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Nashville’s Ocean Way Recording Studio Adjusts to Changing Times

Everybody knows digital technology and the Internet helped drill a big hole in the music recording business. Nashville, like other recording centers, felt the pinch.

For some of Nashville’s studios, a partial solution has been music scoring for movies and video games. Pat McMakin, director of operations at Ocean Way Nashville studio, recently talked about what scoring means to his business and how it all happened. “By 2008, all of us studios that were dependent on records for our business saw the recording budgets getting lower and lower,” he says. “When the general economy tanked in 2008, we were in a crisis position.”

At the time, it dawned on McMakin that he needed to rely on his ace in the hole. “I just knew that we had a room that was considered to be one of the best orchestra rooms if not the best orchestra room in Nashville and in this region.”

But first he needed to counter perceptions from media companies in L.A. “Our first visit out there, we found an attitude that in Nashville an orchestra was maybe 50 banjo players. They’re very much in the same position we have been in, in that they work in their world, in their market, in their town, and are so busy doing that, they’re not aware of what’s going on elsewhere.

“So in Nashville, here we had this terrific group of recording orchestral musicians, many of them recruited from around the country to fill an internal demand, and nobody in the world knew about them,” McMakin adds. “Our big break came when Sony PlayStation discovered Nashville. It was one of those things where we had done a full orchestral session with 82 pieces, and one of the people on that session was from L.A., Clint Bajakian, who was then one of the top folks at Sony PlayStation’s music department. I think Clint was a little incredulous that Nashville was even a place to consider. Everybody knows Nashville is a music town, but not many think of us as a broadly music town.”

Bajakian persuaded his colleagues at Sony to give Nashville a try. Over two years Sony recorded a number of PlayStation projects in Nashville. Word spread that game companies could get great music out of Nashville without having to deal with the established rules of the L.A. musicians union, which included expensive back-end payments to musicians.

Companies also came to realize that though they could do their music cheaper overseas in Prague, it was easier and faster to get the job done in Nashville. Soon independent film production companies that were dealing with diminishing music budgets began looking to Nashville. “More and more of these independents are deciding that they are going to do their music non-union,” McMakin says.

Composers who have brought their work to Nashville include Trevor Morris, John Debney, Bruce Broughton, Greg Edmonson and Austin Wintory. Morris scored the popular game, “Dragon Age” and Debney scored the series, “Texas Rising” at Ocean Way.

Now, says McMakin, Ocean Way’s business is “probably 80% games, 20% film and TV.”

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