Relocating any business can be challenging, but moving a recording studio business adds in the technical challenges of moving and setting up the gear, infrastructure issues and of course the fact that your client base has been built in a different location.
In this article, Alan Sallabank talks about facing that challenge and Russ Hughes talks about having done it and what he learnt from the process.
There are plenty of sayings that relate to my current situation. "Nothing lasts forever", and "A change is as good as a rest", are two that spring to mind. I'm in a reflective mood today and I'll tell you why. After four years of running 8dB Sound and twenty-five years working and living in and around London, it's become time to call it a day in the UK's capital city. By the end of the year, we're moving our businesses to North Somerset, near Bristol, UK.
Swimming Against The Tide
There are a myriad of reasons behind our move and a lot of them are in common with the reason why Pro Tools Expert Russ Hughes relocated to Northern Ireland a while back. We have the added factor of my mother's age becoming an increasing concern, but it was gradually dawning on us that we're having to swim ever harder and much longer, against the tide that is trying to live and work in London, where the streets are paved with gold, according to fairy tales.
When I first started, in the late eighties, an alarming trend had already started in the music business, which was to be prophetic for post production. The days of there being an in-house engineer, either at recording studios or at live venues, were already over. There were in-house tape-ops and mix techs, but the role of mix engineer had already become freelance. Successful artists were setting up home studios and the music industry was being hit hard by this new trend. Famous recording venues started to disappear, unable to justify their rates and capital investment costs.
Fast-forward quarter of a century and we see the same happening in post production. Just last year we saw one of London's biggest post production facilities laying off all their staff mixers and heard strong rumours that one of London's oldest most famous facilities was looking to move outside the M25 once their lease came up. Even in TV post this is starting to happen.
Excited Or Terrified?
I'm actually reasonably scared of doing this move. I've moved studio twice in the last two years, but this is a whole lot bigger and a real step into the unknown to an extent. Plus there's also that feeling of slight sadness at striking a perfectly good studio to move it. I know I'm going to shed a tear when I close the final Pro Tools session at my Shoreditch studio. But, exciting times are ahead. In order to deliver consistency for my main clients, I'm going to be putting in IP based link-ups like Source Connect & Source Live and collaborative working software like Frame IO. The new property has faster fibre broadband than my existing place, so although it's a small village, it's very well served from a communications point of view.
Do We Need Big Mixing Studios Anymore?
My outlook on this move has been given a major positive boost by the recent emergence of immersive audio technology, such as Dolby VR Binaural and 2nd Order Ambisonics, as used by the Audio Ease 360pan Suite. As well as advancing technology in cinemas, home based tech has been given a massive boost. Now it's possible to deliver an immersive audio experience to anyone wearing headphones and brings these experiences to the "YouTube generation". I'm massively looking forward to some great collaborations between the picture acquisition, picture editing, graphics and sound departments to deliver some incredible immersive audio and video experiences.
Who knows, maybe the music sector will grasp this nettle firmly and give it some serious thought. It's been good enough for Pink Floyd's live shows for decades, recent Kraftwerk gigs were presented in 3D and the Ministry Of Sound club in London has installed Dolby Atmos, so why on earth not? The area we're moving to is a total hotbed of musical talent, so I'm massively looking forward to it.
Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates...
You never know if you're going to break a tooth on the hard toffee one that looks like a coffee cream. But with that element of risk comes a renewed hope for the future and new exciting things to explore. At least it does for me when I'm munching through a box of Milk Tray. What I'm trying to say here is that for me, the possible benefits of this move far outweigh the possible negatives. I'm looking forward to it, but can't help feeling a little sad.
Alan and I have a similar reason for relocating, family. Alan is moving to North Somerset from London, I moved from London to Northern Ireland. Having done so I want to tell you my experience.
When I told people we were moving from London to Northern Ireland the response was mixed. I'd spent several years in Soho like Alan and to those people, I could have said I was moving to Mars. Spend enough time in Soho and you and others start to think there is no life beyond the dozen or so streets that contain the mainly post production studio ecosystem. Some as good as told me that if I left Soho AND London my career was doomed... they were wrong.
