise and ingenuity were the essentials to get started, it’s no surprise that the creators of the country’s leading rehearsal spaces saw wider potential and expanded into a host of related services and situations, as Claire Bicknell reports.

Having the right ambience and added value touches ensures clients come back again and again to leading rehearsal studios across the UK.

Good working relationships and knowing what artistes want are as important as the facilities available in these spaces, say the experts.

Music Bank, established in 1994, moved into a new facility in Acton, West London, in summer this year. Director Jimmy MacNally, generally known as Jimmy Mac, had been looking for new premises in the area for many years.

“When I viewed our current home, despite it being just an empty shell, I knew straight away it was the perfect fit,” he says. “I spent the next three months designing and building the complex and since we opened in June, we’ve gone from strength to strength.

“All of our existing clients and our new ones have been very happy with our bigger, better studios and new backline storage complex.”

Three large rehearsal rooms are available, with storage and a tour supplies shop. Mac also had crew requirements firmly in mind when he was designing the complex.

“Having been on that side myself it was really important to look after the crews’ needs as well as the artistes, and I checked in with some of the key players that we’re all in agreement. Some simple design points such as a totally flat load in, oversized doors and a big enough bay that you can have a dry load-in really make a big difference.”

Room benefits include real oak sprung floors, natural daylight, kitchenettes, a silent ambient heating and cooling system, mirrored walls which are perfect for dance rehearsals, superfast Wi-Fi, large band lounge areas and a manager’s office. A modern shared canteen can also be turned into a dedicated catering facility on request.

“Our clients, of course, book the rooms to rehearse for their upcoming tours but also for special performances – anything from festivals to corporate parties, and we also have a lot of bookings for TV appearances and showcases,” adds Mac. “It’s great to see the rooms being used for more than traditional band rehearsals.”

Music Bank counts Little Mix, Paul Weller, Drake, Stormzy and The Chemical Brothers among its clients.

Sounds of Brewery Road

John Henry started his eponymous business in 1976, opening a small rehearsal studio with storage and equipment hire in London, which has since grown into a 60,000 sq ft facility with 50 staff, in Brewery Road, on the edge of Kings Cross.

As well as servicing artistes of all nationalities with rehearsal space, John Henry’s is also a large supplier of rental equipment and professional services to the live entertainment industry.

Recent clients include Liam Gallagher, Kamasi Washington, They Might Be Giants and Thirty Seconds to Mars. The complex has seven large rehearsal studios which can be combined for different requirements with a wide range of services available on-site.

“It’s been our busiest year to date,” says director Johnny Henry. “Clients are using our studios for rehearsals in the build-up to a tour, festival, television or radio performance, for gear checks, showcases and dance choreography.”

“As well as our professional service, clients can access the huge amount of hire stock available on-site, our café serving home-cooked food throughout the week, Pro Shop, showroom and demo room, crewing, customer car park, transport and storage services.

“We’re just ten minutes from Kings Cross and St Pancras train stations and underground, and on the edge of central London, so it’s easy to get here.”

A new hot desk area, on a floor currently being refurbished, will be available to studio clients in 2019 in addition to the existing production office facility.

“We’re looking to give artistes, production and tour managers a large working space to plan their next steps, with some interesting pieces of vintage equipment on show,” adds Henry.

Located on the same road as John Henry’s, Sensible Music counts Rudimental, alt-J, Michael Kiwanuka and Chase & Status amongst its clients.

Its recently refurbished Studio 4 (10m x 9m x 6m high) features natural light, a mezzanine floor and an adjacent production office. It is also networked to the other rooms available, allowing easy collaboration opportunities between the spaces.

“Every artiste that comes in here, we go above and beyond for,” says studio manager Jack Freegard. “We often stay open for clients until the early hours of the morning. We have many regulars and we aim to build a community and a hub for musicians. It’s a very collaborative atmosphere.

“We also hold a large stock of backline equipment – in case artistes need that extra bass amp or guitars – and have knowledgeable technicians.”

