SPECIAL FEATURE: RECORDING IN NASHVILLE

We begin a series of features about recording/scoring destinations in the U.S. and around the globe. The features are intended to inform everyone about choices that exist out there for ALL budgets, huge medium or small. In that effort, no stone will (hopefully) be left unturned and some controversial issues -such as buyouts- will inadvertently be raised. It is NOT the intention of these features to debate those issues or to create an antagonistic environment between locations/musicians/unions etc. Far from it, this will merely be a presentation of facts about scoring. Plain and simple!

Our first feature will focus on Nashville.

IN THE LAST FEW YEARS WE HAVE WITNESSED THE METEORIC RISE OF NASHVILLE AS MAJOR PLAYER IN FILM/MEDIA RECORDING. BUT WHY DO MORE AND MORE COMPOSERS/COMPANIES SELECT NASHVILLE AS THEIR SCORING DESTINATION?

Steve Schnur, Worldwide Executive, Music at EA games told me:

‘Nashville is a city where collaboration is embraced and creativity is encouraged. In fact, Nashville is proving that it can meet – and surpass – all technical and creative expectations every day. In the past 18 months, EA Music has produced award-winning orchestral scores for our recent Star Wars: The Old Republic, Madden NFL, FIFA, Dragon Age Inquisition and Mass Effect Andromeda titles here. We pay a fair rate, employ top-of-the-line musicians and record in state-of-the-art studios, all a short flight from major cities. It may be the efficiency that most knocks me out; the caliber of the musicianship and recording talent is AAA-level, and it’s often a one-take process. Every week, someone from a leading ad agency, television network or movie studio calls to ask about our experiences working here rather than London, LA or the studios of Eastern Europe, and they too are discovering that this town is now as proficient as any major recording city. The result is that Nashville is fast becoming a world-class destination for creating orchestral scores of every kind.’

Alan Umstead of Nashville Scoring added:

‘Industry changes in the last several years have forced many companies and composers to begin looking for scoring alternatives outside of LA. Sometimes it was for budget reasons, sometimes because (for whatever reason) the project could not be recorded on an AFM contract. Initially, a lot of this work went overseas, some went to non-union US cities. Often composer and companies found the level of playing not up to their requirements and found the repeated travel and cost of flying overseas a burden. Unlike most other US cities, Nashville has always been a major recording hub and has a very vibrant recording scene. The musicians, studios, engineers, composers, arrangers and other infrastructure were already here for decades. Being a right-to-work state, there is no requirement to be a member of the AFM and musicians can work Union and non-Union sessions. Nashville Music Scoring began openly soliciting buyout scoring work about 6 years ago and the growth in that work has been spectacular. It really is a combination of great players, great studios, reasonable rates (there certainly are cheaper places to record), flexible work rules, great attitudes and, of course total buyouts on all projects. Residuals can be a large financial cost for companies (not to mention an open-ended bookkeeping nightmare). More and more companies are simply not willing to sign on to an agreement committing to them. As such, they often seek out recording centers where they do not need to record with an AFM signatory. Also, more and more often, composers are given ‘package’ music budgets from which they have to pay for the music production costs. No composer is really going to ever put themselves on the line for future payments when theirs are fixed.’

WHEN FIGURING COSTS, MOST COMPOSERS/PRODUCERS FACTOR THE ‘PAY PER MUSICIAN, PER HOUR RATE’. IS THAT THE ONLY WAY OF GETTING THE RIGHT DOLLAR AMOUNT?

Alan Umstead of Nashville Scoring had this to say:

‘There are other costs but we don’t have a lot of “add-on” fees that a lot of places tack on such as principal pay, overtime up charges, holiday or weekend up charges, charges to film, charges for stacking parts, etc. Sometimes we find that a company or composer can get overly fixated on the cost per hour per player and not what the cost per minute of music recorded is. Which is a better deal, a per player rate of $35/hr where they record 3 minutes an hour with a lot of mistakes or a per player rate of $75/hr where they record 9 minutes an hour and nail everything?’

TO OFFER A WORLD CLASS PRODUCT YOU NEED A GREAT FACILITY BUT YOU ALSO NEED STELLAR MUSICIANSHIP. HOW DOES NASHVILLE ACCOMMODATE BOTH?

