The Nashville studio community will have a new neighbor in September when the School of Audio Engineering (SAE) is expected to open its 14,000-square-foot facility in the former Arista Records building on Music Circle. A little background: SAE is the world's largest media school; it operates 27 schools in 15 countries, including the SAE opened in New York in April, for a total of more than 1.25 million square feet of educational and studio space on three continents.
I took a walk through the 11,000-square-foot New York facility a couple of weeks after it opened and got a preview of what Nashville can expect. Like the facilities in London and Paris that I had seen last year, it is simple, Spartan and to the point. SAE does not dote on glitz or bells and whistles. There are small LEDE-type control rooms featuring SSL and Neve consoles surrounded by workstation suites (with systems such as Pro Tools) and by lecture rooms. At the time of my visit, New York had 60 students, and 14 had signed up for the Nashville location, all of whom will pay a total of $13,500 for a full degree course in either audio recording, technology or multimedia.
The U.S already has some 600-plus audio related educational programs, and the Nashville area is home to two of the finest-four-year programs at Belmont University and MTSU. And those programs are already deeply intertwined with Nashville's cozy music industry. But for SAE it's not a question of why they would choose to enter the U.S. market (the school has already announced it plans to find another dozen sites here in the next few years) or a question of why New York and Nashville (they are two of the three biggest recording locations in the country; Los Angeles, the third center, is subject to California's highly stringent board codes, which make opening there a tricky business). Rather, the issue is, how do you adapt the multinational culture the school has developed to the U.S.?
Marcel Gisel is SAE's point man in the States. He opened the schools in Austria, Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe. He's already a veteran of dealing with bureaucracies, including SAE's own, and he's the first to acknowledge that the U.S.-and Nashville in particular-represents a challenge. "It's going to be interesting," he says. "I know that the U.S. has a different culture from Europe, and that Nashville has a different culture from New York. We'll be learning as we go along."
But SAE says it is not going to change its approach significantly for the U.S. It will use its European executives to launch here, in New York and elsewhere, drawing from local talent pools for teaching posts but keeping management firmly in the hands of European-based executives. Culture aside, SAE will also have to compete with Belmont and MTSU, which Gisel says SAE is addressing by having what he maintains is the most ambitious placement program of any school. New York State requires guaranteed placement of 75% of graduates in paying positions; Tennessee has no such regulation, but Gisel says SAE will use the N.Y. guidelines in Nashville, as well. That will be helped considerably by SAE's announced relationship with Disney in Orlando; from that base, the media giant's operations worldwide will draw on SAE's global graduate pool. Nashville has no shortage of studios that can take interns, but paid positions might be in shorter supply, as they are in the rest of the consolidating music business in Nashville. Gisel is undeterred. "Success for a school is based on getting its students into the industry, and that's something we think about in every case before any school opens its doors," he says.
The Nashville SAE will be run by Martin Berneburg, a European management exec formerly with Digidesign but based in the U.S. for much of his career. Gisel expects to be commuting from his new home in Ridgewood, N.J., until Nashville's SAE opens, partly to keep tabs on both operations and partly, he says with a laugh, to maintain a link to New York's culinary base. If Nashville benefits at all from this influx of European talent, this writer hopes it also manifests itself in the food.
In other news, Paul Scholten bought out partner Scott Merry at County Q in an amicable parting of the ways. It leaves what has been Nashville's powerhouse demo facility-one that has made demos a basis of its revenue stream during a period when many studios lost that niche to home recording-in a single owner's hands.
County Q's third room, which houses Cave Productions, a business owned by Tom Endres, has been as busy doing beta testing for Otari. Endres has also been working a lot on tweaking projects using his RADAR II and Pro Tools setup and has developed a growing sideline in recovering lost audio data, something the widening pool of RADAR and other hard disk-based systems users are calling for. Endres is a fan of hard disk recording but observes, "When hard disk recording works, it's amazing; but when it doesn't, it can be a nightmare."