Freegard states that, increasingly, clients want to capture content for online opportunities and Sensible is in talks with design-and-build company Studio Creations to upgrade Studio 4 with full audio and video content creation facilities.

Forty years of Ritz

Based in Putney, South-west London, Ritz Rehearsal Studios has served the industry for 40 years with clients including Gorillaz, Paloma Faith, Liam Payne and Annie Lennox.

It had a major refurbishment and upgrade in 2015 when it came under new management.

“Business has been good and we have seen an increase in the number of up-and-coming bands coming to Ritz,” says studio manager Emma Pickard. “Clients want somewhere they can work peacefully without any interruptions and all equipment is on hand.”

Set in its own private courtyard, Ritz offers two fully equipped rehearsal rooms, both with their own separate lounges and bathrooms. On-site parking is also available, as well as backline hire and external equipment hire if requested. A studio technician and a separate production office are available.

No north-south divide

Headquartered in Wakefield, the Production Park Group encompasses Cato Music and LS-Live and offers their rehearsal spaces under the name Production Park Studios.

Studio 001 is a 17,664 sq ft arena-sized studio in Wakefield and The Mill is a 4,618 sq ft full production studio in Wimbledon, south-west London.

“Production Park offers world-class rehearsal spaces and with our studios in London and Wakefield we can cater for all levels of the entertainment industry across the UK,” says Ant Forbes, studio manager of The Mill.

“At The Mill, we have everything from straight-up band rehearsals to full production builds. It’s an extremely versatile space for all levels of artistes, with spacious and comfortable offices and green rooms.”

“Our clients are looking for a facility that allows them to build and test their productions before taking them out on the road, so we provide them with the blank canvass to achieve this in the most comfortable and painless way possible,” says Adam ‘Bullet’ Bentley, studio manager of Studio 001.

“Our team is super-friendly and conscientious and they all know what it’s like to be on the touring side of the deal. We know what our clients need and how best to provide it.”

Studio 001, which also boasts production offices, a catering hall, dressing rooms, a hotel, bar, cinema and dance studio on-site at Production Park, has welcomed Little Mix, Sam Smith, Kendrick Lamar and Kasabian through its doors, whilst The Mill’s clients includes Eric Clapton, Biffy Clyro, Kylie Minogue and Deftones.

“We’re always excited to welcome back Team Minogue, to the point where we’ve recently redecorated one of the dressing rooms in honour of the lady herself – the room is now named the The Kylie Minogue Suite,” adds Forbes.

Capital variety

Also in south London, Terminal Studios management says the complex has seen 10,000 music acts pass through its doors since it opened in 1979, including Nirvana, KT Tunstall, Adele, Jorja Smith and Florence + The Machine.

It offers two rehearsal rooms – Studios A and B – with three new studios scheduled to be ready by the end of this year. Backline and PA rental, storage cages, repairs, flight cases and transport services are also available.

“We’re in Zone 2, outside of the [London] congestion charge, and have ample parking, easy access to the A2 and easy load ins,” says director Chris Morley. “We’re the only big rehearsal studio in the south-east of London and probably the only one located right next to a brewery.

“We’re busier than ever before and our new studios are due to demand. There seems to have been an increase in touring over the summer months rather than just festivals.”

Counting Smashing Pumpkins, 10cc, Nick Mason, Nils Lofgren and Dodi Clark amongst its clients, Soundstage Studios is based in north-west London and has two rehearsal spaces, Studio 1 and Studio 2.

Studio 1 is a 600 sq ft performance space with PA and backline, air conditioning, a kitchen and shower and a separate green room available. The 2,500 sq ft Studio 2 includes a green room, dressing room, production office, equipment storage, a 40-channel mixing desk, as well as lighting, PA and backline availability.

“We have good space and a great atmosphere at excellent value,” says director David Croft. “We provide extensive technical back-up and a fantastic location just off the A40 with easy load in.

