Sunday, 1 May 2016

The oldest studio in Brum - reborn?

Pretty sure Frank didn't record here. I'll ask...
These are tough times for recording studios and their owners. The loss of Highbury Studio, announced last week, was a body blow. This is terrible news, especially hard on the visionary John Mostyn, who has poured his heart and soul into Birmingham's music scene for decades now, sometimes at great personal cost.  I salute John for his work, and I sincerely hope that, should he so choose, he returns to a field where he has done so much good. 

But other studios are in trouble too. The middle ground is being squeezed almost to death. Is not the right time to be starting up with a brand new facility? Some people think so. Rob Bruce, another Brum musicbiz veteran, certainly does. 

Tough all over

This century has not been kind to music makers in so many ways. The space between huge studios like Abbey Road, surviving on movie business and big budget work, and kids on bedroom laptops has never been narrower. Almost all of the vast studios have fallen by the wayside too, along with lavish mobile operations. Many studios now specialise, while others – like Magic Garden or Artisan - thrive through the exceptional skills of their owners. 

The cost of kit

Quick! Fetch me a pencil!
So why is this? One answer is kit: new digital kit is supremely affordable. It has reduced the entry-level cost in every field. Tech can change things for the better, certainly; but somehow we always seem to wind up paying a price somewhere else. 

It's a mixed picture. As I write, rumours are swirling around another very long-established name on Birmingham's music scene. I hope they are just that – rumours – but I'm not optimistic. On the other hand, The Twang have announced that their in-house studio will shortly be open for business. It already boasts an impressive list of clients from Birmingham's new music scene. So there is some hope. 

A rebirth

And in Kings Norton, one of the oldest names in Birmingham studios and rehearsals is planning a sort of rebirth. Rich Bitch used to be the name of a massive complex, set in a vast warehouse down an alleyway off the Bristol Road in Selly Oak, with dozens of rehearsal spaces and not one but two studios. Owner Rob Bruce cashed in on the massive expansion in the student population around Selly Oak a couple of years back, and closed the place down. The old factory building came down; student flats went up. It looks like he did very good business
Rob Bruce: A friend of mine said there was this old factory down the bottom of the village that had been up for sale for ages. I went and had a look. It was huge – ten thousand square feet. Went to the bank manager – in those days you could go in an talk to the bank manager, And he could make decisions. It helped that his daughter was a musician. And he said yes to a loan.
Was this to take on the lease or to buy the freehold?
To buy the freehold. 
How much was it, can I ask?
I had to knock them down a bit. But the place had been on the market for some time. A little bit over £50,000. 

The new new new logo
So that's how a semi-pro muso found himself in possession of what eventually was to become, decades later, very juicy real estate. Of course, fitting it out cost a whole lot more. When we met as he was closing things down, Rob was very downcast about emptying out the old place. Now, he's just as buzzed about starting up his new place. But it won't be called Ritch Bitch. This is the 21st century, and a terrible old 70s sexist name like Rich Bitch doesn't quite work. We'll be seeing the opening of RB Studios instead.
Rob: I was playing in a band in the 70s, called... Rich Bitch. And I had a little basement in the building where I ran my business – belts, bands and such. So that's wehere the name came from in the first place. 
Rob is building a new, smaller operation – fewer rehearsal rooms, and some lovely new kit. We talked in his warehouse. It's like an Aladdin's cave of kit: some brand new, some vintage – like a pair of massive 80s speakers from Abbey Road. And he's like a kid with a new toy. 

History is lovely, but it won't pay the bills 

There's a lot of history, notwithstanding the new sparkly toys. Rob's old place, starting in a basement with rudimentary kit recording onto cassettes, saw everybody who was anybody on the local scene come through the doors in the 70s. When he relocated and expanded, the client list got even wider.  
Rob: Most of the locals that you can think of came through the place: Ruby Turner, Steve Gibbons, Black Sabbath, ELO... I really can't remember them all. Phil Collins... Earth Wind and Fire. Steel Pulse. Several UB40 side projects... up until the present day, when we had The Twang, Editors....

A Princely brush with near-fame 

Rob: We nearly had Prince, about two months before I closed the old place down. But the room wasn't quite big enough for him. And there was a lot of things he wanted changing – certain flowers in the room, we had to import a certain water from France.  After a while I said 'Hang on, he's only here for four days. Do I want to through all this hassle?'
Such brushes with fame are what reputations are made of. Let's see who rocks up to RB studios when they finally open for business, hopefully in June. Fresh legends are there to be crafted. Maybe. Hope so. 

RBS/Rich Bitch Facebook page

Rob Bruce was my guest on Brum Radio's Big Wheels

See more music business and music tech posts on Radio To Go


Tue 3rd, 4pm: Big Wheels: RBS/Rich Bitch studios' Rob Bruce
Wed 4th, 11pm: Live and Local: Dan Whitehouse with Chris Cleverley at the Newhampton Arts Centre Wolverhampton.   Repeated Sat 7th, 11am. 

Fri 6th, 3 pm: Muso Takeover: Ryan Webb (Rhino and The Ranters)

After airing, these can be found on Brum Radio's Mixcloud page.

All Radio To Go shows are listed here


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