Overcoming adversity: Steve Sears on his new venture and the biggest threats facing the studio sector
When Steve Sears established Titan studios in Watford six years ago, he had little idea that the disused basement- cum-warehouse space in which he had set up shop would become a hub for the area’s burgeoning punk and metal scene. Now, after being forced out of Hertfordshire by major hikes in rental costs, Sears is about to embark on an exciting new project based in Tottenham in the form of Monolith Studios. Here, he tells PSNEurope how he overcame one of the biggest financial threats facing studios today and lets us in on what we can expect from his new venture…
I set up Titan nearly six years ago in a basement complex – a 10-room warehouse that had been previously occupied by squatters.
They had been hosting pirate radio stations and raves for a couple of years or so before they were evicted. Before a string of unsuccessful start-ups, it had been run quite successfully as a rough and ready rehearsal studio that my friends and I all started our bands in. It was a real golden era for Watford and the surrounding areas, spawning a new wave of forward thinking punk and metal bands, such as Gallows, Sikth, Lower Than Atlantis, Enter Shikari and more.
Titan was as much a creative hub as it was a studio. And I’m excited by the future but also feel that Hertfordshire has lost a really important community of home grown talent.
It is thanks to these studios that I was able to turn my passion for recording into a career. I was over the moon, despite the daunting renovation, to take on a small (though physically huge) slice of history and maybe even rejuvenate the once fertile scene.
It transpired that its reputation reached way beyond Hertfordshire and London and I was soon working with clients from all over the UK, Europe and beyond. I tend to attract bands with an extremely bold sound that sets them apart from their peers. Hang The Bastard’s stoner rock/doom/black metal hybrid Sex In The Seventh Circle exposed the band to a huge new audience, while Gallows’ critically acclaimed Desolation Sounds shocked fans with an experimental goth punk masterpiece.
As well as established acts, Titan was integral to the formulation of acts that would go on to achieve huge success, such as The Hunna and Moose Blood. It was also a stop off point for big festival pre-production with bands like Pierce The Veil, Neck Deep and Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes paying a visit.
To begin with, the cost of running the space was relatively cheap because of its nature. After all, there aren’t many uses for a sprawling set of windowless basement level rooms with a small staircase as the only form of access.
The company that owned the buildings in the area, Flexspace, couldn’t get anybody in. To begin with, despite the challenge of getting such a huge site up to scratch, I was getting it at a fairly decent price point. This gave Steve Sears me a degree of flexibility to develop the rooms and buy some great outboard gear, amps and all sorts to really make it a studio with no creative limitations.
However, as with anything exciting, all it takes is a bit of greed to bring everything crashing down.
Earlier this year my landlord drafted in a new assets manager. In the final months, despite several previous rent hikes, I was faced with forking out almost three times the rate I’d been paying when I first started. To add insult to injury, I’d had an agreement to negotiate until the end of September yanked from under me and was instead forced without notice to vacate the premises within a fortnight.
It wasn’t only me that was affected, of course, but a team of close-knit creative friends that had worked hard together to make the space work. I felt – and indeed still feel – awful for everyone involved in Titan.
In any case, I learned a long time ago that the only way to succeed as a musician or a producer without going crazy is to thrive on adversity. I am now currently putting together an incredible space in Tottenham under the name Monolith Studios, which will be open for business as of September 3, with a fantastic new producer, Charlie Wilson.
It is so amazing to have that excitement again – being able to design a studio from scratch and really getting hands on with the renovation. We have collectively expanded our microphone locker with Royers,
Neumanns and some quirky toys, as well as drafting in some great new Antelope gear at the hub of our ever- growing rack collection.
It’s great to be moving further into the city and it was something I’d always pictured myself doing. I can’t wait to refocus on what made me first fall in love with production.
I will always have countless warm memories of Titan, but as the pressure to keep busy mounted alongside spiralling costs, I feel I may have inadvertently lost sight of my initial vision in an effort to keep the studios firing on all cylinders, so to speak.
At the time of writing, we are just finishing up the huge control room and cannot wait to get Monolith off the ground. It’s the beginning of a new era for both Charlie and I and I feel that we are on to something truly special. Onwards and upwards.