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Blog: Building The ‘Mix Nashville: Immersive Music Production’ Event

Tom Kenny shares some of what it takes to put together a breakthrough event like the upcoming Mix Nashville: Immersive Music Production.

Martina and John McBride inside Blackbird Studios, which will host the evening festivities of Mix Nashville: Immersive Music Production on May 20.
Martina and John McBride inside Blackbird Studios; the facility will the Host Partner for Mix Nashville: Immersive Music Production’s evening festivities on May 20, 2023.

I’ll say this about Nashville engineers and producers: They call you right back. And it doesn’t usually take too long, maybe 30 seconds. If they’re in a session and can’t talk, it’s not uncommon to get a boomerang text that says as much, promising to call when they get a break. Then again, all of this might not even happen because they already answered the phone and asked me how I’m doing, even though I’m quite sure that my 510 doesn’t ring any bells.

This has happened so often over the past two weeks that by the time I texted Vance Powell with a “Tom Kenny here. Can you give me a quick call when you get 2 mins free? It won’t take long. Promise,” and then saw his number lighting up my iPhone within 20 seconds, I picked up, and the first words out of my mouth were, “What the f-#* is it with you Nashville engineers?! You all call right back! We don’t do that in California! My daughters don’t even do that! What the f-#!%?”

Without missing a beat, Vance shot back, in that signature rapid-yet-deadpan delivery: “It’s ’cause we’re all out of work, looking for a gig.”

I laughed out loud, my faux rage dissipating as I told him that the fact that people still pick up their phone is one of the things that I love about Nashville. He was standing outside a Starbucks in Seattle, about to head back to the truck for a line check/sound check and then a live mix of that night’s Phish show, which would be streamed to fans, same as it is for every performance. Vance is a busy boy. It now looks like I’ll be seeing Phish and Vance this Monday at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, my all-time favorite venue. That invitation wouldn’t have happened over text. It’s all because Vance picks up his phone.

Vance was merely the tipping point in my Nashville-engineer-and-phone theory. Over the past few weeks, I’ve learned that if he’s not buried in a mix, Jeff Balding will almost always pick up his phone. Julian King, whom I’ve met once or twice over the years, texted back: “Sure, Tom. Is tomorrow morning at 9 good?” I texted, “Suuuuure, though if I sound a little foggy it’s only because I’m in Oakland and I still prefer musician’s hours.” He texted back: “Is now good?” I would learn that he was on a rare three-day camping vacation with his wife and about to put steaks on the grill.

Mix Nashville: Shani Gandhi, Michael Romanowski Join Speaker Lineup

Gena Johnson took a couple of hours to get back to me, but when she did, around 11 p.m. Nashville time, she apologized profusely and said that the session didn’t stop for a break that night. She promised to call in the morning, and she did.

I was a bit nervous about cold-texting Dann Huff. He’s at the level where I typically have to go through two layers of publicity to say hello. But John McBride told me, “F-*# that. He’s a regular guy. Just text him.” So I did, and he called within 30 seconds, remembered our meeting from 10 years ago in Blackbird Studio F, and within five minutes had agreed to be one-half of the Keynote Conversation, addressing “Art and Commerce” at the upcoming May 20 Mix Nashville: Immersive Music Production event.

It’s the Mix event that triggered all these engineer calls. And by now you’ve all figured out that the phone, though all of the above is entirely true, is simply a metaphor for the absolute openness and level of engagement I’ve encountered in the recording community each and every time I’ve come to Nashville.


The Mix Nashville event is happening only because Pat McMakin, a good friend for many years, took me down to Curb Studios one morning in October. Aaron Bowlin was our host, and I was taken through the renovated studios by Craig White and David Bates. They didn’t know me until that morning, but by the end of lunch at King Siam, we had worked out a plan whereby Curb Studios would be our Host Partner on Music Row, with Blackbird Studio our Host Partner for the evening party in Berry Hill.

Speaking of Blackbird, John McBride always picks up his phone. Always. Even at midnight Pacific time. He has an amazing new venture launching this month, Inside Blackbird, as you can read about in our cover story. When talking about the cover image, I soon realized that it was important to me (and to John) that Martina be on the cover with him. Mix always talks to John, but John always talks to Martina.

Over the 20 years I’ve known them, dating back before their youngest daughter’s first birthday party at the Oakland Coliseum, I’ve looked at John and Martina as true partners in all the things that matter in life—family, friends, music, business, pleasure and so much more—and they have been nothing but genuine and open in welcoming this rogue editor whenever he comes to town. Just like Nashville itself.

I can’t wait for May 20, when Mix opens up the conversation about immersive music and I get to hang out with some damn fine engineers, producers and friends. Come on down to Curb, then join us at Blackbird. See you there!

• • • • •

Mix Nashville: Immersive Music Production is produced in conjunction with Host Partners Curb Studios, Belmont University and Blackbird Studio. During the day, Host Partner Curb Studios, along with Black River EntertainmentColumbia Studio A and Starstruck Studios, will feature a series of expert panels, project profiles, technology exhibitions and demonstrations, interviews with top engineers and producers, immersive listening sessions, and much more. At night, the event moves to the nearby Berry Hill neighborhood for a party at Blackbird Studio, in conjunction with a Studio Crawl featuring immersive music Listening Sessions at a number of nearby studios, including Imogen Sound, Sputnik Sound, Addiction Sound Studios, Westlake Pro and the ADAM Audio showroom.