From left: Starstruck’s Todd Tidwell, Drew Headley (seated), Aaron Kasdorf, Janet Leese and Chris Ashburn
Last year was a banner one for Starstruck Studios and its superstar owner, Reba McEntire, who recorded most of her smash Duets album there. Bon Jovi also locked out both music studios for a while, writing, tracking drums and overdubbing parts for their huge Lost Highway album. And American Idol winner Carrie Underwood is now a multiple American Music Award-winner for Carnival Ride, the album she recorded and mixed at Starstruck earlier last year. The studio remains a favorite on Music Row for live tracking and mixing, as well as some choice newer services.
“We're lucky because we have a lot of established artists with good budgets,” says Starstruck studio manager Janet Leese. “A lot of big studios have gone by the wayside. The labels are continuing to crunch down on budgets, and our rooms are pretty high end so we need to get a certain rate out of them, but we're staying really busy.”
Leese, whose background is in business administration, began her audio career in New York City, where she worked for (among other businesses) Quantegy Tape. “Once I was doing sales on the outside,” she says, “I became fascinated with how to get on the inside of making records.” She left New York for Nashville in 2000, and joined Starstruck in 2004 after a couple of years at Sound Kitchen. Her passion for her career is doubtless one of the big reasons why Starstruck is faring well. In her first year as manager of Starstruck, the facility's revenue increased by close to 50 percent.
The studio's two SSL 9000 J/Pro Tools HD3 music recording/mixing rooms — the Gallery and the Pond — are still Starstruck's bread and butter, but Leese acknowledges that with continued attention to maintenance and service, these beautifully designed rooms sell themselves. The studios benefit from repeat clients such as producer Mark Bright (whose production company is housed in the same building as Starstruck) and engineer Derek Bason, who tracked and mixed the Underwood release. “Mark and Derek are regulars here,” Leese says. “They're here almost every day of the year.”
The studio's biggest growth area, however, has been its Broadcast Room, which is equipped with a Mackie 32-input console, three Sony Beta SP decks, an eight-line telephone hybrid for call-in/media tour projects, and tielines to the music studios for performance events. This part of the facility saw little traffic until recently, when Leese began working with veteran broadcast engineer Jim Jordan's Transverse Networks company, an independent contractor that provides broadcast project services. Starstruck and Transverse have an ongoing relationship where Transverse brings engineers in to support the studio's broadcast bookings. Jordan is also aided by Starstruck's newest staffer, a former intern from the Phoenix, Ariz. — based Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences named Aaron Kasdorf.
Kasdorf had interned at Starstruck for six months when a staff assistant engineer position opened up, and he was hired on full time. Under the tutelage of longtime in-house engineers Todd Tidwell and Chris Ashburn, Kasdorf was soon assisting on sessions for artists such as Sara Evans and Michele Branch. He also took every opportunity to broaden his skill set.
“When I was going to school, I wanted to record and didn't really consider broadcast,” Kasdorf explains, “but when I was an intern, I saw we had this broadcast studio that sat there because it was kind of a down time as far as broadcast bookings. I grabbed some manuals and started learning the stuff; Jim Jordan kind of took me under his wing, and I started shadowing him. Before I knew it, Transverse Networks was booking me to run audio on projects like the one we had last week: Garth Brooks came in on a Friday, and we did 32 cities of a satellite media tour. We have satellite-uplink capabilities, and he was promoting his Kansas City shows [and recently released Ultimate Hits collection]. That was a six-hour session, all live, where he had about enough time to take a sip of water between five-minute interviews. That was wild for me. Garth Brooks is the biggest and the best as far as country goes.
“Another thing we're excited about that we're just getting into,” Kasdorf continues, “is Webinars — live interactive chats that are done on camera. Last night, we did one with Larry Carleton and Guitar Player. He was there with his guitar and there was a show host, and people could go online and type in questions. Larry was able to talk on camera and demonstrate different guitar techniques. It's all part of a new approach to things.”
The Broadcast Room is also used for numerous projects unrelated to music: “CNN will do live shoots here, too,” says Leese. “If they're covering a breaking story in Nashville, they might use our studio for a live feed. Janet Reno was in here for a news program. We've had people here on book tours.”
With the Gallery and the Pond consistently booked, and the Broadcast Room taking off, Leese has felt comfortable enough to put down roots in Nashville. She bought a condo just a couple of blocks from work, and enjoys walking her dog during her minuscule free time. Kasdorf has also settled in.
“It's been a wild three years, but I feel so lucky to be building these stepping stones in my career and learning from amazing engineers,” Kasdorf says. “Every day you meet a new person, learn a new technique. It's a great city, and everybody has been friendly and welcoming. It's home now.”