The studios are meant to evoke “state of the art.” The studio is a collaborative space. We’re looking to get musicians together in live spaces and let them jam together and get a real feel in the music. We will have our own staff rhythm section, who will be working in one of our spaces on an ongoing basis, coming up with signature melodies and sounds that will be incorporated into the music. Over time, even though we’re expected to bring a freshness to the music, we would like people to say, “I can tell that’s a Made in Memphis hit,” because there’s a signature sound to it.
Our vision is that the Made in Memphis Entertainment studio is going to be an iconic location for music production in the city. Our guiding principles include the locality (we’re within walking distance of FedExForum), the composition of its construction, and the uniqueness of the design.
We have the original Stax Records sign, which sits in the in-house production wing. Our songwriters, artists and producers walk past the sign every day when they go to work and it gives a nod to the history that got us to where we are today. Now, we’re moving into the next phase of that history: bringing more hits to the city of Memphis.
The master studio architect and acoustician talks about how the organization’s new recording, mixing and editing facilities came to be By Dan Daley
You may not know his name, but you know his sound. Over the last quarter century, Michael Cronin has been involved in designing and building over 200 recording studios globally that have been the homes of hundreds of records sold. These include Guillermo Tell and MEGA in Paris, France; the renovation of MOSFILM in Moscow, Russia; BOP Studios Bophuthatswana, South Africa; The Tracking Room, Ocean Way, Blackbird Studios and Masterfonics in Nashville, Tennessee; Capri Digital in Capri, Italy, and producer Mutt Lange’s famed hideaway studio Sully Sound in Tou de Pays, Switzerland. Cronin has also contributed his skills to developing culturally significant facilities, including the archival mastering room at the Country Music Hall of Fame and acoustical consulting work for the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which are both in Nashville, Tennessee, where the London, U.K. native now resides. Cronin’s background made him the perfect choice for the new studio facilities that are an integral part of Made In Memphis Entertainment. Here, we talk with Michael about how the studios came together.
MIME: Tell us what the big picture is here in terms of what the studios are intended to accomplish.
Michael: For David Porter, it’s the quality of the musicians, the writers, and the artists in Memphis who really haven’t been given the opportunity to have what Stax Records had — a real studio. That’s how the project came about. From the beginning, he knew what he wanted. We looked at several buildings and decided on one, and this building ended up being perfect for what he wanted. It’s down on Union about three blocks from Sun [Records] Studios.
MIME: Tell me about the building. What is the building like and what makes it especially suitable for a studio?
Michael: It’s very much like a blank canvas. You couldn’t have found a more suitable building. David wanted three studios and writing rooms for the artists, so we started off in the lower level where we put in Studio C, which has a pretty large tracking area [and] a smaller control room with a couple of small booths. Then on the first floor we put in Studio A, which is a large tracking room with two large ISO booths and a large control room, and Studio B, a mixing room with a smaller tracking space. It’s more of a traditional style construction, which is a lot heavier than most people use today. Each room is independently isolated. Studio A’s control is about 720 square feet, so it’s a large control room. You could fit an entire band in there. That was important to David. From a flow point of view, between me, the architects and [David], we came up with a great floor plan. It’s very well thought out. There are lounges and workout rooms. It’s totally a one-stop shop. Each room has its own concrete floating slab systems and independent-isolation floating walls. This place is built to last.
MIME: It sounds very much like you were building a studio that would not have been out of place in 1975, or 1985. A building that was designed also for collaboration — people moving from studio to studio and serendipitously bumping into each other.
Michael: Exactly. It was someplace that’s comfortable. And a space that musicians or engineers will be familiar with, sonically. David’s old school. He wants a great recording facility [and] people haven’t been building [studios like] these for years. We build studios all the time, but they’re typically for independent artists, or writers, or a production team, but this more really of a true recording facility. He loves the analog feel and sound of a record, and that’s what’s there today. That gives him what he had before, like the API console we found and the ATC monitor speakers. It’s got the best of both worlds.
MIME: The studio design sounds like it was intended to evoke Memphis’s past as a music-recording center.
Michael: Yeah, yes that’s exactly it. You go in and it’s hopping; it’s like watching “Fame” when I was a kid. It really has an amazing vibe of creativity. It’s all about working together, which is really what Memphis was back in those days.
MIME: You recently completed the restoration of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, which is another classic recording venue. How does Made in Memphis fit into the larger phenomenon of bringing what made music production from that era in Muscle Shoals, in Memphis, in Nashville, into the 21st century. What do we see happening here?
Michael: It’s the people. When you go to Muscle Shoals, you still have David Hood, Jimmy Johnson and Roger Hawkins still there. Those guys are still making music there. So is David in Memphis.
MIME: It’s interesting you say that, because everyone we’re talking about is in their 60s or 70s. There will come a time when these gentlemen may not be up for touring or up even for playing anymore. What all of you are doing is creating a legacy; a very workable, usable legacy in the form of a studio infrastructure that they’ll be leaving behind for generations to come.
Michael: Absolutely. Some amazing stuff was born here and has lived here [in Memphis]. David was a major part of that and he knew that opportunities were going away for musicians here unless someone did something. When you speak to David, that’s what he’s about. He’s a true soul man. In fact, he really is the Soul Man — he wrote that song. And now Memphis has a studio for the next generation of Soul Men.
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