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Air Studios: “I won’t sell to property developers,” says owner

Air Studios boss Richard Boote has spoken to PSNEurope to clarify his position following the announcement that the facility is for sale as a going concern, writes Dave Robinson.

Air Studios owner (and Air Entertainment Group chairman) Richard Boote has clarified his position following the announcement that the Hampstead-based facility – probably the second highest profile recording facility in the UK – is for sale as a going concern, writes Dave Robinson.

Boote – the owner of Shoreditch’s Strongroom Studios, who bought Air from Chrysalis/Sir George Martin in 2006 – confirmed that, since the announcement was posted at 2pm on Thursday 17 May afternoon, he has already received one “serious” offer, and that he was determined to sell it “as a studio”, eschewing a barrage of offers from north London property developers. He emphasised that it was not a matter of “sell it or close it”.

Air Studios – a converted Victorian church near Belsize Park tube station – is always in demand for recording major film scores; the main hall is regularly used for live concerts and television recordings. Along with Abbey Road in St Johns Wood and Angel Studios in Islington, it is one of a few remaining facilities capable of accommodating a symphony orchestra in the Greater London area. However, says Boote, it’s time to look at other revenue streams.

“We recently bought out a radio station (Strongroom Alive Radio); several phone apps, including Air Vinyl, which was No.1 on the iTunes music apps chart when it launched; two types of beer – a lager and a stout – which we’re hoping to export; and we’re looking at a digital distribution network and more app releases too. So, I want to develop the Strongroom brand,” Boote says.

“Air Studios is a profitable part of our business and the decision to put Air on the market has been a difficult one,” Boote is quoted as saying in the 2pm press release. “However, with the Group’s vision of content creation and a more public-facing focus, it was felt that the Studios would benefit longer term from having an owner that will continue its great recording heritage that keeps it on a par with Abbey Road.”

But aren’t the TV recordings part of the promotiion of the Air brand, along with presenting a “public-facing focus”? “We’ve done lots of shows there,” says Boote. “But the studio is always busy, with orchestral recordings and film scores, so you can’t develop it that way. If I wanted to, say, do a show every Saturday night – which I don’t – you couldn’t, because there would be an orchestral booking in the way.”

Observers were critical of Sony Corp when it sold Whitfield Street studios (formerly CBS) in 2004 – the reasoning being, if you are signing talent and creating content, surely you need somewhere to record it?

“I’ve never created my own content at Air,” reveals Boote. “I owned it, I rented it out to other people for £2,500 a day. But we have been filming new bands at Strongroom, and we will continue to develop that.” Air Management and the newly created Air Mastering operations are also part of the sale (PSNEurope was informed on Friday evening) though the Air Post operation will remain in Boote’s portfolio.

Boote goes on to clarify an ambiguity in the press release: ‘Strongroom Bar & Kitchen are also to developed in other locations’, says the statement.

“The Bar stays!” he says, categorically. “In fact, we have permission to extend it so it’s half as big again – more suitable for recording new bands, a subject I’m particularly passionate about.” Boote suggests that the Bar & Kitchen brand and concept might extend to Brighton, Bristol and even Berlin, not as franchises but under direct control of the London parent.

Boote declined to talk figures, but, with its prime north London location, the Air selling price will run into several million pounds. Who might be in a financial position to buy it?

“Since the announcement [on Thursday afternoon at 2pm] I’ve had four emails from interested parties, and of those one is very serious.

“I want to sell it as a studio. I’m selling it because it’s making money: otherwise I would have to give it away. I just want to move on: I’ve been managing studios for 25 years and I’ve got other things that are exciting me now.”

Boote is quick to dispel a suspicion that may worry the wider recording industry.

“I’m constantly being banged over the head by property developers. I don’t want to go there. If it doesn’t sell straight away, what will I do? Well, I don’t know…” he admits. “It will just take longer to sell. It’s definitely not a case of it ‘sell it or close it down’.”