Air/Strongroom chief Richard Boote has signalled a new era in the development of the combined business by confirming the arrival of two co-owner/directors and a concerted move into content creation, writes David Davies.
The journey towards a new-look Air group began last summer when Boote began to call on the advice of David Ravden – an accountant by background who went on to establish the UK’s first business management company, Goldberg Ravden (subsequently Martin Green Ravden), and serve as CEO of Handmade Films – and entertainment law specialist and West End theatre producer Paul Woolf.
Now, the trio has moved to formalise the relationship. Ravden and Woolf have become group development director and CEO, respectively, as well as taking co-owner/director status alongside Boote, who will serve as chairman. Together, they have formed a new company, Air Entertainment Group, to oversee the existing Air/Strongroom operations – Air and Strongroom Studios, Air Post Production, Air Management, Air Mastering, Stronghire and the Strongroom Bar & Kitchen – and spearhead the move into ‘content creation’.
In each case, the existing divisions will be managed autonomously by long-serving Air/Strongroom staff, enabling Boote and cohorts to focus more fully on the bigger picture.
“Over the last four years, my business has gone from Strongroom in Shoreditch [alone] to Air, Air Post, the Bar at Strongroom [etc], and this is a recognition that with the company being the size it is, I can’t be head of everything,” Boote (pictured here with Ravden and Woolf) tells PSN-e. “The heads of department are very able and loyal to the business, and they have now been given the freedom – if that is the word – to get on with it. The restructure [will allow] me to concentrate on moving the business to the next stage.”
So what exactly is this ‘next stage’? Boote admits that these new developments will be determined by Air’s success in securing additional investment (upwards of £10m) later this spring, but cites artist development, digital music delivery, a radio platform, live events at Air and Strongroom, and a promotions business as likely ventures as he pursues the transition from facilities-only business to a more broadly-based media company.
“It is a recognition that [the outlook] is a bit more difficult with the facilities business, although it’s not a desperate one as Strongroom, Air and Air Post – our three major facilities – are all doing really well,” says Boote. “But the reason I built Strongroom 25 years ago was to use it creatively, and I was never able to do that because I got into building more and more studios. Now, with our audio and video facilities, we can do a lot more than only music.
“It is important to realise that all of the [ventures] we create around the facilities business will work into the facilities business, but I want them all to be separate enough and sufficiently well-financed to be able to do a proper job.”
But while Air is moving into new areas, investment in facilities is very much ongoing. Reflecting the “25/30%” contribution made by post to the overall business, Boote has lately invested in Pro Tools and general computer system upgrades as well as adding new edit suites to the portfolio. On the recording side, Boote is co-developing a new island residential studio that is due for completion by year’s end and heralds a promising-sounding return to an Air Montserrat “kind of vibe”.
While PSNE eagerly awaits more details of this project, it can’t help wondering if Air/Studio’s eminent status in the London studio market might lead it to consider making a bid for another rather well-known fixture of the capital’s recording scene... With EMI now owned by a bank (Citigroup) and many analysts predicting the eventual break-up of the business, a link-up of some kind between Air and Abbey Road – London’s two leading orchestral and film soundtrack recording venues – would seem eminently logical.
“We do have a history of working very closely,” agrees Boote. “To do a certain type of film work, there are only two places in London, so if [Abbey Road] is too busy, a project might be finished off here – and vice versa. If only one studio was able to do film scoring work in London, it might be detrimental overall as people could start going elsewhere. The existence of both studios is [mutually beneficial].
“[EMI] is now owned by a bank, so who knows? [...But] I definitely wouldn’t rule out a link-up with Abbey Road.”
In the short-term, however, Boote and his new colleagues will have their hands full “solidifying their plan” so that they can start approaching investors well in advance of the summer period “when everyone is out on their yachts!”