A Quick Chat with Sparkplug Nashville Ambassador Tim O’Connell

Tim O'Connell is one of our Community Ambassadors in Nashville. We chatted with Tim recently to get to know him a little better and learn about his favorite Nashville spots.

After moving to Nashville in 1970 and graduating from Belmont University with an M.B.A, Tim steadily started his career as a songwriter, harmonica player, music publisher, and educator. He started playing in the 1970’s, and impressively taught himself by playing along to records. Today, he writes songs and plays harmonica in a band called The Colors of Nature, and his songs have been recorded by artists all over the world, in places such as the US, Germany, England and New Zealand.

One of the most valued aspects of the music scene in Nashville, according to Tim, is the highly skilled level of the studio musicians, and his to-go locations to watch them live are The Station Inn and Ryman Auditorium. When asked where is the best spot to get amp tubes fixed or guitars serviced in Nashville, Tim recommends his two favorite places: Ferg's Amp Repair in Berry Hill and Glaser Instruments in Berry Hill.

 Tim also shared with us his most memorable experience with music in Nashville.  When Tim first moved to Nashville, Johnny Cash, one of his favorite artists because he was open to all kinds of music, was taping a television show at The Ryman. Tim and his wife would go every single week to listen to Cash and enjoy the great music. His list of favorite artists also includes: Vassar Clements because he could play all kinds of music, and Dolly Parton, because she has done a lot of great things for the people of Tennessee.

In a more serious tone, Tim answered that the causes he most cares about is the prevention of rape and sexual abuse and the prevention of global warming.

With his huge heart and talent, Tim is an indispensable member of our Sparkplug community.

5 Great, Affordable Home Studios in Nashville

            Planning on recording in Nashville but put off by the high cost of studio time?  Don’t overlook the area’s numerous home studios.  Here are five where you can get great results without busting your budget.

Emerald City Productions - $250 per day (without engineer)

            We’re including Danny Ozment’s Emerald City Productions on our list of home studios, but it’s really a stand-alone studio, complete with a floating floor for isolation purposes, that just happens to be attached to Danny’s house.  Located out in the country, about 30 miles south of Nashville, the studio is pristine and looks brand new, even though Danny has been working in it for two years.         

            If you’re familiar with the name Carl Tatz, you’ll have some idea of what to expect at Emerald City; the award-winning studio designer designed this one from the ground up.  The first thing a visitor notices is that both the tracking room and the mixing room have large windows with a view of the great outdoors.  “Carl thought I was crazy when I said I wanted windows,” Danny says, “but I like things clean, bright, and airy.  I knew I was going to be spending a lot of time in the studio, and I wanted windows.  Some times you can look out and see the neighbor’s sheep grazing.”

            Bright and airy are definitely the words to use to describe Emerald City.  The tracking room has 18-foot angled ceilings and is large enough that Danny offers it as a rehearsal space for bands who want to practice; the space will accommodate a four- or five-piece band.  The flooring is distressed wood that came from a barn in Middle Tennessee, and it’s polished to a shine.  The studio has one isolation booth, which is big enough for a drum kit.  (Danny’s a drummer who frequently lays down drum parts on tracks that people send him.)

            The control room, likewise, is spacious and airy, with a high ceiling and a huge LCD screen that’s positioned seven feet in front of the mix position.   Everything is state-of-the art – PhantomFocus monitors designed by Tatz featuring James Loudspeakers, wiring by SkinnyFish Audio, Auralex absorption/diffusion panels – and all digital.  

            So what does a state-of-the-art studio cost you?  The rate is surprisingly low. Danny travels quite a bit to work on other projects.  When he’s out of town and makes his studio available for someone to come in and mix or do overdubs, the daily rate is only $250.  When he’s home and working the controls, his hourly rate is $60 per hour.

            Emerald City has a comfortable lounge, a kitchenette, and a full bathroom, so clients can make themselves at home.  Motels are located about 10 minutes away in Franklin, Tennessee.

745 Studio - $300 per day (without engineer)

            One of the more comfortable home studios in Nashville is Jared Ribble’s 745 Studio, located just south of town in the Brentwood area.  Totaling 1500 square feet, the studio has five spots of legitimate isolation, a Steinway B grand piano, a Hammond B3 organ with a Leslie speaker, and, as you would expect in a studio owned by a drummer, tons of drums.  “Our rooms are natural sounding but isolated,” Jared says.  “No studio is perfectly soundproof, but we have very limited bleed.” 

            745’s customers are primarily indie artists and bands in the natural-sounding genres – jazz, Americana, natural-sounding country.  “We take a snapshot of what you’re doing,” Ribble says.  “Not that we couldn’t take what you’ve recorded and tweak it to create something else entirely, but that’s not our focus.”

            The studio is set up for one FireWire cable, which gives artists and producers access from their laptop.  “Artists can come in and easily and efficiently make use of our isolation space and instruments,” Jared says.

            For those who don’t need an engineer to help them accomplish what they want to (“tracks by mail” sessions, for example), the rate is only $30 per hour.  With Jared or one of his team of engineers assisting, the rate is $75 per hour.

