The game of musical chairs continues, although the pace thankfully slackened as the summer drew to a close. But the drought that hit the South's agriculture

The game of musical chairs continues, although the pace thankfully slackened as the summer drew to a close. But the drought that hit the South's agriculture in the last few months certainly didn't carry over to its studio business.

In September, Emerald Studios added another block in the multi-site empire they started building in January with the acquisition of Masterfonics. Hot on the heels of its purchase of The Workstation in August, Emerald owner Dale Moore inked an agreement with publisher Larry Sheridan to co-venture the studio that Sheridan is building on Music Row. Sheridan is already renting office space to Moore and Emerald staffers, who were squeezed out of the Masterfonics building as it underwent renovations on its three mastering suites and an extension of a post-production venture to the building's Studio 6.

Sheridan purchased the 16th Avenue building (a 1920s bungalow of the type common on the Row), which had been used by singer Randy Travis as storage space. Sheridan is constructing an 800-square-foot tracking space; his original intent was to install the Yamaha 02R console and ADATs that he had been using for publishing demos in the new control room. Now that the Emerald deal has been finalized, it's possible that the SSL 4000 that had been in Studio 6 may be moved there, to make way for an SSL G Plus console that was part of the assets of the Workstation purchase. (Several Pro Tools systems that also came with that deal may also be set up in Masterfonics to serve the relocated broadcast post division.) Sheridan told me that while his original business plan called for his new studio to be a hybrid, serving his publishing interests and occasional outside rentals, in the framework of the Emerald co-venture the studio will become an affordable overdub and tracking location within the Emerald system.

That system, which already has multiple studios in three locations, is based on a combined horizontal and vertical model in which clients can choose the levels and types of rooms they want for various aspects of projects, and are given progressive rate incentives to keep more of the project within the Emerald system. In addition, plans are under way to link all of Emerald's sites fiber-optically.

Sheridan's studio, called The Parlor, is expected to be finished and online by November, with acoustical design by Michael Cronin, who also redid the rooms at Masterfonics.

Meanwhile, Sound Stage has purchased Nashville's first SSL Axiom-MT digital console, which was installed in late August in the facility's Back Stage studio in a joint-venture with engineer Chuck Ainlay. The nature of that venture, according to Sound Stage studio manager Michael Koreiba, is the creation of a new entity, called Sound Stage Surround, owned jointly by Ainlay and Sound Stage owner Ron Kerr. Sound Stage Surround purchased the MT and leases the Back Stage space from Sound Stage. "I do want to stress, though, that Chuck is free to do work elsewhere, and that Back Stage will be booked like any of the other studios at the facility," Koreiba adds.

In one of the more ironic situations surrounding the rapidly changing Nashville studio business, The Workstation, whose assets are now owned by Emerald, is located within the Sound Stage facility, thus producing a physical overlap between two major competitors. It's a situation not uncommon in a real estate market like Manhattan, where numerous studios occupy the same buildings, but rare in a market like Nashville. When asked about that, Koreiba laughed and replied, "Interesting, isn't it?"

In other news, the annual studio business numbers came in at Music Row, the city's music business biweekly trade magazine, and they reflect what Nashville has been going through since the heady days of the early '90s. The numbers are based on questionnaires the magazine sent to area studios-40 of which participated-and the most striking statistic involves overall business growth, which the report pegs at 10%. That's down from 13% last year and the tail end of a steady decline that peaked at 26% in 1994, the last year of rising numbers. This parallels the highwater mark of country music and confirms that, as much as Nashville has been a major music-making center for decades, its fortunes are still tied tightly to that of country music.

However, despite the simultaneous declines in both country music sales and Nashville studio business growth, the facilities reporting indicate that country music now accounts for less than half-48%, to be exact-of their revenues. Music Row's tally shows that rock and pop music account for a quarter of reporting studios' revenues (which are down from 28% the year before), with Christian music accounting for 17%, down from 20% in 1998. The only area to show an increase is the catchall category of "other," which accounts for 9%, and it could be an indication that Nashville's long-suffering alternative music component is becoming more active.

Another statistic, tucked away in the body of the lead article, is that reporting studios have seen an increase-35%, up from 32% last year-in the amount of work coming from outside Nashville. And despite a steady increase in the number of personal recording studios, demos still account for between a quarter and a third of the work coming into reporting studios-an indication that, even with significant cutbacks at publishing companies in town, writers' demos are still a force to be reckoned with in Nashville.