Dax Liniere is a record producer and audio engineer based in London. He’s run Puzzle Factory Sound Studios in Australia since 2000 and in 2016, he relocated to London to build a premium recording studio complex. And he uses Monzo Business to manage his money.
His work includes recording, mixing and mastering music. The latter two stages can happen remotely, which is helpful now we’re social distancing. But he’s still seen a dramatic drop in business during the coronavirus lockdown, with no new enquiries in the last month or more.
Like many business owners, he’s worried about the future of his fledgling business. Especially because, as a director of a limited company, he doesn’t qualify for the support the government’s provided if you’re self-employed.
Now, he’s weighing up whether to put himself on furlough, wondering how his business will weather the downturn, and when bookings will pick back up again. All while juggling his life at home with his wife and their 10-month-old daughter.
I’ve been working on the UK business since 2016
I found the space back in November 2016, 7 months after I put my life in a shipping container and left Australia for London. And I spent the next 14 months working 6-7 days a week to build and kit it out. I wanted to create a unique, comfortable, creative, and inspiring environment where musicians can do what they do best - perform!
I work with clients across lots of different genres: pop, rock and jazz, folk, post and electronic. There’s a real mix! Everything from the guy who wants to record his songs for himself, bands who have day jobs and gig on the weekends, to big commercial projects for artists who make music for a living.
It’s taken a lot of time and effort to build up the business in the UK and get to where I was before the outbreak. I’d say it was November 2019 when things really took off. Just before the lockdown, I was getting lots of enquiries each week.
Lockdown means sessions aren’t happening, and enquiries have gone completely dry
Now, enquiries have gone completely dry. I’ve not had anything new in weeks. People are worried about traveling for recording sessions. With so many musicians having to cancel shows and tours, they’re all concerned about spending money.
Coronavirus is of course directly affecting artists who make their primary income from music. But even if music isn’t your primary income, the uncertainty means it’s hard to justify anything except the absolute essentials. People want to hang on to every last dime.
Potential clients I was in discussions with have just stopped replying. A few others have been honest and said they’re unsure about job security, which is totally understandable.
Two months of work has disappeared immediately, and I don’t know what’ll happen over the coming weeks and months.
I’m trying to stay positive, but that isn’t always easy!
Of course I’m worried, but I’m also excited for the future. We have a lot of people cheering the studio on, hoping we can get through this, but it’s a tough time for everyone. I’m a pretty positive person, but some days it’s difficult to hold on to that positivity.
My wife is a teacher, and we have a 10-month old daughter. Her nursery has closed down, so we essentially have three peoples’ jobs to do, and only two people to do it! It’s stressful, but I’m positive we’ll come through this somehow.
Loans are just a stop-gap, and I can’t get government support
A loan needs to be paid back, so for ongoing expenses like rent, it’s essentially just kicking the can down the road. When you’ve lost business, delaying expenses until later doesn’t make them go away. Loans are more of a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution.
The Music Producers Guild (MPG) have been working for years to ensure statutory sick pay for all creatives. And for self-employed people, coronavirus has finally brought that about. It’s fantastic news, but doesn’t help me at all.
I’m the director of Puzzle Factory, a limited company, which makes me an employee. A director could put themself on furlough, but I think a new business can’t afford to have the principal staff members stop working. The business would just go backwards. With any business, you need to put in effort just to hold your ground, let alone move forward. So I think furlough would be detrimental to my business.
I’ve put a lot of my own money into starting this business, called a director’s loan. As the studio makes a profit, the company pays back that loan until it’s settled. Then payments become salary. Since the business is so new, I haven’t had any salary payments so far. My accountant told me I’m effectively an “unpaid employee”. I’ve fallen through the cracks on all government financial assistance just because my business doesn’t fit the mould.
There’s a UK government petition for people running micro-companies like mine that we’re hoping brings about some change. It’s hard that there are people like me who don’t qualify for support.
I’ve been using this downtime to work on other projects
Never one to sit still, I’ve been using this time to work on some other projects. I’m building a microphone-moving robot that allows me to remotely adjust the position in front of a guitar amp. There are others out there, but mine’s a bit special. I’m working with a friend to see if we can make them at scale to sell them. Let’s see if there’s interest!
I’m always keeping an eye out for opportunities, and it’s important to have an open mindset. It’s a powerful tool for an entrepreneur. You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from. I’ve met potential customers in the queue at the bank. Before Monzo, of course!
I’m lucky that my business lends itself well to social distancing
Before lockdown, I ran a socially-distanced recording session in the studio: the musician was in the live room, me in the control room, separated by two foot walls and an inch of glass. I set it all up before he arrived, so we didn’t come into contact. And wiped it all down once he left.
It’s no different to any other session, except you can’t high-five each other when it’s all over!
I’m fortunate that recording can happen while maintaining social distancing. And the other two stages (mixing and mastering) mostly take place alone anyway. So in theory coronavirus shouldn’t have a huge impact, but the reality has been very different.
I use Monzo Business to manage my business’ money
I was one of the first people to sign up to Monzo Business, and I use the Lite account to manage all of Puzzle Factory’s finances.
I’ve been using Monzo for my own finances for a few years now and I couldn’t wait for the day they’d do business accounts! My experience with the personal account really convinced me to go with Monzo for my business too.
Using Monzo for my business just makes my life easier. Even at the best of times, running a small business is hard work. You always have more than enough to deal with! Monzo is so quick and easy, and everything actually works.
I like how instantaneous it is. I make a payment, and immediately my phone goes off. If there was fraud on my account, I’d know straight away. Now I always know where I’m at with my transactions.
But the biggest problem it solves for me is bookkeeping and expenses. Whenever I make a payment, I immediately photograph the receipt, put a little description, and it’s done! In the past, I’d always leave my book keeping to the last minute, and have to rifle through a year’s worth of paper receipts trying to match up transactions from months ago and remember what they were for. It took hours. Now, do it in bite-size pieces and just don’t have to think about it any more.
I’m a small business, so I’m not depositing millions a year! But with Monzo I've always felt valued and important, I always get the attention and service I need.
My advice for other small businesses during the coronavirus downturn
Don’t lose hope! There are things you can do for your business – even if they aren’t the things you’d normally do. Maybe it’s time to redo your website, rethink your marketing, or plan future marketing so you’re ready to go when this is all over. Start mapping out what you might like to do, or spend time catching up on existing projects.
And if you can, take a moment of pause from your regular routines, and do things you’ve been putting off. With the baby and other stuff going on I don’t have much time or space to pause. So it’s easier said than done, but definitely worth trying.
Remember, you don’t have to come out of this having written a best-selling novel, or be in peak fitness. So don’t put pressure on yourself to perform at your normal level either! But be productive where you can, and don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to do everything.