The Ranch Production House founder and Manager Neil Kennedy.
The IMI 1st Sep 2022

What happens when a music studio tells artists ‘Pay what you can’?

The Ranch Production House has allowed musicians to name their price for studio use between August and October to combat the cost of living crisis – but the model could become a permanent fixture, says founder Neil Kennedy…

There isn’t a single part of the independent music industry that isn’t having to adapt to the ongoing cost of living crisis, following the already devastating impacts of a global pandemic.

Invariably, the knock-on effects of struggling businesses mean strangled revenue streams and fewer opportunities for most artists – who are themselves feeling the pinch both professionally and at home.

In response, The Ranch Production House announced a ‘Pay What You Can’ scheme for recording sessions running between August and October.

With a completely open-door policy, the scheme is aimed at helping musicians to combat the current economic hardships (compounded by the Brexit fallout in the case of the UK).

At the initiative’s launch last month, Ranch founder and manager Neil Kennedy said: “The cost of living crisis is hitting us all hard, and straight after a global pandemic. It’s fair to say musicians have had it pretty rough. We can’t do a lot, but at The Ranch we wanted to do something to help.”

Speaking more recently to The IMI with the scheme firmly underway, Kennedy said that the response has been strong and, perhaps more importantly, artists have approached the offer in good faith.

“We’ve had a lot of interest and at times have struggled to find the right slot for a given project,” he said. “We’ve also had some really kind messages just offering support and some real positivity around the concept in general.

“I have been quite surprised that, generally speaking, people have pitched their sessions quite realistically in terms of budgets! I was expecting at least a couple of real low ball offers but I really don’t think we’ve had any of note. One other thing is that current clients who feel able to cover their costs haven’t tried to take advantage of it or ‘game the system’; there seems to be an understanding that there are folk out there who need it more.”

"We have a couple of younger staff engineers that I'd love to see develop and hone their skills and the PYWC model allows for that."

And, while this particular offer is temporary, as things stand, Kennedy says that the PWYC model is something The Ranch could adopt in some form on a more permanent basis.

“I don’t think it’s the solution for every studio but I can see the model having some longevity with us, certainly,” he said. “We have a couple of younger staff engineers that I’d love to see develop and hone their skills and the PYWC model allows for that, with less pressure on them, and can foster sense of camaraderie between engineer and client.”

Of course, it’s not just artists that are feeling the pinch at the moment, studios themselves are struggling too.

UK Music Chief Executive Jamie Njoku-Goodwin recently called on the UK Government to cut VAT from its current 20% and extend business rate help to give a lifeline to music businesses fighting for survival, with operating costs soaring.

One major London recording studio expects its gas bill to rise by 600% and its electricity charge to rise by 80%, according to the Music Producers Guild.

“One of the trends of 2022 has been postponement,” Kennedy says, speaking about Ranch’s own experience. “That has, almost always, been down to [artists’] cash flow and prioritisation of more ‘mundane’ aspects of life such as having food and power. The necessity of rescheduling does raise complex and challenging issues relating to deposits; it feels morally wrong to point to terms and conditions when you know everyone is in a really tough place.

“As unlikely as it is with our current government, I’d love to see ‘the arts’ be given more support. The contemporary music industry is a huge part of the UK economy but is certainly not treated with commensurate care and attention. The grass roots of UK music has given us so much talent, expression and a depth and richness of material. It deserves to be supported through the tough times!”