Life goes on in Nashville, even as everyone seems to be buying everyone else. And there is much going on, on both conventional and unconventional fronts.
Studio III is trying to carry on the traditional niche of a one-room tracking facility. It has some big shoes to fill-the space has been a recording studio of one sort or another almost since the street it's on has been part of Music Row. In the 1970s, it was
Bullet Studios. In the next decade, it became Digital Recording, the second Nashville studio owned by Norbert Putnam after he sold Quadraphonic. In the early 1990s, producer/engineer Mike Clute ran it as Midtown Tone & Volume. Two years ago, Alabama-based entrepreneur Gerald Murray took over the space and named it Studio III. That long tenure in the same location has made the space a touchstone for a few generations of pro audio citizens.
One of those Nashville fixtures, Jeff Teague, former vice president of A&R at Word Records and now creative director and minority owner of Studio III, worked with Putnam back in the '70s. (Teague played drums for the Pousette-Dart Band, whom Putnam produced.) Today Teague takes his business to Studio III: He produced MCA artist Alicia Elliott's debut record earlier this year on the facility's Euphonix CS 2000 console (more connections: Piers Plaskitt, former chief engineer at Bullet, is now president of worldwide sales and marketing at Euphonix). "It's amazing how many careers this place has touched," says Teague, who recalls that Bullet launched several engineering and production careers, including that of producer/engineer Scott Hendricks, former Capitol Records Nashville chief and now head of Virgin Nashville. "There's a reason that this has been a studio for so long-it's situated in a great location on the Row, which is popular with musicians, engineers and producers, the tracking space is inherently warm-sounding, and it's one of the few places that has such a high ceiling, which really lends itself to tracking dates." Studio III's high ceiling also holds a lighting grid, and the studio has been rented for music-video tapings.
Single-room operations are difficult under the best of circumstances, but Teague believes that Studio III's built-in benefits allow it to succeed even in the roiling environment of the Nashville market. The facility's business plan is based on appealing to three markets (hence its name): music publishing, artist development and record dates. "Even with all the studios in Nashville right now, there is a gap in terms of rooms that have great tracking space and are equipped and configured for top-level record sessions and that are affordable," Teague explains.
The studio has an average rate of $800 per day, variable based on the type of sessions booked. The big attraction has always been the tracking space, which is augmented by large concrete acoustical echo chambers beneath the studio floor and by a loft above the iso booths along one wall. The Euphonix console, which has been expanded to 72 inputs in a control room reconfigured by designer John Arthur of Miami, is still something of a novelty in Nashville, but Teague says those who use it generally become converts. "But the real key to this is that we believe that if you give producers and engineers an inherently good acoustical space that's well-equipped and well-maintained, at an affordable price, you can succeed," he says. "After all, that's what the studio business has always been based on. So it's kind of like baseball-we're sticking to the fundamentals."
On the less conventional side, tappedinto.com is the online music venture co-developed by former Sixteenth Avenue Studios manager Preston Sullivan and Judith Newby, former personal manager for artists including the Everly Brothers, Tom T. Hall and Johnny Rodriguez. Operating from offices a block away from Studio III on Music Row, tappedinto.com might be a model for the future of multimedia in Nashville. The company uses music as both a customer base and a content source for its 144 URL channels, and it creates marketing and sales packages for independent and major label artists, as well as its own burgeoning roster of recording artists.
"We'll probably sign about ten acts ourselves this year," says Sullivan, who continues to produce records within and without the new company. Still, music represents only a portion of the content that the company targets. Tappedinto.com also streams data on politics, sports and other specialty areas.
Tappedinto.com's own audio arsenal is Spartan-a Mackie mixer, a few microphones, RealAudio for MP3 encoding and Adobe Premiere video editing software. But that's about all it takes, Sullivan says, allowing the company to use the studio resources of Nashville, which become more affordable as consolidation continues. The company also taps into the facilities of Full Scale, a Seattle-based recording studio that is one of the venture's partners.
Looking back, Sullivan is happy not to confront the churning landscape of Nashville's studio business at the moment. "It was inevitable that all of this was coming, and I'm glad we got out when we did," he says of Sixteenth's closing nearly two years ago. "The way it's set up right now, it's nearly impossible for a one- or two-room studio to make a go of it, unless it's doing in-house productions funded by major record labels. The Net is the future, and we'd rather be on that side of progress."