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Brit Awards nominee Sigala: 'King's Cross studio believed in me when I was a struggling producer on benefits'

PUBLISHED: 13:00 17 January 2019

Sigala on stage during Capital's Jingle Bell Ball. Picture: PA

Sigala on stage during Capital's Jingle Bell Ball. Picture: PA

PA Wire/PA Images

When a young out-of-work DJ and producer came across Tileyard Studios in Kings’ Cross six years ago, he was given the opportunity to hone his skills free of charge.

The site has 85 music studios. Picture: Tileyard StudiosThe site has 85 music studios. Picture: Tileyard Studios

That man, Sigala, is still there, but now boasts a number one record and has recently been nominated for a Brit Award for his song Lullaby with Paloma Faith.

His success encapsulates the studio’s rise over the last decade.

“I moved down to London from Norwich 10 years ago and studied at the University of Westminster,” Sigala told the Gazette. “Then I had a really tough couple of years. I didn’t know enough people in the industry and ended up on benefits for two years as I couldn’t find a job in music.

“Through another artist they were managing, I got introduced to Charlie Arme and Jason Sharpe [of Tileyard’s record label Tileyard Music]. As soon as I met them I had a really good vibe from them and played them some stuff, although I didn’t have a lot to play.

Co-founders of Tileyard, from left Nick Keyes, Paul Kempe, and Michael Harwood. Picture: POLLY HANCOCKCo-founders of Tileyard, from left Nick Keyes, Paul Kempe, and Michael Harwood. Picture: POLLY HANCOCK

“They really believed in it. Jason gave me 10-15 sessions and it opened my world up other writers. I was meeting people who were in the same boat as me, just starting out. People were there night and day working their arses off and most of those are now doing amazing things.

Sigala recorded most of his debut album, last year’s Brighter Days, at Tileyard. But when he arrived in London he had no plans to be an artist himself.

“I just wanted to work in music,” he explained. “Tileyard facilitates that and then managed to get me a recording deal, which I didn’t know was a possibility.”

As reported by the Gazette last week, bosses at Tileyard say they need Islington Council to allow them to buy nearby warehouses if they are to stay in the borough, as there is so much demand and the companies that began as start-ups need bigger floorspace.

But when it was opened by Nick Keynes, formerly of late-1990s boyband Ultra, and Paul Kempe, the place was “grim” – a far cry from the 150,000 sq ft site that is now bursting with music industry types, musicians, tech whizzes and film and TV start-ups.

“Paul acquired the site as a property man,” explained Nick. “He’s always tried to do things slightly differently, he’s a visionary. It was in the heart of the credit crunch and in 2011 this was a grim place, and it was 80 per cent vacant.

“At that point I was trying to write songs and produce and I was having a bit of a mid-life crisis. I asked Paul if we could do something at Tileyard as there was a lot of empty space. We had this vision of trying to bring creative people together.”

So they built 10 music studios, but not in the traditional way.

“We found the clients first and asked them what kind of space they wanted,” Nick continued. “The old model was to build a studio and rent it out on a daily basis. Our model was tailored, we were trying to build a community. Instead of a day rate of £500 it was £1,000 for a month and it was open 24/7. It’s much more affordable. And of the 10 studios we started with, nine clients are still with us today. And we’ve since built another 75.”

With no marketing, the clients on the site are carefully chosen by Nick and the team.

“We look for people who are authentic,” Nick said. “We want nice people. We have people who see the value in what we offer besides the space. We very much target the independent music industry businesses, with some film and TV. We want it to be fully creative.”

More than half of the businesses are start-ups and more than 1,000 people work at the site.

“It is fantastic for employment and GDP,” Nick added. “We’ve got guys here we’ve known for 20 years who are each year having their best year ever.”

Mark Ronson had his studio there for five years before moving to LA, and recorded his global hit Uptown Funk at Tileyard. Lady Gaga and Mick Jagger have recorded there, and Kanye West has also shown his face.

But aside from the showbiz glamour, the studio also likes to give back. There is now an education arm as well as the support for up-and-coming artists like Sigala, who was supported because Nick and the team saw something special in him.

“We will provide space for artists we support,” continued Nick. “We’ve got our own in-house music company Tileyard Music. Sigala started our like that and he’s one of the most successful recording artists in the UK. His studio is still here and he’s also managed by us.”

One “really exciting” business is Spitfire Audio, which was set up by composers Christian Henson and Paul Thomson and creates digital toolkits for composers and producers.

The company started out with one full-time worker and now employees 70 people – many from Islington – over 10,000 sq ft of floorspace.

“We came in ‘phase 2’, when Tileyard felt very much like a hinterland between Camden and the West End,” said Christian, who has worked on 20 film scores and 50 TV shows. “The surrounding area has changed dramatically and this place has transformed my life because of the opportunity it gave me.

“I’ve been composing professionally since 1997 but Paul and Nick saw I had a sideline with creating software tools for composers and said: ‘If you want to build an HQ here we can help you’. They had belief in us, inexplicably. Four years ago we had one full-time member of staff, now we have hundreds of thousands of users around the world.”

Spitfire records samples from musicians, who are then paid royalties when their work is used. Hans Zimmer, Roger Taylor and Massive Attack have all partnered with the platform.

“Tileyard provides a safe haven for people to make their living in the music industry, which is very difficult in London” Christian added. “We’re all part of the same tribe.”

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