Earlier today, I glanced over my early jottings and winced.
Were my initial predictions and estimates naïve? Over optimistic? Over confident? Maybe a mixture of these. On balance, though, I’m grateful that so far we’ve got more right than wrong.
On the positive side, I’m relieved at the amount of background planning invested in the project, and in particular the decision to enlist a full time project manager. Largely due to Marco’s diligence, the build has progressed smoothly with a minimum of hitches or waste and his attention to detail will pay dividends to the finished studio. Quite apart from the massive soundproofing requirements (a larger job than envisaged), a huge amount of electrical design and planning was done and this will result in quiet mains, flexible lighting and a solid platform for the audio installation due to start shortly.
In short, the time and money spent to ensure the best possible foundations will be justified many times over.
I’m now resigned to the build overrunning by several months, with a commensurate inflation of the initial budget. So where and why did I underestimate?
Of course, I can point to specifics that were ignored, forgotten or quite simply, brutally underestimated. I’ve already identified the failure to identify the need for, and cost of, quality flooring, ‘dirty’ mains (for the kitchen, lounges, shower and suchlike), and studio specific electrics such as the variac lighting dimmers. But the main reason for the budget overshoot was quite simply a serious underestimate of the scale and time the build would take. And every week adds three to four thousand pounds to the cost in labour, materials and rent.
To quote Richard Pierce after he completed his new control room at the Pierce Rooms – budget, budget and then budget again. And then, once you’ve costed everything to the nth degree, rip up your figures and double them.
So, what tips can I identify at this stage of the project?
- Add a contingency of eighty per cent in both time and budget to your carefully judged plans.
- Prior to starting the project, have your sparky measure the mains supply to ensure sufficient clean power is being delivered to the building. Everything starts with the mains. It has to be right.
- Start your insurance policy from day one rather from when the equipment is installed. After all, the value of the studio build will be substantial so should the site suffer fire, floods or pestilence, large losses could be incurred not merely in terms of the infrastructure but also lost time and potential earnings.
- Ensure you make provision and allowance for floors, doors, light fittings, door furniture (handles, locks etc), fire and burglar alarms, phone and internet lines, water heaters, CCTV, air conditioning and/or clean air feeds, toilets, kitchen fittings and all the other small bits and pieces as each and every aspect adds a few hundred pounds that quickly add up to thousands or even tens of thousands.
- Make sure that building work complies with fire and other health and safety regulations and that security complies with any specific requirements your insurance company may have.
- Regularly revise your building schedule. Always look at last two weeks ahead and make sure that your builder and/or acoustician have the materials they need in good time. A studio (or house) build is like a jigsaw, with each stage reliant upon the last. If materials or fittings are delayed, this will hold up the job. Small delays at every stage add up alarmingly, and time is money. If a refuse skip turns up late, an entire building team may spend days twiddling their communal thumbs. So plan ahead and liase closely with suppliers and project manager to keep the project moving seamlessly.
- Check exactly what the neighbours (if any) do. One extremely well known firm spent over a million pounds building Cream Studios, designed largely for orchestral recording, only to discover that the adjoining building was occupied by a marble cutting factory, the noise from which was clearly audible during string sessions. Several London studios have been built close to the overground rail network, which results in an audible electrical spike every time a train passes. The only solution has been extremely costly – to clad the adjoining walls with metal.
- Identify those areas where you must invest at the outset and areas where you can delay expenditure. In particular, the infrastructure is paramount because mistakes or economies in electrics, acoustics, soundproofing etc cannot be rectified after the event. If any budget has to be cut, then delay certain items of equipment as these can be added at a later stage. If the studio structure and installation are to the highest standard, outboard, mics and trimmings can be basic and expanded in time. Even the console can be a compromise. After all, a good sounding, professionally structured studio will get work pretty much irrespective of the equipment, whereas a glittering collection of gear is useless if soundproofing or electrics are substandard. And you can’t fit cables for additional lighting or mains after the infrastructure is complete.
- Ensure that funds are available to pay contractors and suppliers promptly. The worst disaster on any build is a disgruntled workforce or delays caused when key people down tools because they haven’t been paid or because supplies are delivered late. Poor payment is a false economy as such delays add to cost and stress.
- Get several quotes for each job but don’t always accept the cheapest quote (and remember, these are estimates not fixed prices, unless you can accurately spec jobs and get fixed prices). Then carefully check the qualifications and track record of potential suppliers and contractors. An experienced builder, sparky or wireman may seem more expensive, but often (though not always) the higher quote not merely delivers a better quality result but also works out cheaper – the skilled contractor may work faster and include cost in his quote that become extras with the a supplier unfamiliar with the specific requirement of a recording studio. Ultimately, quality and experience is worth a premium, which can save thousands in the long run.
I’m sure that I’ll reiterate many of the above points in my final summary and will doubtless have plenty more tips to pass on.
Overall, though, I’m delighted with progress. Within two weeks the control room windows will be in, the doors and floors laid, the acoustics well under way and the monitors fitted and fired up ready for final acoustic tweaking and treatment. Within a month the equipment will be in situ and the install well under way.
The final point that I would make is that despite our significantly revised budget, the standard and quality of finish will significantly outweigh studios designed and built by well known companies in the field at more than three times the cost of Snap.
But let’s see how the place sounds. If we fulfil this aspect of our ambitions, Snap will prove not merely one of the very best new studios of the last decade, but one of the very best value builds in Town.