NASHVILLE, TN—Black River Entertainment is expanding its footprint in Nashville with the purchase of one of Music Row’s stalwart studios, Sound Stage. The label and publishing company’s headquarters and Sound Stage are adjacently located on Music Circle, half a block off Music Square East/16th Ave South.
BRE president Jimmy Nichols tells Pro Sound News that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to own another major piece of Nashville’s musical heritage. “We are committed to honoring the tradition of this great music town,” he elaborates in the merger’s announcement. “We have operated Ronnie Millsap’s old studio for years in our existing building,” says Nichols. “The possibility to purchase our neighbors, Sound Stage, was there, and we jumped at the chance.”
Sound Stage has been a recording home to household-name artists as diverse as George Strait and Alan Jackson to Michael McDonald and Sheryl Crow. Nichols himself is a busy studio musician and producer who has cut many records in the Sound Stage building. “It’s the first place I made a record,” he tells PSN. “I really love the studio and the history it has,” he continues. “The massive amount of number one records that have been made under that roof has certainly not gone overlooked by us.”
Gordon Kerr (no relation to Ron Kerr, the former owner of Sound Stage) serves as the COO for Black River Entertainment. In the merger’s announcement, Kerr says BRE will be putting some “TLC” into the studio and bringing it back to “its days of glory.” “We recognize that the changing climate of the audio industry has resulted in the studio losing some of its former luster,” he says. “We intend to make a capital investment in this property and restore it to the top-notch studio we know it can be.” Nichols reveals that investment will range from cosmetics and aesthetics to improving the mic locker and headphone system, among other options still under discussion.
Kerr adds that he looks forward to further integrating Black River into the Nashville audio community. “We have no desire to come in here and serve as competition for any of our studio friends. We see the acquisition of Sound Stage as an added tool not only for our record label and publishing company, but also for the Nashville music community at large,” Nichols says Ronnie’s Place, the renamed and formerly Milsap-owned Groundstar Studios, has been operated in the same manner as Sound Stage will be, as a commercial facility. Ronnie’s Place has become so popular, he adds, that he has trouble finding time in BRE’s own facilities for his projects. Nichols expects that the Sound Stage purchase will solve that problem for him, and for the split to be about 70 percent commercial bookings and 30 percent BRE projects.
The upstairs area of the Sound Stage building will be devoted to BRE work— the room that was formerly Final Stage Mastering will be used for video and audio editing (largely in support of projects for the GAC and CMT networks), and the room originally known as the Work Station will be exclusively used for publishing projects. Downstairs, the large Front Stage tracking and mixing room (SSL 9080J equipped, with Augspurger monitors and acoustics) will receive much of the renovation attention.
The smaller Back Stage studio was previously renovated and refitted in partnership with engineer/producer Chuck Ainlay. The BRE buyout includes Ainlay’s interest in the facility. Nichols says Ainlay is a friend, and while he’s free now to “stretch his wings” and “check his options,” they would hope to have him continue to work at Sound Stage. The final studio is the Avid Pro Control and Pro Tools|HD equipped room, The Drive Thru.
The takeover of the facility was immediate; no staffing changes are being made at this time. Nichols says that the future direction of Sound Stage under BRE will evolve over the next couple of months of renovations, adding, “all options are open.”
Black River Entertainment