It's been an open secret for the past few months that MCA Records/Nashville president Tony Brown and former Arista Nashville president Tim DuBois intend to form a new record label. With the exception of a very short stint heading up Gaylord Entertainment's short-lived new music venture earlier in 2001, DuBois has been a free agent since Arista Record folded a truncated version of its Nashville operation into the RCA Label Group in 2000, in the wake of Arista's executive shuffle in New York, which saw Clive Davis reluctantly step down. Brown's contract with MCA, which, as part of the Universal Music Group, was gobbled up by French-owned Vivendi, was headed to term anyway.
The move has many implications. While there are few details available as of this writing, as legal issues are negotiated, it's clear that the venture will not be a country label, which actually could be very good for Nashville's music industry. But there are a few other known factors and they are important to the Nashville recording studio community. First, both Brown and DuBois are producers, and very successful ones at that. Brown is arguably the most successful record producer ever in Nashville, with a consistent string of hits and critical successes over the past 20 years for George Strait, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Emmylou Harris, Wynonna Judd and some of Nashville's edgier artists, such as Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett. DuBois signed and co-produced an equally impressive and successful array of artists, including Blackhawk, Brooks & Dunn, Diamond Rio and Restless Heart. Both have been quite prolific, and this pairing will surely produce numerous recorded offspring.
But more to the point for Nashville's studio business, neither Brown nor DuBois has ever owned his own recording studio, and neither seems inclined to start now. In fact, Brown told me years ago that owning a recording studio was simply not something he wanted to do. At a time when the proliferation of personal studios owned by major country music producers divert an estimated $2 million to $3 million a year in revenues from conventional studios, here the Brown-DuBois venture is a welcome harbinger of a possible reversal of that trend.
Iron on the mountain: Nashville generates tons of content, much of which is stored in garages and basements all over the city. Some of it has simply disappeared. Iron Mountain Film & Sound, a Boston-based media archival company, has set up shop in Nashville, seeking to leverage the increased value of content into a more orderly (and profitable) manner of storage and retrieval.
The Nashville operation of Iron Mountain, which established a foothold here when it bought Nashville Vault (a local data archiving company located in a former Federal Reserve bank building, in 1995), is being headed up by Barry Cardinael, who, from 1979 to 1995, worked full time for singer Neil Diamond as a recording engineer.
“It was working with Neil that got me interested in archiving in general,” Cardinael recalls. “In 1995, I was trying to find one of Neil's old masters and it took quite a while to accomplish that.” It was eventually found, at Iron Mountain's Hollywood facility (it also has storage centers in Paris, London, Pittsburgh and Chicago), which gave Cardinael and the facility manager the chance to talk about taking music archiving a step further. Cardinael developed a prospectus to help Iron Mountain more aggressively move into entertainment media archiving, which led not only to a more focused mission for its 15,000-square-foot Nashville facility, but to the decision to build a new, 25,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art storage facility, which will open on the eastern edge of Davidson County later this month. That new $1 million facility will have a triple-thickness seamless concrete ceiling and redundant heating and A/C systems, says Cardinael. Furthermore, he says, Iron Mountain has become an active participant in the regional effort being conducted by the Producers & Engineers wing of the Nashville NARAS chapter in developing archival audio standards. The committee tasked with this, including producers George Massenburg, Tony Brown, Kyle Lehning, Garth Fundis and Ocean Way manager Sharon Corbett, are experimenting with the AES 31. WAV file format for long-term digital audio storage and retrieval. Iron Mountain is in the process of testing how well the format can be recalled via T-1 line, from its data storage silo near Pittsburgh.
“It's the industry that has to make the decision ultimately,” says Cardinael. “But we want to be ready to adapt to whatever they decide to do in the future, so we want to stay involved in how they arrive at their conclusions.”
Archiving has been a hot button in the pro audio industry for some time. The increased need for content to fill endlessly expanding media channels has added to the issue's urgency. And Nashville's position as one of the most prolific producers of music and audio in the world makes it a natural locus for archiving activities. Other independent data storage companies are also eyeing the entertainment media market, and some archival clients already maintain their own long-term storage facilities, such as Sony Music Entertainment's underground facility in upstate New York.
Cardinael declined to discuss actual rates, but did say that smaller clients, ranging from songwriters to publishing companies to independent labels, could pay proportionately for archiving services. “There's got to be 500 songwriters in this town who have hundreds of masters sitting in their garages and basements,” he says. More pointedly, though, Cardinael is actively courting Nashville's studios. Small wonder: One of the top peeves of any facility owner is the fact that clients often regard the studio as their own cost-free archiving facility. Many studio owners spend as much time chasing clients to pick up tapes as they do chasing checks. Cardinael agrees that he could channel that problem into a reference for Iron Mountain's services. “It's crossed my mind,” he says.
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