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John Merriman: developing Crown Lane as a Studio for everyone


I am so grateful that I listened to my friend, the architect. From a braille-labelled scale model of the studio complex to a fully adaptable website – this is the story of Crown Lane – a studio that continues to remove barriers to this day. 

Twenty years ago, in a sunny pub garden, I was scribbling a business plan with my brother-in-law. It was the embryo of our recording studio complex, in Morden – a suburban London town. Bursting with youthful ambition, and new knowledge of SWOTs and KPIs, I was desperate to get started so I could get back to making music. 

At this stage, accessibility was not something I had considered. However, our architect had other ideas. Fresh from designing studio spaces for the RNIB, Andrew Rogers’ deep passion for accessibility soon brought consultations and visits for me to experience the world of sound without sight. The journey of Crown Lane to become a truly accessible studio became a fierce necessity for me too. 

It was several years later, when, at first one, then two, then more musicians with different disabilities arrived and felt at home that I realised what we had created. It was the start of something quite special. 

From that day, my thoughts moved away from purely physical considerations to universal accessibility being a central ideology of the entire business. We began asking clients the question: “Are there any barriers we could remove that would make creativity easier for you here?” And it has been the subsequent answers which have shaped Crown Lane to be what it is today. 

Specific to artists with low vision, based on feedback, our ambiently lit studios were found to be generally too dark. We invested in adaptable lighting that can reach in excess of 5600K. I remember one particular session where the pianist smiled as his score became visible for the first time and the level of confidence in his performance rose considerably. 

Using Pro Tools and Logic for dry hire sessions means the engineer has the ability to easily run screen-readers – and the VoiceOver can be sent exclusively to the headphone mix of those who need it. 

Control room at Crown Lane Studio. Engineer Alexi Bakas sits at the mixing desk.
Engineer Alexi Bakas sits at the mixing desk in the control room.

We have a downloadable brochure on the website documenting these small and large changes and now we encourage every visitor who wants to, to complete an Access Rider before arrival. This ensures we’ve the information to do all we can to help musicians and voice-artists work unhindered during their time here. 

This has truly become a studio for everybody – and because everyone is welcome, it is our obligation to ensure there aren’t barriers to entry – or even more importantly, barriers to exit for anyone. I specifically mention ‘exit’ – as I have learnt that many places and situations are accessible – but only to a point. Our online education course for example used to be accessible – to a point – and yet the original method of assessment deemed it inaccessible to some. We then rebuilt the course – starting with a more accessible assessment at the exit point – and worked backwards to be a truly accessible course. 

For us, inclusivity means a number of things – but initially, it starts with the attitude of all the people who are on the team here. 

Because we cover recording, education, live events as well as hosting a coffee and events space, training the team regularly is essential. Basic autism; Introduction to British Sign Language (BSL); First Aid and Dementia training are recent events we’ve held for the team. For a small business, this investment doesn’t come cheap – but the attitude of the team forms the foundation for the experience that every user receives. Without the team’s expertise, attitude, and good humour, the creative freedom would not be possible. 

Two notable recent accessible additions have been the installation of a ceiling track hoist and a rebrand – stylistically incorporating our accessible values. 

Firstly, the ceiling hoist. This was a barrier even for us. At £5000, there was no way our small music industry company, emerging from the pandemic, could possibly afford that. 

I like to try and find a way around problems – and the team knows to only bring potential solutions not problems. So, in modelling this principle, I decided to try my first crowd-funder as a potential solution. Incredibly, the customers of the coffee shop and studio clients from around the world stepped in and invested. We had the hoist installed at absolutely no cost to us. It has made a world of difference to many subsequent clients who now don’t have to hire a hoist for studio sessions. 

The process of involving and relying on others has also helped the wider community to feel an ownership of inclusivity in general. We have told the story countless times to those looking around the studio and most are initially unaware of the freedom a ceiling hoist (for example) can bring. We even held a hoist party for all who donated! 

The second notable addition was to ensure our brand, our signage – how we communicate-
was not just compliant – but beautifully designed too. This adaptation was a battle that we eventually won. For example, dementia friendly signage is ugly (try Googling it) – but it turns out – it doesn’t have to be! So, our brand was subtly rebuilt, and the signage made to far exceed any suggested examples. Now it looks stunning and on trend universally for all studio users. As a side note, the NHS now uses our coffee venue as a weekly dementia drop-in for those with early on-set Alzheimer’s – so these changes also open the doors to other previous unconsidered partnerships. 

Barista Jon Akala at the Metronome coffee bar, which is at the front of the studio building.
The Metronome coffee bar is an integrated with the studio, creating a community-focused feel.

Coming full circle – my aim was to create a studio where people could feel at home. And strangely, this journey has simply allowed more people to feel at home here. Small things like having a Lego model of the studio complex, labelled in braille – means someone who previously had to accept a room offered to them – is now able to quickly explore previously unknown spaces – and have more autonomy over their creative journey. Having different lighting settings in every room, highly contrasting signage, and portable 3300 lux bright lamps means people with very limited vision can create more easily. 

To conclude – and to move forward on our journey – we actually need your help. When we recently launched our online mixing course, we couldn’t possibly create a fully accessible course on version one. There are just too many things that we won’t know we’ve missed until users feed-back. So our accessible method of creation allows for constant evolution, and adaptation of the material in real-time.

For example, by design, we’ve included audio descriptions throughout the course- but despite our best efforts, we’ve already spotted and corrected odd sections where it’s slightly ambiguous what the presenter is doing if you can’t see what he’s doing. Even a split second missing – creates an incomplete jigsaw when mixing audio as a partially-sighted engineer. To quickly rectify this we’ve added additional mini-videos as well as notes referencing the minutes and seconds in question as soon as we are aware. 

Because we share Sound Without Sight’s collaborative approach, and in discussion with the team, we’re offering three readers access to our Sculpt Introduction to Mixing course absolutely free (normally £199) – in return for informal feedback – particularly from blind and partially sighted producers, engineers and musicians. Our team would love to hear from you directly, if you’re interested in being part of our beta-testing, and we’d love to be a part of improving your journey too. 

The studio here is open daily from 7:00am until 10:30pm for rehearsals, recording, training or simply for a coffee. On Thursdays and Fridays, the licensed bar is open from 5pm until late. We’d love to see you any time or sign up on the website to hear about special events – both in person and online. 

You can find out more about Crown Lane and get in touch at our website.

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