Amie is co-owner and assistant engineer at her studios in Birmingham, where she is also in charge of bookings, management and artist services. She founded CapsaArx Studios in 2016 with three friends and fellow band members who, like Amie, are also lecturers at the Academy of Contemporary Music.
In the interview, Amie shares her thoughts on the shift towards DIY recording and a growing independent ethos among artists. She explains how advances in technology have allowed for a more flexible approach to recording both at home and in the studio, and how that can be a benefit and a challenge for studio owners.
Amie tells us how she managed to make the most of the Covid lockdowns by taking the time to improve the acoustic spaces, which helped her deal with the increase in interest after several student studios closed. She also shares how she thinks we can nurture new talent and get people into the industry.
Could you tell us a little bit about the studio?
Yep, so CapsaArx Studios is an independently run recording and rehearsal studio in Kings Norton, Birmingham, although we offer a multitude of services aimed at DIY artists. There are four of us that run the studio and we are in our own original band called Dakesis and a couple of other side projects. Three of us also lecture at the Academy of Contemporary Music.
We moved into the premises to set it up as a recording and rehearsal studio specifically to support independent and DIY artists who perhaps don't have a big budget, need additional help and guidance with artist management and coaching, and career development, branding, stuff like that. So that's the main reason why we ended up setting CapsaArx up to capture the DIY, independent artists. That is our passion – we don't run the studio for profit, we run it to cover the expenses of owning a studio, which then allows us to do a lot of extra activities to help artists and to help students as well. We do a lot of work with ACM, where we offer some live streaming services for students. We're able to offer a lot of hefty discounts to students and people that don't have access to these opportunities as well.
We set it up as a recording and rehearsal studio specifically to support independent and DIY artists who perhaps don't have a big budget… We're able to offer a lot of hefty discounts to students and people that don't have access to these opportunities.
You talked about working very closely with students. And we know, obviously, music education has been de-prioritised, shall we say, for a certain time period that they aligned with a certain government. So could you talk a little bit about how we can get people into the industry and nurture future talent?
I'm a music business lecturer, so I spend most of my time talking about this. We've seen a big shift within the industry of moving towards this kind of independent DIY ethos, because people can do this. So if we look at recording, the technology now has advanced so much that pretty much every artist can afford some kind of recording setup in their bedroom. And you can get some pretty decent results out of that, which is incredible. And there's a lot of stuff available online too.
We're seeing a lot more niche programmes popping up such as various music degrees that look into running events, digital marketing for music and creative artistry. At ACM we launched the first ever Rap & MC Degree, which is amazing. Unfortunately, we are losing out on a lot of the early years music education, which is a real shame. So we are bridging the gap and filling that niche when people are a bit more developed or they're accessing education, but what we are losing is our introduction to music education in early years and also in secondary school as well.
Could you tell us a little bit about how you interact with Birmingham's vibrant music scene, and what's your place within that?
Yeah, so we're actually not in the centre of Birmingham, which we thought may have been a bit of an issue. But what's accidentally worked in our favour, especially kind of post lockdown is, unfortunately, a lot of the other studios haven't made it. We’ve picked up a lot of custom from these closures. The other thing is, Birmingham has recently launched their clean air zone, where many vehicles have to pay to enter the city centre. As we are on the outside of this zone, it means we are very accessible for people that might not be able to afford to drive into the centre and pay these charges. It also helps that we’re right next-door to a train station!
I also run a lot of events, I promote shows throughout the year for artists through the studio. We do a lot of networking with venues in the area and building up a knowledge not just in Birmingham, but in the UK as a whole. We also link up with a lot of other engineers and producers across the country who have their own studios, too. There's a real good community with some of the networking and links and ties that we've made with other people, which is really great too, because we're all about collaboration and not competition. That's kind of our catchphrase, I suppose.
There's a real good community with some of the networking and links and ties that we've made with other people, which is really great, too, because we're all about collaboration and not competition.
And just to touch on the COVID context. Moving forward, post pandemic and looking towards the future, how do you see the studio adapting to meet the needs moving out of this period?
It was difficult to begin with, closing the studio. But what that allowed us to do was take some time to make some much-needed improvements. We're currently going through some acoustic treatment to really improve the space that we've got. So it gave us a bit of time to do that.
Moving forward, there's a lot of other stuff that we're going to try and automate, and make it a little bit easier for people to come and use our facilities without those barriers of sending Facebook messages or emails to get a response. We’d also like to look towards creating online content that is going to help educate people with navigating the music industry. We get a lot of people rehearsing and a lot of people coming to record, but not in the traditional sense where, normally you'd come and have a whole band recording. What we see now is people just want to come and lay down maybe some vocals or they want to come and get some studio experience and live streaming has also become quite popular. We launched our live streaming service during the pandemic, which has been really good.
Offering more of these affordable services such as live streaming, where they get access to all of their sound and audio from that live stream, but also video so that they can use them for content to push out to their fan base has been a game changer. We try to create experiences for artists as we know that content is king, and this is how we can try and merge recording with content. So yeah, live streaming is definitely a big thing that came out of the lockdown, that’s seemingly here to stay.
So yeah, live streaming is definitely a big thing that's on our cards for post pandemic.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to set up a studio or rehearsal space?
How to narrow that down? I think good record keeping is key, really key. But also being quite adaptable and friendly in your approach, but also honest with your limitations. I spoke at an audio engineering conference some months ago, specifically on how studios could better communicate with artists. And if there's one piece of advice that I think is absolutely key, it is to understand that a lot of the time artists have no idea what they're doing and they need help and support in that environment without somebody taking over. And when you're using all of these buzz words and you're talking about compression or adding this effect to vocals, just try to explain what you're doing at the same time when you're doing that process to build up a really good rapport with the clients. And you may only get a couple to begin with, but you want to make that experience as good as possible so that they keep coming back to you. So yeah, I think that will be my one piece of advice.
And if there's one piece of advice that I think is absolutely key, it is to understand that a lot of the time artists have no idea what they're doing and they need help and support in that environment without somebody taking over.
How do the economics of the wider music industry affect independent studios?
I think it can be quite difficult, really, for more independent studios. Now, it's about putting on lots of different hats and offering a multitude of services. Like I said, we are not just a recording and rehearsal studio. We offer event management, PR, artist management, artist coaching and development, music lessons, production lessons. I don't think there's a single thing that we don't do that's within the music industry that we don't offer as a service. And this is also a big thing, not just with independent studios, but independent artists as well – looking at those additional income streams. Because we are seeing less and less people needing to use a studio for recording.
You know, it may be that people still come and record drums, but things like guitars and stuff like that, generally, they do them at home. And then they might come and re-amp them with us rather than actually coming into the studio. It's less of an experience for working musicians, and more, how can they do it as cheaply as possible? So you fill that out with the other business elements, even down to things like helping people read contracts, and going through intellectual property and copyright and stuff like that.
So you need to have a broad knowledge of absolutely everything to benefit from those additional income streams. Otherwise, all you've got is a recording and rehearsal service.
Interested in reading more of this series of interviews? Check them all out here