Sunday, 26 May 2013

Studio Managers - they're just big softies, really. Aren't they?

Want to get started at a recording studio? Andy Ward at Musoplex has some tips.

I’ve been here before. Where the hell is this place?

I'm parked up on a less than welcoming, dimly lit industrial estate, in the dark, fishing out my phone to call my contact. It’s raining. I’m not rocking up at Abbey Road today to hang with media luvvies - I’m in real-world, value for money territory. Selly Oak, Hockley, Tamworth, Wolverhampton… not a glamorous list. These are where you’ll find working recording studios. Right now, as the M5 rumbles directly overhead, I’m heading for Musoplex in Oldbury. 

A studio is a capital-intensive business. Proper recording kit, not the kind on your laptop, costs money. Yes, it's much cheaper now, but figure in rent, rates, heating, maintenance and rehearsal room instruments, and it adds up. Studio owners who go into this line of trade need their eyes wide open. But, like many other studio owners, Andy Ward has a strong romantic streak. It must give his bank manager nightmares. 

Doing it for the love? or the money?

Andy Ward has patiently guided me in. Andy co-owns (with Si Reeves) a well-used complex: four rehearsal rooms, a stage set-up for video and photography, and a fully featured traditional studio. The venture is now also home to a record label.
"It would be lovely to make lots of money doing a studio, as long as it breaks even, I don’t mind. As long as I get that massive reward from what goes out the door, and seeing the smiles on the faces of people. If they’re nice!"
You mean some aren’t?
Same as in any job. Some you get on with, some you don’t. Some you fall out with. But on those days when it works, when it’s beautiful, it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. 
Tell me about concentrating when you’re doing that mix. That to me is the biggest challenge in being a producer. 
That comes down to Si Reeves – (business partner and most excellent Producer). You can not phase him, you can not fluster him. He will work at his own pace. He will get everything done. And he listens. But he can work on five second loop of music for hours on end, until he gets it right. Hours after you’ve walked out because you can’t take it anymore, he will still be there. 
So what’s left for you, Andy?
I sort of know my way around the desk, camera and video filming and editing but my role is also trying to develop things. I look as music as a bit more than the sound. There are people behind it, and people you want to get it to. That’s my bit. With a lot of artists, we’ve built up a relationship, we’ve done distribution, we’ve pressed them and created a label for them. And we’ve broken even just the once. 
Just the once? 
Oh we’ve got tons of CDs left over... 

Getting into the business 

So that takes in photography, video work, training…. How does training work? Are people coming to you looking to get started?
Daily. Letters, calls, emails, emails, emails. ‘You got a job?’ ‘You got any spaces?’ ‘I’m doing music (at a college somewhere), I’m really good. You got a placement?’ But they don’t follow it through.
I’m like, ‘Where’s your work? What do you do in music? Let me hear or see something!’ I do tend to get back to them, but it’s very time consuming. 
 OK. Tell me what you, as a studio manager might want to see in such an email? 
One, don’t send out a blanket generic email to people. If you want somebody to listen to you, talk to them directly. So you’ll see an email that’s gone out to us, to Robannas, and to Magic Garden – and we’re all very different. 
Two, pick an area that you’re interested in. We all love music – but be specific.
Three, find out who you’re talking to. Find out what areas they’re interested in. Pick an area and look into it. Can you see a way to improve it? If so, pitch something! Tell the studio how you can help them. That might get you somewhere. 
Let's see if any students read this post. I hope the pitches get better. 

And the future?

So where is the studio right now?
We are in the middle of or wrapping up, a few albums in terms of music, artwork and video work - one is particularly current but all are super-duper.
And is there a story to tell around it?
The three album projects on at the moment are VERY different. One is raw, live sounding, unadulterated punk, one is a reggae album and there’s a studio based production job. 
Oh, and Less for Murder have very nearly finished their excellent EP and we are mastering the new album for former MC5 manager John Sinclair. At this point I would like to send a massive thanks to Mark at Iron Man Records who sometimes keeps us afloat single-handedly with the work he puts our way. 


"If there is any story to recent work it is probably the amount of our own time we put in to playing for and with people coming through the studio and the amount of cross-band work we have - people are playing all over other people's stuff just for the hell of it - and it makes for some great sounds. There’s a punk drummer, Simon Roe, who plays in Police Bastard – he’s been playing on acoustic and indie stuff and Nigel Clark from Dodgy came down to do a free vocal laying day for us, because he is so bloody nice. Seano from Police Bastard (and Jilted Generation and LUTS, and others) jumped on just because they hang at the studio and it generates a very creative environment - I think that has been the most important feel about the place this year. A real melting pot of ideas."
Then there’s Joe Karchud….
Oh yes (and we have some great news coming from his direction soon). Our new label…. That reminds me, I also need to send massive thanks to Lesley Turner (Musgraves violinist) who gave her time freely to help other artists at the studio recently. Lesley is on Joe's EP and also did the live launch gig and Nigel gave us a whole day of vocals towards the Deadbeats album. Neither had to do it and did it out of the goodness of their hearts - so as well as the cross-work across bands in the studio. some people with big workloads of their own have been really nice in helping out.

See also

16 track analogue at Highbury Studio 
Gavin Monaghan's Magic Garden studio
Artisan and Elephant House studios
And these Musoplex videos with (full disclosure) myself and the great Clare Edwards


Musoplex website
Breed Records

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