RAK Studios: The Past, Present, and Future of London’s Prestigious Recording Studio

Next time you’re in London, exit the tube at St. John’s Wood station, turn right twice, then left, and then right one more time. Walk down the residential street past columned townhouses and a small grocery store. In a few minutes time, you’ll find yourself at RAK Studios, a premiere studio space that’s hosted many of Britain’s top musicians – David Bowie, Sam Smith, the Kooks, and Paul McCartney, to name a few – nestled innocuously on a quiet street near Regent’s Park. The front of RAK Studios is grand but unimposing, with clay colored window trim, two white columns, and a blue door that pops out from the burnt orange brick exterior. Inside, the cozy waiting room feels like a friend’s living room, with magazines strewn on the table and a TV showing the latest football game. RAK is special that way – it feels comfortable and inviting, a place where artists can go to record and create but also relax without the noise of the outside world or the distractions of celebrity.

Andy Leese, the studio’s general manager, explains the importance of privacy at RAK back in his office on a gently worn couch. “When the artists come through the doors here, it’s private. It’s other artists, us, and them. There’s a feeling of security without having ID badges or signing in. We want to preserve that. We’ve had famous people here and paparazzi camped outside, but when people come inside here, they’re safe. We have an unspoken social media privacy policy, so no one talks about what clients are doing here outside the building unless the artists want them to.”

Leese’s office, much like the rest of the studio, has a lived-in feel. It feels comfortable, well-maintained without being shiny and new, and well-used. RAK merchandise is stacked on shelves against the wall – tote bags, records, t-shirts – all part of the new steps RAK is taking to open an online store. “Because of all the tools that are available in the digital age, you can do a lot of stuff yourself, so we’re putting the finishing touches on our own [online] shop. We’re going to be selling vinyl, t-shirts, tote bags… We’re starting to release unique materials only available via our store – song sheets, unique photos, private sessions with the artists. It gives people what they want, which is exclusivity. From a studio point of view, that makes RAK quite unique.”

Leese and the RAK team are always looking to the future while maintaining their strengths of the past. This idea seems to manifest in the building itself, from its architecture to the studio equipment. The studios are kept in top condition without having many aesthetic upgrades. “What we’re doing is tidying up as opposed to renovating, keeping the same environment. We add a lick of paint here and there, so it feels like you’re still in a retro studio but it’s not falling apart.”

RAK is steeped in history, having first been opened in 1976 by Mickie Most, legendary record producer who, in true music industry form, was also a successful recording…

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