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Preparation makes perfect

Sector Focus
12 November 2017
The Soundstage studio in action
No longer just a place for acts to run through the set a few times and make sure the crew know what plugs in where, rehearsal studios have become production hubs where artistes of all shapes and sizes prepare for the all-important task of entertaining live audiences. Tom Pakinkis reports

 

As recorded material transitions from declining hard product sales to streaming, artistes and the support teams have become increasingly reliant on concert, festival and merchandise revenue to keep the machine rolling.

That’s good news for the live music sector, providing the act can pull audiences, and good news for where the touring show generally starts out, in rehearsal rooms.

Fresh material, new band members, different road crew and sound engineers – all need a run through to blend into a slick live show that runs like clockwork, and that takes time and effort.

That’s why rehearsal studios up and down the country are enjoying a boom in bookings and investing in the services they provide.

Marek Wilson

According to Marek Wilson at London-based Music Bank, each year is “bigger, busier and better” than the last.

As well as four large rehearsal rooms with natural day light, high speed Wi-Fi, air-con and a kitchen area, it also has a backline and riser department on site and fully-stocked tour supplies shop, free parking and easy access for trucks.

Music Bank’s flagship 3,000ft2 North Studio, the 2,500 ft2 South Studio, and the Green and Blue Studios, which are 1,200ft2 and 1,500ft2 respectively.

Over the past year, Music Bank has welcomed artistes including Muse, Liam Gallagher, Little Mix, Ellie Goulding, Stormzy, Rita Ora and Sam Smith.

“Our North and South studios are the biggest you will find before moving up to a full production venue,” says Wilson.

“Also, our ongoing relationship with [theatre owner and show producer] Cameron Mackintosh has seen us have some of the world’s greatest musicals come through the doors, including an upcoming final rehearsal of Hamilton before it hits the West End.

“The main challenge we face at the moment is not being able to squeeze in every artiste that wishes to rehearse with us. I can only see the future as bright.”

Nina Malivoire

Studio manager of Millennium Studios Nina Malivoire is similarly buoyant.

“The music industry is a great place to be right now, and our sector is going from strength to strength,” she says.

Originally opened in Elstree in 1993 before moving to a new site and reopening for business in North Bedfordshire, Millennium boasts two stages – A and B – at 5,500 sqft and 5,700 sqft respectively.

Artistes using its facilities include Rag’n’Bone Man, Skepta, Emeli Sande, Lana Del Ray, Jamiroquai and King Crimson.

“Kasabian are with us every few months for band rehearsals, so we feel like they’re part of our family now,” adds Malivoire.

“The A Stage has incredible acoustic qualities, also making us a firm favourite for audio companies such as Martin Audio, Bose and Bosch ProSound. It’s these same qualities that keep production managers coming back time after time for tour and band rehearsals.

“We’re budget-friendly, a small team with great flexibility, catering around the clock and most importantly, we’re surrounded by countryside and fresh air.”

Jack Freegard

Millennium Studios has a sister site in Cardington Studios, which was purchased in 2014. Offering a stadium level rehearsal space, with three main areas of around 35,000sqft each and a smaller stage at 11,000sqft (55m high), the space has become a film location, as well as accommodating TV shoots, stadium tour rehearsals and music videos.

“Cardington Studios is all about the size,” says Malivoire. “Huge, vast stages with plenty of room to make use of.”

 

Creative offering

Back in London, Sensible Music offers recording studios alongside its rehearsal space and backline business, and counts Frank Ocean, alt-J, Chase & Status, Rudimental and JP Cooper among its clients this summer.

“Our large rehearsal room [10m x 9m and 6m high] is tie-lined to our main recording studio, allowing users to create recordings to the highest professional standard,” says studio manager Jack Freegard. “We also have some rare and vintage instruments and backline to choose from.”

“We have been around for over four decades and have learned how to become adaptable”

Jack Freegard

As well as the recording studio at Sensible undergoing a complete redesign and refit, the company is upgrading its software inventory and turning its tape room into another recording space.

David Croft

Freegard lists keeping up with the fast-changing technologies and staying relevant in an ever-evolving music industry as one of the biggest challenges in the sector.

“We have been around for over four decades and have learned how to become adaptable,” he says.

“I think there will always be a need for high quality rehearsal and recording facilities’, especially organisations like ours that house a number of production companies, producers and engineers. Our aim is to create a hub for creatives and a community for creativity to flourish.”

As you’d expect, London is not short of options when it comes to rehearsal space for artistes, but the capital can also provide its own challenges.

 

Beachhead for Europe

David Croft believes that his Soundstage Studios is particularly well placed, being based in North London, with easy access to Heathrow and Gatwick Airport, but outside of the capital’s congestion zone.

Millennium – Rehearsal studio

“We aim to provide the ideal beachhead for overseas acts embarking on UK and European tours,” says Croft.

Among the artistes to have taken advantage of Soundstage recently are Stereophonics and Barry Gibb, who brought with him a 13-piece ensemble.

“We have recently expanded our main studio to provide a clear 12 metre x 12 metre performance area, which is ideal for accommodating larger bands, pre-production rehearsals and orchestras,” says Croft.

“Lighting, PA and backline are available and this studio also offers a separate dressing room, green room and kitchen facilities, plus comfy sofa seating. Looking forward, we will soon be putting in new disabled facilities and expanding our catering offerings.”

 

One stop studio

A move towards larger, all-in-one facilities, particularly at the higher end of the market, is a trend that Terminal Studios MD Ed Randall has noted emerging.

Kit on offer at Sensible Music

However, he explains that due to high rents and relentless development within London, any new facilities looking to cater for that need in and around the capital will be forced into the suburbs and beyond.