            745 Studio works with a fair amount of out-of-town clients, usually as a result of referrals from other customers.  “I always get a written agreement upfront,” Jared says, “but we’re in the business of helping people make music.  We try to give them a safe and trustworthy place to come to record.”

Black Dog Studio - $325 per day

            Black Dog Studio is owned and operated by Pete Jacobs and Melanie Bresnan, two graduates of Berklee College of Music.  The studio is located in the lower level of the home they share in East Nashville.  As Pete says, “We’re sort of the Millennium Falcon of recording studios.  It might not look like much, but it gets the job done.”  The studio was actually constructed by a previous owner, Dexter Green, who produced the group Collective Soul.  Black Dog, named after Jacobs’s dog Ina, has been in operation since June of 2016.

            The studio consists of one main tracking room and two isolation booths.  When necessary, cables can be run upstairs to create additional recording space. 

            “We like to make people feel comfortable, like they’re hanging out at home,” Jacobs says.  “Other studios can sometimes feel clinical and pressured, but here artists can relax, play with the dog – Ina helps relax people.  Plus we have good gear.”  Pete is the gearhead of the duo – he majored in Music Production and Engineering at Berklee and has worked with Grammy-winning engineer Joe Ferla.  “We think we get the same feel as an analog studio,” he says.

            Black Dog offers an hourly rate and a daily rate, but they are moving more and more to a project-based rate, catering to indie budgets.  And their project rate is hard to beat.  For a five-song EP, including pre-production, recording, overdubbing, tuning, and mixing, including one free revision of each song, Black Dog charges $1800.  That usually consists of two days of basic recording and three days of overdubs.  Plus, Melanie is an experienced vocal coach and can help artists with their vocals.

            Black Dog’s goal is to offer an affordable package while ensuring the finished product is polished and professional sounding. 

Blue Grotto - $350 per day (without engineer)

            Sean Spence’s Blue Grotto is also a Carl Tatz-designed studio; Sean had it installed in the lower level of a house in a Brentwood subdivision when he moved to the Nashville area from South Africa.  The Blue Grotto was a Mix Magazine Class of 2011 Award Winner, and it’s easy to see why.  Sitting in the mixing engineer’s spot and listening to music through Tatz’s PhantomFocus monitoring system is an experience not to be duplicated in many studios – saying that the sound envelops you is not an exaggeration.  A better listening environment would be hard to find anywhere.

            The control room is spacious (200+ square feet), and by using mirrored acoustic lens modules on either side of the room, Tatz has made it feel even larger.  The room has a custom-designed floating floor and ceiling, and custom wall treatments.

            The large tracking room (419 square feet) has windows that open onto the attractive back yard.  The tracking room features a Yamaha upright piano and a Technics organ that dates from the 1970s; the room even has a gas fireplace that was in place when Sean bought the house.  By using other spaces in the house’s lower level for isolation, Spence is able to accommodate large groups with no problem.

            Sean stays busy producing and mixing for indie artists and Americana groups; most of his business comes from word-of-mouth referrals.  He recently achieved something that not many home studios can lay claim to – part of the mixing for Kirk Franklin’s recent Grammy-winning album was done at The Blue Grotto.        

            The Blue Grotto is available for outside producers or engineers to rent using their own team; the daily rate is only $350.  When Sean does the engineering, that rate goes to $500 per day.

The Record Shop - $500 per day

            Sean Giovanni’s studio, The Record Shop, is located in a residential area in Hermitage, Tennessee, just a short hop from Nashville International Airport, which makes it convenient for artists coming in from out of town to record.  The Record Shop provides more than just recording services, usually assisting with artistic development.  As Sean says, “My model is to find artists with long-term career goals.  We frequently work with artists who are at the mid-level stage of their careers and want to take the next step up the ladder.

            Sean emphasizes that when you’re recording at The Record Shop, you’re not just booking studio time.  “Our first focus is to assist artists in expressing their creativity – we like to help them define the sound they’re looking for.”

            To accomplish that, the first step for every artist at The Record Shop is a discussion of the artist’s long-term vision.  “It’s important for me to know what they want to achieve,” Sean says.  “Then we look for opportunities to further the artist’s career and help them with a marketing plan.  I see my role as sort of a creative director.”                                   

            In addition to the recording budget, Sean will present the artist with a budget for creative work, then contract out different aspects of it.  That might mean bringing in songwriters with arrangements, lining up a video shoot, developing creative marketing ideas – whatever is necessary to further the artist’s career.  “Our goal is to bring together a creative community to develop a plan that’s customized to the artist,” Sean says.

 Giovanni has been at his current location for six years.  Ultimately, he wants to expand to a larger facility where the whole creative community is in one spot. 

Book these studios and more on Sparkplug (www.sparkplug.it), the online marketplace for instrument, gear, and space rentals.

Written by: Tim O’Connell, Sparkplug, Nashville Community Ambassador

Sparkplug iPhone App Released

Sparkplug has officially launched its iPhone mobile app. The iPhone app puts your rentals in your pocket, making it even easier to book, pay for, and manage your rentals while on the road. Plus, listing your own gear is quick and easy - just answer a few questions, take a photo with your phone, and your listing will be up and running in under 2 minutes. 

We'd love to hear any feedback that you might have and, of course, if you love the app, we'd appreciate a positive review.