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The 10 biggest extra benefits to working in a rehearsal studio.

By Jimmy Mulvihill. 13th February 2023.
Anyone who reads our social media/blogs knows how much we all love working here at Bally Studios. The benefits of a job where you can stand around with a cup of tea in hand and chat to bands about guitars and guitar pedals is going to be pretty clear, but that all changed when Covid-19 reared it's head.   Literally overnight our doors were closed, and they remained that way for 11 months in total, followed by an additional year of us operating at a greatly reduced capacity. There were times in these 2 years when the hustle and bustle of our shifts in the past seemed like a distant dream.

From 2005-2020 bands would literally rub shoulders with each other when one arrived and another left, with the office being a constant hive of activity. We had certain Sunday’s when we’d have x5 bands coming in from 11am – 3pm, then another 5 bands from 3pm – 7pm, before a third lot of x5 bands would come in for their 7pm – 11pm sessions. 15 bands in total, with about 60-65 musicians between them, all visiting our little studio complex tucked away on an industrial estate in Tottenham. In March 2020, that all stopped.  The pandemic has meant that the interaction that we had with bands for nearly 3 years was kept to an absolute minimum in terms of time, and at a maximum in terms of physical distance between us and them. The disconnection in the interaction that we have with the bands that come to us has been one of the hardest things for us to get used to.

Thankfully now in February 2023 things are as close to normal as we can expect in a post-COVID world, and it's sharpened our perspective on working here. It’s easy to think about the last three years in terms of the loss of wages and revenue, and that has been undoubtedly tough on us, but it’s been compounded further by the loss of the social circle and routine that had been built up around the studios over a decade and a half, and lost overnight. To go from having 4-15 bands coming to the studios every day, to then sitting at home for weeks on end watching Netflix during lockdown (or in my case looking after a 1 year old baby) took some adjusting, to say the least. It’s given us a new perspective on what our job means to us, and plenty of time to think about some of the less obvious benefits of working in a rehearsal studio. 

1) You never need to buy plectrums.

‘Hard work is its own reward’, and never is this more true than when cleaning a rehearsal studio.  Going that extra mile and cleaning down the side of cushions, underneath the sofa and underneath the mixing desk are great hunting places for plectrums that other bands have dropped,  If you’re not gathering 1-2 plectrums when you do a thorough cleaning of all of the studios, then you’re not doing it right.

2) Getting information about the music scene in London - who you should work with, and who you should avoid.

There is no better way to learn about the local music scene than working at a rehearsal studio.  Pretty quickly you're learning which are the best venues to play and which places to avoid, which venues have a good walk in crowd, what venues have the facilities to record live albums, and which promoters will actually - you know - promote the gig!      8/10 times if one band says that they had a great experience working with a certain promoter or music venue, that opinion will be backed up by other bands, it's quite rare that bands will be split on their opinions.   If you're already working in a rehearsal studio, start making a few brews for the bands that come to you and pretty quickly your knowledge-base on the local scene grows exponentially.   

I once spoke to a band about a promoter that promised the bands that booked with them that they could use a bass amp that the venue had provided.    As any band knows, things like this can make the organising of a gig easier and cheaper, so this is a definite plus point, but when the band turned up they were told that they’d need to pay £20 to use the house bass amp, with the promoter switching the tables and saying, “you didn’t think I would provide you with a bass amp out of the goodness of my heart, did you? I have bills too, you need to pay for it…….”

Upon us hearing this, and then learning the next week that another 'Bally band' was playing the same music venue, we were able to give them an advance warning of this £20 charge, with this second band then contacting the promoter to check to see if they would also be being charged for using the bass amplifier in their upcoming gig as well.    “Well....... erm, yeah........ we’d be charging you £20 for it, as mentioned before.”    Needless to say, it was never mentioned previously. To be forewarned is to be forearmed, and this band was forewarned. 

We’ve heard of promoters that consistently promise longer stage sets, then cut them back on the day of the gig, and of guitar shops that add big fees to amplifier repairs out of nowhere. We've also met people who aren’t very good at selling themselves, and where their nervous manner comes across as evasive or distrustful.  Their awkward conversation patter meant they were constantly underselling themselves, but this same person was actually  able to deliver much better results than you ever could have expected from someone so short of self confidence. I can think of 3 people off the top of my head who were like this, great people who can help up-and-coming bands in so many ways, but they just lack self confidence to sell themselves to others.   These people are like gold-dust in the local music scene, and we've learned about them from hearing positive stories from multiple bands who had actually worked with them.     We’ve found out about music venues that are full on Tuesday nights due to the pub next door offering "2 pints for £5" drinks promotions to local students, with many of these students then looking for a place to go to after the bar closes at 11pm. (Who knew there'd be venues where you’d be playing to 50+ walk-in people at 11:30pm on a Tuesday?!?)     

When you get up to 100 bands coming to your place of work every year, you get to hear 100 different points of view, with 100 bands all funnelling their experiences and information your way  You won’t find too many people who are more knowledgeable on the local music scene than the staff members at a rehearsal studio. If you’re in a band and want to know which people to work with and which to avoid, chatting to the staff at your rehearsal studios can be a great way to find out the information that you need.

