Despite the riots, hacking scandals and the most expensive taxis in the world, London is truly a great city. For those involved in the pro audio industry, the big smoke is a hot bed of activity with clubs, hotels, pubs, festivals, venues and theatres densely scattered throughout its winding streets.
In fact, some of the world’s most renowned venues and recording studios can be found within the city limits. Studios like Abbey Road, George Martin’s Air, Metropolis and Angel are seen as the epicentres of recording excellence and attract musicians and producers from around the world. In the live and install world, venues like the 100 Club, Alexandra Palace, Earls Court, Ministry of Sound and the Camden Roundhouse and gigs in Hyde Park have made an indelible mark on the history of live music.
None of the recordings or concerts would be possible if not for the work of the distributors, rental companies and installers that service the city. And while there are a multitude of opportunities in London, its fast and ruthless pace creates the need for specialist firms that can provide top-notch service and work within the tight budget constrictions of one of world’s most expensive cities.
Rob Speight of Outpost Sound has seen the recession significantly affect London’s post-production industry. “I think specific customer expectations are that they demand a top quality product for as little as they can get,” he states. “They come to the UK because we have a reputation for quality and innovation when it comes to film and post-production especially, but in terms of film production the government’s tax regimes do not help encourage film production in the UK.
“In terms of market trends, there are several and these include audio post companies continually undercutting each other just to get the work. This is not a sustainable situation and the number of audio post companies going under of late, I feel, is indicative of this. Also, video editing and post houses are continuously including audio post as a package deal, which undervalues the work we do and also takes it away from audio only companies, such as ourselves. In addition much larger production facilities often throw in free audio post when you pay to use their sound stages to shoot.”
Out Post sound was founded in Brighton in October 2006 by Rob Speight. Outpost distribution started trading in 2008 as a subsidiary. The firm opened its London base in June 2011.
Metropolis Studios stands as one London’s premier recording studios, whose clientele includes the world’s film, TV, music and game industries. Carey Taylor, Gary Langen and Karen Clayton founded the company in 1989 at the current Power House complex in Chiswick, West London. Its facilities are renowned for mixing the last two Queen albums in Studio A, The Verve in Studio B and mixing Amy Winehouse’s albums. It also featured one of the first 5.1 surround sound mix and mastering suites in the world.
The studio’s Luke Armitage feels that being a British firm is a great calling card for Japanese, North American and European clients: ”I think there is a British mind-set to pro audio in general; pioneering and without compromise. That’s certainly my view.
“Working in London means there is more work to get than, say, working in Milan or Amsterdam. However, London is not cheap, so equipment rental costs, and freelancers make it difficult to be as competitive as we would sometimes like for our clients whose budgets aren’t exactly growing."
Armitage state the strength of British currency can be as detrimental for some of its customers: “The pound is fairly strong, which often makes it tough to grow international business. Customer expectations tend to be similar the world over, everyone who comes to Metropolis expects the very best, but 20 per cent VAT isn’t an easy sell at the moment either.
"It’s an incredibly difficult time to be in the music industry from all aspects of the business. The interesting thing for us is how creative everyone has to be to survive and keep afloat and even create growth and opportunities. It’s encouraging that amongst all the trials and tribulations there is more new music around than ever before, and, in the face of adversity, people are managing to find success through music.”
Europe’s leading pro audio supplier, HHB is located in the North London neighbourhood of Willesden Junction. Named after a band that MD and company founder Ian Jones used to manage (Half Human Band) HHB is headed up by Jones and supported by group sales director Steve Angel and director of HHB sales Martin O’Donnell.
The company has gone from the UK’s largest recording studio supplier to its largest broadcast supplier over the years, with the help of a long-term relationship with broadcasters like BBC, Sky, CNN and CBC. It also has a major presence in the city, as Soho’s post-production community relies on its satellite office, Scrub - a specialist firm located in the neighbourhood.
“We are not just selling kit, we are selling expertise and knowledge and providing people with solutions. We make sure we are providing the right products and that they are supported before, during and after the sale,” Jones explains.
The business includes HHB – the core equipment supply division, Scrub and Source Distribution – a business unit that is separately housed and staffed to handle the exclusive UK distribution of brands such as Røde, Presonus, Universal Audio, Moog and Genelec.
“The main HHB business covers a broad range of sectors from broadcast and post to education and music recording studios,” comments HHB director of sales, Martin O’Donnell. “In addition to a wide portfolio of microphones and loudspeakers, there is a close focus on Flash recorders and file-based audio computing, loudness metering and correction, surround sound capture and monitoring, MADI, audio over IP, radio microphones, 3G-SDI interfacing and video. Examples of new product developments in these areas include Avid Pro Tools 9 Native, Dolby’s DP568 reference decoder and Lynx’s MADI card, Soundfield’s UPM1 stereo-to-5.1 Upmixer, the TC Electronic TM9 loudness radar and Wohler’s AMP2-E16V-3G audio monitoring unit.”
O’Donnell states that keeping pace in the busy city is accredited to staying two steps ahead of its customers: “We try and keep very close to fast-moving topics such as loudness standards to ensure that our advice helps clients deliver content to the latest specifications. Microphones and loudspeakers, often seen as traditional elements in the chain, also continue to develop, with surround sound capture and playback now more complex areas. We try to develop our expertise in emerging technologies and use this to help keep our customers up to date. Another hot topic is the change in radio microphone channel allocations as a result of the UK’s digital switchover project due for completion in 2012. We receive calls from freelancers and broadcasters asking about the changes to UHF licensing and we want to help them make informed and appropriate choices.”
