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Last Week in Nashville: Tuesday

Tom Kenny's epic travels through Nashville continue, as he scopes out Curb and Starstruck Studios, Belmont University and very respectable Mexican food at Nada.

In Part 1, detailing the beginning of the trip on Monday, October 31, we visited Chuck Ainlay, then popped over to Berry Hill to speak at the Blackbird Academy and visit Jeff Balding, before ending the day (I guess it was night by then) at Chris Mara’s absolutely unique, all-analog Welcome to 1979. On Tuesday, it was all about Music Row…

Pictured at Curb Studios’ new API Legacy AXS console in Studio A are, in back from left, Aaron Rowlin and Pat McMakin, and sitting, from left, studio manager and staff engineer David Bates, and chief engineer Craig White.
Pictured at Curb Studios’ new API Legacy AXS console in Studio A are, in back from left, Aaron Rowlin and Pat McMakin, and sitting, from left, studio manager and staff engineer David Bates, and chief engineer Craig White.

11:30 a.m.: Curb Studios

After a morning of catching up on email, Evan Bakke and I drove up to the recently refurbished Curb Studios to meet up with Pat McMakin and a few of his long-time friends on the Row. Pat, a producer/engineer, is also the longest continuously serving studio manager in all of Nashville, starting out at Tree Studios in 1982, then Sony/Tree, where he also worked in artist development, then Ocean Way, from which he recently retired after nearly 15 years.

But there’s no way Pat will actually retire. He’s already thick in development with a new 17-year-old singer-songwriter named Lisa Curtis (we listened at Curb; she’s astounding), and he hasn’t given up on his dream of bringing a world-class, multipurpose scoring stage/venue to Music City. He did awfully well attracting the videogame companies to town for scoring work. And dreams never die in Nashville. Stay tuned…

At Curb, we were greeted by the inimitable Aaron Bowlin. I’m still not sure what his title is, but he’s been there for 25 years and does a bit of everything, from studio host to artist development. He’s definitely part of the Curb family. We also met with chief engineer Craig White and studio manager/staff engineer David Bates. What a great team.

They gave us a tour of the upgrades, which were mostly in infrastructure, wiring and cosmetics, with the addition of a lighting and video rig in the main room for video shoots. Studio A, featured on the Mix cover back in the mid-1990s when it was last redone, is intact, with the live room the same as when the late, great Bil Vorn Dick roamed the halls and recorded some of the finest bluegrass you’ll ever hear. The big news is the new API Legacy AXS console. It’s a beauty.

After listening to some tracks and reminiscing about more than a few sessions that had passed through, Aaron and company took us out the back door, across the small parking lot and alley, and in the back door of Starstruck Studios.

Listening back to Apple Spatial tracks in Starstruck Studios’ new 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos mix room, with SSL System T500 console and ATC monitoring.
Listening back to Apple Spatial tracks in Starstruck Studios’ new 7.1.4 Dolby Atmos mix room, with SSL System T500 console and ATC monitoring.

12:30 p.m.: Starstruck Studios

Still affectionately known as “Reba’s Place,” though she no longer officially owns it, Starstruck is the home of the famous Gallery and Pond studios, each with an SSL 9000 console that still sees work daily. But the big news, we found out from our host, Torie, is that they’ve just put in a Dolby Atmos mix room, based around an SSL System T500 console and full-range ATC monitors.

We pulled up Apple Spatial and started with (what else?) a couple of tracks from Taylor Swift’s recently released Midnights, followed by “Eleanor Rigby” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” from the Beatles’ also recently re-released Revolver. Damn, Atmos tracks sure do sound good in a good Atmos studio. Even with big speakers bearing down on you in a relatively small room, you never feel overpowered. That’s the beauty of the format. It’s all about clarity, definition and a good mix. These sounded great.

1:30 p.m.: Out on the Street

Everywhere Evan and I went, I asked people about where might be a good place to host a Mix Nashville Immersive Music event. We have a few needs, like a room big enough to hold 150 chairs for the Keynote and expert panels, along with a good number of working studios for our sponsors to host attendees. It’s important to us that we hold the event in real working studios, and Nashville is certainly not short on real working studios,

Thanks to Pat, Aaron and the good folks at Curb, I think we’ve found our spot!

After leaving Starstruck, Aaron and team walked us about 100 yards to the front of Curb Studios, at 43 Music Square East. He pointed down the street, right next door, and said, “There’s RCA Studio A and B, and across the street there is Columbia Studio A and the Quonset Hut, the Owen Bradley original. Then at the end of the block is Masterfonics and The Tracking Room. And then a half-block up from that is Sound Stage and Back Stage, with Ronnie Milsap’s Place, too. It’s all right here, and except for the Sound Stage/BackStage/Ronnie studios, Mr. Curb owns it all.”

Damn! This will work! Next month, hopefully, we’ll be sitting down with Mike Porter, who runs the Curb facilities, and hash out a deal for an event on a Saturday in May. More news to come.

Then it was off to lunch at King of Siam for some noodles and a lot of fine conversation.

5:00 p.m. Belmont University for Billy Joel Live…

After a quick stop back at the Best Western to change clothes, Evan and I headed up the street to the Johnson Center, in the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business at Belmont University, where we met up with Pat and his wife, Kelly, for a special screening of Billy Joel: Live at Yankee Stadium in Dolby Atmos.

Apparently, when the concert film had its theatrical premiere across the country back on October 5 and 9, the Regency and AMC chains in Nashville chose not to be a part of it. So Tom Davis, the film’s Atmos mixer, who runs SeisMic Sound, where the film was mixed on his Avid S6/9.1.4 Kali monitor system Studio A on the northeast side of town, arranged for a special screening and invited industry family and friends. What a treat! What a show! What an immersive mix! Concert films in Atmos (and this, I believe, is the first to have a theatrical release) can be stunning. I hope there will be more.

After the film, Tom and his son and co-mixer, Jake Davis, answered questions from the audience, detailing how they went back to David Hewitt’s original 24-tracks and then received the Pro Tools sessions and stereo reference from Jay Vicari, who mixed the concert for CD/LP/Streaming/Blu-ray release, which took place that Friday, November 4. Check it out. Get the Blu-ray if you want to see it/hear it in Atmos!

After the show, Evan and I joined Tom and his crew at Nada for a celebratory dinner with some damn fine Mexican food. I gotta say this about Nashville: Over the past 20 years, the food scene has become much, much more than a “Meat and 3.” We ate well!

Tomorrow, back to Berry Hill, where we’ll find out more about Blackbird and stop in at Ryan Hewitt’s new Atmos room across the street. Just a few doors down from Jeff Balding. Then out to visit SeisMic Sound to see where Tom Davis mixed that awesome concert film. If you like studios, you gotta love this town!