TALKBACK: YOUR NASHVILLE STORIES
In the March and April 2008 “Feedback” columns and MixLine e-newsletters, we asked readers to tell us about their most memorable Nashville sessions and about how the scene has changed over the years.
I have lived in Nashville for 14 years now. I moved from New York City in 1994 due to the changing music scene in that city. I also lived in Los Angeles from 1989 to 1993 and didn't feel as at-home as I had hoped. So, Nashville seemed like the next place to try.
I find a lot of different music styles here. I've had the good fortune to do pop, rock and some country.
My most memorable Nashville sessions were with Matchbox Twenty. The band loved being here, and string sessions at Ocean Way Nashville Recording Studios were fantastic.
The musicians in Nashville are some of the most talented and professional I have ever had the pleasure to work with. They are the reason sessions go as fast as they do here. It's hard to find a city where so many diverse and wonderful artists live. It makes Nashville a very unique place to call home.
When cutting song demos in Nashville for my music publishing company, I routinely outline a few of my production ideas for a song with the session players before the first take. This is especially important considering that the musicians only hear a mockup of the song and review the chord chart once before we hit the Record button. But during one session at County Q Productions in April 2007, I wondered if I'd gone too far.
After discussing in meticulous detail all of my ideas for one particular song — including specific chord inversions, a walk-up, six instrumental hooks and instructions on which two guys would play 4-bar solos and where — the seven musicians all gave me a poker face, stood up and silently walked out of the control room and into the tracking room. I looked at my watch and realized I'd burned 20 minutes of studio time just talking! The players — Dan Dugmore (pedal steel), Pat Flynn (acoustic guitar), Larry Franklin (fiddle), John Jarvis (piano), Doug Kahan (bass), James Mitchell (electric guitar) and Paul Scholton (drums) — were all seasoned pros. But still, I wondered if I'd hamstrung them with too many details instead of just letting them play.
To my amazement, and from the very first downbeat of the first take, these guys nailed every idea I'd talked about like they'd been playing the song together for years! Every idea worked like a charm, and the recording sounded like a record from the get-go.
Michael Cooper Recording
I'm a producer/engineer/mixer from the Philadelphia area, and in the past three years I've done several recordings in Nashville.
My first experience was working at Starstruck Studios on the Suzanne Gorman record for Range Records. That was an amazing experience and a remarkable facility, although very costly. The musical director on all of my Nashville sessions has been Wayne Killius. He is an amazing drummer and excellent arranger. I can't imagine doing a session without Wayne. I don't know of anywhere in the world [where] you can track an entire record in an 8-hour session. We go in and record all of the music, then I go back home to track vocals and mix.
I love Nashville! If I could find a job, I would move tomorrow.
Kevin Wesley Williams
I witnessed my favorite session while in high school. I worked in a band that was going to make a custom CD late one night at a studio using session musicians. I knew Willie Rainsford was going to be the bandleader and piano player. He had played on Alabama's “Old Flame,” which was a song we were doing, so we were all very excited. I just knew if I watched him, I could figure out the secret to this “session musician” thing.
He came in with nothing but a briefcase. He sat it on the piano bench and I looked over his shoulder as he opened it. In the briefcase was everything he needed to complete the job, what I call the “four p's” of the old Nashville session world: a pencil, notebook pad, cassette player and a pistol.
I played bass in Nashville professionally from 1985 to 1996 and saw the scene change a lot as lots of West Coast guys moved in as country boomed in the '90s. It flooded the talent pool and changed the dynamics of the networking, making it a lot harder on local talent. When country music started to decline a bit, everybody felt the pinch.
I also hated to see the Opryland theme park disappear. It employed more than 100 musicians a day. Where else in Nashville could four French horn players work every day?
Sometime in the late '70s, I was a small-town songwriter and budding recordist working at home with a 4-track Tascam reel-to-reel and a box with knobs that almost qualified as a mixer. My vast microphone collection comprised a Shure SM57. My demo was crude, but somehow contained the one fleeting ingredient I can only describe as “potential.”
I went to Nashville to record a couple songs with a music publisher/producer from Kansas City to whom I had been submitting my masterpieces for a publishing deal. The songs were okay, but I wasn't the up-and-coming star to record them. He talked me into spending about $1,500 for studio time, and my family and I went on vacation from Southwest Wisconsin to Nashville.
I actually got my $1,500 dollars' worth because I saw firsthand how a “real” recording studio and engineer should operate. I saw the value of using “real” instruments and quality recording equipment. I have since evolved into a somewhat seasoned and thoughtful recordist with a 24/96 digital studio and good mics, and essential outboard gear.
The best lesson of all: I learned the value of the word “humble.”
Next month, Mix focuses on studio design and room acoustics. Whether it was a project studio or a full-blown, multi-room facility, what was the most artistic place in which you recorded and why? E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.