I'd always dreamed of having my own recording studio one day, so it's always been on the back burner
What inspired you to start your studio?
Well, it was actually a going concern – Plug Studios has been in Norwich since about 1997. So I was a customer through my band; we've been using Plug since about 1998. I've been a long-time customer and got to know the owners. They knew I was into recording and they'd got a little recording studio. So they asked if I’d do occasional sound recording, you know, just be their sound engineer, which I did on and off for about 10 years. And then they said to me they're thinking of selling up and retiring and gave me first refusal, seeing as myself being with them.
So yeah, that's how it came about. But sadly we took the place on literally four months before Covid hit. We’d just got into the swing of it and Covid shuts down so, yeah, it was a little bit frightening to begin with but, yeah, we saw it through.
I've always done lots of different varied jobs, you see, and I'd always dreamed of having my own recording studio one day, so it's always been on the back burner. And there'd always been a hint from the previous owners about maybe one day taking it over. And here we are a few years down the line, and yeah, I've kind of got my dream.
What does a day in your life look like?
Well, it's just myself and my wife that run the place. We've got seven studios here and the large one at the end doubles up as a recording studio and we also do equipment hire. Because it's just the two of us it's literally 7 days a week. We work mostly in the evenings from around about 5:00 in the evening through until midnight, or gone midnight, and at weekends we do daytimes only, so we have at least a Saturday and a Sunday night off.
But it's just the two of us, so it's literally, as I said, 7 days a week, 51 weeks of the year. We have one week off where we shut at Christmas. The last week we had off at Christmas both myself and my wife came down with Covid, so we just spent a lot of Christmas break poorly and not able to see anyone after all.
A typical day for us, I guess, is we get up, just potter around at home a bit, and then we end up coming in around about 4:00pm, or 3:30pm, get the rooms ready for the bands in the evening, you know, hoover them out, get the equipment set up and make sure everything’s OK. Get the tea urn on and then, yes, a case of sitting down, seeing the bands in and then once bands are in the room, the sessions are 3 hours long, so that gives us a chance to break out anything that needs to be repaired or do the accounts, things like that. So we're fairly lucky the two of us can work together very well. Then we do a changeover at 9:00 or whenever bands go, set up for the next lot of bands and then, at the end of the night, cash up and go home and then start the day all over again. It's fairly full on.
So you have seven rooms there, that’s going to be quite a few coming each day
Yeah, I mean it's been really good this week to be quite honest. We've had sort of seven bands in in the early slots and then six bands in the late slot, so yeah, it's really encouraging because it's like the live live scene has just suddenly kicked back into life, so yeah, it's really good to see actually. Really really good.
What kinds of musicians do you work with?
Yeah, it was always a kind of rock and metal studio really so a lot of the bands that come here are guitar based either rock or metal or punk or indie but we do have a lot of sort of electronica bands come in. There are jazz bands, blues bands, some acoustic acts, cover bands, what they call party bands, now function bands. We've even got a whole ensemble of the Bodrum Irish drums.
Norwich is really good, to be quite honest. It’s a good music city, so yeah, we're quite lucky.
It's really really varied – solo musicians as well. They just want to come in and brush up on their drums. So yeah, it's a good cross mix. And Norwich is really good, to be quite honest. It’s a good music city, so yeah, we're quite lucky.
It’s quite a central city isn’t it, it’s quite rural around Norwich - so do get other people outside coming to you?
Yeah there are a few rehearsal studios scattered out on the coast but I think they're fairly small scale though, so yeah, we get bands coming in from all over Norfolk and some bands from Suffolk as well.
It's quite good because, as I say, you get a really good mix of people here on an evening and it's nice to see, especially in the Chill Out Room, a nice mixture. It's a very closed community, really, Norwich. Everyone kind of knows everyone, so it's like a big family really. It's really nice.
You said you took on the business just before Covid hit, so this is the Covid question… Did your business plans change? What did you do differently during the lockdowns?
Okay, well, initially we were terrified because we'd got a bank loan and sunk our life savings into the place and we thought what are we gonna do now. But I've got to say Norwich City Council looked after us, they were really good. We've ended up getting grants to help us through, so that literally saw us through the lockdowns. Grants were given to us – we sort of fall into the Leisure and Hospitality sector, so we were very very fortunate.
We have this 5-year plan and it was literally done in 5 months. We decorated, cleaned, tidied.
We heard some horrible stories from around the country and other places whose councils said no you're not part of Leisure but we've been really really lucky. In fact, if it wasn't for that, we wouldn't be here.
With the very first lockdown we had this 5-year business plan to decorate the studios and change things around, you know, there's a lot of decorating and cleaning and clearing and sorting stuff. We have this 5-year plan and it was literally done in 5 months. We decorated, cleaned, tidied. We wouldn't have been able, for example, to paint the floors in the corridor if customers were around, so we had 5 months with nobody in and so we didn't actually manage to get a lot of stuff done, but towards the end of it, you'd see the grant money going and going and going and thinking oh God what's going to happen. You'd watch the news and then there'd be another extension and we have another email saying yes a little bit more money coming your way. So we sacrificed a lot personally, myself and my wife, but it's been worth it cos we've seen it through and we're still here.
