Nick Keynes on Tileyard North, TYX and Beyond

From its humble beginnings as a small private workspace in 2011, Tileyard London has become Europe’s largest music-focused workplace community. On the eve of the opening of Wakefield’s Tileyard North, co-founder Nick Keynes speaks to us about the past, present and future of Tileyard’s talent curation philosophy, and reveals to us how a new membership-based model will ultimately provide professionals with pro studio access around the world.

If you take a stroll around Kings Cross these days, you’ll notice an omnipresent array of cranes laddering across the skyline, the rattle of drills and more than a few high-vis jacket-clad workmen scurrying the streets, as London’s formerly dilapidated station hub continues to be re-structured into one of the capital’s most attractively modern work and social destinations. Over a decade ago, Kings Cross was in a quite different state.  Nick Keynes, the former bass player of 90s boyband Ultra, was on the lookout for somewhere to house the small music production business that he’d formed with fellow members Michael Harwood and Jon O’Mahoney. With the guidance of property developer Paul Kempe, Nick and co set-up shop within a neglected industrial estate at the then still fairly grim auspices of Kings Cross. This punt would eventually lead Nick and Paul begin re-working the site into Europe’s largest music-focused creative workspace – Tileyard London.

11 years on, and Tileyard London is a booming studio and workspace provider for artists, labels, writers, publishers and managers including Apple Music 1, The Prodigy, SoundCloud and Spitfire Audio. With over 85 bespoke studios within its warren of corridors. Tileyard now also warmly welcomes in businesses that work in the creative sector more broadly. More than just providing a comfortable and professional working environment, Tileyard’s ethos is centred on cultivating a spirit of community.

After a decade of growth and success, this successful Tileyard model is set to be replicated in Yorkshire, at Wakefield’s Rutland Mills. Nick Keynes sat down with us for a conversation about the impending opening of this 135,000 sqft second site, as well as Tileyard’s intriguing new TYX membership plan and a more global future…

AMI: Hi Nick, let’s start with the biggest news at the moment, which is the imminent phased opening of Tileyard North up in Wakefield, firstly what spurred the team to open a new site up in the North of England?

Nick Keynes: For many years we’ve been thinking about how to expand. The world’s a big place, and the country’s a big place. What Tileyard fundamentally is all about is talent incubation – we want to create an environment where talent can thrive. For many years we’ve felt that it’s all very well having a London hub but we wanted to help talent around the country. So, we’ve ended up pinning the tail on the donkey in Wakefield.

AMI: How long has the process of regeneration and re-fitting Rutland Mills taken?

NK: Oh it’s taken around five or six years now. We’ve been working on re-fitting a derelict textiles mill (Rutland Mills), which is a series of buildings owned by the local council. It’s right opposite the Hepworth Gallery which is world renowned, so it’s a really culturally significant place. In fact, it was when Paul (Kempe) was viewing an exhibition at the Hepworth that he first saw the buildings opposite and the idea formed.

After two or three years of planning and funding we started work. The buildings were in such a state of disrepair that they weren’t viable initially. We really had the appetite to invest in the site, but we needed some support. The local authority helped and we raised funds. Covid slowed down the project a bit, but we’re now in a position where we’re finishing up spaces which we’ll be opening later in the year. It’s very exciting.

Tileyard North - Rutland Mills - Nick Keynes
           A future vision of how Tileyard North will look once fully completed

AMI: Do you see this new Northern site as the start of a larger expansion of Tileyard, and what are your thoughts on potential overseas development, and launching Tileyard as a global brand?

Nick Keynes: Yeah, that has been on our mind. Pre-pandemic we spent quite a bit of time visiting various different countries and locations. There’s quite a few people overseas that had come to Tileyard to work and collaborate, who subsequently invited us to look at some locations. So we scoped out Los Angeles, New York, Texas, Singapore and Stockholm. So, we’re thinking about some significant expansion. We’re music-focused primarily of course, so we want to target those more music-oriented cities. We’ve looked at Berlin as well. Anywhere really where there’s creative talent.

