How NOT to build a recording studio! Part 3

by Gavin Hyatt

Like all growing businesses, we had some incredibly painful times

Although I had been spending more time at the studio, I still felt the need to upskill my first aid training and gain a bit more experience dealing with real patients on a more frequent basis, I also needed a more reliable income since we still hadn’t taken a penny out!  I joined South Central Ambulance Service at the end of December 2019 as an Emergency Care Assistant with an initial 4 weeks of clinical training and 4 weeks learning to drive an Ambulance under response conditions. 


We had already started a major overhaul of Studio Se7en in January of 2020. Phase 1 was to include a new permanent stage to replace the modular one in order to be reopen in April for a repeat of GreenRoomFestival! Rich was doing most of the work on his own, I popped in during evenings and weekends do help with the heavy stuff. We managed to obtain a huge amount of reclaimed timber for the stage which saved us a small fortune. Booking were busier than ever, and we were regularly selling out our 6 available rooms every evening. 

In February 2020, we recorded our busiest ever month with our highest ever turnover! We looked through the figures, previous year’s sales and projections. We were set to move in to profit in around 6 months and finally be able to pay ourselves a wage and return on the investments we had made.

Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen. I started on the road with the Ambulance service with my first shift on 7th March. Already, some of our bands had started to cancel when members, their friends or families were receiving word that they were clinically vulnerable and should shield themselves from contact with others. Two weeks later, the nation was locked down with the greatest worldwide pandemic in living memory.

Rich had been living off his savings since giving up his day job, I had an income, but the studio was immediately plunged into uncertainty. We watched with bated breath at every announcement about business grants, rate relief and bounce-back loans. We had many sleepless nights trying to figure out what we would be able to do. Thankfully, we were able to access some grants and a bounce back loan and rather than sitting at home, we decided to make use of the down time to do some things at the studio which we hadn’t be able to consider. 

My eldest daughter’s boyfriend, Ollie and my son George are both electrical apprentices. Both have a keen interest in venue and event lighting so actually building Studio Se7en was a bit like offering kids who had grown up with Hornby train sets a couple of hundred miles of disused track and several thousand tonnes of locomotives and rolling stock. We had to make do in the early days but the refurb meant removing every fixture, fitting and cable and going completely back to the concept drawing board.

A hard-wired smoke alarm system with heat and smoke sensors was fitted throughout the building. Flashing beacons, sirens, a control panel near the front door, even a device which automatically mutes the volume on the PA system in Studio Se7en to alert anyone in there of the need to evacuate. This would have taken weeks and involved making areas out of bounds for a few days at a time, but lockdown meant we could do the whole lot in one go. Emergency lighting was uprated at the same time, hand dryers fitted to the toilets and lots of little jobs which we had wanted to complete but never had the time.

Several of our regular customers reached out to ask if there was anything they could do to help us. Some came in and helped move equipment, filled skips and painted walls. Our lighting gantries were taken away, stripped and powder coated in glorious black.  Some were willing to pay upfront for future rehearsals and recordings so we launched a crowd-funder ‘Rock Out To Help Out’ which was a spin on the governments efforts to get us all going back out to restaurants in August and September (resulting in Lockdown number 2!).  We made a spoof video based on a charity appeal with sad music and a tongue in cheek vibe and raised almost £3000!

We looked at all of our future plans for Studio Se7en and decided to bring forward phases 2,3 and 4 which meant fitting a new suspended ceiling, PA system and new lighting system. We received a grant from OxMAT to provide a livestreaming capability in Studio Se7en and set about removing our existing staff kitchen to create a ‘gallery’ which provides our lighting engineers with a clear view of the stage and two workstations for video mixers/producers to edit, add graphics and overlays to a live video stream.

With no sign of lockdown lifting, we moved ahead with the completion of our brand-new Main Control Room adjacent to Studio 6. We have around 1500 solder connections to make good before its ready to go but it looks stunning! 

Although throughout the pandemic there has been a provision for professional musicians to rehearse, with no events, tours, gigs, festivals, weddings or any other celebrations being permitted, 99% of our clients have had nothing to rehearse for. There was just no demand and the 1% who needed our services wouldn’t provide sufficient revenue to justify opening. It was a great relief when we were finally able to announce our reopening on 12th April for Professional bands, those working towards recordings, performance or examination.

Our customers have come flooding back and there has been a huge influx of new interest in what we do, thanks in part to our constant social media updates and photos of some of the things we have going on. Amatuer rehearsals and Jam sessions will recommence on 17th May and we are really looking forward to the return to ‘normality’.

We have lots of future plans for the studios, once we have finished Main control, we will be fitting a dedicated vocal booth next to it. Then, we are refitting our ground control room. This will provide us with three individual production spaces and various pricing tiers for self-service, through to working with one of our junior or senior producers.  We are looking at providing work experience and internships for Music Technology students as well as offering short courses in Music Tech, instrument and vocal tuition and other specialisms such as theatrical lighting and video editing.

Then.. there’s our record label! 

Live events at Studio Se7en are pencilled in, starting from 22nd  July, these will be all ticket events and full details will be advertised on our Facebook page www.facebook.com/greenroomwitney  

 
If you have managed to read this far, thank you! There’s a heap more chapters to the story, some of it probably much more interesting than what I have detailed, such as;
Rich and Gav play a live gig to 28,000 people,
We almost launch a TV channel!
I accidentally become the voice of two premium automotive brands!
Rich has lunch with Newton Faulkner, Jeremy Irons and Rick Wakeman!
Our first ever work experience student gets nominated for a Brit Award!
A list of the well-known artists and producers who have graced our hallways (but discretion is the better part of valour).

If you would like to know more, keep up to date or just pop in for a look around, we are available on our Facebook page around the clock, you could also try ringing but due to the nature of business, we often can’t hear the phone ring!

If I had the chance to do it all again, of course I would! I would maybe do things a bit differently, but I probably wouldn’t have half the fun!

We set out to build a Gym for musicians and instead, built a themepark! 

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