Do you have any advice for anyone else starting a studio, and what would you do differently?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I would say don't! Haha, no, I think we just hit it bad, but I think if anyone wants to do it they've got to be prepared. I mean, for us, it's an absolute passion. We love this place, absolutely love it. We don't pay ourselves very much at the moment because any profit that the business makes is being pulled back into improving the drum kits, you know improving the cabs, buying some bass heads things like that, so at the moment it's very financially difficult to juggle.
Probably the most important advice of all… make sure your toilets are clean because there’s nothing worse. I've played in so many dives and the toilets here were in quite a bad shape when we took over.
And then just now, before we started the interview, we had the fire alarms being tested. So it's not just about having some rooms that you rent out. There's all the fire regulations and there's an awful lot involved in it that I think a lot of people don't realise and I think trying to keep on top of all that behind the scenes for customers. We just have some rooms where they come and use the gear, but when you've done a 90-hour week and you're really tired and you're trying to juggle. Well should we buy some stuff for the drum kits this week or, no we've got the fire alarms to be tested. You do all this and then somebody comes up and says you've got no milk in the free tea and coffee that you're offering see you do have to kind of bite your tongue a little bit. I think that's probably the advice I'd give to people – just be aware that it's unsociable hours, there can be long lonely times, and when you are stressed and you've got to deal with some potentially difficult situations, just look at the bigger picture. Just think, I could still be doing that awful job I was doing - so I think that would be my advice.
Yeah, just try and stay positive and just give what people want, you know, make sure the rooms are clean and tidy. Just like doing tea and coffee for free. It's a little gratuity, but it goes a long way to showing you care. Probably the most important advice of all… make sure your toilets are clean because there’s nothing worse. I've played in so many dives and the toilets here were in quite a bad shape when we took over. So yeah, have really clean toilets.
So you said you are in a band?
Yeah, we've been going since, god, 1991! We're, yeah, we're really really old now!
We ended up doing these escape room games on Zoom which just ended up being hilarious. Every week there was a bit of oneupmanship on creating a background on your Zoom
Yeah, the band is called Southpaw as in a left-handed boxer and we've been around for quite a long time. Still the same sort of guys that were in it back then. We're all really really good friends. So yeah, they've been a real help as well during this whole period, so it's really good to have good friends and that's one thing I think about music – you might not be in the same bands as them but the people you mix with can become lifelong friends. I think it's a really amazing support network that you can build with musicians. You've all got a common interest and you might not play the same music, but you know you're all creative people and get a buzz out of being around creative people. So yeah, that's pretty good. As long as we can stay out of a tour van, it will be alright!
I’m in a similar situation – our band stopped rehearsing during the lockdowns and just kept in touch via WhatsApp
Yeah, yeah, it was great – we ended up doing these escape room games on Zoom which just ended up being hilarious. Every week there was a bit of one upmanship on creating a background on your Zoom – who could have the most outrageous background with like unicorns and mountains and dragons and things.
So my background [lots of Rush posters] is real
Yeah, so you've got a lot of Rush stuff there which is cool. Ah Neil Peart yeah.
Yeah, I know it's going off topic but three people that have shocked me, one was Ronnie James Dio. You know, I knew he wasn't well, but he was a childhood hero. And Eddie Van Halen was the other one and Neil Peart – it was those three. They were like, oh my god, and it just makes you realise how time is very fleeting and you've got to make the most really. Yeah, that was tragic.
Do you have any upcoming local bands that you’re excited about?
Well we're very lucky we've got quite a lot of bands that come to us, but there's a few that stand out. There's a band, it's like a punk rock super group in Norwich at the moment called Rochambeau and they are just incredible. They've literally only played a handful of shows but because some of them are professional touring musicians and stuff. They are just fantastic and a really nice bunch of guys as well. So yeah, Roshambo are fantastic.
We've got a band called Alpha Omega who are you know a metal band they've played at Bloodstock. Again, really nice guys. There's some other young bands – one called Kulk which is a two piece, that kind of whole Royal Blood thing, but on a completely different tangent. Truth Teller are another good young up and coming alternative rock band. There's a CTOAN which is the name in itself c-t-o-a-n and we were like, wow, CTOAN for a metal band! It sounds like something from Cthulhu, you know, like the CTOAN But no, it literally stands for ‘couldn't think of a name’, haha! That's amazing. And then Settlements is another really good alternative sort of grungy band in Norwich. Really good guys. Clowns Smash Everything you might have heard of them. Other Half, Braindance who are a really long established punk band, another great bunch of guys, but yeah, I could go on. Just loads and loads of knowledge. We're very very lucky, I think.