After a brief break for the holidays, Nashville's studio churn is at full speed once again. After 1999, which saw numerous instances of consolidation-most notably Emerald Recording's various acquisitions-the new year began with a few more.
Loud Recording, founded in 1993 by producer/DreamWorks label chief James Stroud (Randy Travis) and producer Richard Landis (Lorrie Morgan), underwent both an ownership change and a technology upgrade. Landis, whose production activities in Nashville have slowed in recent years, left the partnership amicably, the parties say, taking his SSL E/G console and a sizable amount of the outboard gear he had brought to the partnership with him. In his place, Sony Music Nashville executive Paul Worley (Martina McBride) and producer and VP of A&R at Sony Music Blake Chancey (Dixie Chicks) join Stroud at Loud. Worley also remains a partner in the Money Pit Studios, which he co-owns with drummer Eddie Bayers. This is Chancey's first studio partnership.
Landis' outgoing SSL was to be replaced with a new Sony oxford (Nashville's second, with the one at ocean Way), part of a refit of the studio's A room that included a rebuild of the control-room rear wall, according to staff engineer Rich Hanson. The B room at Loud will keep the existing Trident Series 80B console, still owned by Landis, on a temporary basis, and later move to a new-generation digital console, with Mackie, Sony and Yamaha boards under consideration.
More significant is that this is one more step in a trend towards more facilities with producers participating in their ownership. As reported here last year, Virgin Records head Scott Hendricks opened a sophisticated home-based recording and mixing facility, and several others have followed suit. Some Music Row insiders at the larger studios feel that producer-owned facilities don't affect tracking sessions revenues, because most don't have the space for large sessions. However, they are concerned about losing overdub and, most importantly, mixing sessions.
Dale Moore, owner of Emerald Recording, whose burgeoning facility empire is being fueled by acquisitions, is less concerned. He observes that many producers who become facility owners end up regretting the decision, and he notes, with irony, that he originally bought Emerald from two producers, David Malloy and Even Stevens, who had become disillusioned with how studio ownership detracted from their core focus of music-making. Not only that, he adds, "If you [open a studio] in your home, it trashes your domestic life.
"I've found that, in many cases, producers who become studio owners tend to back out of it after a while," he continues. "It looks appealing on the front end, but on the back end, some people tend to regret it. If you have a need for a hotel room now and then, you probably shouldn't buy the whole hotel."
other studios have responded to this trend with other strategies. For instance, Sound Kitchen has quietly but effectively built alliances with several key producers, offering them what studio owner Dino Elefante describes as "time-shares" in the facility, guaranteeing them availability and rates in return for their consistent use of the facility. "It's a form of buying into a studio, but without the liability," he says. (Sound Kitchen is also installing a custom-built, fully discrete 64-input API console in its largest tracking room, replacing the Neve VR, which moves into another studio at Sound Kitchen, replacing a vintage Neve 8108.)
Meanwhile, Studio III-the former Midtown Tone & Volume, which was once Digital Recording (owned by Norbert Putnam) and before that, Bullet Studios-has been sold again. The newest owner is Alan Cartee, a Nashville music and studio business veteran who has dabbled in Music Row-area real estate for years. This studio, renamed Cartee Day Studio (Day for his wife, Diana Day), is Cartee's fifth in a run that includes Music Mill Studios in Muscle Shoals in the 1970s, and American Studios in Nashville, which was later sold to Larry Butler and Roy Clark. Cartee's brothers, Brent and Don, worked as engineers with Waylon Jennings for more than a decade, including the period when Jennings was the voice of The Dukes of Hazard television series. (The narration and soundtrack were recorded in Nashville.)
Cartee expects to renovate the studio, as well as replace the existing Euphonix CS2000 console with another, newer board. However, he says, no firm decisions have been made in those regards yet. He has already purchased new Studer digital and analog multitrack decks. The facility is expected to be mixed-use, with in-house productions and outside client rentals.
He does believe strongly in the future of both the facility and Nashville's studio business. While the facility is currently a one-room studio, Cartee has the potential to acquire leases on adjacent studio spaces if and when they become available. And he likes the history of the place, which has a chronology that parallels his own in Nashville. "Everybody's had a shot at this studio," he observes of the facility's past incarnations. "Maybe that's why they called it Bullet."
Former Studio III majority owner Gerald Murray, who leased the space in 1998 and opened the studio the following year, has returned to other ventures outside of music. Minority shareholder and producer Jeff Teague says he continues to pursue publishing and production, but now without a studio. "It's nice to have that home base," he says. "But there's no shortage of studios in Nashville."