The Decline of the Professional Recording Studio: Even Abbey Road Needs Help

Back in February on a trip to Dublin, I sought out Windmill Lane Studios, the birthplace of so many U2 albums. The studio’s original location since been abandoned as a recording studio and seems to exists mainly as a place for U2 fans to spray graffiti messages on the walls.

In 2006, the studio’s second location closed down and sat empty for a couple of years before it was resurrected by Pulse College, a place where students learn about music production and post-production, film production and video game music.

Frankly, I was a little shocked. Even with the might of U2 behind it, Windmill had to pivot into being a school?

Then it occurred to me that this isn’t all that unusual. Metalworks in Mississauga did the same thing years ago. I’m sure there are plenty more.

Pro recording studios have been in crisis for a least a decade. Not only are they expensive to maintain (plus all the gear needs to be upgraded on a regular basis) but recording budgets are nowhere near what they used to be. Advances have allowed musicians to record professional sounding records at home. As one studio guy told me “Unless you need a room to record a specific live drum sound (or unless you’re doing a movie score that requires a large orchestra), people are opting not to use big studios.”

These places cannot afford to sit empty. That’s why so  many of them have gone the educational route. It’s either that or close it down like Sound City in LA, Olympic in London and some of the great spots in New York City.

You’d think that if any place were immune to these kinds of pressures it would be the venerable Abbey Road in St. John’s Wood, London.  Maybe so, but it’s a huge building with lots of staff. Not all three of their studios are always booked and empty studios equals lost money.

I’m guessing these economic realities led to the decision to create Abbey Road Institute. I quote Luca Barassi, the person heading up the project: “Synonymous with excellence in recorded music for more than 80 years, Abbey Road’s continued success is largely due to its staff and their knowledge. Now we will be able to share some of this expertise in a course which will provide first-class vocational training for people interested in forging a career in the music industry.”

This could be a very, very lucrative business for Abbey Road. Metalworks attracts studios from all over the world–and tuition ain’t cheap. How much would someone be willing pay to be schooled in the same building where the Beatles, Pink Floyd, Oasis, Muse and countless others have worked?

Read more about Abbey Road Institute at the NME.

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