P36 OCTOBER 2015
Strongroom 1: where it all began
Tracking the changes Having gone through a painful period of consolidation, the recording studio market is arguably in a more buoyant state than at any time since the early 2000s. As David Davies reveals, that’s largely down to a willingness to optimise existing operations, diversify into other areas and embrace smarter business practices
en years ago, putting together an overview of the European recording studio market would have been a decidedly depressing process. In parallel with the music industry beginning to experience the ﬁrst in a series of traumatic economic and organisational upheavals, the ‘traditional’ recording studio business model looked increasingly uncertain. And so, the closures began to mount up, with London alone losing countless celebrated facilities during the 2000s, among them Olympic, the Town House and Wessex. Walking past the former Town House in summer 2015 as it undergoes conversion into luxury ﬂats (starting price: a budget-friendly £1.8m) can’t help but prompt a twinge of regret amongst anyone who cares about the capital’s recording heritage. But elsewhere in London, and beyond, there is thankfully plenty of evidence that the much-consolidated studio sector is now on a ﬁrmer footing than would have been the case even ﬁve years ago. This stability has been achieved via several primary routes. Firstly, some of the larger studios have looked to streamline their operations and focus instead on one or two primary applications – in essence, doing less but doing it more cost-effectively and (hopefully) even better. Secondly, there are those facilities which have successfully diversiﬁed into areas such as post-production, education and entertainment. And ﬁnally – and possibly most signiﬁcantly – there is a new
generation of smaller facilities often geared towards the requirements of a single ‘name’ producer or engineer. “In the studio world it seems like we have come through a long process of consolidation,” conﬁrms Phil Sisson, studio manager of London’s Strongroom. “We have got to the point where there are a lot of producerled studios, which may be hired out to others inbetween projects. Then there are places like us, Metropolis, RAK and so on, who could be said to be in the category of ‘last men standing’ – and for whom there seems to be about the right amount of work for us all to do OK. It seems like a good mix to me, and I don’t foresee any drastic changes in the near-future.”
Tracking here, mixing there It is difficult to overstate the extent to which wider changes in the music industry have affected studio usage patterns. Talking to a few seasoned freelancers underlines this point, with engineer Wes Maebe – whose clients have included Ellie Goulding, Beverley Knight and currently UB40 – indicating that the lot of the modern studio professional can be a rather nomadic one. “I think what is increasingly common is that a project might be tracked at a major studio, then the mixing and overdubbing are undertaken at a home studio or producer-owned facility,” he says. “For example, I do a lot of mixing at my own home set-up.” Inevitably, the extent to which work can be carried out at a major studio is determined by an individual project’s
We have been virtually block-booked since January [and] through my week-toweek contact with other studios it does seem to be a similar story, bookings-wise, elsewhere
Trisha Wegg, RAK budget – and thus is more variable than ever, postfragmentation of the corporate label scene. “It seems to me that a lot of the labels are not doing that much: they are expecting a band, music and artwork to effectively be in place [at the point they become involved], so there is often almost no reason for them to be there,” suggests Maebe. “More and more I think that people are going independent and shopping for a good publishing deal rather than a record deal.” With VC-backed projects also more prevalent, it seems that the recording process will henceforth be characterised by piecemeal ﬁnancing rather than a continual ﬂow of funding. Fortunately, that state of affairs seems to be a fair complement to the more diverse studio landscape that has emerged through a decade of upheaval.