Soundcheck NashvilleTOP-SHELF REHEARSAL FACILITY KEEPS EXPANDING 5/01/2008 8:00 AM Eastern
Soundcheck Nashville does tour pre-production on a grand scale. Not only can clients book video and full-on production rehearsals, but they can also come in and talk endorsement deals with the likes of Shure, Meyer Sound, Digidesign, DiGiCo, Fender, etc.; read the latest issue of Tour Guide; book trucking with Stage Call Trucking; reserve lighting with UpLight Technologies; work a deal with Tour Supply Inc.; staff a project with Crew One Productions; and purchase or service a road-worthy Hammond B-3 at Nashville Pro Hammond — all under one roof.
When Soundcheck was opened in 1992 by Glenn Frey (of The Eagles) and his longtime roadie, Bob “Norton” Thompson, the goal was to improve upon Thompson's L.A.-based Third Encore rehearsal facility. Eleven years later, Soundcheck is owned by Ben Jumper, who has 35 years of industry touring experience under his belt.
“I had an office in Soundcheck,” Jumper recalls. “One day, I was walking down the hall, Bob pulled me aside and he started talking to me. He had had a hip replacement and a knee replacement the previous year, and he said, ‘Ben, I'm ready to throw in the towel. It's a great business, but I'm just tired and don't want to do it anymore. Would you be interested in buying Soundcheck?’ And I thought he was kidding, and I blew him off. I got a call maybe three, four weeks later from a mutual friend, who said, ‘You blew Bob off and he was kind of miffed at why you did that.’ I explained that I had no idea he was serious. I said I'm absolutely interested and I set up a meeting with Bob the next day. Four months later, we closed the deal.”
Since then, Jumper has not “blown off” any of his dreams for Soundcheck, keeping the same employees since the day the doors opened, increasing the number of rooms from four to nine and upping the number of lockers from 160 to 217. In probably one of his most significant business moves, Jumper has also brought in industry offices for the likes of Ed Beaver Guitars, Peavey, Stage Call Trucking, Backstage Custom Cases, video production company Moo TV, Tyler Truss and American Stage Company — just a few names from an ever-growing list.
“When I took over,” Jumper recalls, “all these rooms had mix-and-match sound systems — very low-end, no digital. It was my goal to raise the bar and bring everything up to date. And, amazingly, Meyer really stepped up and to date have put $1 million-plus worth of sound in all the rooms. So many of the industry people, if they're not there to rehearse, they're there to get something out of their locker, they're there to meet with Meyer or Peavey or Fender.
“In all of the rooms is endorsement gear,” he explains. “Meyer is able to showcase all their products that they have for live sound. We give [each manufacturer] a certain amount of time every year to do seminars, classes, sales meetings and client demos. Instead of sending a system out to do a demo for a client, they can fly the client to Nashville, bring them to Soundcheck and let them compare all of their systems. Our in-house sound engineers have given Meyer feedback that has made some positive changes in their products. I can't tell you how good it feels to have those relationships, and usually those relationships cost a lot of money; in this, there's no money to discuss. We help each other.”
Soundcheck also has the Southeast's largest backline, which they supplied to the CMA Awards show for the first time this year. That job included bringing out two 53-foot tractor-trailers full of instruments. “If any of our stars come in — let's say Vince Gill or Kenny Chesney — and we've got a new amp or guitar or piece of equipment, we'll stick it in their hands, and say, ‘Hey, we just got this in. Check it out. Tell us what you think,’” Jumper adds.
On February 15, the company celebrated the opening of 740 Cowan, a 47,000-square-foot facility — just a few minutes' walk from the original venue — that includes five studios, UpLight Technologies and new staging company American Staging. “And we have a new goal for next year,” adds Jumper, a man seemingly unwilling to rest on his laurels. “We are going to build a 160-by-120, 70-foot-tall complete soundstage for film and TV, as well as being a full-production rehearsal [space].
“I'll give you an example: I've got Kenny Chesney's band in rehearsing at Soundcheck right now. There is a large rehearsal room at the Sommet Entertainment Center, and Kenny's people are putting the full production rig in that room and the band is rehearsing at Soundcheck. Once we get the production together, Kenny will come over, rehearse the band a few days and then go and do a full-production rehearsal. Well that full-production facility is closing and is going to turn into a 3,500-seat theater, so there will be no place for full-production rehearsals in Nashville anymore, and there were 100 days of full-production rehearsals in Nashville last year.
“When the Nashville Network closed, the soundstages that were there became office complexes, so there's only one real soundstage in Nashville now and that's the Opry House stage, and it stays so booked up with Grand Ole Opry Live and everything there that it's not really usable as a soundstage. We want to bring that to Soundcheck. We are purchasing the property, and in the process of doing that I just met with the new director of the Tennessee Film Commission and we're going to launch this project. And I hope to have it open within a year. That might be a little bit of progressive thinking, but I think it can be done.”
And while Jumper has these other projects steamrolling ahead, his main concern is keeping Soundcheck as busy and as first-class as possible — with the help of his longtime employees, who, to him, feel more like family. This past year, the facility has hosted Bon Jovi, Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, John Fogerty, Neil Young, Black Label Society, Elvis Costello, Hank Williams Jr., Mute Math and many other top-selling touring acts. “We've started creating a lot of interest because Nashville is such a cool place,” Jumper enthuses. “It has the amenities and restaurants that L.A. and New York have, but it's much easier to get into and get around, the hotels are cheaper and it's really the ‘Third Coast.’ It's a destination not just for country music, but for all musicians.”
Sarah Benzuly is the group managing editor for Mix, EM and Remix magazines.