Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Uncertain times for London musicians

Air Studios - George Martin's magnificently realised vision of a World-class orchestral recording studio in Hampstead - is up for sale by its owner Richard Boote, for an undisclosed sum.

He has stated that he wants to sell it as a 'going concern', but history suggests that recording studios have always struggled to make a profit and at a certain point many owners just want rid of them.

So what will happen if a buyer can't be found? Who cares anyway? Aren't there plenty of other recording studios?

The sad fact is that over the last 20 years many medium and large-size studios have closed. CTS (Wembley), CBS (Whitfield Street), Olympic (Barnes), Advision, Lansdowne... the list goes on.. are all gone.

Of the largest studios - those able to accommodate a full symphony orchestra - only 2 rooms remain in existence. Abbey Road Studio 1 and Air Studios Hall, are, as far as I am aware, the only studio spaces in the U.K. capable of holding 80 musicians simultaneously with full technical support for working to picture.

Working to picture (i.e. recording film scores) is the other crucial element. A large number of Hollywood composers - Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard, Howard Shore and so on - regularly come to London to record their movie scores, providing valuable work for hundreds of freelance orchestral players, bookers, engineers, assistants, hoteliers, caterers etc.

If Air Studios closed, there would only be Abbey Road Studio 1 for a large film score. Already, there are occasions when composers can't get time at either Air or Abbey Road as they are both booked - without Air, many productions would simply not be able to record in London. (Abbey Road is also popular with many of the London orchestras, and the LSO and RPO are often to be found recording there.)

The current business for freelance players is precarious - one little change could upset everything. It's my belief that the closure of Air would lead to many of the older players opting to retire, with the younger ones scrabbling to earn a living wage. It would, without doubt, be the final nail in the coffin of the freelance recording scene.

It's likely that Mr Boote and his partners have had the building valued twice - once as a going concern and then as the base real estate. It's possible (I guess) the real estate value to a developer who was willing and able to put sustained pressure on the local planning authority for change of use (i.e. conversion to flats) is many times that of the building as it stands. The present owners may be holding out for an unrealistic price - seduced by Foxtons' (or whoever it may have been) slash and burn valuation.

Air Studios is housed in Lyndhurst Hall, a Grade 2* listed building designed by Alfred Waterhouse (who also designed the Natural History Museum). It's a building, clearly, of historical interest - but also in the last 20 years, it has acquired further cultural significance. Is it to be the victim of yet another case of a small number of individuals making a lot of money at the expense of the livelihoods of hundreds of working people?

Help save this historic building and the people who depend on it:

1) If you live in Hampstead, write to Glenda Jackson MP:
2) Write to the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP:
3) If you've a few million quid to spare, buy it and preserve an iconic recording studio.

Air's own website has details of the many artists and projects which have been recorded there:

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