This column went monthly about two years ago, and if things keep popping like this, we may have to put out a weekly faxed edition. Last month I reported on the pending sales of East Iris to Emerald Recording, and the acquisition of Quad Recording (Nashville) by Quad Recording (New York). This month finds yet another major facility on the block. Music Mill, opened in 1981 by Harold Shedd and partners, is quietly up for sale-this writer spotted it as an anonymous classified ad in the back pages of Billboard in June. The rumored asking price is $2.5 million for the entire facility, including real estate.
Music Mill has a long history as part of Music Row. Built at a time when country music's fortunes were ebbing in the wake of Urban Cowboy, the studio has a rural architectural aesthetic-a log cabin exterior motif with a huge motorized waterwheel on the side-that has survived country music's and Nashville's own fast-forward into the glitz of the mainstream entertainment machine. The 10,000-square-foot facility has two studios, originally designed by John Stanford. Both have gone through several renovations-the most recent being an update of the Focusrite-equipped A room by Russ Berger and a revamp by Steven Durr & Associates of the API Legacy B room. (Durr still maintains his Imagine Studios with a vintage API in a building across the street from Music Mill. The former Pete Drake studios are owned by Shedd but are not part of the package for sale.) Both consoles have been refurbished and recapped recently, and both are fitted with GML automation packages. The studio renovations have also included the addition of a new kitchen and client lounge. The structure houses more than a dozen offices, as well as the two studios, and the adjacent parking lot has spaces for 25 vehicles.
Studio manager Todd Culross says that Music Mill has been experiencing the same low periods that the rest of Music Row and Nashville have undergone since country music's sales slump and the overbuilding of the regional studio infrastructure. But he added that the studio's client base has diversified in recent months, with sessions for Motown mixed in with the country dates. "It's nice to hear something other than fiddles and steel guitars once in a while," he says.
The fact that the facility is being listed in a national trade publication indicates that Shedd is casting wide for prospective suitors, and in light of the Quad-Quad transaction, that could make a lot of sense.
One of Music Row's first studio casualties, Sixteenth Avenue Sound, which shuttered its doors nearly two years ago, has found a new lease on life-one that better reflects the times.
What had been a two-room studio is now a subdivided honeycomb of several related and unrelated ventures. On the main floor, in what was Studio A, engineers John Trevethan and Mike Griffith have set up shop in Antarctica. They turned what had been the original control room into a Pro Tools-equipped mastering and editing suite run by Griffith, and they took what once was the piano iso booth and made that into a new control room, outfitted with a Soundcraft DC2000 console. The recording and mastering businesses feed each other, Trevethan says, and both feed a graphics and Web site-building business run by his wife, Brenda.
"It's a one-stop shop-you can track, overdub, mix and master your record here, and then have the album graphics done on print-ready files and have your promotional Web site constructed, with MP3 files done on the Pro Tools system," Trevethan explains.
A third room above the studio kitchen is being converted into a recording studio by John Elliott, former member of Nashville alt/industrial band Dessau. Upstairs, what was once Sixteenth Avenue's B studio is now a studio operated by engineer/producer Brian Hardin, who was profiled in these pages several months ago as the audio auteur behind the strange sounds on MTV's hit series Sifl & Ollie (which he had previously been creating in his home kitchen). Like the old factories of New England, which filled with shops when the Industrial Revolution hit the skids, the multiroom studio facility has evolved into a collection of boutiques.
All of the above parties are renting space in a building that is still on the market, and all of them understand the tenuous nature of their businesses' existence. Says Trevethan, "Hey, if we gotta move, we'll move. It's not like anything's nailed down."