Tucked away in the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside, yet still only half an hour outside of London, the recently opened Darkwood Studios is something of an artist’s haven. Situated on a working farm, it is overlooked by an ornate, centuries-old house that is patrolled by a pair of peacocks. Evidently a popular spot for local entrepreneurs, Darkwood also finds itself nestled amongst a brewery, a blacksmith and a clutch of other small businesses. As well as a dry hire studio, it is also the beating heart of the 3Ms record label, which provides label services – and of course the studio – on a single album release basis. So how did this venture come to arrive here? Studio co-owner Malcolm Scott picks up the story…
“We set up 3Ms Music in 2014 essentially because we had Smokehouse Studios in Wapping, which is a well-established old studio,” he explains. “We came up with this idea that we would do one album projects with well-known musicians who weren’t of much interest to the majors anymore but still had a following and young, hard-working bands. We started with Hamish and Molly from Average White Band, then we had Jah Wobble and The Sharks, so we would record a single album and promo it. Essentially, we made the label to match the fact we had the studio. The problem was we didn’t have a very secure lease on the place, so we were turned out with two months’ notice.They didn’t give us enough time to recover most of the gear, so we sold a lot of it. The label worked on the basis that we had a studio ready to bring these people into, so we had to start looking for somewhere new.”
After two years looking for the perfect spot, Scott and the Darkwood team decided that the best approach to creating a studio to fit their precise needs was to build one from the ground up, rather than take on an existing space.
“It was an empty tin shed at a 45-degree angle with its roof, with nothing inside except a concrete floor, so we decided to take it and see what we could do,” says Scott. “I’m lucky in that the singer in my band and the bassist are builders. So, between them they constructed Darkwood Studios from scratch. From that point we got Studiospares to kit it and wire it. It’s taken us 18 months to get here.
Inside Darkwood, the décor is just as striking as its exterior. The wood finishes, forest green walls and coffee bags lining portions of its perimeter provide a sense of the outside being brought in with you. However, the rustic feel is offset by a high-tech spec.
“Because we are all musicians and have done a lot of recording, we wanted to make somewhere that we’d be really comfortable coming to, without the stress of some of the more industrial spaces available,” Scott says. “We want it to be as friendly and welcoming as possible. I’ve been in studios that were basically tragic pits, where you didn’t even want to make a cup of tea or use the toilet. We want this to be comfortable, friendly and allow people to record without any pressure.”
At the time of Headliner’s visit to Darkwood, the studio had quite literally just opened for business. So as day one in their new home commences, what does Scott consider to be the biggest opportunities and challenges for the new venture?
“It’s about finding the conduits to potential clients; understanding the ways we’ll make contact with the people who want to use the studio,” he posits. “With the Smokehouse a lot of it was word of mouth. We’re setting out to establish a set of people who will also want to bring people into the studio. We’ll make a fuss on social media, and I suspect there are studio directories, but beyond that it’s about contacts and opportunities. The way the whole industry works is based around contacts, rather than a straightforward retail or business proposition. It’s much more complex than that.”
For now, Scott is simply brimming with excitement about the completion of the studio and the journey that awaits.
“I feel stunned and excited and anticipatory in a very happy way,” he beams. “To look at it now and know it’s ready to go and that anything else we do can only make it better is very exciting indeed.”