Making studio news headlines along Music Row was the closing of Masterfonics, one of the area's most distinguished studios. The story of its demise is a sadly familiar one, and when the topic was brought up to me in conversations, there seemed to be an abundance of dour assessments about the state of the local industry. I decided to call a few people integral to the Nashville recording scene — owners and a couple involved with servicing the studio community — to get their take of what's happening.
Rob Dennis, president of Super Loud Music/Rack-N-Roll Audio, advises studio owners to keep an eye on their bottom line to stay successful.
Photo: Juan Pontlezica
Nancy Quigley, owner of NTS Promedia since 1994, has experienced the studio community's dramatic ups and downs first-hand. “It's been a transitional time, to say the least,” says Quigley. “We saw recording projects go from $2,000-plus on analog tape to a $200 hard drive. Pro Tools taking over Nashville affected NTS sales and Nashville's studios in a big way. In addition, studios and publishing were shutting down or consolidating right and left. It was a tough five years for everyone. Just when it seemed the downward trend was never going to end, the dust seemed to settle and the orders started coming in. The difference was the customer was beginning to change. The majors are still present, but there is a much stronger presence from home studios, independent labels and custom projects. Analog has made a recent resurgence, with producers missing the warmth in their recording projects. Although it seems Quantegy has stepped out of the market, we still have analog available to us through RMGI [formerly BASF].
“The famous, state-of-the-art studios such as Blackbird will have continued success because there will always be a need for the Rolls Royce of any business, just as the world needs five-star restaurants,” Quigley continues. “But the normal public can't afford to eat there seven nights a week. The mid-level and small studio will have to be creative and will see the face of their clientele change. With fewer publishing companies, labels and artists on the labels, the majority of business these studios are accustomed to having has decreased dramatically.”
Rob Dennis, president of Super Loud Music/Rack-N-Roll Audio, quickly responded to my question with a picture of how and why he thought some businesses succeed, while others fail: “It's unfortunate that another facility [Masterfonics] has gone away. Every time I see another studio or publishing company close or move out and a non-industry-related business open on the Row, I cringe,” he says. “On the positive side, the people who have addressed the changing model years ago seem to be doing really strong business. Steve [Tveit] at Omni is a great example of someone who didn't lie down and give up. He stays solid because he got out and shook the bushes and watched every dime that he spent. I think it's just watching your bottom line. Also, people like Tom Fouce at the Blue Room in Berry Hill signed an exclusive deal with Brent Maher, who camps out in his room. John McBride has done similar deals with Dan Huff and Justin Niebank. From my perspective, the business has been picking up a great deal in the last year.”
Tveit, general manager of Omnisound Studios, echoes Dennis' sentiments. “I've talked to other studio owners and have heard a lot of doom and gloom in recent years,” he says. “Most of the problems occur because people are stuck in the old way of doing things, blaming what they can't control. You have to continue to be proactive and not just wait for the phone to ring. One day we'll cut a demo, the next day a master and the next day a jingle. We rarely have any client in for more than a day or two. It used to be we could book out a whole month with one client. Those days are gone and are never coming back; you either understand that or you don't.”
Dennis' latest venture, Super Loud Music, is “a hybrid company that will handle everything in-house; that is, management, publishing and all things associated with a artist's career.” He also recently produced a live CD/DVD for Cross Canadian Ragweed and Universal Records South, and is currently in the middle of producing a live Lynyrd Skynyrd hi-def project. “This ‘old-school’ mindset that ‘I'll ride this out and things will get back to normal’ is not going to work,” he comments. “I just produced a last-minute remix on a new artist the other day where I did all of the overdubs in town via an FTP site. While I missed the personal interaction, it was a great way to get work done quickly. I will be doing more and more work this way in the future, as it was perfect for my busy schedule.”
Tveit feels that part of Omni's success is due to the fact that his business “made a conscious decision early on to find ways to work with home recorders instead of against them. Obviously, home recording has had a big impact on the commercial studio business, and, over the years, my staff guys have actually gone to our clients' homes to help them learn more about operating their gear,” Tveit offers. “Our main business is centered on tracking live musicians; we excel in the things you can't do at home. I see major problems ahead for dedicated mix rooms with large-format analog desks. Labels in Nashville are just beginning to accept mixes completely done in Pro Tools. It is only a matter of time until that is the norm.
“I feel very fortunate to have worked and made a living in the Nashville studio business for the last 20 years,” Tveit continues. “It has always been a challenge even in the best of times. We never take anything for granted. We are constantly re-evaluating what we do and how we do it. We are always looking to expand our client base and services.”
NTS' Quigley brings it all back home, adding, “Music has always been an integral part of people's lives. It entertains and soothes us — that will never change. But the business of music as we know it today is changing, faster than we think. We are witnessing the greatest metamorphosis the music industry has probably ever seen — and change is good. We, as music industry professionals, must embrace the tremendous opportunity that new technologies offer instead of seeing them as threat to our existence. There are a multitude of avenues in which to generate revenue from the music we love to create and participate in — and not just survive in the music industry, but thrive.”
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