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[Under the Radar]: Studio Insight

One part school, one part recording studio, one part event space – wholly a music enclave in Putuo.
2021-03-10 12:00:00
Photos: Angela Leung
Under The Radar is a SmartShanghai series where we focus on interesting places of Shanghai that opened up some time ago. It's an opportunity to share new stories on old things.

What It Is: Studio Insight is an expat-invested music center that offers an educational program in teaching music. The school is run by family man Yong Bing Hu, a second-generation Chinese-Dutch immigrant who came to China 15 years ago in a career that had nothing to do with music or education (think finance). He wanted to shift things away from what he disliked, and into what he loved: music. Insight had opened up in 2018, jumping into the competitive market of musical education. In Shanghai, simple after-school music learning programs are a dime a dozen. Hu wanted Studio Insight to stand out from the crowd, so he layered other attributes the venue could offer on top of the education foundation, such as a recording studio for ambitious musos and an event space for folks to congregate.

Area: Located up in Putuo, Studio Insight is on the 13th floor of the Kunlun Business Center Building – adjacent to Yaxin Life Plaza. The music school occupies the rooftop of Kunlun, similar to a penthouse, with three extra floors and a patio on each one. There is a Ganzhi Blind Massage on the 10th floor.

Across the street, there is the crayfish restaurant chain Hong Kui Jia. Changshou Lu station is the nearest metro stop, with two entrances opening up underneath the complex.

Facility: The face of the school was an open rooftop patio and lobby area for waiting. Wait, not really. Before walking through any door, people are going to have to hike up some stairs as the Kunlun's elevator can only carry people up to the 12th floor. For some, it may seem that an extra bit of traveling can be slightly annoying. People will at least know that they've reached the correct place, as they will soon be passing through a hallway adorned by B&W photos of many famous musicians (there was Jimi Hendrix, Freddy Mercury, even Bruno Mars).

Back to the lobby area. The interior was decorated with knick-knacks, simple household ornaments, all inspired by the theme of the business: music. There were guitars, vintage record players, old cassettes from the 80s, even an accordion sitting on a shelf. It felt almost as what a hipster would adorn their abode. On one side of the area was a reception desk, and on the other, leathery sofas. When visiting, Yong Bing Hu was very hospitable and was quick to offer coffees. A kind gesture that is probably given to all guests of Insight.

There were glass-walled offices for Hu, the teachers and the sales team on both the first and second floor. Located at the back of the school was the residential instrument shop. Yamaha-branded upright pianos were nestled around the room and the walls were painted with hanging guitars. There's a special protective glass case, coveting the most valuable merchandise, Magneto Electric Guitars. Besides colored guitar straps resting on racks, there wasn't much more that was offered. The products are more of an available resource for the students of the school.

There are a total of 23 classrooms within Studio Insight. It includes group rooms for teachers to host lessons for up to eight children, rehearsal spaces that have either drum kits or pianos, and also a recording studio.

Generally speaking, the classrooms at Studio Insight have at least one dedicated instrument inside. For example, there was a drumming room that contains four drum kits. Lessons are conducted in these rooms.

Hu talked about a new study program that he's about to launch. It has been designed to give students an opportunity to do their homework as they wait for their lesson.

The studio was the highlight of the place. It comes with a drum kit, piano, guitars, basses, microphones and other miscellaneous tools (like stands and headphones). People are welcome to use the room, use the equipment, or even bring their own instruments. There was a recording booth with a window peering into the room. An equalizer has also been installed, meaning that any band can rent out the room and slash out their next biggest hit. Insight also offers post-production support with a team of sound engineers.

From the three patios that Studio Insight holds, the areas of both the second and third floor are regularly used. On weekends, the venue is open and the patios are used as an event space. Usually, it's barbeques and cultural festivals. On the top floor are the residential bar and outdoor stage. It becomes a highlighted live music concert, where the teachers and community members from Studio Insight will jam to each other's music.

Things To Do: Well, classes. The school program includes three different education groupings: Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced. Students will be allowed to choose between either Chinese or Expat teachers, which does mean there is a change in the costs. These groupings are separated by both the students' level of skill (which is examined by the staff) and their age bracket. Being a student does offer benefits, such as a zero-charge use for any of the facility's rooms, free entrance to events and discounts for purchasing instruments.

Studio Insight also offers a special preparatory course for the Rock School program and Shanghai Conservatory Music examination. It's available for both Chinese and Expat students, and all instruments are welcome. The training has been designed to develop students' abilities to help them join prestigious music academies. Kids will be separated into different groupings, based on their school grade level. These groups grow in intensity as the children move from level to level.

The Costs: Depending on the room chosen, and if the patron plans on using any of the equipment, the rate of using a room is 35-150rmb per hour. The cost of classes vary in price, depending on how many total lessons the student will undertake. With a Chinese teacher, Beginner classes are 288-388rmb per lesson, Intermediate classes are 308-358rmb per lesson and Advanced classes are 338-368rmb per lesson. Students learning with an Expat teacher will be charged 338-388rmb per lesson for Beginner classes, 358-408rmb for Intermediate classes and 388-438rmb for Advanced classes.

Prices for band recordings start at 1,552rmb, and it includes three hours of recording. Vocal recordings, on the other hand, are 776rmb and are only for one hour of recording.

Who Is Going: Students (both kids and adults) and musicians. Students come over for lessons and practices after school in the afternoons. Aspiring artists are frequent visitors, using the facilities to help improve their craft. On the weekends, expect families and friends of the business to attend an event.