Nashville's already complex studio business environment is getting even more complicated. Lou Gonzalez, owner of Quad Recording in New York City, has come to an agreement to purchase Quad Studios in Nashville. The fact that the names of the two facilities are virtually the same is pure coincidence; Gonzalez founded Quad in New York in 1978 and has built the facility into a five-room complex in Times Square, with all SSL consoles, including a pair of 9000J boards and the first music application M-T digital console in the U.S. Nashville's Quad was founded by legendary producer Norbert Putnam in 1970 as a single-room facility where he eventually produced many of Nashville's nontraditional records of that decade, by artists including Jimmy Buffett, Joan Baez, Dan Fogelberg, Kris Kristofferson, Brewer & Shipley, Pousette-Dart Band, Donovan, John Hiatt, J.J. Cale, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the New Riders of the Purple Sage.
Putnam sold his Quad in the early 1980s, and it was subsequently taken over by a group of investors led by Ron Kerr, who also owns Sound Stage Studios in Nashville, and who expanded it into a four-room facility. No dollar figure on the sale was available at press time, but the price was estimated at more than $1 million, including the property and the current equipment complement. The facility includes a vintage Neve, a Trident A-Range, a Sphere and a Magnum.
Gonzalez's first job in his long pro audio career was as a disc jockey playing country music on Long Island's WTHE in the 1960s, and that experience fostered a life-long love of the genre. He says he plans to modernize the facility considerably, probably reducing the number of studios to three and significantly enlarging one of them once he begins construction in earnest in the fall. He also expects to replace some of the consoles with newer SSLs, though he is leaning toward keeping the Neve as a tracking board. He also plans to retain most or all current employees, including longtime studio manager Kelly Pribble. Renovations and acoustical redesigns to Quad will be done by Gonzalez himself, who personally built all five rooms at New York's Quad.
As for the business climate in Nashville, which has seen significant changes in terms of studio closings and consolidations, Gonzalez says that the changes that have taken place have made Nashville a stronger market, one that he feels is ready to rebound. "I'm just happy to have a studio of my own in Nashville, that's all," he notes. "I'm not here to make a lot of money. But I'm not here to lose any, either." He adds that it is too early to comment on a rate structure for the studio. He also says that he will actively encourage some of his New York clients to use the Nashville facility. This is the first time a major studio owner from another major market has taken a significant position in Nashville since Ocean Way owner Allen Sides and House of Blues Recording owner Gary Belz created Ocean Way Nashville as a joint venture in 1996.
Even as Gonzalez was signing the papers on Quad, another major move was in the works in Nashville. Emerald Recording owner Dale Moore acknowledged that he has made a bid to acquire East Iris Studios. The studio, which opened in 1997 with an 80-input SSL 9000 and was designed by Tom Hidley, has been quietly entertaining bids in the wake of a split between the facility's financier and owner, Burt Wilson, and his stepson, Chuck Allen, who conceived and operated the studio business. The facility cost in excess of $3.5 million to build and outfit. Insiders, however, indicate that the facility could sell for less than half that.
Moore, who engineered the bailout of Masterfonics, tells me that East Iris would fit perfectly into Emerald's ongoing plan of expansion by acquisition. "In terms of size and technology, it fits in with the rest of our operations," he says. "We have several rooms, but this would fit the bill as a midsized, technologically upscale tracking, overdubbing and mix room. Its 80-input 9000 in that control room makes it a great mix studio, and that would free up the 9000 that we got when we acquired Masterfonics' Tracking Room studio to dedicate it to tracking dates."
Moore says he plans to expand The Tracking Room's SSL 9000J from 64 inputs to 80 in the near future, making both consoles completely compatible in terms of size. What Moore would be getting in addition to the equipment at East Iris is the real estate, which wasn't part of the Masterfonics deal and which is conservatively estimated to be worth more than $1 million before the studio. The acquisition, if it were to take place, would also make Emerald both the largest facility in the region and the most geographically diverse, with three separate locations.
Moore says that his spate of acquisitions has been well-timed, both for him and for Nashville's studio community. "There were a lot of people who got beat up pretty bad in the last few years here," he notes, "and it's easy to see why: Rates are down; Emerald's rates are actually lower today than they were in 1985. This consolidation is necessary and good-it's allowed us to offer an entirely new range of pricing for expanded services that wouldn't have been possible otherwise." For instance, Moore notes that clients who use any three of Emerald's facility services-tracking, overdubbing, mixing, mastering, digital editing-receive a 5% discount off their total bill. "We priced those services out piecemeal, and the discount is still a better deal for us and for them than individual pricing," says Moore. For clients who do an entire project within Emerald's facilities, Emerald will throw in three free hours of its satellite radio tour promotion division, allowing artists to promote their projects to national radio.
On the other hand, Moore states flatly that such synergies aren't enough to sustain even a truncated number of major facilities in Nashville. "We're going to have to take the time to educate the client base here that these rooms are worth more than what they're currently paying for them," he says. "We've done our best to establish a network of rooms that a wide variety of clients can use at a wide variety of price points. But it's still a steal for what they're getting. They're going to have to start supporting reasonable rate structures in the future. Otherwise, they're going to run out of quality rooms."