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The art of practice

Sector Focus
18 November 2019
Soundstage Studios
Soundstage Studios

Rehearsal studios offer a lot more than just spaces to run through a stage performance or break-in some new material, they’re also used for video or social media content, album launches and showcases, with some of the leading players in the sector having spent decades developing a service that covers all bases. Claire Bicknell reports.

Having outstanding facilities is an important part of the offer, but the leading rehearsal studios across the UK know it takes much more than that to keep clients happy and have them return again and again.

This is a sector where relationships and good customer service are key, alongside the other added-value on-site extras which secure repeat bookings.

Established in 1994 as the live side of Trevor Horn’s Sarm studios and raft of companies, Music Bank moved into its new premises in Acton, north-west London, in summer 2018 and counts Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, Spice Girls, Stormzy and Dua Lipa amongst its clients.

“We have been so busy welcoming back our regulars and many new clients this year, and along with the usual tour and show rehearsals it’s been great to see an increase in bookings for lighting packs, showcases, dance and theatre productions,” says director Jimmy Mac.

“We have three large, purpose-built rehearsal rooms, all of which benefit from the on-site massive backline and riser department, in-house repair engineer, long or short-term storage, tour supplies shop and, of course, our friendly staff.

“Since opening we have been continually told how good the rooms sound, which of course is nice, but it’s also been great to hear how benefits like our private garden area, clean air AC system and trying to tackle as many green issues as possible, make such a difference to the usual work environment.”

Mac believes making the crew as comfortable as the artiste is a priority.

“They are the ones putting in the long hours, and so making sure we have plenty of parking, easy flat load in, natural day light and super-fast wifi are just a few basics that make such a
big difference.”

Located in London’s Zone 2, Music Bank is close to the local underground station, as well as major road links and Heathrow Airport.

Celebrating its 43rd year in the industry, John Henry’s opened in 1976 in London as a small rehearsal studio with storage and equipment hire, and has grown into a 60,000 sq ft facility on Brewery Road with seven fully-equipped rehearsal studios, an in-house café, a pro shop and services including backline, crewing, transport, production and storage cages.

“The studios can also be combined for various applications and pre-production rehearsals,” says director Johnny Henry,

“We’re based on the edge of King’s Cross, with great transport access to anywhere in London.”

Henry adds the studios will be refurbished in 2020.

“We’re also planning on upgrading the infrastructure with improved wifi, connectivity between the studios and a new café/workspace for clients to enjoy.”

John Henry’s clients include Kamasi Washington, Michael Kiwanuka, Iggy Pop and Camilla Cabello.

Also located in Brewery Road is Sensible Music, with clients including Clean Bandit, Years & Years, Rudimental and Chase & Status.

Studio 4 (10m x 9m x 6m high) is its rehearsal room, featuring natural light, a mezzanine floor, an adjacent production office, one wall is mirrored behind acoustic drapes, and there’s a removable carpeted floor surface, underneath which is a marmoleum floor.

“The last year has been really good, and we’ve started doing rehearsals which include our recording studio control room as a front-of-house [FOH] area, and this worked really well for Clean Bandit and Years & Years” says general manager Jack Freegard.

“More specifically with Years & Years, we were able to provide high quality recordings for playback by utilising our isolated recording booths for drums in the main recording studio. It’s an excellent listening environment for FOH as we have superb monitoring in there, and it is tie lined to Studio 4 so splitting out is easy and painless.”

Multiple choices

Former Muse tour manager Glen Rowe is behind a range of rehearsal spaces.

His charity NEKO Trust is celebrating its first birthday and operates three studios in Wandsworth and in Wimbledon, South-West London, and KYOTO’s new Riverside Studio in Harlow, Essex.

“The studio has very high ceilings to give a fantastic live sound. The word multi-use was made for this studio, with a smooth polished concrete clear floor space of 40ft x 50ft to be turned into whatever is desired,” says KYOTO’s creative director Eva Boursier.

The facility has space for six cars or vans, and tour buses and trucks can rest safely overnight by arrangement.

With clients including Bastille, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes, Nothing But Thieves and Noel Gallagher, NEKO boasts three rehearsal spaces – The Stables, The Hall, and The Arc – at its Wandsworth HQ.

“We offer these spaces at both full-price and subsidised rates,” says project manager Erin Gibson. “Established touring artistes pay full price as this income allows us to subsidise the professional spaces for smaller artistes who require additional support.”

The Stables is its largest rehearsal studios at 16m x 12m with capacity for 230 people. As well as a large green room, kitchen and bathroom, a riverside garden is available on request.

An all-wooden room, The Hall can accommodate up to 90 people in a 14.5m x 5.1m rehearsal studio space. A kitchen and shower room are included. The Arc has capacity for 145 people, and its rehearsal studio size is 15.3m x 7.9m.

“The main things we believe clients are looking for are privacy in the space they hire, helpful staff on-site, flexibility regarding things like opening hours and parking spaces, and the size of the spaces is also very important,” adds Gibson. 

SW19 Studios has three spaces
available – Studio One, Studio Two and Studio Three.

“This year we’ve hosted some tremendous artistes including Kylie, Queen, Stereophonics, Bastille, Stormzy, Noel Gallagher, Bryan Ferry, Jamiroquai, Pet Shop Boys, Sam Smith, Amy Macdonald, Ed Sheeran, Adele, and many more,”” says general manager Johnny Correia.

