Film scores for Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Wonder Woman, Justice League and Alien Covenant are among recent projects recorded at the state-of-the-art studio, based at Lyndhurst Hall, a Grade II listed converted church in Hampstead, North London, since 1991.
Prior to that, AIR -- which stands for Associated Independent Recording -- was located in central London. A sister studio in the tiny Caribbean island of Montserrat was opened by George Martin in 1979. It would go on to play host to some of the biggest-selling acts of the 1980s with Dire Straits, The Police, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton all cutting hit records at the facility. AIR Studios Montserrat was forced to close after much of the island was destroyed by a hurricane in 1989.
“The sale of AIR Studios is a significant moment in the history of the music industry,” announced co-owner Richard Boote, who acquired the London facility from Chrysalis Group and Pioneer in 2006. “Some of the most legendary soundtracks and records of the 20th and 21st century have been recorded at AIR and we know that there is still scope to expand and grow the business further,” said Boote in a statement.
Co-owner Paul Woolf tells Billboard that while the decision to put AIR on the market is “not an easy step” for either of them, it comes down to a very simple reason. “We’re a pair of old farts, basically,” he explains.
“We’ve worked very hard over a number of years to get the business in really solid shape, but there’s always a future path and it’s time to go. There’s someone out there who’s younger and who has got the tenacity that we had when we were 40,” he says, likening the studio to a top-flight soccer club. “There comes a point in time when you need to hand it over to someone else whilst it’s in the Premiership.”
As for who buys AIR, which includes an enviable collection of state-of-the-art and vintage equipment (including one of the world’s largest Neve 88R consoles), collectively said to be worth around £3 million ($4 million), Woolf says they want someone who appreciates the heritage of the building and will carry on its legacy.
“It’s a very family cultured place,” he states. “We’re not corporate in how we run it and we’re very conscious of finding someone who buys into that and supports the staff. We’ve got probably the best tech team in the U.K., so we want them looked after and we want [the buyer] to take AIR onto the next step. To look at opportunities to develop and grow the place and treasure its history and heritage.”
Billboard understands that staff at AIR were told of the owners’ decision to put the studios up for sale at the weekend, prior to the news being made public. Around 30 people are employed at the facility. Its sale is expected to attract offers from around the world.
“We have survived primarily because what we do, we do extremely well,” says Woolf. “It’s like most things that are high quality. We’re not looking to rack ‘em, stack ‘em and pack ‘em. That’s not our approach. The business is great. It’s very solid. We have very loyal clients and we’re very grateful.”
In October, the studio won a two-year legal battle to stop a neighbor from building a basement cinema, sauna, hot tub and swimming pool. AIR’s owners had feared that the noise and vibrations from the construction work would force the complex to close down. George Michael and Queen's Brian May were among the signatories of an open letter opposing the plans, while more 13,000 people signed a petition in support of the historic studio.
Woolf cites the "unbelievable" industry-wide response as one of his most abiding memories from his time at AIR. “That outpouring of support and love was so enormous it made me realize that I was involved in something very special," he nostalgically reflects. "I honestly don’t think I’ll ever forget that. It will live with me for a long time.”