AMI: Tileyard Education will see significant focus with the opening of the North site, can you give us a little background on when the Education side launched, and do you see a through line between studying there and finding yourself in full time employment within a Tileyard ecosystem?

Nick Keynes: Education is a really big part of it. When we first set up at the Tileyard London site we actually ran a few small workshops aimed at artists and young managers. Fundamentally it was about a fast-track way to get into the business of music. Then we parked that for two or three years when we started really building Tileyard, and then wanted to re-invigorate it. We launched Tileyard Education. It’s a post-grad space aimed specifically at qualifications in music. Production, writing, business, marketing – these areas. It’s a really important entry point into the industry, and people can spend time within an ecosystem where they can see people working professionally, and learn from their experience.


Tileyard Education Studio
              One of the numerous studios that students at Tileyard Education can access


AMI: Switching back to the original Kings’ Cross site now, can you give us a bit of a brief rundown on how the last year or so has been for Tileyard London? What have been the most notable additions to the site?

Nick Keynes: Well it’s been a funny old three years. There’s been a lot of workplace providers that have had a horrific time during the pandemic. We’ve been very fortuitous in that the curation of the community that we’ve undertaken has meant that people come to Tileyard for more than just the space. We didn’t lose very many people at all. We’re now actually at a state where we’re 100% occupied. So that’s a fantastic place to be.

We’re very grateful for that. I think a lot of that’s down to the fact that a lot of the businesses at Tileyard need to collaborate and need to be physically interacting. I think there are some folks who’ve come out of lockdown, discovering that hybrid-working is the future, and it works for them. But many of the businesses here were hybrid working prior to the pandemic and they continue to do so. I think the world is slowly getting back to the way it was before.

We’ve actually expanded our site over the last two or three years. We’ve welcomed a few more businesses. SoundCloud has recently joined us. I’ve spent five years trying to persuade them to situate themselves here, and they finally decided that the time was right.

We also brought a business in called Trailmix Games who are a games developer. They’ve just launched their first iOS game which is called Love & Pies. In the first three months since the game was released they’re already up to a quarter of a million users. So they’re growing rapidly. That’s been another fantastic, new layer, to our ecosystem. We have three or four quite interesting gaming businesses in the community, as well as a couple of production companies who provide services for games. There’s also two or three interesting podcast production companies who’ve joined the fold which is really interesting. That’s another exciting, emerging form of media that we want to embrace.


Tileyard - At work - Nick Keynes
   Tileyard’s ethos is built around fostering creative collaboration, and incubating talent.


AMI: Can you explain to us a little about the concept of TYX, the new membership-based studio access? It sounds like a truly innovative, exciting concept.

Nick Keynes: Absolutely. Ever since we started, our model was to build spaces for clients. So they can make it their space. Rather than running our studios commercially. Increasingly, as Tileyard has grown, we’ve noted that more and more people just need a studio for a day or to complete a project. Or they want to run short camps. We didn’t really have an offering for those needs. For the last three or four years we’ve been working on a way to expand into a studios-for-hire type model. But what we didn’t want to do was to do it in a sort of old-school way.

We wanted to create a model that was automated but was flexible. Something that was multi-faceted in terms of the type of spaces available. We created the model of Tileyard X (TYX) which is basically a membership offering. It’s a sub-brand of Tileyard effectively. The core values of the business are the same as Tileyard’s. We still want to curate those spaces, but it’s very much a case of rather than taking a permanent space, you take a membership where you build credits.

We’ve got Dolby Atmos mix studios (recently established by Platoon) , we’ve got a range of world-class production studios which double up as listening studios, we’ve got great mix studios. There’s also a lot of simple plug-in-and go studios, designed for users who want to bring a project in where they can literally just plug-in via Thunderbolt, with no set-up required at all.

We’re building an influencer production studio, a photographic studio as well as straight meeting rooms and desk space. So TYX is almost like *Tileyard in a box* if you like. It’s everything that we do and we’ve wrapped it into a packaged membership offering. I think this could be a great way for us to scale the brand.

