Nashville may be a crazy place to be in the studio business, but it is a caring one, and I'd like to lead with two bits that are worth mentioning because they have nothing to do with consoles, speakers, or mergers and acquisitions.
Engineer Gene Eichelberger is one of Nashville's links between the past and present of the studio business here. He engineered with producer and Quad Recording founder Norbert Putnam for many years on a variety of music projects at the Bennett House in Franklin, Tenn. More recently, as a freelance engineer, he has worked in virtually all of the rooms in and around Music Row, on projects for artists such as Dan Fogelberg, Tammy Wynette, Steve Miller, Neil Young, Jimmy Buffett and Jewel.
Eichelberger went into Vanderbilt University Hospital earlier this year for treatment of recurring liver problems that go back to his childhood, and he's now awaiting a liver transplant. The AES Nashville chapter donated $2,500 last March to Gene from their Engineer Relief Fund. Funds donated were raised via the Nashville chapter's Audio Masters Golf Tournament, which is held every May. Anyone interested in contacting Gene can do so by contacting Vanderbilt Hospital or the AES Nashville Chapter (www.aes.org/sections/nashville/).
In an effort to help out on another front, Emerald Recording held a St. Patrick's Day party, which doubled as a benefit for St. Jude's Hospital. Emerald owner Dale Moore announced at the gathering that it would now become an annual event to help fund the charity.
Peripheral Vision-Nashville is getting prettier around the edges. Turmoil seems to be enveloping the Row with studio closings and consolidations, the almost clockwork-like disappearance of record labels (real ones, anyway, which are rapidly being replaced by Internet labels), and cutbacks at music publishers, which still account for a lot of demo work in Nashville. But Williamson County, Nashville's affluent neighbor to the south (think of it as Orange or Fairfield County, but with livestock), continues to blossom studios. Readers of this section have already been introduced to the four new rooms at Sound Kitchen, bringing that facility up to six studios. Two other significant facilities have either opened or expanded in the area in recent months, as well.
Bulldog Studios opened earlier this year in the Williamson County seat of Franklin, about six months behind schedule. The delay was due to several factors, including a problem with the flooring in the Tom Hidley-designed surround sound control room. But the biggest problem, says studio owner Trevor Johnson, was getting consistent labor, a problem throughout Middle Tennessee as in many other parts of the country, where unemployment is at less than 4%. (The hardest job in Nashville right now is not having a job.) Delay was also due to the fact that the control room design, executed by Michael Cronin, was so quiet that machinery had to be modified, Johnson says. The studio's first sessions in March, using a Euphonix CS3000 console, went well, Johnson adds, noting that while demand for surround mixing has yet to develop, there has been a surge in Christian recording projects, and their budgets seem to be on the rise.
That's good, says Tacoma, Wash., native Johnson, considering what's going on in country music and in Nashville in general. "I think the label closings are the best thing that could have happened to Nashville, because it's like the stock market crashing-you have an opportunity to buy," he says. Despite the late opening, Johnson says his strategy remains the same: "I put the largest part of the investment into the room, not into the equipment. Gear can come and go-I have a Studer analog multitrack and access to both Sony and Studer digital multitracks, but I didn't want to commit to either one until I see how demand for them shakes out down here-but I didn't skimp on the construction. I think that's going to be a big part of what makes it or breaks it in this area: People are coming from Nashville not just for the equipment but for the whole vibe of the Franklin area. That's becoming a big draw."
Robin Crow, owner of the recently expanded Dark Horse Studios, concurs. Crow added a second building to his rustic complex, an 8,000-square-foot, four-story space of unique design, made from timber and lots of glass-142 windows-and sheltering two studios.
The larger one has a 36x28 control room and a 23-foot cathedral ceiling and features a 48-input Trident console formerly located at O'Henry Studios in Los Angeles coupled with a 24-channel Martech sidecar, all linked to a single Flying Faders automation system. The smaller second studio is flexible, with no assigned technology. "One day it's an editing room with Pro Tools, the next it's an overdub studio with either an 02R or a DBA console we have here," Crow says.
Finishing off the structure is a horse barn-complete with horses-on the bottom level. "The place is somewhere between a castle and a treehouse," Crow comments. "It was kind of inspired by Peter Gabriel's Real World Studios, but the setting makes all the difference. People come for the rustic charm the place has. And all the studios have magnificent views."
As for why the periphery of Nashville seems to be doing so well while Nashville itself is reeling, Crow is unsure if there is any direct comparison. He cites the fact that many Nashville producers who once worked frequently at his original studio have gone and built their own personal studios, such as former Capitol head and producer Scott Hendricks, who now runs Virgin Nashville. "But this area has always had a lot of work come in that has nothing to do with Nashville," he adds, noting the pop and R&B work done at the nearby Bennett House by owner/producer Keith Thomas and before him by Nashville's rock and pop genius Norbert Putnam. He says that Dark Horse hosted sessions by Yes last year, with band leader Jon Anderson staying on to collaborate on a project with Crow. "It's hard to say if there's a direct correlation between Williamson County and Nashville. If there is, it's hard to put your finger on. But considering the history of the two, I'd say there's something going on."