Any other year, Kate Innes would have been horrified for her business to be down 50 percent. “But now I’m relieved,” the owner of RocketSpace Rehearsal Studios says, “because zero is just awful, and 25 and 30 percent — those numbers are pretty miserable. So 50 percent, I’ll take it — and it’s growing.”
RocketSpace is one of a handful of Denver rehearsal studios that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Pre-COVID-19, these spaces catered to local and touring bands that needed a place to practice. Now, concerts are canceled and bookings are harder to come by. There’s safety and sanitation to consider as well as regulations to comply with. Despite it all, these businesses are learning to make it work.
Innes opened RocketSpace at 2711 Larimer Street in 2012, creating the reliable, clean practice space she’d always wanted for her band, the Blackouts. Business took off, and rooms were often booked to capacity with a waiting list. But that all changed in March as the implications of the pandemic became a reality.
When lockdown started, Innes began brainstorming. She researched COVID-19 rates and how the virus spread, how long aerosols stay in the air and how they break down, how to sanitize equipment, and whether equipment should be shared at all.
The list went on, and soon she was on the phone with peers like Dog House Music Studios in Lafayette and Band Cave Studios in Denver to share perspectives on safe reopenings. Despite the fact that they’re competitors, the owners have always been on good terms, Innes notes.
“It’s nice to have that camaraderie," she says.
One thing they all had in common: the need to balance the survival of their businesses with the safety of their communities.
“Failure is really not an option," says Innes. "I own my building, and I’ve got a kid that just started college and another that’s not far behind. And I love the business like a third child, really.”
So RocketSpace now books rooms below occupancy to keep players socially distanced, and masks are required in the building when entering and leaving studio rooms. Instead of renting studios back-to-back, there’s a buffer time to allow employees to clean and sanitize each room and its equipment. Everything that can be touch-free is. Payment is virtual. Picks and earplugs are available in single-use bags. Cables and microphones are switched out after every use.
And it’s paying off. More bands are coming in to practice — though not to the extent that they were.
Matt Salazar, the owner of Studio Rehearsal Spaces Denver, says his business has also been directly affected by venue closures. “The majority of our bands were gigging regularly, and they’d play [multiple] shows a month and come in for a regular practicing time.” In addition, touring acts, who also used his space, have stopped coming through town.
Studio Rehearsal Spaces is one of Denver’s newest rehearsal studios. Salazar opened the warehouse-based business in 2018 after completely remodeling the building to meet city guidelines and his own expectations for controlling sound. Each room is built around soundproofing components so that the noise each band makes stays in that room.
Salazar is keeping busy by building a new room to rent specifically for podcast recording. Like Innes, he has also seen a recent increase in band bookings, and some groups have rented his large performance space for live streams and virtual shows. But business is still slow.
"A lot of it has just been running off reserves from last year to stay here, because I’m not really getting any help from the landlord or COVID disaster relief,” he says.
Instead, much of his focus is on the future. Studio Rehearsal Spaces is located at 1665 Acoma Street, next to Flipside Music, Blackout Screen Printing and The Keep Recording. During normal times, the businesses share foot traffic, and Salazar looks forward to a time when they can work together to “make [their] presence a little bit greater...and a little bit stronger, and maybe throw some block parties.”
The music industry is doing the best it can with what's possible, says Innes.
“Let’s not let this sidetrack us," she advises. "Let’s make lemonade out of lemons."
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