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API enhances the legend of Nashville's Sound Emporium Studios

February 2020; Nashville, TN:
Since singer songwriter Cowboy Jack Clement opened his studio in Nashville in 1969, Sound Emporium has been making history and creating magic. Now, the original Studio A is set for a new era of groundbreaking recording with the installation of a 48-channel API Legacy AXS console.

Owned today by Lipscomb University, Sound Emporium — which started life as Jack Clement Recording Studios — was the first of its kind in Nashville. Over the years, Studio A has hosted iconic sessions by countless artists, from Todd Rundgren in the opening week to Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Shania Twain and Kenny Chesney. Movie work includes T Bone Burnett's soundtrack for the Coen Brothers' O Brother, Where Art Thou? as well as Smokey and the Bandit, Walk The Line and Cold Mountain, while the facility has grown to encompass four studios.

A 48-channel API Legacy Plus console was installed into Studio B several years ago, and the client demand this has created was part of the decision to replace the console in Studio A with a new API Legacy AXS, according to Mike Stankiewicz, chief engineer of the Sound Emporium.

"When we were ready to update something as large and critical as a new console, we knew we would absolutely need to have client approval," he explains. "An obvious choice for everyone at Sound Emporium was API, after the Legacy Plus that we put into the B room in 2014 completely transformed that room. Our clients were hard pressed to think of a more fitting option than a second API console — it's the heartbeat and core sonic stamp of such a legendary room."

Sound Emporium's 98% booking and occupancy rate is in no small part due to president/ COO/ general manager Juanita Copeland, who's worked in Nashville since joining Mercury Records three decades ago, clocking up 25 years within the walls of Sound Emporium. The studio's enviable occupancy rate allows for virtually no down time, and the API gives Sound Emporium the confidence it needs to operate seamlessly and flawlessly. "Time is money in our world, and that is why it's so important to have the best gear and staff to tend to issues quickly when they arise," says Copeland. "We have a great relationship with Lipscomb and they have committed to preserving our history and allowing us to continue as a commercial facility. They have been true to their word of preserving our legacy, especially by stepping up and purchasing the API Legacy AXS for us to install into our crown jewel Studio A control room."

"Even though the university doesn't have a true audio program, it does have a commercial music department and a college of entertainment and art that has a very robust 'entrepreneurial artist' program that will allow students to learn in a real world environment — which is priceless."

While recording moved into the digital era long ago, Stankiewicz is keen to point out that Nashville is a musicians' town, with analog recording thriving. "Although there's no shortage of electronic and pop music made here, we still record bands; it's what Nashville has always been about," he says. "We're in a digital age, but computers still have limitations. Who doesn't want to carve their sound on the front end, push up faders and get inspired while recording? It's thrilling for everyone who sits down in front of the API console to work. I've found there to be a lot of gear that can be replicated 'in the box' very well these days. One thing that has proven this wrong is the sound of the Legacy AXS console. If you compare a mix split out and summed through the desk to the same balance in a DAW, it leaves a lot to be desired. That just isn't true for every board or piece of gear these days. The Legacy AXS is special and just sounds stunning!"

"We are so excited to welcome Sound Emporium Studios to our API family," says API director of engineering, Todd Humora. "It is great that our AXS console is able to help continue the literally 50-plus years of music history in Studio A. I wish I could be a fly on the wall to see the amazing music that the engineers will be creating through the console."

Fifty years after it opened, Sound Emporium's original Studio A is equipped to move forward into the next era. Cowboy Jack, inducted into the Nashville Songwriters' Hall of Fame in 1973 and whose songs were recorded by Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cliff Richards and many more, would be proud that the studio he founded is still mirroring his stratospheric success.