It’s a scenario that rears its head over and over again: A famous athlete or entertainer lends his or her name to a business as a marketing ploy, or perhaps to connect to a clique of interest.
In a way, it’s akin to saying out loud that someone’s heart isn’t really into a given craft. But let’s get square about the role of NFL great Randall Cunningham at Studio 7, his new-ish venture: He’s not standing on the sidelines.
Okay, no more cute analogies. The Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback’s vision of his future is clear. It’s in a $1.5 million, 5,800-square-foot recording studio that he designed with Chris Pelonis in a new industrial park just south of McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas.
If you enter the studio looking to be reminded of Cunningham’s storied career, then you’re in the wrong place, perhaps aside from spying his 20-year-old UNLV helmet on his desk.
In fact, the born-again Cunningham has been attentive to various musical mentors he’s encountered while negotiating this new path, including famed producer Terry Lewis. “I asked him what equipment he thought I should buy,” Cunningham recalls. “The first thing he asked me was if I was going to hire an engineer. If I’d answered no, he was going to suggest I purchase the RADAR digital system, which is fine at a certain price point. But my idea, from the outset, was to hire an engineer.”
But Cunningham said yes. So Lewis suggested he opt for the Pro Tools Mix|24 system in both suites. Studio A, which rents for $125 an hour, comes with 40 channels of Digi I/O and 32-fader Pro Control. Studio B runs $85 an hour, and includes 2-channels/8-fader, with 24 channels of Tascam DA-78HR. Engineers Kevin Santos and Mark Mattson, whom he calls the “top two Pro Tools engineers in Nevada,” round out the mix.
The equipment roster at Studio 7 also includes a MIDI room; Ayotte and DW drum kits, a Brian Moore MIDI-ready guitar and a Peavey bass; a vintage Hammond B3 organ; Korg and Roland keyboards; and Manley VoxBox and Avalon VT737P mic pre’s. “So I have the best of both worlds with the mic pre’s and Pro Tools,” he notes, adding, “People rave about our sound.”
Another key feature of the facility is the 30×60-foot live rehearsal hall geared toward bands on tour, as well as local performers. “It’s like an aerobics room to practice choreographed routines,” he says.
Cunningham, unlike many of his peers, says that the economy hasn’t hurt Studio 7, which could be due to some thoughtful marketing. “I’ve been developing relationships with CEOs and producers,” he explains, noting that the company is careful about who comes in to record. (“There’s no derogatory stuff here,” he says.) But, being in an entertainment hub like Vegas is a benefit.
“Wayne Newton comes here a lot,” Cunningham says, adding the likes of gospel singer Helen Baylor, rapper Nas and Big Three Entertainment among the clientele during the company’s first year. Also in at Studio 7 is a new Orange County, Calif.-based group Cunningham is executive producing called Set Free.
Why Cunningham, who amusingly mentioned a brief stab at trumpet lessons as a child as his sole prior musical venture, would suddenly decide to open a studio may seem puzzling. After all, this is someone who ran a marble and tile company in Vegas during a one-year retirement from the NFL in 1997. And he knows that a stigma often accompanies athletes who switch fields as they segue to other chapters in their lives.
“My desire is to see people record who don’t get the chance to record to do it here. People hear I have a studio and think it’s in my house,” the laid-back native Californian says, with a laugh. “They typecast me. But I’m an entrepreneur. This is a professional studio, a clean place and we have a good thing going.”
Feeling that his new business is off to a good start, is expansion on the horizon? “Not anytime soon, but a new facility could arise with the proper need,” he concludes. “We take the money and bless people. We want the best atmosphere. That $125 an hour is not the point. The point is the best equipment, best engineers and making sure people are happy.”
Mark R. Smith has been a freelance writer for a decade. He hangs with his CD collection and his cocker pup, Dusty (as in Ms. Springfield), in Odenton, Md.