Producer/engineer/mixer David Leonard has decided to move fromNashville, where he has lived and worked for the past five years,to the New England area. Leonard, whose credit list includes IndigoGirls, John Mellencamp and Hootie & The Blowfish, citedpersonal reasons for leaving Nashville.
Leonard has nothing but good things to say about Nashville as aplace to live and work, adding, “The studios here are as goodas it gets.” But his desire to move on underscores theperipatetic nature of the music business in general and its effectson the studio business in Nashville. “I came to Nashville inpart to get away from the riots and the earthquakes in L.A.,”he told me on a break from producing Atlantic pop artists JumpLittle Children at East Iris Studios. “Now it's time to lookfor other things.” Leonard says he hopes to continue to cometo Nashville to make records in the future, but concedes that hewill inevitably do less work there.
Milan Bogdan, East Iris' general manager, who had been workingon building up the studio's base beyond Nashville's mainly countryclientele, was disappointed. “People tend to work where theylive, and when they don't live here, they likely won't work thereas often,” he says. “I think that the departure ofpeople like David is a tragedy for Nashville in general. Itundermines the studio community's attempts to broaden our basebeyond country.”
Nashville's upper-end recording studios went through multiplegyrations over the past two years. The same effect is making itselffelt at other ends of the spectrum. Antarctica Media, which openedin early 1999 as a mid-budget, Pro Tools-based audio masteringfacility, and which then grew into recording and mixing andInternet-based services, has shuttered most of its musicoperations. The company will now focus on Web page construction andgraphics, with some audio mastering services available, mainly forWeb-based projects.
Company owner John Trevethan attributed the pullback from musicto pure economics, and the numbers he cites offer a glimpse intothe mechanics of the mid-level facility in the context ofNashville's studio culture. The studio asked $1,000 per day,including an engineer and access to what at the time wasNashville's largest Pro Tools system. The Pro Tools system leasecost $300 per month, and engineer charges generally ran around $250per day, leaving revenue of $450 per day for the studio, beforefixed overhead costs such as rent, utilities and payroll were takeninto account.
“That was simply not enough, considering that it's becometoo difficult to find clients who are willing to pay that much fora studio,” Trevethan says, adding that Nashville clients areused to ordering services a la carte. “They just didn't seemto get it that the engineer was included in the day rate,” hesays. “That's not the way it's done here. Just because youchange the technology doesn't mean you change the culture you useit in.” Furthermore, Trevethan cites the diminished clientpool for this level of studio, particularly the decline of thepublishing demo market. “Aside from more writers recordingtheir own demos, you have fewer recording artists on fewer labels,and that means they don't need as many songs, so you don't need asmany demos,” he says. “Studios just fall in the middleof that food chain.” Trevethan also bet on Pro Tools takingoff in Nashville, which it did last year; however, he found thatmany potential clients simply bought their own versions of thesystem for use at home and in private studios.
After seeing revenues decline 20% over the last year, Trevethandecided to pull the plug on music recording. The studio occupiedthe former Studio A room in what was once Sixteenth Avenue Sound,ironically one of the first casualties, in 1998, of theconsolidation trend that has since engulfed Nashville.
TNN, The Nashville Network, left in name last September whenCBS/Westinghouse, which bought Gaylord Entertainment's broadcastingoperations in 1997, changed the cable network's name to TheNational Network. The name change by the new owners — sinceconsolidated under Viacom — underscores country music'ssinking fortunes. (Preliminary SoundScan data for 2000 indicatedthe format has dropped to about an 8.5% market share, down morethan 50% from the highwater mark of 18-plus percent in 1994.) Morematerially, it signaled the shift of the broadcast operations forboth TNN and music video channel CMT to New York, where Viacom isheadquartered. In late January, Viacom initiated the largest roundof job cuts yet at the networks, eliminating or moving 125 jobs— 35% of the work force.
The good news is that TNN's audio production and post-productioninfrastructure, which Viacom also acquired in the purchase, willremain intact, with no job cuts for the time being. Julie Burnett,TNN's manager of operations, told me that the entire 20-plus staffof audio personnel for its recording, mixing and post studios, aswell as its one remote truck, will remain in place. Broadcasts ofthe Grand Ole Opry, a weekend staple on TNN and nationallysyndicated on radio, will also remain based from here.
Speaking of disappearing acts, Virgin Nashville, the labelcreated in mid-1998 as a Capitol Records subsidiary and headed byousted Capitol president and producer Scott Hendricks, closed itsdoors in January, weeks after Asylum Records' Nashville office didthe same. Both labels had been teetering for some time, swept underby country music's market share slide and the increased difficultyin getting country radio stations to embrace new artists. Hendrickshad been one of the current generation of Nashville'sproducer-stars in the mid-1990s, with multi-Platinum productionsfor Brooks and Dunn and other artists. Hendricks had attempted topursue the Nashville music industry's version of a hat trick byrunning a label, producing records and owning a recording studio,Arrowhead. Hendricks built a studio in his home nearly two yearsago, after he took the helm at Virgin Nashville. Capitol Recordsitself is a division of EMI, which has been on the selling blockfor over two years. EMI and RCA Records parent company, BMGEntertainment, have been in talks about an acquisition or mergersince late last year. The elimination of unprofitable assets, arubric that Virgin Nashville qualified for, often precedes suchdeals.
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