Turn that down!!!!
Those three words, directed at a high volume and often with venom at bands that rehearse at home, gave birth to a niche market: the self-storage unit as rehearsal space.
“Our band spaces are great because they turn something that’s a problem into a solution,” said Lori “Lo” Jablonski, marketing manager at STORExpress Self Storage, which offers more than 80 climate-controlled band rehearsal units at two of its seven facilities in Pittsburgh, PA. “Here, band practice is fun, exciting—and respectable.”
We’ve found that people are so appreciative of the [rehearsal] space that they work really hard to abide by the rules.
— Daryl Henline, manager of Bridge Storage and Art Space
Elsewhere, the very thought of hosting nocturnal noisemakers is a total buzz kill for storage operators for fear of activities like smoking, drinking and partying.
Following the Rules
So, what does it take to transform “Turn it down!” into “Come on in!”?
That’s because band practice spaces aren’t always harmonious with a traditional self-storage operation. Here are four potential problems:
1. Power: Most bands need power, but many storage units don’t have electricity or it would be too costly to add power outlets.
2. Noise: If you’re facility is in a rural area, noise might not be a problem. However, it could be if your facility is in the heart of an urban area or even in a suburb.
3. Security: Human traffic, especially late at night, can increase the risk of theft and vandalism.
4. Rent: Facilities can’t accept partial rent payments, so when one band member isn’t able to come up with his share of the dough, that can result in late fees.
On the bright side, where band space is in demand—as it is at STORExpress’ college-centric Etna and South Side locations and in Bridge’s Bay Area artist scene—units rent at a premium and vacancies are rare.
“Rock bands just kind of stay,” said Lori Kadales, operations manager at STORExpress. “I guess you can’t ever kill the dream.”
She insists that the day-to-day reality of interacting with aspiring rock stars is far different than storage skeptics might think. Big names like Rusted Root and rising stars like The Composure have tuned up their tunes at STORExpress.
“The biggest advantage may be revenue, but you also sometimes have these awesome people coming through. Some bands do get big, and it’s pretty interesting to get to know them,” Kadales said.
Henline agreed: “We’ve found that people are so appreciative of the space that they work really hard to abide by the rules.”
No ‘Unsavory Characters’
At Bridge, those rules include hours (6 a.m. to midnight), parking (parking lot only; no vehicles in driveways or alleys), fire extinguishers, and credit and criminal background checks.
“We just do that because these people are going to be on the property when the front office is closed,” Henline said. “We don’t want any unsavory characters kicking around.”
As for crowd control, Henline said, the size of his 10×25 band units, which rent for $500 a month, pretty much shuts out post-gig partying. “Once they haul in a drum kit and a couple of amplifiers, there’s not any room for an audience,” he said.
The Price of Fame
Cost remains the major obstacle to making units rock-ready. STORExpress built its band units as soundproof, office-like indoor spaces accessible by elevator and a loading dock—certainly no small investment. Band units there rent for $270 to $375 a month.
Bridge chose to retrofit former drive-up exterior spaces by installing soundproof secondary walls and ceilings throughout. The storage operator even came up with a fix for that troublesome roll-up door that, once opened, could transform any given night into a South by Southwest venue.
“We built a second wall just behind the roll-up with a regular exterior man-door,” Henline said. “We leave the roll-up for security, but when a band shows up to rehearse, they lift the roll-up and there’s another wall in front of them with a regular door.”
Add the expense of tweaking insurance and zoning to cover occupancy, not to mention installing men’s and women’s restrooms, and Henline said he understands why most storage operators avoid band space.
But Jablonski insists that having creative folks around returns the investment ten-fold by helping her marketing go viral. Turn it down? No, turn it up!
“They’re a band, so they’re going to promote where they’re practicing, not only with family and friends but their fans as well,” she says. “That’s great word of mouth.”