The 100 Club
Best known for hosting bands such as the Sex Pistols, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Clash and The Damned, the club has been under threat of closure since late last year due to the spiralling cost of rent at its Oxford Street location. The likes of Paul McCartney and Liam Gallagher have since backed a campaign to keep the iconic club open. The shoe brand Converse finally stepped in and saved the venue.
London-based Funktion-One distributor Sound Services has seen a decrease in corporate work for large companies in London. However, as a distributor of Funktion-One and Full Fat Audio the company has seen an uplift in live, nightclubs and install work around the city. Technical director Richard Cufley, states: “The recession has changed the work we are doing, but not for the worse.”
The firm also works for many clothing brands and media agencies in the city, work that gives them the opportunity to work on diverse, interesting and challenging projects with creative clients.
Sound Services work is done mostly in London, which brings the normal inconveniences. However, Cufley feels that as long as the city continues to lead the way in media. fashion and music, Sound Services will remain very busy.
Despite working in a culturally rich city, Cufley states that there are some problems associated with working in such a developed area: “A lot of problems stem from environmental health issues and noise complaints. We excel in providing systems for difficult and unusual spaces, inevitably these spaces are often in built-up areas with a lot of private residences nearby. We always endeavour to work with any council or local environmental health officers to cause minimum inconvenience to any homes or businesses nearby. Ultimately it can make or break a party.”
LMC Audio Systems
Paul Hinkly, managing director of LMC Audio System, asserts that London continues to influence global markets. “If you can crack your product with LMC in London, then all your worldwide markets will benefit from the exposure of UK technicians and rental companies.”
He states that London is a “savage” working environment that only forward thinking firms can survive in: “I think London-based customers are more confident in the support capabilities of a London supplier, as there is a natural expectation that the environment and culture of London behaviour (fast and ruthless) is better understood.
“Since London is an international leader in not only music based industry but, importantly, message delivery industries, i.e. the city and banking, advertising design, fashion, art, antiques, sport, entertainment - the list is endless - there is an endless generation of events requiring the delivery of music feeding our customer base.”
Hinkly also blames the England’s rainy climate for halting some work that would be hosted in a capital city: “Across Europe, the greater presence of good weather and outdoor conditions allows for many more open-air events, in addition to all the indoor events we have. And, of course, as any good live technician knows, you need more PA system outdoors to achieve the same intelligibility as indoors, so their supply and rental industries benefit from higher event frequency and revenues. On the plus side, our event organisers in London are showing increased confidence in summer outdoor events. In addition, congestion and emission controls are a massive headache for our customers that are not so prevalent around the world.”
MSL Professional was launched in April 2011 by former Edirol Europe and Roland RSG GM Simon Lowther, who works with a team of industry professionals distributing JoeCo, TL Audio, Two Notes Audio Engineering and MixVibes in the UK.
Working in a city with such a buzz inspires Lowther: “The industry and market is constantly changing and evolving, and there is a sense of excitement that comes from that. London is a major player in the pro audio industry and we all get a boost from that.”
Lowther sites the strength of London’s transport links as a great benefit to the work he does in the capital: “The road, rail and air links make it easy for us to meet local dealers, and with both the M4 and Heathrow literally on our doorstep, we can be heading further afield in minutes. London is still the centre of activity for many of our customers and it’s good to be local to them. As a distributor we also have visits from current and potential manufacturers, some of whom are able to make the capital in just a couple of hours from Europe.”
Although MSL benefits from being based in a vibrant market, its customer base is not limited to London and he has to answer to clients and manufactures from all over the world. “As a distributor we are answerable to a series of manufacturers and the bottom line is whether you have delivered, regardless of location,” Lowther says.
Caroline Moss PR Ltd provides a range of freelance press and media services, photography, feature writing, copywriting, social networking and press launches. Based in central London with good access to venues, events, studios, broadcasters etc, CMPR has a 10-year track record of working with clients such as Midas, L-Acoustics, Klark Teknik, HHB, DPA Microphones, FX Rentals, AKA Design etc, as well as carrying out freelance projects on a one-off basis.
The world’s most famous recording studio, Abbey Road was recently granted Grade II listed after threats that the building was going to be turned into residential flats. This has ensured that the future of the home of timeless and ground-breaking recordings made by The Beatles, Pink Floyd and The Pretty Things will be able to continue to host legendary bands and recordings.
Not only is it home to the PLASA show, the Earls Court exhibition centre is a world renowned live venue that has hosted the BRIT Awards, in addition to some of the world's biggest artists, including Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Rod Stewart and George Michael.
Also a Grade II listed building, The Roundhouse in Chalk Farm is a former railway turntable built in 1847 that was converted into a live music venue. During its first inception it hosted notable performances, including The Doors only UK gig in 1968.
The building was disused for over 10 years from 1983 to 1996 when it was bought bay a local businessman. It underwent a major refurbishment and opened in 2006 as a state-of-the-art facility that now hosts theatre, music and performance art of all styles and genres.
Alexandra Palace has sprung to the fore as the one of London’s premier live music venues, as it has hosted gigs for Jay Z, Arctic Monkeys, The Flaming Lips and ATP’s I’ll Be Your Mirror festival.