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INTERVIEW: Ian Brenchley, Metropolis Studios

Daniel Gumble
INTERVIEW: Ian Brenchley, Metropolis Studios

Metropolis Studios managing director catches up with Audio Pro International editor Daniel Gumble to chat about the legendary facility’s new Metropolis Academy programme…

With a reputation as one of the world’s most prestigious and successful independent recording facilities, West London’s Metropolis Studios requires little by way of introduction. Boasting a client list that comprises the likes of The Black Eyed Peas, Bon Jovi, Elton John, Madonna, Kylie, The Rolling Stones, Usher, The Clash, Rihanna, Queen and Michael Jackson, to name but a few, it’s little wonder that Metropolis remains steeped in rich musical history, continuing to attract some of music’s biggest names.

However, while its core business may be centred on those resident in the upper echelons of the rock and pop world, Metropolis’ managing director Ian Brenchley has recently set about instigating a brand new initiative designed to offer aspiring producers and engineers the opportunity to gain some truly invaluable experience working alongside some of the industry’s most experienced and influential figures. This initiative culminated in last month’s (July 2012) announcement that Metropolis would be launching an Academy Programme in October 2012. And with an impressive array of individuals, such as Tracie London, Darcus Beese, Goldie, Mr Hudson, Jeanette Lee, Ross Cullum, Peter Vettese, Caroline Elleray, Sam Wheat and Matthew Rumbold confirmed on its advisory board, the programme is certainly in keeping with its high-profile status.

So, with Metropolis firmly established as one of the worlds leading studio facilities, what was it that initially led to the inception of the Academy Programme? “About two years ago, I met a guy called Kevin Nixon who was running BIMM (Brighton Institute of Music and Media) and we set up a pilot course with them, whereby we took one of our studios and turned it into an A&R classroom for about eight kids and, due to our affiliations with EMI, we were aiming to teach them how to work as A&R guys,” explains Brenchley. “We had a couple of open days, which were heavily oversubscribed and in really high demand, with kids who were really keen to learn about how to make records and how the business works and all the stuff that’s really hard to learn in a university classroom, as no one really teaches the real world of it. That ran for about a year, finishing in February 2012, and having been really successful, we were going to initiate a collaborative school effort with BIMM, but one thing or another happened internally within BIMM and it eventually fell apart.

“However, we really liked the idea of an educational facility, as it’s currently a very financially robust area of the music industry and offers great growth potential. And furthermore, we’ve got such incredible expertise in the building, both historically and contemporarily. Some of these engineers have been going for 30-40 years, yet they’re not necessarily passing their knowledge on. So, when it comes to something like mastering, for example, there aren’t too many kids who are desperate to become mastering engineers these days. Therefore, we figured that as our engineers have all these great skills and knowledge, it’d be a real shame not to pass that on. Of course, we’ve got interns and junior guys but still the expertise here is not being passed on in any great volume.”

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While there is evidently ample opportunity for Metropolis’ engineers to impart their studio prowess upon those looking to learn the proverbial ropes, Brenchley is equally aware of the opportunities for both financial and physical expansion that come with such a venture, especially in light of the amount of dormant space that remains unused in such a vast complex. “There are clear financial opportunities that come with this, and we also have a huge building at our disposal. We’ve just spent half a million pounds refurbishing it and developing new areas. There’s 100,000 square feet of space here, and currently we are only using 27,000, and there’s possibly around another 30,000 that we could move into. We’ve just developed 3,500 square feet in the basement for our purpose built creative digital media facility, plus we’ve got a further two studios down there, some production and writing rooms, and a brand new state of the art screening room facility that’s going in there soon.”

With so many plans in place, the Metropolis Academy Programme is now in the process of recruiting for its courses. “The classes have launched now with www.metropolisacademy.com up an running and places for the two courses that we are running (Music Production and Music Business) are now available. There is a weekend course and a ten-week course, which will be peppered with a who’s who of those working on the ground and making a success for themselves in the music business, and I think it’ll be great for the kids to hear from these guys about how things really work, as opposed to a university lecturer telling you how things ideally work. This course will tell kids how the business operates now, not how it used to be. And from a production perspective, the guys who will be leading the course are people who are active now, producing and making records successfully. Who better to teach aspiring kids that that?”