However, the move was not without its challenges. The first was getting a studio across the ocean in one piece, however good the moving company was, I couldn't afford to lose certain parts of my studio, such as computers and hard drives full of data. Quotes I got to move a relatively small 2 bedroom London house (worth just shy of £1 million for a shoe box) ranged from £5,000 down to £2,400. I decided in the circumstances to trust the bulk to the removal company and the important gear to me. I was driving the car over with the dog anyway so I took my computers, drives, guitars, mics and other important things with me in the car. It was wise idea, as some of the stuff from the house was damaged and whilst insurance can replace stuff, it can't replace things like data or classic gear.
One thing I had to be certain of when I arrived in the new location was that I had good data connectively. In London I had fibre giving me over 100MB down and 30MB up. High-speed data is essential when running a data intensive business from a remote location. As I researched, I found out the house we would be moving to had broadband but was at the furthest point from the exchange, this meant at best I would get 4MB down and less than 1MB up. I must have had 5 lengthy conversations with the provider asking what I could do to improve this, they offered me a leased line and also suggested a satellite option, both were too cost prohibitive or too restrictive. In the end, I decided I would stay with the basic option and see how bad it was.
I discovered that whilst not ideal and although not fast, it was reliable and I created a workflow that meant I would push client approvals up over night unless of course, they were urgent and then I would use smaller, proxy versions to get approval. As I say it wasn't perfect but I was able to work around it and still run the business. I must add at this point that our first house was a rental until we found a suitable one to buy - so this process was going to happen twice!
I made sure that when I purchased the house, we now have as our permanent residence, I would have decent connectivity.
One thing I decided to invest in for the move was a purpose designed and built wooden studio desk that would be the centre of my studio irrespective of where I worked. This was a smart move and I'm glad I did it, it enabled me to design a studio workflow around a constant, rather than relying on costly fixtures and fittings. As we were in a rental property, the idea of any major structural changes was simply out of the question. As I say this desk has proved to be invaluable as the centre of my studio and I can't recommend this approach highly enough.
Relocating also gave me the opportunity to completely rethink my workflow and take my set-up from vanity to sanity, only including the gear I use, rather than the gear I keep for a rainy day. This reduction means that most of my gear resides in the studio furniture, this reduces cable runs and the proverbial rat's nest that often accompany our set-ups.
A Million Miles from Nowhere!
One thing that people think when I tell them I now work in Northern Ireland is that I must be in the back of beyond. Although I'm 5 minutes walk from the countryside and 10 minutes walk from a beach, from which I can see Scotland on a good day, I am also 15 minutes from the airport and 25 minutes from Belfast, which has an Apple Store, so I know it's civilised.
But joking apart one thing to consider if you move to somewhere away from a major business hub is travel connectivity. My local airport has flights to London by three airlines all day; I can leave my house at 6:30 am and be in London by around 8:00 am. I know people living in the home counties who take longer to make the same trip. It has added some cost to my business, but when I consider the cost of living and working in London, the cost of additional travel pales into insignificance.
How Do I Feel?
I couldn't be happier with my relocation; I have a purpose built studio 15 seconds walk from my new house, which cost around a 10th of a house had I remained in London. The cost of living is less than it was in London too. Regarding work, I've never been busier than I was when I was based in London. Better still I feel I have much better mental health because my quality of life has improved significantly.
It seems the predictions of the death of my business the relocating would cause were greatly exaggerated, in fact, it's never been in better shape!
I once heard of a group of octogenarians who were interviewed about their regrets. It transpired that most of them regretted things they had not done rather than the things they had done.
If you are facing this kind of opportunity, then don't let the fear of change cause you to shy away from what might be a marvellous moment and then live to regret it later.
Share Your Studio Relocation Stories
Have you had to move studios a large distance? Any tips that you think would be important for me to know, both practical and emotional? Please let us know in the comments.