In this series of articles, I chat with people who share my love of recording so much that they make their career out of it. Here's what Yasin and I spoke about when we chatted recently.
Yasin El Ashrafi is the founder and owner of HQ Recording Studio and HQ Familia Record Label; Director / Project Manager for HQ CAN (Creative Arts Network) Community Interest Company; an artist manager; and a multi award winning mentor and entrepreneur.
During my chat with Yasin, I learnt about:
- the role community music projects played in his early career, and still play today
- the importance of doing your research before setting up a studio
- his tactics to surviving Covid - “finding income streams that weren't reliant on people”
He also gave me an insight into the artists he works with and shared his opinion on the biggest challenge facing the music industry right now.
What inspired you to start your studio?
I started off doing community music projects. So basically taking a really basic mobile studio set up into community centres and places and working with unemployed adults. So we did that for a year and it was kind of like the logical next step to try and get an actual studio and a base. Both to be able to do the community projects, but also just to open up as a business.
What kind of musicians do you typically work with?
It's a really broad range. It's predominantly musicians doing, kind of, music of Black origin. We’ve got quite a lot of R&B, soul, hip-hop, grime, that kind of stuff. We don't really do much band stuff, partly because the studio’s not really set up to cater for bands and partly because of, I suppose, the sort of music scene that we've come from ourselves as well.
So yeah, it's producers, sound engineers, singers, rappers, poets, really varied. Because of the community project, for some people it's like the first time ever in a studio and we'll work all the way through to like, you know, people who are professional musicians and, you know, kind of on the way to becoming the next pop stars or whatever. So yeah, it's really, really varied which keeps it really interesting as well.
So what kind of community projects have you been doing recently? Have you been able to do any during lockdowns?
Yeah, so through lockdown we basically did a load of stuff online and we went round and we gave some of the people iPads and GarageBand and stuff so that they could carry on at least doing something. We were doing live stream gigs and bits of online tuition and stuff, so we found a way to keep going. Obviously it wasn’t the same as face to face but it was better than doing nothing.
So what does the day in your life look like?
So, if I’m being honest, no two days are ever the same.
So usually, I’ll get up, I'll go to the gym, I'll come to the studio. And a lot of my day, because I don't actually do any of the technical stuff, a lot of what I do is around business development. I also manage eight artists and I have a record label as well as the studio and the community interest company so it typically depends on what my focus that day is, you know.
So some days, it might be more music industry focused and I'll be focusing on release strategies and branding and that kind of stuff. Some days, it'll be more focused on trying to get money in to provide more community projects; so that might be around bid writing and, you know, putting projects together. And then I do a lot of mentoring as well, so that kind of dips in and out of the day depending on who's in on what day. And then, because we do events and stuff as well, a lot of the time, I might be reaching out to artists and, you know, putting events together like showcase events, open mics, I've got a little festival.
There's no two days ever the same but everyday is really busy
So yeah, there's no two days ever the same but everyday is really busy.
Yeah, it keeps things varied I guess. So what kind of artists do you have on your label then?
We’ve got Harri Georgio. He's been with me for a long time now and he's got, like, a reggae inspired alternative pop kind of vibe. He's also got a band called The Well Behaved Young Men and they're great. He's also a sound engineer and producer as well as a singer songwriter and he's doing well now. He's on his way. He's getting some good bookings and stuff like that; so getting to play the main stage on the O2 and stuff like that, which is great. [Hear his stuff on Spotify. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram.]
And then I've got a female vocalist called Jada O'Neill. She's quite new. She's just put out her first single so I've been developing her for a while. She's great. She's got a lot of promise; kind of nice R&B kind of vibes. [Hear her stuff on Spotify. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.]
I’ve got another female vocalist called Ffion Rebecca and she's an amazing vocalist as well. Kind of like jazz inspired, kind of like poppy R&B sort of stuff. [Hear her stuff on Spotify. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.]
