July 10, 2014

Ben Folds Leads Charge to Save RCA Studio A on Nashville’s Music Row

  • By: Carolyn Brackett

Credit: Ben Folds, Facebook

Ben Folds posted an infographic on his personal Facebook page detailing the importance of fighting for the future of RCA Studio A.

Musician Ben Folds is leading the charge to save one of the country’s most significant music sites: the RCA Studio A on Nashville’s famed Music Row. But Folds is not alone; he’s rallying support and building a coalition to help him do it.

When Folds learned that the historic studio he has leased for the past 12 years was being sold to a developer who intended to tear it down -- most likely to build condominiums -- he responded by writing an open letter to the City of Nashville asking for support to save the studio.

In his letter, Folds asks the developer to decide what to do with the space before tearing down the historic site. Folds writes, “Take a moment to stand in the silence between the grand walls of RCA Studio A and feel the history and the echoes of the Nashville that changed the world.”

The 5,000-square-foot studio was founded in the early 1960s by Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins, music industry pioneers who created what became known as The Nashville Sound, a smoother version of country music that replaced honky-tonk’s popularity in the 1960s. The space was designed to be large enough to accommodate a full-size orchestra to accompany artists’ recordings.

Credit: Carolyn Brackett/National Trust for Historic Preservation
RCA Studio A, recording studio of some of this era's biggest hits, is being threatened by developers.

RCA Studio A is the only remaining active studio of four RCA studio spaces designed by Bill Putnam, who is considered the “father of modern recording” for his invention of the modern recording console and his influence on the post-WWII commercial recording industry. The other three RCA studios -- located in Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York -- are no longer in operation.

In the past 50 years, countless artists of a variety of genres have recorded hits in RCA Studio A. The list includes Jim Brickman, Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Lionel Richie, Bob Seger, Jewel, Lady Antebellum, Faith Hill, the Beach Boys, Tony Bennett, Carrie Underwood, Bonnie Tyler, Lee Ann Womack, Keith Urban, the Nashville Symphony, Ben Folds Five, and so on.

Folds’ outreach has sparked considerable support from those in the music industry, both in Nashville and across the country. A recent Save Studio A rally brought roughly 200 songwriters, audio engineers, music executives, and audiophiles to the studio to voice their desire to save the studio.

The rally also marked a progression of the studio supporters’ goals. In addition to saving Studio A, efforts will now focus on a bigger picture: to save Music Row, an area in downtown Nashville that is threatened by development. (Studies project Nashville’s population to grow by 20 percent by 2035.)

Credit: Jason Mrachina, Flickr
Every year, thousands of people move to Nashville, which is causing developers to aggressively build new condominiums and apartments to suit the needs of the city's booming population.

At the event, rally organizers announced the formation of a new nonprofit: the Music Industry Coalition, which aims to give greater organizational structure to those who hope to save Nashville’s music history. Save Music Row/Studio A supporters have voiced their belief that careful, thoughtful development can co-exist with saving places associated with Nashville’s music heritage.

The effort to save Studio A and Music Row has also sparked push-back from some quarters, most notably a letter issued by Harold Bradley, an institution in Nashville’s music industry for more than 60 years who has been described as one of the most prolific session guitarists in history. Bradley disputed the need to save the building

“What makes a place historic?” Bradley asked in his letter. “The architecture of the Nashville sound was never of brick and mortar. Certainly there are old studio spaces that, in our imaginations ring with sonic magic; but in truth, it’s not the room, it’s the music.”

Credit: Rex Hammock, Flickr
The Nashville Music City Center opened in 2013, a new convention center that cost $600 million.

As of now, the developer has not closed on the purchase of the property. He has stated that he wants to save Studio A, but has not issued information on what he plans to do with the site.

Folds and other supporters for saving Studio A and Music Row are moving forward with their efforts. In a Facebook post on July 2, Folds emphasized his goals: “My aim is to make sure Studio A is standing and making music of future generations long after we are all gone. By drawing attention to this I also have the opportunity to cast a spotlight on those on Music Row who have been individually struggling with their versions of the same story as they watch bulldozers level acres of our rich music history every day.”

MusicRow Magazine’s Robert K. Oermann summed it up this way: “These losses cannot be replaced. They are gone forever. Yet this is a city that bases its national identity as being ‘Music City, U.S.A.’ How many more iconic sites that gave us that identity will be destroyed before this community pays proper homage to a heritage that other cities would die to have?”

The National Trust's African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund has awarded $3 million in grants to 33 places preserving Black history.

See the List