Monday, 29 April 2013

How I Made Diamond Studios

For issue 4.1 we spoke to rehearsal room about their role in the musical community. Joe of Diamond Studios came back with such an interesting story, we chose to publish it here, in full.

How I Made Diamond Studios
By Joe Short

The initial idea to start a business based around music came from two very different backgrounds. Mine was office based working in the Civil Service from straight from school for the next 15 years. and Will (Richards) my future business partner, exactly 10 years my junior, was a Uni student in the last year of a music technology degree at Leeds College of Music.

We had met the year before in 2000, when he auditioned as a drummer for my band Masterthief, a goth indie keyboard led folk sort of band with dance undertones.

Will fitted in straight away and the next year we spent rehearsing and recording at various establishments around Leeds like Old Chapel, Sponge, Jam, to name a few of the better ones and even Riverside Studios in Ossett.

We had varying experiences of rehearsal studios. Each one was different in its own way. Some were cold, some were tatty, some were badly organised, some had poor equipment, some had none, some were huge and dark, some tiny, some you were in fear of your life from knife wielding scallys trying to get hold of your equipment , some had a bit of parking. Few were sound proofed. They all seamed to be in dodgy areas. Prices ranged from 7 to 10 per hour.

The thing that struck me though was that very few had any customer service to speak of. There was no help advice or assistance with PA systems or broken equipment. There was no real interest in the customers, what gigs they were doing, what equipment they were buying etc. There was no connection to the local music scene. It was a bit like this is your room (cellar dwelling) can you pay me now and if you need or have forgotten something then you should have thought of that, now fuck off. No we haven't got any drinks for sale, your majesty. We used to just go to the most reliable place in the end so we were guaranteed a rehearsal when we all turned up.

My experience of musicians having been in bands, especially from my own band members is that they are the most forgetful people I had ever met. Our guitarist once had a nagging thought all the way in the car to a gig in London. When we got there he remembered he hadn’t brought his guitar. He would invariably leave his mic in the clip in the rehearsal room, never to be seen again, and once he ran off from practice saying he was late for whatever, and we later found his shoes. Hunting for a lead that actually worked, drum stick or plec used to absorb quite a lot of every practice time too. I have later found out that this is the norm with a lot of musicians

A plan was hatching, born more out of necessity than anything else as we had used up all our favours rehearsing in various band members bedrooms, kitchens, garages etc. The thought of having your own permanent space to rehearse is every bands dream, but it rarely comes cheap.

We wanted to have somewhere of our own which we could rent out to other bands, but make it a nice space with decent gear with someone friendly and helpful available all the time to look after every eventuality.

It was on holiday with Will just after he finished Uni that we talked about it a lot more. He was unsure of his future. He wanted to go into recording but we were both skint, and eventually he moved back down south to work at Comet. I carried on in my safe job in Leeds and thought nothing more of it for 6 months.

When Will rang me to say he was quitting his job and wanted to move back up North to set up a small recording  and rehearsal studio, and if I could get hold of a couple of grand, he would borrow some too, I said OK immediately.

I was at that point in life when something life changing needed to happen otherwise I could see myself ending up like some of my colleagues seeing their days out waiting for their retirement. It was a good job, adequately paid. Good terms and conditions. 30 days annual leave, security, flexi time, special leave for bereavements or unforeseen circumstances. Even so I would never go back to that kind of job now. The bitchyness and back biting were worse. Arse kissing undermining promotion seekers sucking up to unintelligent and resentful bosses.

By now I was living in Wakefield for some reason, and had fallen in love with it. Everything was friendlier and closer knit. Strangers would spark up a conversation in the street and in the bars and be genuinely interested in what you were saying. It was a lot more down to earth than Leeds. Everyone appeared to be into guitar music, or know someone in a band. This was a big culture shock for me because I found Leeds people to be generally rude and the City was too big to be friendly. The Wakefield Music Scene was cool. There were always friendly familiar faces and I found that they were genuine and were able to speak their minds. Maybe I was lucky, but I now know that wasn't the case.

The idea was that we would find some business premises where we could also live. We decided on Wakefield because I convinced Will it was the right environment, and because at that time there were only a few other Studios in Wakefield. There were none at all that I recall in the Ponte/Cas area. Living above the studio would ensure we couldn't fail as our overheads would be kept to a minimum

We ended up at the current site. I think the grassy areas outside sold it. Nearly every other box was ticked including a months free rent. On the downside the building was completely open plan downstairs and up, and with no prior building experience between us it was a daunting thought having to build a three bedroom flat, three rehearsal rooms and a recording studio with a total budget of £4000. Complete madness! The scariest part was signing a 6 year lease and I remember Will saying to me over a congratulatory pint afterwards at the Queens Arms what the fuck have we done. He repeated this several times over the forthcoming months. I had quit my job by now and my last ever pay day was at the end of the month. After that there was nothing coming in but at least we had a roof over our heads.

