Practice, Practice, Practice: Rehearsal Facilities Amp Their Game

by Dan Daley
in The Biz
Soundcheck is among those businesses that have expanded to meet a growing market need for pre-tour rehearsal facilities.
Soundcheck is among those businesses that have expanded to meet a growing market need for pre-tour rehearsal facilities.

One of the byproducts of the vastly increased emphasis on live music in recent years is the need to rehearse it, and these days that takes a lot more than a suburban garage and acquiescent neighbors. As a result, the number of rehearsal facilities geared for high-end professional applications has proliferated in recent years, and the size of the rooms in them has also increased, to accommodate more sophisticated production capabilities — even duos in hotel lobbies might sport a fogger or moving lights.

Big Biz, Big Facilities

Some of the studio facilities that have opened or expanded in the last several years are massive.

Soundcheck, Nashville’s 162,000- square-foot rehearsal palace on the Cumberland River whose nine rehearsal rooms are used regularly by artists like Taylor Swift and Kings of Leon, added another 30,000 square feet of rehearsal space in Austin and 10,000 square feet of backline and equipment rental in Houston, Texas since 2010.

Silver Point Studios in Nashville, a 40,000-plus-square-foot facility that opened in 2008, rebranded itself in 2012 aiming at the music touring market. Its clients have included Arcade Fire, the Black Keys, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, the Kings of Leon and The National.

For sheer size, nothing surpasses Rock Lititz Studio, a 52,000-square-foot purpose-built production rehearsal facility, in Lititz, PA, a town an hour’s drive from Philadelphia but also notable as the headquarters of the Clair Brothers’ audio empire and staging engineering firm Tait. There are 96 acres available for planned expansions, which will ultimately be home to a 130-plus-room hotel, with more vendors likely to join Atomic Design, Tour Supply and Upstage Video already there.

Rock Lititz also reflects the level of investment going into these facilities, with $7 million cited as the cost of constructing the studio and campus infrastructure out of a reported overall project cost of $21.8 million.

Soundcheck's Room A

New Opportunities

Those are just some of the most dazzling examples of a critical live-performance sector that has burgeoned quickly. Other facilities that have been around a long while but that have been recently infused with additional investment include S.I.R., which, including its backline rentals business, has expanded to a dozen U.S. cities since it was founded in 1971, with five of them — New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, San Francisco and Miami — also rehearsal studio sites, with event production, remote recording and catering among the ancillary services it offers.

On the left coast, Swing House in Los Angeles recently celebrated expansion to 22,000 square feet of space. Back in New York, the granddaddy of them all — the prosaically named Music Building — remains the patriarch of the category, a 12-story building on Eighth Avenue between West 38th and 39th streets in Manhattans Hell’s Kitchen, whose 69 mostly square rehearsal rooms, which average a cozy 320 square feet, have been fully populated since it opened in 1979, with a waiting list for newcomers in a city where space — and the ability to make noise in it — is always at a premium.

There are many others scattered across the country — the shift to live music as the industry’s main revenue source has meant that musicians are constantly touring or preparing to tour. But the facilities in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville (and Lititz) are targeting the very top echelons of the industry: virtually all of the top 20 national tours in 2016 have passed through their portals on the way out on the road. Not surprisingly, this is setting the stage for what could become intense competition in 2017.

Gold In Them Hills

The most recent major salvo in this rivalry was fired by Chicago’s Fort Knox. Founded in 2011 on Chicago’s north side, it has grown to a 165,000 square feet comprising 125 rehearsal suites that range from 250 square feet to a sprawling 5,000. In December, managing partner Kent Nielsen announced Fort Knox’s entry into the Nashville market, which has become the locus of much of the high-end touring that crisscrosses the country each year. The new location, scheduled to open in April, will fill out 180,000 square feet near the city’s airport, on the same street that houses Spectrum Sound, one of Nashville’s half-dozen or so top-tier SR providers and one of several tour-related vendors that will either rent space in Fort Knox Nashville or align themselves with it.

It’s a model that’s already proven successful for Soundcheck, where Shure, Allen & Heath, Meyer Sound, Avid, DiGiCo, Peavey and Fender, as well as major service vendors such as Tour Supply and video provider MooTV, have Nashville offices under the same roof. The initial phase will comprise 70,000 square feet and studios will rent for an introductory monthly rate of $500 or $8 per hour per person; Nielsen says an 80,000-square-foot second phase, scheduled for later in the year, will also include recording facilities and will cater to music, film and video professionals.

Fort Knox’s move may be the most substantial foray into another market but it’s not the first. In addition to Soundcheck’s satellites in Texas and S.I.R.’s multi-city ventures, Music Garage, which has been in Brooklyn’s trendy Williamsburg neighborhood since 1988, opened an outpost in Chicago in 2006, where it has over twice the 30,000 square feet of the Brooklyn location. That move also reflects how rehearsal studio operators are tailoring their facilities to accommodate local markets: while Fort Knox comes to Nashville to leverage both that city’s touring business and its burgeoning film and other media work, Music Garage’s Chicago facility has 112 rooms, nearly three times the 46 in Brooklyn but they are smaller in size and tuned to the needs of DJs and other hip-hop genres, which are the Windy City’s lifeblood.

What It Means

It’s possible that the evolution of the rehearsal studio category will parallel that of the recording studio market in its heyday of the 1980s and ‘90s, when “mothership” facilities served multiple major artists at the same time. But this time around, instead of them settling in for months at a time working on the next album, they’ll be there for a few weeks getting ready for the next round of the road.

In any event, what this could do is fill a gap left by the ongoing demise of the destination recording studio: create a place where musicians, artists and their technical teams can organically interact. The stories are legion, with artists bumping into each other at recording studios, contributing a guitar solo or a vocal to a track, or collaborating on a song. That was the hidden beauty of the multi-room studio: it became an agora for itinerant musicians who turned the studio lounges into ad hoc artistic co-ops. As music recording has diffused into ever more personal spaces, we’ve lost a lot of that potential for creative interaction, which quite frankly was never going to be replaced by social media. It’s something valuable, and it’s something that these new destination rehearsal venues can offer.