Practice Makes Perfect: When Retail and Rehearsal Studios Combine

by Dan Daley • in
  • Last Word
  • November 2018
• Created: November 5, 2018

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Much has been written (especially by me) about the decline of the recording studio business. As the ability to make high-quality multitrack recordings moved from expensive, high-tech and acoustically perfect environments into people’s spare bedrooms and garages, the need for those marvelous palaces of sound faded, making places like New York’s Hit Factory and L.A.’s Sound City just pleasant memories and/or fodder for Dave Grohl’s auteuristic aspirations.

In the process, however, it also laid the foundation for every pro audio department in every MI retail store in the world seeking additional revenue channels.

Lightning seems to be striking again. Even as recording studios fade in number and significance, rehearsal studios are on the upswing. Those often-grungy rooms that every teenage musician whose parents didn’t own a garage or a dry basement had to turn to for band practice, where the rack-tom skins had more dents than a 1989 Honda Civic and the bass amp had to have at least one blown speaker, are on the decline. Instead, as live performances continue to be the economic driver for music, rehearsal studios are the new currency – places where bands can create not just better sound, but also build shows that include their own lighting and special effects.

They’re also becoming the places where musicians hang out and interact, as they did in the 1970s and ‘80s in the multiroom recording studios. The rehearsal studio is music’s new rooftop bar, and MI retail can find a place in this cultural shift.

While the rehearsal studios of S.I.R., which dates back to the mid 1970s, are now seemingly ubiquitous, they were outgrowths of the company’s backline rental business. On the other hand, newer venues like Soundcheck, a 162,000-squarefoot rehearsal facility in Nashville, and Chicago’s Fort Knox, which has grown to a massive 165,000 square feet, with 125 rehearsal “suites” that range from 250 square feet to a canyon-esque 5,000, are designed to serve what have become big, complex shows that have become the norm at the apex of touring pop music. And they all need amps and drums and PA systems, and more.

Retailers are the front-line resource for rehearsal-studios start-ups and upgrades – there is no data on the number of new rehearsal studios, but a quick look at any town’s local alt weekly classifieds will reveal the steady growth in this sector, and every time a new one opens, everyone already there has to up their game, with new amps and better PAs. The connection for MI retail is obvious, once you recognize how the rehearsal sector is mushrooming.

And it’s one that’s safe from the same DIY dynamic that overtook recording studios: rehearsals need to approximate the live experience – they need to push a lot of air around, and you can’t emulate that with a plug-in.

So it’s not surprising that some MI retailers have seen the potential for an even deeper connection with rehearsal facilities. Notably, Guitar Center now offers rehearsal spaces in eight of its stores, including Louisville, New Orleans, and the Bay Area.

They’re also offering some of the same perks that other aggressive rehearsal facilities are, including free wi-fi and a two-track master recording of the rehearsal session, along with multitrack recording as an option. But perhaps the biggest attraction is the ability to pick to some extent amongst a store’s copious selection of equipment. That’s why we’re seeing brands like Fender, Gibson, Shure, and Taylor setting up mini-shops of their own inside larger rehearsal complexes. Where better to put their wares in front of customers?

Not every MI store can pull this hybrid off. Rehearsal takes a lot of space, and the costs of that can be hard to square against the $25 to $50 an hour that most rehearsal studios can charge. It’s also a time- and equipment-heavy business that requires managers and techs on constant call, to set up rooms and PA systems, and repair or replace equipment that’s going to get treated like a rental car, and provide security. I’ve never met anyone who got rich off of owning a rehearsal studio. But if that were ever going to happen, now – with live music as the music industry’s prime moneymaker – is the time.

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