In the future, I’d like for anyone that has a need for a content space, anywhere in the world will be able to use their nearest Tileyard. The idea does seem to have gone down very well so far. I think we are providing something that solves a problem for many people.

AMI: How important is the concept of community to the Tileyard ethos? And is that something that you think will play an increasing role in the future in many professional spheres – blurring those distinct work/life mindsets

Nick Keynes: It’s the root of our business. While we own the real estate and have 180 tenants, that’s not really our business model. Our focus is on building a community. And, it’s the curation of who we bring in that creates the community.

If someone wants to take up space at Tileyard the most pressing concerns for us are ‘who are you?’, ‘what do you do?’ And ‘what will you bring to our community?’ That’s far more important than the rent that you’re paying. We want to know what value our tenants can bring beyond paying for the space. That has been our mindset and business model from day one, back when we had lots of empty space and we were looking to fill it. We were super selective on who we brought in, and quite brave. Particularly from Paul’s perspective. We held out, and I think that’s why now we’ve got a really meaningful community.

Going back to the pandemic, we managed to keep our community together because people wanted to come back to Tileyard for reasons beyond the space. Connections are hugely important. When you’re approximated together you get happy accidents. You’re constantly bumping into people everyday and you can ask them what they do – forging connections that will likely come in useful.

Your next door neighbour is very likely to be doing something that’s very complimentary to what you’re doing. Podcasts, films, TV, gaming – all of these use music in different contexts. This ecosystem of creatives is key for us.


Tileyard London - Nick Keynes
       Tileyard London is now at 100% occupancy, no mean feat post-pandemic.


AMI: Do you hope more artists take up space in Tileyard KX and North?

Nick Keynes: Yes, we we talk about businesses of course a lot of businesses are artists. We’ve got so many music studios here that are occupied by artists. We’ve got people like Sub Focus, Sigala, Pixie Lott and Joel Corry. We’ve got a studio for Noel Gallagher which we built a few years ago. He’s currently making his new album, so he’s in every day. He’s in his studio working on his terms 24/7. It’s a home from home. People have the choice to be as engaged or as private as they like. There’s nothing forced.

I think that artists have never been more empowered to do things themselves, and to make their records and put them out as independents, while working in a community where there’s a lot of that going on. It gives a support network as much as anything else. Artists can do things their way. We’ve been encouraging that for ten years. I really do think Tileyard has given artists a platform to do things much more autonomously.

AMI: From the perspective of someone who has been plugged in to the music industry for decades, what do you think are the biggest challenges to the industry right now, and do you think Tileyard has a role to play in emphasising the value of this sector?

NK: As I say, I think there’s never been more help for artists, but it’s still really challenging. There’s tens of thousands of new tracks being uploaded to streaming platforms every days, it’s so easy to put a record out there but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be successful.

The routes to market have increased but you’ve still got to build an audience in a very competitive landscape.

If you want Apple Music to feature you on their homepage then that’s very tough. The curation of who we have at Tileyard is kind of part of that. There’s a lot of content out there and a lot of talent out there and it’s having these tastemakers championing the good stuff so that the audience can access truly great music. For us, it’s ultimately all about giving the talent the platform to build their business. But also giving them the tools they need to get heard and then to make money out of what they do. That’s ultimately what it boils down to – you can have all the talent and energy in the world but at the end of the day, you’ve got to try and make a living.

AMI: Bit of a far-reaching question to end on, but do you have a picture of what Tileyard might look like in a decade’s time?

NK: I hope that our London hub will continue to thrive and we’ll continue to expand. We’re having more conversations about film and TV. So we’ll be looking more at that sector and seeing if we can accommodate some of the more independent strands of that. That’s something that the TYX membership will encapsulate too as it grows – so it’s not just about music. There’s expansion plans beyond what we’ve got in London. We’ve got the next phase lined up for the Tileyard North opening. Then, within a five year time frame we want to keep rolling out TYXs. So, I think we’ll keep ourselves busy and excited!