Well, it’s that time of year again.
Time for area colleges and universities to not only welcome back returning students, but to introduce many to both a new school and a new town. Yet plenty of the young people filling dorm rooms and off-campus apartments have a great deal more on their minds than acing Life Drawing or English 101.
Simply put, lots of kids ship off to college in hopes of starting or joining a band.
And while there’s no doubt the live music scene centered around Savannah’s many colleges and universities (not to mention the ever-increasing number of impressive projects emerging from local high schools) has grown exponentially over the past two decades, in some key respects, hindrances that have long hobbled the scene still remain.
Chief among those stumbling blocks is a distinct lack of safe and secure places to rehearse at full volume.
Wait. Strike that.
In a move sure to bring a sigh of relief to countless area players, one local musical instrument retailer has taken the bold step of opening the area’s only serious, professional practice facility. It’s the first time Savannah’s musical community has had the option of easily renting clean, acoustically-treated, climate controlled, private rehearsal rooms in a variety of sizes and configurations by the month, the week, the day, or even the hour. And it’s not much of an overstatement to say this exciting development just might have the most significant positive impact on the local underground music scene since, well... since anyone can remember.
By “underground,” I mean non-commercial or otherwise outside of the mainstream, but in truth that’s also a damnable pun, as the rehearsal spaces in question are in fact subterranean.
Located downtown beneath the new Broughton Street location of Annie’s Guitars and Drums (a boutique-style shop specializing in esoteric axes, percussion instruments, PA gear and private instruction), the pragmatically named 12 Below (which boasts exactly a dozen rentable rooms) is notable not only for what they offer, but also for the marked contrast to the meager, dispiriting options which have long been the status quo.
Unlike most U.S. cities, our proximity to the coast makes finished cellars or basements hard to come by, which knocks out the prototypical location for making a racket necessary for a player to develop their own “sound,” or for a new band to find their groove. That basically leaves garages, homes, apartments and warehouses as the only realistic options for most acts to use — some of which are costly, and all of which have their share of pitfalls.
“We’re excited to play a role in conditioning the Savannah music community into coming to professional rehearsal studios, rather than having to make do elsewhere,” enthuses 12 Below’s General Manager Gary Lindsey, an affable local musician with a background in marketing and management.
Lindsey was recruited by store founder Annie Allman to helm this new branch of her expanding business. He grew up in the Midwest and spent time in several Northern states where the idea of using dedicated rehearsal rooms is well entrenched. He realizes this concept is new to many in this area, but is certain most local players will soon see it as the most logical way to hone their talents.
“Practicing in your house or garage usually works out for a while,” he continues. “But eventually, if you’re playing any type of loud music, you’re gonna get that knock on the door, and it’ll be a family member, or a neighbor, or maybe even the police telling you to shut up,” he continues.
“I was looking at savannahunderground.com this morning and was reading a post on their message boards from someone complaining they’d been told by the police that if they received another complaint about the noise they were in big trouble,” he says. “The way we hope to prove 12 Below’s worth to people is by offering incredible service, a great staff made up of professional musicians, and rates so competitive the average person or band can easily afford.”
In fact, a quick glance at the facility’s most recent rate sheet (which Lindsey notes has been reconfigured and made easier to understand since the spaces’ initial promotional brochures proved confusing to some) shows a straightforward pricing scheme that —especially when divided among a number of band members— is well within the reach of most young artists who appreciate the benefits of solitude and security. Hourly rates range from a low of $7 (for the smallest rooms during the “off-peak” hours of 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) to a high of $30 (for the largest rooms during peak hours of 6-10 p.m.).
“If you have three, four or five people in your band,” he adds, “suddenly you’ll see that it doesn’t cost that much at all — especially for what you’re getting.”
So, what are you getting?
Well, for one thing, renters can select between four different size spaces, ranging from small units for solo drummers or pianists (or for two guitarists who might want a quiet spot for some intense, face-to-face songwriting), all the way up to rooms which could comfortably hold seven people and their gear, and which boast a professional-grade Tascam CD recorder — for making reference recordings of entire practices by plugging directly into the PA.
Yes, that’s right. Each room comes equipped with its own PA system: mics, cables and speakers. But that’s not all.
In a move which Lindsey says has brought looks of amazement from most who have toured the facilities, each room also includes enough basic gear for the average rock, blues, jazz or folk group. That includes brand-new guitar and bass amps and full drums sets with cymbals. And this is not entry-level or low-grade equipment. Lindsey points out that Annie’s has stocked 12 Below with some of the best makes and models they carry, including Gretsch, Sonor, PDP and Drum Workshop trap sets, Sabian, Zildjian and Meinl cymbals, SWR bass amps, and guitar rigs by Fender, Hughes & Kettner and Orange, as well as an upright acoustic piano.
While many musicians may be wary of rehearsing on instruments different from (and in many cases, much nicer than) their own, Lindsey says most will come to relish the convenience this small change affords.
“I’m a bass player in my church band. I’ve gotten used to being able to show up and have my rig already there, just waiting for me to plug into. Most musicians don’t have that luxury,” he says.
“It’s also cool to let local musicians play on equipment that might normally be out of their price range. Instead of just testing it out for a few minutes in a store with a lot of strangers standing around, they can actually play on it for an extended period of time and get a feel for whether or not it works with their needs.”
Lindsey says they’ll offer discounts off hourly rates for folks who want to use their gear, but are prepared to map out a solid rehearsal schedule and pay for a larger block of time up front.
“We’re happy to offer lower prices for daily, weekly or monthly rentals, making it even more affordable for the musician who doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around, but still wants to take their rehearsal time as seriously as possible.”
12 Below also features a lounge area with soda and snack machines, but Lindsey cautions no food or drinks are allowed in the rooms, and the entire facility is smoke, drug and alcohol free. In an effort to keep the spaces safe and friendly for all, anyone violating these rules will be banned.
Lindsey also notes they’ll have a full selection of “emergency supplies” for musicians on sale at the check-in desk – including guitar strings, picks, cables, capos and tuners, drumsticks, drum heads, microphones and cables, and PA accessories.
These will be available during the rehearsal space’s normal operating hours — until midnight Monday through Saturday, which means any working musician who forgets or breaks a key piece of gear before or during their late-night shows could conceivably dart down to Broughton Street on their break and salvage the gig.
“No other music store anywhere near here stays open past around 8 p.m.,” explains Lindsey. “So we expect this added service will be a big help to local players.”
12 Below celebrates their Grand Opening with a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony at 3 p.m. Wednesday. For more info call 495-9525.