The Tougher Road Fourteen years ago, in the fall of 2002, walking down Music Square West, I noticed a crooked informal sign offering the lease of a large studio space. “There’s no way that’s the historic RCA Studio A!” I thought to myself. It was. I found the door wide open, wiring for mic lines cut hastily and dangling at the floor, and a cool breeze blowing through the empty room. Knowing full well the building might be sold at any time, I nevertheless signed the lease and undertook the insane notion of allowing music to be made there once again, the way it had been so amazingly designed to do. It wasn’t a rational decision, but one of the heart. I brought in projects that I hoped would make its walls smile again. A studio that’s been such a major influence on all of American music has a way of inspiring those who pass through its doors. Over the years we’ve heard thousands of stories recounted by hundreds of humble visitors who dropped by to pass along memories from countless recording sessions. Elvis. Perry. Dolly. Frank. Tony. Timeless music brought to life by the famous, and not so famous. The more I learned about the place, the more important it became for me to make sure it retained its dignity, and continued its legacy. Over the next ten years I paid enough rent to buy the equivalent of a few studios. It was more than just an investment, it was a labor of love. I brought in William Shatner to record, and he brought in his pals like Brad Paisley. I had friends come to record – such as Amanda Palmer, Sara Bareilles, The Flaming Lips, "Weird Al" Yankovic, each time adding a few more pieces of gear until we achieved the status of a world class studio. My kids all but learned to walk in this studio while I recorded (see video post of Louis and Gracie - age 5 - playing in the studio). And I’d spend late nights alone waiting on melodies to surface. But by 2014, as Kacey Musgraves, the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and Tony Bennett were receiving awards for records done in the studio, we found the celebration overshadowed by something much larger. On Chet Atkin’s birthday we would learn of plans to demolish the studio to make way for condominiums. As I said, my initial decision to take over the studio, and then fight the uphill battle to keep it relevant, had never been one of reason. But decisions of the heart have a way of making themselves. I would fight to save the building, along with my management. The legendary producer Phil Ramone had just recently passed, and his final words to us during his last time to RCA Studio A was a singular request - that we should never let this studio go the way of all the other great rooms he had recorded in which had been demolished over time. Furthermore, we knew that if this studio were to be demolished, the rest of Music Row would not stand a chance against unchecked development. The very reason Music City had thrived was in danger of extinction. In the thick of the fight, I posted online about the two choices our city had: to take the “easy road” and simply let our music heritage and infrastructure on Music Row be plowed under, or take the “tougher road” by working together to preserve history and sustain the economic lifeblood of our city, while allowing growth to continue. At the time, the “tougher road” seemed nearly insurmountable. Many political and community leaders chose to stay on the sidelines, waiting for the clock to wind down so that the only choice would be to let the bulldozers roll and the cranes fill our skyline unchecked. But thankfully, a previously silent majority of community voices – from musicians, artists, and thousands of fed up concerned citizens – rose up to demand more. More dialogue, more transparency, and more accountability to future generations. The collective message was clear: keep the music in Music City. Letters, tweets and posts of support came from all over – from total strangers, and from friends like Dave Grohl, Keith Urban, and even the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And so, because of their collective outcry, the long journey down the “tougher road” began. First came the emergence of a Music Industry Coalition that would give a clear voice to the music community at large, which led to the creation of Music Row’s first neighborhood association. After meeting at one of my shows in Washington, DC, leaders from the National Trust for Historic Preservation agreed to come to town, roll up their sleeves, and help build the first ever inventory of Music Row assets – from historic to economic. That led to the designation of Music Row as a “National Treasure,” opening the door to even more of their valued expertise for research and planning. And then, in the nick of time, preservation-minded investors also stepped forward to buy the RCA building from the developer who was going to tear it down. Simultaneously, a dialogue between city planners and hundreds of citizens over the fate of Music Row began in earnest, evolving into the development of a clear definition of what constitutes Music Row and its assets, along with a comprehensive series of public meetings and long range planning sessions. Under the supportive leadership of our Mayor Megan Barry, this process continues today. In just a few months, the results of the past two years’ journey will become even clearer. A vision for a future that allows for growth while nurturing our music culture seems to be taking shape, although the jury is still out on the details. As with any plan born out of an open democratic process that has involved input from sometimes opposing interests, the outcome won’t seem to be the perfect solution to all. But, regardless of the outcome, there is one simple truth that no one can dispute - the journey has raised the collective consciousness of our city about the value of our greatest assets. Watching this all unfold has frankly made me love our city even more. April 1st will signal the closing of a chapter for me on Music Row. On that day, I have decided to pass the keys of this studio over to producer Dave Cobb, who shares my love of its heritage and understands its greater good to our community and to our industry at large. I’ll remain a citizen of Nashville, serving on the Nashville Symphony Board, collaborating here with my fellow artists and musicians when opportunities are presented, and staying involved in other community affairs. Looking back on all that’s happened since I first stepped foot into historic RCA Studio A, and pondering what lies ahead, I feel a great sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. Not just for my role, but for the part that so many music lovers and music makers here and abroad are playing to bring us to this place of great hope and promise for the future of our Nashville sound.