Nashville, like other major recording centers, has had an energizing effect on neighboring cities for years. But the specific result of proximity to what was once known as Music City (but is now officially a "major league sports destination," according to the Nashville Chamber of Commerce) has varied. Murfreesboro, for instance, about 35 miles southeast of Music Row and home to Middle Tennessee State University's extensive music business and technology academic programs, has actually been able to use Nashville's country connotations as a foil to develop its alternative rock music scene, spearheaded by indie labels like Spongebath Records.
Franklin-south of Nashville and the heart of Williamson County, one of Tennessee's most affluent communities-has had a different experience. About three years ago, it seemed poised to become Nashville's music business satellite with its own, country-related music scene. National magazine articles focused on quaint but hip live music venues such as Green's Grocery in nearby Leiper's Fork and the fact that many of rock 'n' roll's elder statesmen, such as Peter Frampton, Michael McDonald and Kim Carnes, chose to live there. That was enough to stimulate the interest of studio owners, and the existing base of studios in the Franklin area-the long-standing Bennett House and The Castle-soon saw new studios coming on line, such as the Tom Hidley-designed Bulldog in downtown Franklin, or at least fielded rumors of new facilities, such as the long-threatened but never materialized Manor at Cool Springs. If the Franklin/ Cool Springs area ever had a facility that reflected larger business trends, it would be the ceaselessly expanding Sound Kitchen.
One thriving facility in Franklin is Dark Horse Recording, based at owner Robin Crow's bucolic home. "Franklin developed, not necessarily the way some people thought it might, but rather in a more natural way," Crow observes. "As a lot of the producers and engineers prospered, they decided they wanted more elbow room for themselves and their families, and they moved to the Franklin area." That migration now constitutes more than half the bookings for Dark Horse, which is benefiting from larger demographic trends and the sprawl that has been such a double-edged sword for Nashville in the last decade. "The reason that people built studios here is because the music [business] increasingly lives here," he explains.
Dark Horse grew from a private one-room studio to a three-room facility and has seen more work come from the still-growing Contemporary Christian recording market. Several Christian record labels have set up shop in the Maryland Farms office park in northern Williamson County, and the labels, their artists and their producers seem to like the idea of keeping their entire operations in a suburban setting.
Mike Janis, manager at The Castle, agrees that the lures of suburbia have had a lot to do with how Franklin has developed as a music center. "There was some sense of it becoming a hot spot a few years ago, with places like Green's," he recalls. "But the reality is, people don't want to draw too much attention to where they live. It's really not in Wynonna's interests to have Leiper's Fork all that high-profile."
Trevor Johnson, whose Bulldog Studios in downtown Franklin is one year old this month and has just installed the area's first Euphonix R1 hard disk recorder, says he's been reasonably pleased with how the area's business has developed but adds that it's not up to its full potential. "It's not where it should be, and a lot of that has to do with perception," he says. "People think the drive times are longer than they actually are from Nashville to Franklin. Those are the kinds of details that we need to make people aware of."
Kentucky resident George Cumbee bought Classic Recording in Franklin in 1997, in part because he had heard the buzz about the town in the mid-'90s. "I was impressed by its potential," says Cumbee, who has observed the ongoing shift towards the suburbs by many in Nashville's music business. Their reasons for moving include the increasingly heavy traffic flow in and around Nashville's center, he explains.
Since much of Classic's work comes from the Christian music industry, Cumbee has also noticed those companies moving southward. "Provident Music built its headquarters in Cool Springs, and the Benson Group has three studios it uses almost exclusively in the area, and we happen to be one of them," he says.
Cumbee also cites the expansive Sound Kitchen as a draw for more work outside of Music Row, as well as the fact that, like on the Row, the local studios have been networking among each other, trading sessions to balance schedules. "It's a real studio community, which is what Nashville used to be more like," he says.
Today's Franklin also has as much to do with serendipity and geography as anything else, as The Castle's Janis points out: "We're just far enough to discourage casual visitors to sessions, but close enough so that even if you're based on the Row, it's not a bad drive from the city to here. And chances are, it's also on your way home anyway."
Mea culpa: A couple of historical corrections are in order. When I wrote about Studio III in the December column, I identified Piers Plaskitt as the chief engineer at Bullet Studios, which was the first facility on that site. Plaskitt, who went on to become CEO of SSL's U.S. operations and now head of global sales & marketing for Euphonix, was Bullet's studio manager. Current Virgin Nashville president Scott Hendricks was chief engineer. Furthermore, I'm told by JB, who was a staff engineer there from 1982 to 1984 and who prefers to be known by his initials only, that the studio didn't actually come on line until 1981 and that construction on another large tracking room began in the late '70s. It brings back great feelings to be reminded of my days at Bullet once again. It was a great facility, and I wish Studio III loads of success in that spot."