It is Brenchley’s approach to providing students with a more practical ‘hands on’ experience, in contrast to that of offering them a theoretical idea of how things work, that ultimately serves as the driving force behind the Academy Programme. And with an abundance of unique knowledge and expertise under one roof, he appears loath to let such potential go to waste. “Having the Academy here makes sense on a number of different levels. We are producing on average – and this is quite a broad average – 50 per cent of the UK top 40 here over the course of a year, which is a great volume and footfall of the elite from the world of rock and pop, so it’s quite aspirational; if there’s a school here and the people making those kinds of records next door come and tell you ‘this is how I’m doing it’, I think that’s a much more pragmatic, practical, hands on experience. Of course there will be academic qualities to it, but it’s a real life experience, and I think that makes a lot of difference, especially in the music industry, as it’s not the kind of industry where you can just go and get a degree and step straight into a great job. I think it is this aspect of our courses that will give kids a bit of an edge over those going to another standard course.”  

Among those set to serve as guest lecturers across the metropolis Academy are Brenchley himself, along with Ian Ramage, who has worked in the industry for over 25 years with such companies as Sony, EMI and BMG, and with artists including Coldplay, Keane and Pink Floyd. Meanwhile, Marc Fox, founder member of Haircut 100, whose album Pelican West sold over two million records, will also be involved. From session percussionist and arranger to A&R consultant, Fox has worked with the likes of Depeche Mode, Tina Turner, Girls Aloud and Paul McCartney, and works regularly on productions with Endemol, Sky and TigerAspect. Also on-board is Fraser Kennedy, who has been a producer for many years and worked on a number of prestigious records and shows, including Live at Abbey Road.

In addition to the Metropolis Academy Programme, Brenchley also reveals that as of next year the facility will be offering even further educational opportunities, with the final touches currently being put to a degree course. “We are now writing the course curriculum for a degree course that will start in September 2013 for which there’ll be 100 available spaces, and as we monitor the progression of this course we will see how we can continue to diversify and add to the range of courses we will be able to offer.”

Having garnered much of its fame and success via its services to the music industry, Metropolis will always be most closely affiliated to the world of rock and pop, yet its facilities have been able to branch out somewhat over the years, with Brenchley keen to point out the various other avenues down which he endeavours to explore further. He elaborates: “We have a lot of audio visual business here, meaning students will be able to learn about the film, TV and software world. We also have an app label here, which has some fantastic expertise behind it. All this stuff is interconnected and highly relevant when you look at where the industry is going these days. The industry is predominantly online and continues to grow evermore so, so it’s really good for the kids who are coming through the ranks to get a good overview of how all this stuff is interconnected and how it all works, because it’s no good teaching them about the traditional business, as things work very differently now, compared to how they used to.”

Ultimately, it is Brenchley’s vision for Metropolis as a whole that has led to the introduction of its academy programme and its development and expansion into the realm of TV, movies and apps. With a drive and ambition to keep Metropolis at the fore of an ever-changing media landscape, not to mention a passion for growing his business at every conceivable level, it is Brenchley’s holistic approach that looks set to ensure that Metropolis remains one of the most successful establishments in its field.

He concludes: “If we weren’t a world famous studio with a reputation for producing top quality rock and pop stuff, we wouldn’t be able to do all of the other stuff. And equally, all of the other stuff will feed the core business as it will bring greater visibility worldwide to Metropolis and to what we do, so you keep the core business going and keep reinventing it for a new demographic and a new generation.”

For more on the Metropolis Academy, please visit metropolisacademy.com.

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Tags: Studio, elton john, rihanna, coldplay, depeche mode, michael jackson, paul mccartney, rolling stones, bon jovi, amy winehouse, the clash, madonna, Kylie, interview, ian brenchley, Sky, London 2012 Olympics, usher, queen, metropolis, endemol, metropolis studios

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