If you can't quite afford a lot of today's equipment but long to use it, you could always hire it. Here we present a rundown of the many UK hire companies and look at what's involved.
Hiring in a vital piece of equipment for that important session is a simple but effective means of improving the finished result. It's also an excellent way of thoroughly assessing any new product you may wish to buy. But what about someone in Aberdeen who wants to have a Lexicon 224X and is not known amongst the hire companies in the capital? Or for that matter someone in Cornwall wanting to hire an 8-track system for a weekend's recording? How easy is it for them to hire, and what's involved?
With the call for use of more sophisticated electronic equipment and instruments in recording to achieve a more professional edge, it becomes increasingly difficult to justify spending vast amounts of money when what you have bought may be superceded within six months or only required once or twice.
It is therefore not at all surprising to realise that hire companies have been born out of necessity.
Up until two years ago there were only two or three major hire companies. This number has now swelled to fifty or sixty as the industry has expanded, an increase that has warranted a couple of governing bodies being set up to deal with the day to day problems encountered by hire companies - such as insurance, identity of personnel etc - one called APEHC (Association of Professional Entertainment Hire Companies chaired by Hilton Sound's Andy Hilton) with over thirty members and the other a section of the APRS (Association of Professional Recording Studios).
If an effects hire company is an associate member of the APRS or APEHC, then this means it has been passed as a recommended equipment rental company offering a good back-up service. Such bodies help sort out the wheat from the chaff, which all means good news for the hirer in the long run.
The majority of people in the rental business are very helpful, especially amongst the big fish; they are also very much aware technically and any information which you need they will be glad to give. It is difficult to say which companies are good and which are bad (the bad ones tend not to stay in business for long), it is very much dependent on what suits your needs. Certain hire companies have developed their expertise in specific areas: on the digital front there's HHB or Hilton Sound if your budget stretches to the latest Mitsubishi 32-track digital recorder. The very name of Audio FX tells you what they do best, whilst Keyboard Hire and Dreamhire concentrate mostly on the instrument side - anything from a Synclavier to a Juno 106 or a synchroniser.
There are two important criteria for you to consider before choosing a particular company: location and cost.
(1) Location - always find out first whether the company delivers its equipment free of charge. Some do, but usually only within the London postal districts. If you live just outside London then it is common sense to choose one which is closest to where you are situated and collect the equipment yourself where practical. The majority of hire companies are concentrated in or around London as this is the hub of the music business, although there are a few rental companies outside of London (see attached list). Don't despair if you live out in the provinces, the company will arrange for things like compressors to be sent by a quick parcel service which will usually mean a pick-up from your local BR station. It is straightforward enough, you call and let the hire company worry about the administration.
(2) Cost - You are expected as a rough guide to pay between one and two per cent, per day's hire, of the retail selling price of the equipment and it is common practice to charge a week's rental as equivalent to four times the daily hire rate. It often pays to ring around a few hire companies to see if they have a special offer on any of the items you wish to hire.
Amongst the established (Audio FX, Audio Rents, Britannia Row, Feldon Audio and Hilton Sound) prices tend not to vary all that much - a Drawmer dual comp/lim costs £10 per day from both Britannia Row and Hilton Sound, for example, whilst they both charge £100 per day for an AMS RMX-16 reverb. But some of the up and coming companies often cut their rates to compete. As with most things you get what you pay for; with the larger companies you get more of a back up service. They can probably get gear to you faster as they have more delivery vans on the road and if any equipment should break down while in service they will either fix it on the spot or replace it almost immediately. It is this extra service which you are paying for.
Now that you have chosen your particular hire company, we come to the mechanics of the hire. For established record companies and studios there is no real problem as to whether they will pay up or disappear with the equipment, never to be seen again. However, for individuals who have not hired before, especially those outside London, it becomes difficult for the companies to make a decision on the validity of the hire. There are a number of ways of getting around this: with trade references give the phone number of a well-known company you have bought gear from and the rental company will check you out.
If you are living in London then some companies will accept a token to be taken into their security such as a passport. Alternatively, the rental company will deliver to you and check for themselves the validity of the hire. If you do not fit into one of these three categories then I am afraid you are probably out of luck.
Assuming you have got what you want, next thing is to sign the delivery note on receipt of the equipment. On the reverse side of this you will find a Terms of Agreement which you have automatically accepted when signing for the equipment. In brief it underlines that the hirer is responsible for:
(a) Keeping the equipment in good repair and condition.
(b) Keeping the equipment in the hirer's possession, and notifying the company of the place where it is for the time being, should it be moved from the address you gave on the delivery note.
(c) Indemnifying the company against loss or damage to the equipment or any part thereof - in other words you should get it insured as soon as it is in your possession, or take the risk of having to pay out of your own pocket for any loss. Insure for loss or damage by accident, fire and theft to the full replacement value, but ask the individual hire company concerned for more about this.
(d) Not to make any modifications, technical adjustments or repairs without the consent of the company concerned.
Although these contracts are quite long winded, they usually only echo common sense. The most important thing to remember is that you, as the hirer, are 100% responsible for the equipment once it is in your possession. Accept that fact and you'll find hiring to be a painless but rewarding venture. After all, if you can't afford to buy what you need now for your recording session - why not hire it ?
Thanks to those hire companies mentioned for their help in the research of this feature.
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