3) Learning about musical equipment.

Most guitar amplifiers get used 4-6 hours a week at quite a low volume by one person, whereas amplifiers in a rehearsal studios  can be used for 30-50 hours a week by different bands playing different musical styles at a very loud volume. We get to see them played hard and played loud, day in and day out, and so we know what amplifiers are well made, and which ones look good on the shop floor but aren’t built to put up with the rigours of being pushed near to their limits on a constant basis.       

If you’re thinking of buying a guitar amplifier by a certain manufacturer, chat to your rehearsal studios to see if they’ve used them in the past, and if so, what their opinion of it is? They’ll know much better than most people how certain amplifiers stand up to being driven hard, and they’ll have a much wider range of amplifiers that they’ll have first hand experience of working with. We have 40+ amplifiers here from 14 different manufacturers, (including Fender, Marshall, Line 6, Blackstar, Laney, Peavey, WEM, Epiphone, Gallien Krueger, Hughes & Kettner, and many more),  and we get to hear constant feedback about them by loads of different bands.  Believe me, if there's something wrong with one of them, we hear about it!    We also have honest views on which companies offer the best after-sales service from us contacting the amplifier manufacturers directly. We’ve had some of them ignore our requests for help, while others have offered to fix our amplifiers for free.   We deal with amplifiers day in, day out, and we don’t make commission from selling them either, so we’re able to give extensive, unbiased and honest advice about the amplifiers we use. 
Most people head to a guitar shop to get this advice, forgetting that in guitar shops the amplifiers get delivered to them, tested out quickly in the guitar shop by a customer and then sold, often never to be seen again. By contrast we’ve had guitar amplifiers that have been here for a decade and used for thousands of hours, and serviced regularly.  Not only do we see the amp in use, as well as getting the feedback from the bands, but the repairman who services the amps throws their opinion in too.  The information that a rehearsal studio employee can give about amplifiers or drum kits can be much more detailed than the information that music shops are able to give, and since we're not selling you anything, you can trust that our advice is unbiased.  

4) Having a free place to rehearse.

All Bally staff members get unlimited free rehearsal studio sessions in times where the studios would otherwise be sitting empty, (otherwise known as "downtime"), for both solo and band projects, and some of our staff members have used it to do 10-12 hour long recording sessions, using all of the recording equipment that we also have at Bally.    Any money that the band would have budgeted for rehearsals could now be used to invest elsewhere in the band, sessions can be stretched out as long as their schedule allows for it, and when you factor in the added benefit of staff members being able to store their musical instruments at the studios for free, pretty soon the benefits of having a band member work at a studios start to stack up. 

If you’re in a band that wants to rehearse as much as possible,  get one of your band members to work in a rehearsal studio that offers free sessions to its staff. If you manage to get that job yourself, then you can leave all of the other tasks to band mates on the basis that you're providing the band with free practice sessions.   They can take the jobs such as driving the van, paying for petrol, working the merchandise stall or loading/loading the van, since your contribution is already taken care of.   Here's a very small selection of some of the music that has been recorded at Bally Studios by our staff members. Mark Edwards/Bulbous - Better Things To Do.

Tommy Meyer/Swarmed - War Within.

Oliver Girdler - (I Want You) Say So.

5) Discovering new bands.

We’ve had bands rehearsing with us for up to 2 years before they’ve even played their first gig, let alone being signed to a record label, and we’ve read in music magazines about “New Up And Coming Bands” that did their first rehearsal with us half a decade ago. Working in a rehearsal studio is like working at a youth academy in a football club - you get to learn about the best bands months before their earliest buzz starts. You also get to hear snippets of songs that are left off albums, and hear songs develop from 2 minute instrumentals to 6+ minute epics with added horn sections. 

I once met some friends in a park, one of which had brought along a bluetooth speaker to play some songs. One of the playlists had a song from a band that had used the studios about 35-40 times over the previous 18 months, and as the song came on I was singing away to it whilst opening a few beers. The friend who had put the playlist together turned to me and said, “this only came out today, this morning, how do you already know all of the words to it?!” My answer was that the singer-songwriter of the band lived in South London but worked in North London, and as they never had time to go home after work, they’d come straight to Bally from their work, usually getting to band practice up to an hour early, upon which they’d sit in our reception with their beaten up Guild acoustic guitar and develop their songs.   Not only did I know the lyrics to the song, I knew the lyrics to verses which had been in the song for months before being dropped, and I could remember when the drummer was asked to play the chords for the verse over and over again on guitar so that the bassist could try to work out a bassline to it on the day when the rhythm guitarist couldn’t make the rehearsal. I was a witness to the birth of that song, and it was my background music whilst I was backing up booking schedules and emailing invoices in the office.  Not only do staff at rehearsal studios get to discover the great bands ahead of the curve, we get to peek behind the curtain of what is happening to a level that most other people could never imagine.

6) Not having to pretend to be interested in what the customers talk to you about.