“Over almost four decades we’ve gone many more extra miles for clients, including The Beach Boys Wurlitzer piano emergency repairs and Mike Oldfield’s amp problems.

“It’s pretty well the norm for anyone wanting to grow a business.”

Also in north-west London and close to major motorway networks and Heathrow Airport, LH2’s complex has a 17,693 sq ft ground floor area, a height clearance of 60ft and a rigging grid capable of holding 60 tonnes.

“It’s a blank space and we work with clients to achieve whatever they want,” says studio facilities manager Fred Collins. “Clients want privacy with their rehearsal spaces and to have sole access to the building.”

LH2 also offers three dressing rooms, catering areas, a meeting room, visiting production office, fast wifi throughout the whole building, four loading docks, parking for 12 trucks and four tour buses, and 18 car parking spaces.

Located in Bedfordshire, Millennium Studios accommodates arena and theatre-sized artistes with its sister site Cardington Studios able to host stadium productions, with clients including Dua Lipa, Kasabian, Rag’n’Bone Man and Katie Melua.

“Our acoustics make our studios stand out,” says sales manager Nina Malivoire. “To have high-end audio companies comment that our acoustics are the best they have experienced in a long time, is quite an endorsement.

“Clients come to us for peace and quiet from the world outside to get on with their work and create the best tour possible and we’re situated in the countryside away from the hustle and bustle of London.”

Recent investments at Millennium include the improvement of its spreader system in the roof to allow for simpler and more cost-effective rigging.

South coast option

In Brighton, The Loft is an arm of Ooosh! Tours – specialists in splitter vans, backline and PA rentals. Two production-style rehearsal rooms – Studios 1 and 2 – are available at 1,250 sq ft and 550 sq ft, respectively. Clients include Slaves, Cliff Richard, Wild Beasts and Passenger.

“Clients often want to turn-up and know the same faces,” says studio manager Lee Webber. “They don’t want to be pestered and will come to you if they need anything. I’ll talk about the chicken pie I made last night or The Great British Bake Off, anything that’s real.

“The Loft has a real Shoreditch vibe and it feels like a funky jazz club. Clients love the textured brick wall and there’s natural light coming through. We’re seeing a lot more videos being filmed up there too.”

Brighton seafront is just a few minutes’ walk away and the studios are close to the A27, leading to the M23.

Offering choice

Cardiff Speaker Hire is a sister company to London Speaker Hire and, as well as AV equipment hire, it offers a rehearsing and recording studios.

“We have a fully kitted out rehearsal room with a PA, monitors, drum kit, amps, mics and anything else a band would need to get up and running,” says manager Siôn Carver.

“The space is used for band and DJ rehearsals, music videos and studio recordings. Not only do we provide backline for free, but we have intelligent lights where you can choose either a static colour or set it to sound active mode for a real, live gig feel.”

Based on an industrial estate, the site benefits from ample parking and is a 10-minute walk from the city’s central train station.

“Clients also enjoy the pool table, table tennis and sofas to blow-off some steam in their breaks between rehearsing,” adds Carver.

Meanwheile, Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire is internationally renowned as a leading film studio used by directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick, while on the music side, Coldplay, Mark Knopfler, Muse, The Chemical Brothers and The xx have used its facilities for production rehearsals.

“With a ceiling height of 50ft, Elstree’s George Lucas stages 1 and 2 are perfect for accommodating a full-size stadium tour,” says marketing and events executive Joely Hertz.

“We’ve got superb supporting facilities which include five-star dressing rooms, wardrobe, make-up, modern production offices and lots of car parking.

“We also offer on-site catering, 24/7 security, generous loading in and out areas and we’re just 20 minutes from the heart of London.”

There cannot be many artistes, part-time or profesional, who do not need a rehearsal space at some point, whether it be to trial a new stadium show or just work in a fresh song or two.

It may have started out five
decades ago with a garage lined with eggs boxes and softboard to muffle the sound, but now the povision of rehearsal facilities is a vital sector in the UK’s music
business, providing much more than just a sound-proofed room.

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