Terminal has maintained its London location by offering a hi-spec but boutique option, he says.

“We’re very centrally located in London, with super easy load-in, good parking facilities and easy access for larger vehicles,” says Randall. “We’ve kept the number of studios we have on the lower end to allow excellent levels of privacy for artistes.”

Ed Randall

Following a move to South Bermondsey, Terminal’s new studio was completed in 2015. “We’re also always adding to our in-house backline supply and currently expanding our van fleet to assist with gear moves for our clients,” adds Randall.

In the past 12 months, those clients have included Kasabian, Nicole Scherzinger, Goldfrapp, James Arthur, Dizzee Rascal and KT Tunstall.

 

South Coast advantage

Alongside its usual tour hire offering – everything from equipment for a single gig to backline for an international headline tour, from a range of vehicles to an experienced road crew – Ooosh! Tours now also boasts two new purpose built production-style rehearsal rooms at 1,250 and 550 square feet under the banner of The Loft.

Terminal studio space

The facilities are based in Brighton, but studio manager Lee Webber says that being outside of London has plenty of advantages.

“It’s a bit more chilled-out and the overheads are lower, but at the same time, it’s also only an hour or so outside the capital, which can be the same as going from one side of London to the other,” she says. “Most of the bands that we currently work with haven’t hesitated in making the trip to the new location, which is probably the biggest compliment of all.”

The main change that Webber has seen in the sector recently, is the kind of service and packages rehearsal residents are looking for.

“More and more bands are bringing their own gear and PA systems – we’re taking more production bookings,” she says. “Regardless of that, what I’ve always seen as most important is having the ability to quickly understand how each act wants to be looked after from the moment we meet them.

“That’s what we pride ourselves on here, the kind of service that takes everything into account. Often it’s the small things that make the real difference – being friendly, accommodating and doing whatever it takes to look after the clients so that they can work in a way that suits them.”

 

Supporting act

Something of a legend in the sector, John Henry, whose John Henry’s operation comprises seven rehearsal studios at its North London base, has noticed a similar trend in clients’ requirements.

John Henry’s Studio 5

“We are seeing a lot of bands coming to rehearse with their own audio packages, so the emphasis on having the studio fully kitted-out for rehearsals is becoming less important,” says Henry.

“Providing the best support and service for the bands during rehearsals is still our main focus, so we ensure we have everything available to our clients whether its audio, backline, our café, staging, tour accessories, crew, storage or transport.

“We are also just about to open our new Pro Shop and Showroom floor, which will offer visiting artistes the opportunity to try out new products and also we will have a new hot desk area for visiting tour and production managers to set-up a working base while they are here.”

John Henry

In the past month, John Henry’s has enjoyed the company of The Pretenders, Liam Gallagher, Rudimental, Craig David, The Killers and Lisa Stansfield.

The company’s seventh studio is newly opened and has been full since August, leading Henry to point to positive signs, although he echoes the sentiments of Terminal MD Ed Randall.

“There aren’t many buildings and locations that can house rehearsal facilities left in the capital and continuing development means there may not be any new facilities in the future,” he says. “It will be interesting to see where rehearsal facilities and their development go from here.”

 

Stable mates

One company that pushes against that forecast is Cato Music, who held an unofficial opening party for its new South London space in Wimbledon, The Mill, in August.

The Music Bank studio

While the 429-square metre production rehearsal studio has been operating for a year, with the party celebrating The Mill’s coming of age, marking it as Cato’s flagship space. It sits alongside The Stables (192m2), The Arc (121m2) and The Hall (74m2) all in nearby Wandsworth.

“We are very lucky to have a very high return of clients,” says Cato MD Glen Rowe. “We had Metallica in The Stables – they have been here twice before, so we must be doing something right.

“Bastille, Mumford & Sons, Queen, Muse, Rag‘n’Bone Man, Amy Macdonald, Nothing But Thieves and Royal Blood are also regulars.”

Production Park rehearsal space

Despite Cato’s continued investment in London-based space, Rowe admits that life in the capital can be tough.

“Prices are going through the roof, which means music and other artforms are being pushed out of the M25​,” he says.

“Artistes will always need rehearsal spaces, whether these will be in major cities is down to the council in each area. It will be a very sad day indeed when acts have to drive over an hour each way to get to rehearsal spaces.”

 

Stronger together

Cato Music is also now a part of Production Park, an umbrella company that gathers a number of different firms within this sector, all geared towards assisting touring acts.

Significantly, Production Park also has a physical manifestation in the form of a 300,000 square foot village for the live production industry, offering rehearsal space, storage, training, crew support, pro-shop and staging rental near Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Glen Rowe

LS-Live is another company within the Production Park stable with three studios at the Wakefield complex – Studio 001 (17,664 square feet), Studio 002 (14,260 square feet) and Studio 003 (11,270 square feet). Studios 002 and 003 can be combined to create a giant 25,000 square foot space.

“We’re kind of changing the scene in England,” says LS-Live studio manager Adam ‘Bullet’ Bettley, talking about Production Park’s unique offering.

“We’re bringing external companies in, letting office space and warehouses so that, when clients come to rehearse with us, everything’s in one place. We have a Cato shop, there’s a special FX company, a flight case manufacturer, tour catering … We’re like the Pinewood of rock ’n’ roll, having everything in one place.”

Adam Bettley

Cato general manager Ant Forbes adds, “I think for the first time in this industry we’ve managed to build a bridge between the smaller, mid-range production company we are, and the full stadium, world-conquering Production Park [facilities] – we’ve got a comprehensive set-up.

“It’s pretty exciting, and it’s already working – we’re seeing acts come through Cato and graduate up to Production Park.”

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