I used to work in the meat section of a supermarket, and there’d be times I’d be chatting to a customer at 7:20am on a Saturday morning, still tipsy from the night before, about how the beef mince that she bought from us last week was. “It wasn’t really good for making bolognese, I don’t think that there was enough fat on it, I used the Mince with 5% fat, but now I think I should have used the 10% fat as there wasn’t as much flavour in it, and now I have a dinner party later on, and I'm not sure if i should only use pork mince, or if a mix of pork and beef mince is better…….”    

As an 18 year old I couldn’t have cared less about these conversations if I had tried. Faking interest in a subject you have no interest in can be exhausting, and is taken as a necessary skill in most roles.    “You mean to tell me that we cut our printing costs by 10% within 5 years by switching to re-fillable printing cartridges​?!? Fascinating!!"   By contrast, in rehearsal studios most of the chats that we have with people actually are pretty interesting. Guitar pedals, good record shops that will allow bands to sell their music on a sale-or-return basis, recording studios that have taken on a new sound engineer and are able to offer cheap recording sessions to allow them to get practice, the effect that a signal booster has when using it with a Big Muff pedal, how these new Squier guitars compare to the much more expensive Fender equivalents - these are the kind of conversations that we’d be having down the pub with friends if we weren’t working here. We applied to work in a rehearsal studio as we’re interested in these kinds of things, and as a result we don’t need to fake interest in subjects that we don't care about, which counts for a lot. 

7) Learning from other people’s mistakes.

There’s no point learning things the hard way if you don’t need to, and one of the biggest bonuses of working in a studio is that you get to learn from other band’s mistakes. There are literally hundreds of lessons that we’ve learned over the years from bands which we’ve then been able to use in our own bands, such as:

- Getting 1,000 vinyl records printed, and still having 850 of them in your cupboard 8 years later.
- Trying to fit too much music onto a single vinyl, and then being crushed when playing it for the first time and hearing how compressed and lacking in bass the music sounds.
- Booking a gig at a music venue without attending at least one gig there in advance yourself, to make sure that the venue is a good venue. 
- Adding extra guitar cabinets to your guitar amplifier head, and forgetting to switch the impedance rating to compensate for the extra load, resulting in a blown guitar head
- Not getting your music mastered before sending them to the CD plant, and getting a half pallet load of them delivered to you at 70% of the volume that you expected them to be at.
- Not getting your music mastered specifically for vinyl before getting it pressed, and assuming that you could just use the same mix as you had for the CD version.
- Signing a record contract that you understood 95% of, with one clause that you didn’t quite understand…... with them then spending most of 2005 – 2009 sat around tables with expensive lawyers trying to get that one clause removed.
- How certain European cities seem like great places to play gigs but aren’t, whilst turning down gigs in other cities that don’t seem to offer much, only to find out later from other bands about multiple fantastic gigs that they’ve played there.

All of these are actual examples of mistakes that bands that come to us have made, and we've learned those lessons without bearing the consequences for those mistakes.  The best way to learn from others is to meet them, and rehearsal studios are where that happens.  Best of all, since the music industry is constantly evolving, there’s never a time when you stop learning, there’s always something new to learn.

8) The schedule of working in the evenings.

Not too many musicians are morning people, and one of the perks of the job is the reversal of the usual schedule that many other jobs have.   The weekends can be our busiest times at the studios, so whilst other people are dreading Monday mornings, this is the time that many of our staff members can lie in and catch up on the TV that they’ve missed over the weekend. Locking up the studios at 11:15pm means that getting up at 10am or later the next day isn’t rare, meaning emptier and cheaper tube journeys.  Whilst it can take some getting used to, having your schedule different to what most other people experience can mean cheaper off peak cinema tickets, shopping when the crowds are at work and the shops are empty, cheaper "early-bird meal deals", and many other benefits that comes from not following the usual 9am - 5pm schedule that most jobs offer. 

9) The opportunity for getting session work and band roles.

Bands will replace band members from time to time, and working at rehearsal studios means that you get to know many bands on a personal level for weeks or months at a time, allowing you to build up rapport with them and get to know their music intimately.   This puts you in a great position to apply to play in different bands. We’ve had staff members playing in 3, 4 or 5 bands at once at times, and if you play a music instrument that is in high demand, like drums, it also affords you the opportunity to offer your services for extra cash on the side, either as a last minute replacement at a gig or for paid session work. In an industry where “being in the right place at the right time” counts for so much, working in a rehearsal studio is literally "the right place", and the more you work there, the more chance you’ll be there at "the right time".

10) The joys of going in for your shift early, or staying late. 

In most other jobs you get in, get the work done and get out as quick as you can, but when you''ve got free drum kits in empty rooms just sitting there, waiting to be thrashed to within an inch of their lives, pretty soon you'll find out that a 20 minute practice straight before or after your shift is not only a great way to build up your drumming chops, it's a great way to burn off extra energy and tension. Have you had an argument with the other half?  Stick that guitar through a double muff and a 200watt head into x2 4x12 cabs and play that guitar LOUD, and feel the tension slipping off you.  Not only does having a rehearsal studio on-tap improve you as a musician or a band, but it's a fantastic way to destress and burn off the tension that comes with living in 2023. 


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