To paraphrase the old joke, what do you get if you have Basement Jaxx’s studio in one corner of your yard, Mark Ronson’s in another, Zane Lowe’s in another corner and Tinchy Stryder’s studio in another?
That’s right: a bloody big yard.
Tileyard mastermind Nick Keynes says it was not meant to be like this. “We haven’t marketed what we do – the industry is hearing about it in a really cool way. There’s an underground buzz.”
Mainly through word-of-mouth recommendations, Tileyard has become the umbrella brand for a sizeable music complex located immediately to the north of the extensive King’s Cross redevelopment zone. What began life as the ‘Amplifi’ project 18 months ago – a collection of a dozen or so production and writing rooms, with a café at their shared heart - has just kept growing and growing.
“The more we build, the more demand we’ve created,” remarks Keynes.
There’s one more phase to “press the button on”, and that will take the studio count to over 50 rooms by the projected completion date of late spring.
“The last phase will be ‘arrive and drive’ – short-term let space, where people want a presence here but don’t want to commit too long term. We will kit them out the with various specs for multi-use – say, with a couple of nearfield monitors and the interface connections – so guys can turn up with a laptop for a week or a month and use it for programming, writing, audio editing, voiceover or whatever,” explains Keynes.
The Tileyard ‘campus’ is actually a loop of 26 office buildings, all owned by property developer firm City & Provincial. There are a variety of businesses operating from the site, but the Tileyard Studios ‘media hub’ has gobbled up more and more of the offices as space has become available.
Keynes – a former bass guitarist with late ’90s pop act Ultra – co-founded music production agency Goldust in one of the offices on the campus in 2003. A friendship with the landlord led Keynes being invited to lead the expanding Amplifi initiative.
The facility began as two floors of studios (designed by The Studio People) above the cafe. Phase Two was the creation of a permanent base for Basement Jaxx in another building, this time designed by Chris Walls of Munro Acoustics. Walls has been retained as consultant for the project ever since.
Twenty more production rooms for the likes of producer Starsmith and film composer Christian Henson, plus music editors Tony Lewis (Skyfall) and Jamkes Bellamy (Les Misérables) marked the completion of Phase Three last June. Phase Four, in another building, was the creation of an event space and offices for a music management company, plus a workspace for DJ Zane Lowe. Five, under construction at the time of PSNEurope’s visit, will be a ground floor studio for Mark Ronson, based around an MCI console. “That’s a big old school-style control room and live room, he’s bringing in a load of vintage gear,” explains Keynes. Phases Six and Seven are yet another two floors of creative spaces, including rooms for artist Tinchy Stryder and Spice Girls writer producer Biff Stannard. The forthcoming short-term lease rooms will take it up to Phase Eight. “I want to go to 10!” jokes Keynes.
One further possibility might be the building of an orchestral recording space onsite. “That’s driven by the number of composers we have here. If they wanted to record 30 players, it would be great to do that here.”
The design and layout of the majority of the studio rooms was based on a ‘standard template’, in terms of basic construction and acoustic performance, reveals Walls. Certain tenants made requests for tweaks or niche additions, depending on their working methods. For instance: Dru Masters, who composes for TV’s The Apprentice, asked for a bigger room with a brighter acoustic that would work well for both live recording and mixing. He also wanted additional acoustic treatment, including extra sound-proofing. Masters is pictured in his studio, top.
“Rather than rooms for hire, they are rooms for the client,” says Keynes, emphasising how Tileyard has tried to create comfortable surroundings for its composers and musicians, in the hope they will plan to stay for the longer term. Chris Walls, in turn, has managed the project on behalf of Munro Acoustics, working closely with the builder, as well as with bespoke joinery maker Form & Function (a long-time Munro ally). Along the way Walls and Keynes have found ways of “streamlining the process, improving acoustic quality, or reducing costs without compromising”.
“The biggest challenge about the build was giving every single tenant what they wanted, as quickly as possible,” says Walls. And the only limitations into what has been possible – within reason – has been the physical size of the office buildings. “We’ve been pretty creative within those constraints,” he adds.
A small number of key equipment suppliers/installers have been heavily involved in the Tileyard project. Barnet-based KMR Audio has supplied a wide range of high-end audio products; for instance, most of Dru Masters' equipment and Christian Henson's Pro Tools HDX rig. KMR also supplied the first pair of Focus SM9 monitors to film composer Samuel Sim. Paul Brewer of Genius Move Audio also made a significant supply and installation contribution too: “Most of my previous projects had been individual studios with 1 to 4 rooms. Tileyard was – and continues to be – something else!” he says.
“For some clients, like Basement Jaxx, I supplied gear including an SSL AWS console and a complete patchbay, while other studios had a few microphone and headphone lines. “Being able to install and supply equipment and interconnections can make life simpler for everyone,” he says, singling out Dug Guthrie of cable manufacturer VDC for his “great assistance” across the whole project. (VDC, conveniently, has its HQ in the next street down.)
Back to Keynes. “There’s a room upstairs belonging to Tom Fuller, a young engineer,” he begins. “His room is 12 metres square, with access to a small live room. He’s just been mixing down at Real World (in Bath) and he says he prefers mixing in his own room here. Not because it’s a better mix space, more that it’s his space.
“Tileyard is becoming an important incubator for talent,” says Keynes. “The labels and publishers are becoming increasingly aware of what’s happening here, so they are coming to us too.
“This café is very important, there’s nowhere like it within walking distance, this place gets very buzzy. And that’s what’s exciting about it. There are young producers, artists, and writers here – it’s very fresh and happening organically from within.”