There's another female vocalist called Alice Kübe. She's got an R&B sort of style. Sings on house and dance music and stuff as well sometimes. Again, a really strong powerful voice. [Hear her stuff on Spotify. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.]
And there's also a female rapper called Flynny O'Flynn and she's great as well. She can do grime, rap, hip hop, drill, anything. She’s a great performer. A great lyricist as well. She's just working on a load of new stuff at the minute. So she's able to produce her own beats and record and mix herself and she’s great at performance stuff. [Hear her stuff on Spotify. Follow her on Twitter or Instagram.]
They've all got potential to do some really good stuff, basically and they're all very varied
And then I've got producers as well.
I've got Maniscooler. He's like one of the main producers here and he produces a bit of everything. So he produces drill and rap and stuff, but also like R&B and garage and house, you know, kind of whatever's cool and whatever works for the artists that we’re working with. [Hear his stuff on Spotify. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram.]
And I’ve got another young producer called Priv and he is a really accomplished sound engineer and producer. [Hear his stuff on Spotify. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram.]
And then there's another one called Tayo B and he's like a producer, songwriter, performer. We're just working on a load of new stuff for him. He's kind of taking a bit of a break from releasing to just perfect his sound and stuff now. But again, he’s a genius and he's got potential. [Hear his stuff on Spotify. Follow him on Twitter or Instagram.]
They've all got potential to do some really good stuff, basically and they're all very varied.
So that's kind of the immediate HQ Familia roster that we’re, kind of, concentrating on at the minute. But it's ever changing, you know. Sometimes people come along and, even though we've got no space for them, if they’re talented enough we end up bringing them in anyway.
What do you believe is the biggest challenge that your industry faces at the moment?
I think to be honest for me the biggest problem is, I’m gonna say, money. And I think it's because if you've not got money, you can create, but you can't get people to hear what you've created; or it’s really hard.
I think it creates a lot of, you know… I don't feel like the industry is equal. It still feels like it's a little bit stuck in the past, you know. Where a lot of the opportunities and a lot of the money seems to always go to the same places and the same people. And there's a hell of a lot of people with amazing talent who just get slept on because they don't either know the right people or they've not got the thousands of pounds for marketing videos and radio pluggers and that.
So, yeah, I think for me, it's money and fairness.
What do your business plans look like post-Covid? Have you had to change what your approach was?
I've not really changed my approach, but I have put more focus on digital and I've also started looking into some more, you know, like activities around publishing and syncing and stuff.
So, before Covid, we were getting a lot of gigs and, you know, obviously through Covid, when we couldn't perform, we lost all that income from live and, you know, being able to sell merch or anything like that. So it was like, I wanted to try and find some income streams that weren't reliant on people. So that was quite a big thing.
And I think the live stream element of what we do we will always keep now, and it's also a service that we've actually created a business stream around, selling the live stream facilities that we've got. Other than that, everything else has kind of remained the same
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to set up their own recording studio?
I think my advice would be, if it's something that you're passionate about, just do it regardless and make it happen, you know. And make sure that you've done your research and that there are actually enough customers; that it's actually going to be a viable business. There's a lot of people with home setups now that are getting better and better so, like, recording studios will probably be struggling a little bit more now than maybe they used to. So just make sure you do your research and make sure there's enough business, there's a big enough market for your studio where you are. And if there isn't, maybe look at getting - sorry, this is really long winded advice - but if there isn’t, maybe look at what other business, what other income streams could tie into your studio to make it successful.
Make sure that you've done your research and that there are actually enough customers; that it's actually going to be a viable business
Yeah. A few of my clients have a rehearsal room but then they have, like, a dance hall next to it. So during the day they get kids coming in for dance and then in the evening they get bands
I think that's what it's all about, finding a way to make your space pay when it's not paying you know. Because it's a hard game for sure. I know if I was relying just off studio income alone I would really be struggling to be honest.