Nashville is rapidly turning into the Peyton Place of the studio business. It's difficult to keep up with the changes in the city's studio industry when things keep changing on a daily basis.
I reported in August that Emerald/Masterfonics owner Dale Moore had made a bid to buy East Iris Recording-and I stress the word "bid." Negotiations broke off shortly thereafter, and a successful bid for East Iris was accepted for the studio from Gary Belz, who owns Ocean Way Nashville (with Allen Sides) and House of Blues Studios (formerly Kiva) in Memphis and L.A. The price paid for East Iris, whose sale closed on August 3, was not available at press time, but Belz confirmed that it was less than $2 million. That's considerably less than the reported $3.2 million East Iris cost when the 1.5-room, Tom Hidley-designed facility opened three years ago with an 80-input SSL 9000J console (which, ironically, Belz and Sides had purchased for Ocean Way Nashville and later sold to original East Iris owner Burt Wilson). But it was also widely known in Nashville that Wilson was anxious to sell the facility in Berry Hill, an independent city located within Nashville's boundaries and about five miles from Music Row.
In addition to the East Iris studio facilities, Belz also purchased an adjacent plot of land. The plot could be used to expand the studio at some point, which was critical to the deal, Belz said.
Belz stressed that there would be no overt conflict between his continued partnership in Ocean Way and his solo acquisition of East Iris, even though both studios are top-tier facilities in the same market. Belz said that he has not discussed the purchase of the studio with Sides. "We won't be competitors. These two studios have entirely different equipment packages," Belz explained. (Located on Music Row, Ocean Way Nashville has three studios equipped with a vintage Neve, a recently installed Neve VR and a Sony Oxford.)
Belz, whose other facilities are named in a licensing arrangement with House of Blues owner Isaac Tigrett, demurred when asked about a name change for East Iris, saying that the studio's name, staff and operations would continue as before, and he retains a license to use the name for other facilities. Although the East Iris acquisition gives Belz facilities in three major cities, he also stated that he was not interested in creating a national chain of recording studios. "I simply do things where I live, and I live in Nashville, Memphis and Los Angeles," he said.
Belz also plans to open a pro audio used dealership in a warehouse he recently purchased near the 100 Oaks shopping mall, which the Belz family developed in 1967. He also has a joint venture with audio technology developer John Musgrave called Mad Labs, which markets a modification package for Neve consoles.
The purchase of East Iris, Belz said, is meant to augment his individual production and publishing ventures. However, he added, his personal interests in India will eventually lead him to maintain a residence there at some point, and he plans to investigate the possibility of opening facilities in Asia. He has discussed the feasibility of an equipment brokerage firm in Asia with Tom Misner, founder of the global School of Audio Engineering.
In other news, Emerald was successful in purchasing The Workstation, a facility started four years ago by producer/engineer John Guess and engineer Marty Williams and later expanded to include producer Mark Bright, producer/engineer Csaba Petocz and producer/guitarist Dann Huff.
The deal brings The Workstation's technical complement (a studio with a Harrison Series 12 console and a Pro Tools suite) under the growing Emerald umbrella-Emerald bought both locations of Masterfonics in January-and also fosters a closer relationship with all five former owners, which Emerald president Andrew Kautz said was a primary reason for the acquisition. "There were five producers trying to work in one room, so this deal is a perfect match for them since they can now use all of Emerald's facilities," he said. Kautz added, however, that such use is optional; there are no ongoing agreements between any of the five and Emerald for use of studio facilities.
Meanwhile, Don Cook-producer for Brooks & Dunn and The Mavericks and head of Nashville's largest music publisher, Sony/Tree-purchased Soundshop Studios in conjunction with Mike Bradley, who had been the two-room facility's manager for the last 25 years. The price was $1.6 million from studio owner, Tree founder and restaurateur Buddy Killen. Cook, who has been the studio's major client for the last decade, owns 25% of the business; Bradley owns the balance. Ironically, the owners of The Workstation had earlier expressed interest to Killen in buying Soundshop before they sold their facility to Emerald.
Soundshop has two Sony 3348 decks, augmented by Cook's own 3348; the consoles-a pair of Trident Vectors-are the natural focus of upgrades, Bradley said, and part of his intent to broaden the scope of the studio's clientele. Soundshop is also one of Nashville's oldest continuously run studios: It was started nearly 30 years ago on the same site.
Meanwhile, Soundstage Studios bought the business assets of the former Nightingale Studios (Soundstage owner Ron Kerr already owned the building). The technical complement from Soundstage's Backstage room will be moved to Nightingale, and eventually the space will be turned into a surround mix room co-ventured by Soundstage and engineer Chuck Ainlay, who had earlier shelved plans to do a similar deal with Georgetown Mastering owner Denny Purcell. In addition to physical expansion, Soundstage studio manager Michael Koreiba also confirmed that the alliance with Ainlay-who has staked out a high profile in surround mixing nationally-was a significant part of the deal. "This town has slowly been going in that direction for about a year now," he said in a reference to the strategy of building alliances with producers, established by Sound Kitchen in nearby Cool Springs.
Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile, the Music Mill closed its doors. The two-room, Focusrite- and API Legacy-equipped studio, owned by Mercury Records president and producer Harold Shedd, had been faltering in recent years as a studio business but had most recently become the home to Shedd's Internet-based Tyneville Records venture. Reports at press time indicated that the majority of the studio's equipment had been sold (though no report as to who purchased the Focusrite, one of only ten ever made), and that the building itself had been taken off the market.
All I can say is, stay tuned.