Pat McMakin of Ocean Way Studios gave me a rundown of the facility:

‘Housed in a 100 year old Gothic revival greystone church, Ocean Way Nashville provides exceptional acoustical spaces tuned specifically for music recording. Studio A features 30’ ceilings and 2850 square feet of recording space (including 4 iso rooms).
Groups as large as 82 have recorded in the space. It boasts a vintage Neve 8078, which is the largest of its type in the world, featuring 80 inputs of pure warm analog sound. Video monitoring is available both in the control room as well as the studio for scoring sessions. Sessions can be done remotely as well. Studio B is perfect for bands or small ensembles or doing overdubs and mixing.’

Many composers I spoke to had this to say about the facilities at Ocean Way:

John Debney-

‘The studio Ocean Way has a great crew and are lightning fast. The room itself is not as big as one might need for certain bigger orchestras so “striping” might be a prudent idea.’

Austin Wintory-

‘While they don’t have a giant scoring stage for recording truly large-scale works like you might in LA or London the crew at Ocean Way, engineer Nick Spezia are all delights to work with.’

Trevor Morris-

‘Ocean Way is a beautiful facility, reminds me a bit of AIR studios in London with the stained glass. Its not super big, so when you start to put hollywood sized bands in there, you are forced to track the sections as to not overload the room however the quality of the recording there and competency of the staff is great.’

Gareth Coker-

‘It’s no secret that many composers wish that the room could be bigger, however, in the hands of a capable engineer, and with more experience recording there, you can extract a really great sound from the room. You only have to look at the list of credits that they have, to see that they are trusted by some extremely big names in the industry, particularly in gaming. Getting dates at Ocean Way can be tricky if you need more than a day because they are booked well in advance!’

Pieter Schlosser-

‘Ocean Way Nashville is a beautiful room! It’s an old church that is really not that big but certainly deceiving on how big you can make it sound. I’ve gotten some great results and, as evidenced by how busy they are, so are many other L.A. based composers.’

About musicianship, Alan Umstead of Nashville Scoring, offered some thoughts:

‘At Nashville Music Scoring we can offer both world-class musicians and world-class studios and engineers. Nashville has had a full time orchestral scoring industry for over 30 years. Most of our musicians have made their full time livings as recording musicians for many years. We have 1000’s of hours of experience recording in the Christian, County and Pop fields.  

Our musicians are all highly skilled and experienced musicians and most are graduates of the leading music conservatories of the world. The other important thing to note is that this is a full time ensemble that plays together all the time. For the vast majority, recording is not some “side job” and there is a sound and cohesiveness that you will never get except in an ensemble that plays together all the time.’
Composers had some profound statements to make about Nashville musicians:

Trevor Morris-

‘I’m impressed with the ability of the band to naturally phrase together. Moving as one unit like a school of little fish forming one big emotional shape. LA and UK are the only 2 places I’ve recorded that naturally do this without having to direct them to do so. Nashville’s orchestra also does this, which I wasn’t expecting and was an amazing surprise and a delightful moment on the podium for me. Hard to put into words what that translates to musically, but for me its a big deal.’

Gareth Coker-

‘The most noticeable thing, is that they are very fast. Also, over the last 2 years, it’s been apparent that they have improved on a musicianship level, as well as with regards to session etiquette.’ 

Austin Wintory-

‘Their musicianship really doesn’t leave anything to be desired. The first time I realized just how hard I could push them was hearing a cue by Kevin Riepl from the Sony game Resistance: Burning Skies. I’ve not held back when approaching them and enjoyed the results every time.’

John Debney-

‘The musicianship is top notch and everyone has a wonderful collaborative spirit.’

Pieter Schlosser-

‘The level of musicianship is outstanding. Not that this is a surprise given the city but for some reason, I didn’t expect the same level on the orchestral side of things. I was certainly wrong about that. Furthermore, I see a lot of young people getting into orchestral recording which is really encouraging.’

So there you have it. Nashville has become a surefire viable option for film/TV/games scoring.
It’s a success story that surely will continue for many years to come!

THANK YOU ALL FOR CONTRIBUTING TO THIS FEATURE!

Thank you Steve Schnur for facilitating!