Blank canvas

Production Park Studios operates The Mill (formerly Cato Music), a 4,618 sq ft full production studio in Wimbledon, south west London for full production rehearsals up to Academy 1 and small arena level, and Studio 001 (formerly LS-Live) in Wakefield, Yorkshire, a 17,664 sq ft arena sized studio.

Clients include Robbie Williams, The Raconteurs, Royal Blood, Disclosure and the film director Guy Ritchie.

“We have plenty of tour experience in the ranks and this means that we know what our clients want from our studios,” says studio manager Ant Forbes.

“We pride ourselves on not only providing the best blank canvas facilities in which to build and test the productions, but also just the right amount of personality and style in the backstage communal and living areas to make our guests feel happy, comfortable and inspired during their time with us.”

Both studios have had investment and upgrades this year, including a full refit of the hotel rooms and production offices at Studio 001, and the addition of an isolated audio control room at The Mill. Both sites also now offer backline storage cages with 24/7 access and full security coverage, with further improvements due across 2020.

With Studio 001 located at Production Park’s HQ, it benefits from production offices, catering hall dressing rooms, a hotel, bar, cinemas and dance studio on-site.

The company works closely with others who are part of the Group or who are based on-site, including Brilliant Stages, now part of TAIT Towers.

Famous stages

Based in Hertfordshire, Elstree Studios is globally renowned as a leading film studio used by such names as Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.

It also offers its seven stages to live music rehearsals, with two stages with a height of 50ft which can accommodate full-size stadium tours. Coldplay, Muse, Florence + The Machine, Frank Turner, The xx, Mark Knopfler and The Chemical Brothers have used its facilities. 

“We’re close to London, with 24/7 access and we offer the ability to fully rehearse in a large, soundproof stage,” says marketing and events manager Joely Hertz. “We also have a friendly team who will go above and beyond for their clients.”

The site also offers 5-star dressing rooms, wardrobe and make-up facilities, production offices, car parking, on-site catering, around-the-clock security, generous loading in and out areas, and is 20 minutes travel time outside of London.

Two additional, new stages are scheduled to be ready in 2020, being built on the former site used by the Big Brother house.

Broadcast potential

Based in north west London, LH2 is close to Heathrow Airport and has a 17,693 sq ft ground floor area, a rigging grid capable of holding 60 tonnes, and a height clearance of 60ft.

“We have added another eight dressing rooms with 11 now available, and also an additional production office, so we now have two,” says studio facilities manager Fred Collins. “We also have a TX line to BT Tower for live broadcast from the studio.”

Also on offer are catering areas, a meeting room, four loading docks, parking for 12 trucks, four tour buses and 18 car parking spaces, as well as fast wifi throughout the whole building.

“Clients want privacy, with sole access to the building,” adds Collins. “We work with clients to achieve whatever they want, it’s a blank space.”

Bedfordshire’s Millennium Studios works with arena and theatre-sized artistes, with sister site Cardington Studios accommodating stadium sized productions. Clients over the past year include Lana Del Rey, Editors, Years & Years, James Arthur, Cliff Richard and Tom Walker.

“We have invested in building a second sound stage,” says studio sales manager Nina Malivoire. “B stage is blacked out, sound-proofed and comes currently with a production office.

“In the New Year, there will also be a grid in the stage area and en-suite dressing rooms. It’s perfect for live rehearsals.”

Other developments at Millennium include a new catering team.

“Clients come to us for peace and quiet, to create the best tour possible,” adds Malivoire.

Stress-free environments

Soundstage Studios, based in North-West London, has two rehearsal spaces – Studio 1 and Studio 2. It’s had a busy year, with Dido and Billy Ocean both using the studios recently, with other clients including 10cc, Smashing Pumpkins, Nick Mason and Nils Lofgren.

“We offer a fantastic space with a 1,600 sq ft clear performance area in Studio 2, excellent technical support and also backline rental,” says director David Croft.

“Our great location is close to central London yet outside the congestion zone, and we have free parking, good vehicle access and we’re close to public transport links.”

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

“Clients are looking for privacy in a discrete, stress-free environment,” adds Croft.

Located in Brighton, East Sussex, The Loft is part of Ooosh! Tours. It offers two production-style rehearsal rooms – Studio 1 at 1,250 sq ft and Studio 2 with 550 sq ft.

“We have clients from Brighton but also those who travel from London,” says studio manager Lee Webber.

“We know what makes for a happy band and crew. It’s all hands-on deck at first, and a speedy set-up, but we also know when they don’t want a fuss.”

The facility offers nightliner parking with power, natural light that can be curtained-off to create a near blackout, trussing, fresh air ducting, air-conditioning, dimmable lights and a brick wall which is proving popular for video and photo shoots.

“Clients love our brick wall,” adds Webber. “They can pull up the Chesterfield, put lighting up and it looks like a jazz club.”

The Garage Studios, based in South Shields, Tyne and Wear, offers three rehearsal rooms with a full PA system, drum kit, guitar and bass amps, air-conditioning and heaters. Artistes using the studios include The Firelight Opera, Smack Mammoth, Post Rome, Beth Macari and XERO.

“Our rooms are comfortable, inspiring places in which to get creative,” says director and music producer Kyle Martin. “Our ambient lighting proves popular with clients, and we also have a broad range of equipment available if clients should need any extras.

“We can often take last-minute bookings, and block bookings are
also available.”

A kitchen and breakout area are also available, with plans to refurbish the studio’s mic and control rooms next year.

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