Initially the flat consisted of a roof over our heads. We were living upstairs in 3000 square feet of storage space. The previous occupant had partially moved out so he still had rows and rows of shelves containing plaster casts of prosthetic legs and feet. All weird shapes and sizes. There were reams of different kinds of rubber materials and rolls of leather. We were basically camping in a small corner of a spooky factory, and we didn't hang about running past the mad shaped feet when going down to the main toilets with our towels and toothbrushes. For privacy we staple gunned some material to the ceiling to separate our sleeping areas and the overnight toilet was a bucket. We lived like this for at least six months. The previous tenant was still paying the majority of the rent for upstairs which made it bearable.

The four grand went on materials for the three downstairs rehearsal rooms which we estimated would pay all bills and a weekly wage of a couple of hundred pounds each if used to full capacity. Happy days.

All together we used about 100 sheets of 15mm plasterboard. Two layers walls and ceiling. 150 m2 of soundproof rockwool. 300 metres of four by 3 inch timber. 75m2 of flooring, and a lot of blood and sweat and tears. We had to work for a month for the plasterer to get it finished.

At this point we took out a loan for £5000 to buy PA systems mic stands, mics, monitors, drum kits and amps.

The first room opened in March 2002 and we averaged 5 bookings per week. We soon realised after working night and day for 3 months that we would have to get jobs, and complete the rest of the work on the studio and the flat in the evenings.

We signed on at the local agency and we were soon working in various jobs from hospital porters to supermarket distribution centres pickers. Later I got a job as a trainee joiner and eventually learnt how to build things properly.

The constant building work continued for another 5 years when eventually the flat and recording studio were completed. As the rehearsal rooms got busier we bought more equipment and invested everything back into the business, building more rooms as necessary. We both had full time jobs by now and worked long hours. It was the people and the atmosphere of the place that kept us going.

We had met so many good friends and people from all genres of music. On a typical weekend we would have death metal in room 1, an indie band in room 2, a covers band in room 3, a solo sax player in room 4, a singer song writer in room 5, some teen agers starting out in room 6,  some  old rockers in room 7etc. The great thing was they would all come out of their rooms and chat with each other afterwards and share experiences over a coffee and a can of pop. There was a mutual respect, a friendly atmosphere and a buzz to the place that I can’t say I have felt anywhere else. I can’t say if this is only a Wakefield thing, but I am pretty sure it is.

The business is definitely a lifestyle choice. I have long since given up the idea of making any money out of it. If you do have a good week, you can guarantee a couple of amps will break down or a bass drum skin will go through. There is always something to maintain or repair.

Only a small proportion of this is through misuse. I think that I am lucky to deal with a nicer side of society. When we read about the lack of respect that people have for each other these days, I have found that musicians in general including the younger end have been the best people I have ever met. They have a common goal, they are being creative, working together and they can get a sense of achievement from what they are doing. They have a spark of personality. Funny, crazy, intelligent, full of dreams and life force. And then there are drummers!

There are lots of bands that I am extremely proud of mainly because I have had the chance to see them growing up over the years into successful song writers or superb musicians. I can say I remember you when you couldn't really play. Seeing them develop as a band is quite satisfying in a way. I am not saying they wouldn't have done it anyway, but I think the environment where you spend your creative time is very important and I am happy to have helped them along the way in some small way. I also try to get along to support them whenever I can. 

On the rare occasion that I have found someone abusing my equipment I take it very personal and feel the need to explain to them how much hard work goes into keeping the place open and providing decent gear. I think people need to understand sometimes what’s involved. They are usually ok afterwards.

Will eventually left in 2010, opting for a more regular lifestyle. The recording Studio never really took off. Everyone had home studios by then and to be fair I don’t think we pushed it enough.

I had serious doubts whether I could continue running the whole thing on my own. Working every night instead of every other was a big worry, but I have good people to help and I couldn't think of anything better to do. It is hard to walk away from something that you have invested so much time and effort into even though sometimes it feels like financial suicide and it is not a proper business in that sense. It is a lifestyle where you get to meet a lot of great people. I feel like I am providing a service to the local music scene, and feel like I am a little part of it.

The bloke in the building next to me makes plastic plates and cutlery. It is very successful and he is always pulling up in a new car or something. He always looks proper miserable though and I always wonder at what point in school did he say plastic plates, now that's what I want to do! 

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