While liberally educated twentysomethings with dollar signs for eyeballs were building paper skyscrapers in cyberspace in the late '90s, Alan Lucchesi was quietly building a business of his own -- on solid ground. He rents out practice space to bands. Like housing, this will always be in demand in the Bay Area.
His newest site has 155 practice spaces deep in the industrial section of West Oakland. It's huge: 70,000 square feet that takes up the second and third floors of a warehouse built in 1940 to store paper. These days, of course, paper warehouses don't need to exist -- we can hold all that info on a computer chip. But it's a good thing a need once existed, since the sky-high rents that accompanied the high-tech boom cost many a Bay Area band its practice space. Lucchesi's building, which once housed solid reams of vellum, now holds at least half of the bands and musicians displaced in the disastrous fall 2000 closure of Downtown Rehearsal Studios in San Francisco.
And disastrous it was, contrary to optimists who saw it as a chance for bands to return to their garage roots. Downtown Rehearsal Studios was vast, holding more than five hundred groups that suddenly had nowhere to go when the owner sold it to developers for $16 million. Many bands just quit. Sure, there were still some other studios -- Rocker Rehearsal on Third, and Secret Studios on Cesar Chavez. But both of those facilities promptly raised their rents by about 40 percent to take advantage of the situation.
People who aren't musicians might have a hard time understanding how important a good, secure practice space is. It's a place to store your equipment and play as loud as you want, whenever you want. When done right, you get a groovy little artist community.When done wrong, you get a leaky ceiling, crappy walls, dank atmosphere, and no security.
Last month, a rash of San Francisco studio robberies came to an end when the SFPD set up a sting operation at Secret Studios. Apparently a group of guys in Sacramento was taking orders for equipment and then raiding the practice spaces in the city. The punk band the Lucky Stiffs was hit hard by the ring, having rented a space at Rocker Rehearsal where all its prize equipment was stolen, including four guitars, two basses, amps, you name it. "We worked our whole life to get nice equipment, and then boom," says band member Greg Dehoedt. The building was apparently relatively easy to break into. "They came in the early morning," Dehoedt says. Not too many musicians practice in the morning aside from Buffy Sainte-Marie. "The thing is, most people at the studio would leave that front door open. But even if it was locked, you could open the door with like an ID in less than ten seconds. They came in with a cordless Sawzall, which rips through metal. They cut our deadbolt, which wasn't flush to the wall like they are supposed to be." John Z. Rocker, owner of Rocker Rehearsal, could not be reached for comment.
But needless to say, this is a great time for Lucchesi to be expanding. He already runs Jackson Studios near Jack London Square and another smaller Soundwave Studio on Wood Street in West Oakland. But this one is the granddaddy, and bands can expect good security: security patrols, surveillance cameras, and keycards for entry.
Asked what drives him, Lucchesi says: "I'm driven to build spaces as fast as possible." He's no slumlord, though. Lucchesi is a musician himself, with a laid-back Jimmy Buffett demeanor and a no-nonsense straightforwardness. He seems fairly liberal about how he runs things. He only deals with one bandmember, and bands can share a space with as many other bands as they want. He says he'll give you no hassles if you do the same for him. The only problems he says he's had have been with bands getting behind on their rent and then not communicating with him about it. "Don't hide, talk to me and we can definitely work it out," he tells them. And what about partying in their spaces? Are beer and drugs okay? "Beer and drugs are okay," he says, with the slight grin of a man who knows what he's talking about.
The space itself is big and clean with freshly painted dark lavender walls and green fluorescent lighting along the halls. There's a store for snacks and guitar picks, plus used equipment on consignment. The studio also offers a CD-duplication service. Probably the best thing about Lucchesi and Soundwave Studios is that they don't have a reputation for screwing bands. The rent is fairly competitive, usually around $550 a month. The bigwigs have fancier digs at $1,000 a month. Bands such as Rancid, High on Fire, and Third Eye Blind are renters, as well as recording techs who've set up studios. The joint is cool, so act now. There are still forty spots open, but they're goin' fast. -- Katy St. Clair
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