by Christopher Walsh.
Nashville, TN–In February, the board of Record Nashville, formerly the Nashville Association of Professional Recording Services (NAPRS), voted to dissolve the organization.
The dissolution is unlikely to have a significant impact on the day-to-day existence of Music City’s providers of professional audio services. Rather, it is a reflection of an industry vastly changed from a decade ago, illustrated by the Nashville Recording Workshop + Expo (see page 5), also held in February, and that event’s emphasis on personal studio spaces and lower-budget production.
“We went into it a year ago February with the intent of re-branding and reevaluating the function of the organization and what we could add as services to members,” Larry Sheridan, of the Parlor Studios, says of his yearlong chairmanship. “The biggest issue we had was that over the years the organization existed, the whole state of our industry changed and it was harder and harder to bring value to members.”
“Because we have such a good AES [chapter] here, a very vital NARAS P&E Wing and NARAS office, what’s NAPRS’ role?” asks Pat McMakin of Ocean Way Nashville. “There was a role when it started: it was all professional recording studios and services. As studios have fallen away, there have been fewer major studios that can be involved. [NAPRS] morphed, changed, did some good things, and we got to a place where we said, ‘Where do we draw the line? What’s a professional recording studio, what’s a home studio? What members are pertinent in the organization?'”
Such questions have confronted other organizations, such as the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services (SPARS). The digital audio workstation, sample libraries and inexpensive ancillary equipment allow an individual to, at least in theory, create a professional-level environment and offer commensurate services.
Other factors contributed to Record Nashville’s dissolution, say area professionals. “It was a volunteer organization,” says past chairman Barry Cardinael of Iron Mountain, “Most volunteer organizations start with a bang and have a flourish or purpose, which occurred with [Castle Studios owner] Jozef Nuyens, [Nic of Time Communications’] Nicole Cochran and a whole bunch of people in the earliest years.”
A recession and broader, long-term economic trends both eroded volunteers’ ability to devote time to it and reduced corporate funding, say local professionals. “I personally always say, if anybody’s got a good-paying, fulltime job today with a good company, they’re probably doing twice the work anyone in their position was doing 15 years ago,” Cardinael states. “This is not a negative statement, only a realistic one: It’s only gotten more difficult in the last three years, especially, but gradually since 2000.”
“Obviously, the surge of home recording has had an impact,” says Cochran of Nic of Time. “The reason that we formed [NAPRS] was to create a cohesiveness with the audio community. There’s much more a ‘help your neighbor, I’m your friend’ vibe in Nashville, and everybody works together. The simple hard fact is that the business climate has changed so dramatically that that is no longer the case.”
The proliferation of home studios is well documented; that many of them operate at an unfair advantage, some commercial studio officials assert, is more significant. “Most people who pay county and state taxes and abide by all the laws of business registration take offense to people who build $100,000 studios, people that build studios in non-standard business environments, especially because they can work on the pricing so much more,” says Cardinael. “There’s a lot of things that they are required to do and don’t.”
“We did a study of names in just a general search,” Sheridan adds. “I think we came up with 135 home studios listed here who don’t have the same financial exposure that we have as a commercial room. [But] I think the place that impacted us more realistically and significantly was, a lot of the professionals in our industry–producers, some engineers, even, sometimes, musicians who are putting a project together for an artist–will come to a room to track, and then take everything else to their home studio. And some of our major producers in town–a big handful of them now–have million-dollar home studios. They’re in gated communities and all kinds of places where they shouldn’t be able to do what they’re doing. They won’t join and lend their credibility to an organization like ours because they don’t want their gated community to know they’re operating in there. So they really can’t come support us.”
“This controversy in the ’80s was big in L.A.,” McMakin notes, “and the [commercial] studio owners went after it. It’s no different than it’s always been. I don’t feel like there’s going to be any substantial change; I don’t see that local governments are going to become involved. We can argue all day about ‘it’s an unfair playing field,’ but I think every merchant in the world would say that online competition has changed their businesses, and this is a similar thing.”
NAPRS/Record Nashville, McMakin concludes, “was a great organization that served a great purpose, and came to a point in history when it wasn’t needed anymore. We just made the decision not to move forward.”