Nashville News – The Business of Music Row

Monday, April 20th, 2009 | by

[Editor’s note: I am psyched to introduce RecordingHacks’ new guest author, CJ Sorg! As our new Nashville correspondent, CJ brings us music and studio news from one of the top music cities in the US. Welcome, CJ!]

Musica sculpture photo by John LambNashville’s historic Music Row has been home to hundreds of recording studios, publishing companies, and record labels for many decades. As the business of music continually changes, many business have come and gone. The current economy has placed a greater strain on these businesses as recording budgets are canceled or slashed in half; this recent drastic downturn in the overall economy is a real stomach-churner for businesses in an industry that’s already seen a decade-long decline.

Profits are always nice when you have a business. In this climate, breaking even becomes the fall-back goal. As the budgets have gotten tighter, opportunities for musicians and studios have dropped significantly. Legendary union session players are taking gigs knocking out demonstration recordings, which are usually taken by the younger, up-and-coming players. Legendary studios are negotiating rates that reflect their own break-even points. Any slim profits are quickly reinvested into the studio in the form of software upgrades, gear, and acoustic improvements.

Where is the bottom end? This question can be asked in a financial institution or while listening to mixes in a control room. The economic question can’t be answered with an EQ adjustment; there is no question that we are in the valley between the peaks as our bread-and-butter sessions are downsized or indefinitely postponed. Despite this, there are many folks in Nashville’s recording community that have the audacity to be optimistic.

Vibe 56 (photo by CJ Sorg)My own experiences started over a decade ago in Los Angeles, working for Westlake Audio, a major recording studio in Hollywood. I was absorbed into the intricacies of maintaining a multi-room facility that consistently had major recording stars in and out of it’s doors. I now manage a smaller studio, Vibe 56, which is located in the heart of Nashville’s music row. I’ve gone from big to small, analog to digital, fully staffed to being the staff. I’ve never worn as many hats as I currently do, but I’ve also never felt so alive and fortunate to be fully engaged in facilitating music that deserves to be heard.

I’ve often thought of the entire Nashville recording community as a huge mall. It’s the Music City Mall of America. We have several major anchor stores thanks to huge awe-inspring studios such as Blackbird, OmniSound, Sound Emporium, Starstruck, East Iris, Sound Kitchen, Dark Horse, Oceanway, Quad… this could become quite a list. All of these facilities are important to the survival of the entirety of the Nashville recording community. These studios (and several more) are the anchor stores of my mall analogy, and all of the other stores in the mall would prefer that these landmarks stay right where they are. If these legendary studios are no longer a part of the music community, is there a music community to be a part of?

Lots of folks in the music business have gravitated towards Nashville for lots of good reasons. The level of musicianship is astounding. This is Music City, after all. While Nashville is rightfully associated with country music, there has been an explosion of acoustic music and vintage-sounding rock. Serious bands and artists are making timeless music here. I’m proud of what Nashville has been, and I’m excited to see where it’s headed. It’s just the present that needs to be dealt with.

In response to the current economic situation, most studios have had to severely pull back on planned upgrades and long-term investments such as new gear. Survival mode has kicked in and some studios are being voted off the island by pretending it’s business as usual. Times such as these have completely reset the ability to take anything for granted — every tracking session, every overdub session, every mix session counts. The recording business is a business of service. If the studio I manage were a gas station, I’d be out there pumping gas, washing windshields and checking your oil. We’re trying to maintain our A-game in a D-minus economy.

“How’s it going?” has been replaced by “How’s business?” as the most popular conversation starter. Everyone wants to know if it’s as bad for the other guy as it has been for them. The discussion then quickly turns to what lies ahead, and for the most part, it’s getting better. It’s more than just optimism, it’s the reality of the natural ebb and flow of any industry. This current ebb just has more flow to it. But things are looking up in an industry where it supposedly all begins with a song, which is the real bottom line.

CJ Sorg is a musician and songwriter from Nashville, TN. He was the manager of Vibe56 Studio. Find him on twitter as @cjsorg.

Posted in Music Business, Studios | 3 Comments »

3 Responses to “Nashville News – The Business of Music Row”

  1. ben

    April 20th, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    Nice article. Get back to the song.. & …service.. Love the analogy of the car service guys.. Great stuff c!!

  2. Kate O'Neill

    April 22nd, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    Hey CJ, great write-up. (Can’t remember if we’ve had the opportunity to meet. Maybe at a Digital Nashville mixer or something? Anyway.)

    Yeah, one of the things that really sticks out to me is around the comment about the quality of musicianship here. It really is amazing. When my husband and I went for our first Nashville demo after we’d moved here (six years ago), our jaws dropped at how quickly and masterfully these session players reproduced — and improved! — our song.

    This is such a cool little place, and I want to see great things continue to happen here. And a service focus really makes sense. Well said.

  3. Jordan Chassan

    May 6th, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Don’t forget about us over in East Nashville!

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