The

Recording Session

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Studio Spotlight

Ocean Way Recording Studios

It is one of the greatest state of the art recording studio facilities in the world. It is a place where popular music, as well as music for film, video games and television programs are recorded on a daily basis. It has hosted such clients as George Strait, Matchbox Twenty, Harry Connick Jr. Faith Hill, The Mavericks, Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney, Three Doors Down, Sheryl Crow, Steve Martin and Paul Simon. It has also been the site where movies such as “Wag the Dog,” “Vampirina,” “The Shack,” “Outlander,” and “Paw Patrol: The Movie,” have been scored. It is the studio where the soundtracks for such video games as “Madden 22,” “Fortnite,” FIFA 19,” and “Call of Duty— WWII,” have been recorded. It is a place where the sound and music for the best in entertainment is recorded and mixed, so that it can be delivered to audiences all around the world. It has been open for business since 1996, so though it is not a historic recording studio per se— it does fit the requirements for being featured in The Recording Session Vault educational website project in that has been open for business now for more than twenty-five years. It is Ocean Way Recording Studios of Nashville, Tennessee.

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Pat McMakin, the Director of Operations at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, is pictured in this photograph in the control room of Studio A, which is often referred to as "The Church." In the background is the Neve 8078 console, which is the technological heart of one of finest recording studio facilities in the world. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

In 1996, Ocean Way Recording Studios was established by the legendary partnership of Alan Sides and Gary Belz. But, the building itself was originally a church that was established in 1911 and so much of the amazing music that has been recorded and mixed in the facility has been created in what at one point was the sanctuary. In fact, the pastor of the original church was the grandfather of the legendary author, Tennessee Williams, who attended the church and spent some of his youth in the sanctuary that is the heart of the recording space for the facility to this very day. But, by the1970s, the church congregation had made the decision to move to the suburban community of Franklin. For a brief time, the building became a YMCA community center. Later, it was purchased by a group of investors led by Martha Ingram who made it into a blackbox theater for a time. It then changed hands again, and came into the possession of Tony Alamo Ministries— a corrupt organization that was run by a con man, who later would go to jail for his heinous crimes. During the years when it was owned by a criminal enterprise, the tax bill for the building grew to ten million dollars. When the IRS seized the building and foreclosed on it, a fire broke out that damaged parts of the magnificent building— including part of what is now Studio A. Despite the damage that had been done to the building, two legends in the professional music recording industry, Alan Sides and Gary Belz saw that it had tremendous potential and during the country music boom of the mid-1990s, in 1996, purchased it and began the process of turning into a state of the art recording studio facility. 

Alan Sides was the multi-Grammy award winning engineer, producer and owner of Ocean Way Recording Studios in Hollywood, California, which is one of the most famous recording studio facilites in the history of popular music recording. On the other hand, Gary Belz, also was a studio owner and his studio, the House of Blues was one of the most famous recording studio facilities in Memphis, Tennessee,  plus, he also had a studio location in Los Angeles. Belz also came from the family which owned the famed Peabody Hotel in Memphis. He was a man who was in the professional music industry, but had a background in hospitality. These two men worked hard and poured a lot of money into making the studio the amazing facility that it would become into the future. When it was purchased, the idea or concept was that it would be an amazing facility that would offer amenities to artists that had never been seen before in Nashville— all during what was the pinnacle of the popularity of country music. It was to have a full-service kitchen with a chef and lounge areas that were unlike any that could be found in a Nashville studio of the time period. At the time, it was built for large-scale projects. It would have three studio rooms, where a project could be tracked in Studio A, the overdubs and editing could be done in Studio C and then, of course, the project could be mixed in Studio B. It was not an entirely unusual arrangement for a recording facility at the time, as major producers throughout the 1980s and 1990s would often completely book studios out for their projects. However, it had cost quite a bit of money upfront to take the building and make it into a world-class recording studio facility. Plus, two forces that would characterize the industry began to converge on the facility, almost from the moment it first opened its doors. Digital audio workstations began to appear and so did the advent of the growth of home recording studios. Another major factor was that country music producers— in many cases, already were developing their own studio facilities and were beginning to work under tighter budgetary constraints as the country music boom cooled by the end of the 1990s. In a sense, Ocean Way was the victim of bad timing— and soon, the owners were trying to sell the facility to recoup their losses. But, the asking price for the studio was steep and it looked as if the facility would be a tough sell and then fate intervened.

Mike Curb, the owner and CEO of Curb Records gave a generous donation of money to Bellmont University which was used to fund the creation of the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. However, there was just enough money left in the donation to purchase the recording studio facility, but the question of whether or not to do it, came down to a twist of fate. Enter into the picture, Sony Entertainment record executive, Donna Hilly, who also happend to be on the Board of Trustees at Bellmont University. While she was uncertain about the idea of purchasing the facility, she pitched the idea to the studio manager at Sony Tree— famed engineer and producer, Pat McMakin, who promptly took a tour of the facility and was impressed with it from the moment he first walked through the doors. He not only suggested that it would be a good investment, but also saw the tremendous asset that the facility could be for the university as both a commercial recording studio and as an educational facility for teaching and training the next generation of great engineers and producers to create the popular music of the future. To Pat McMakin, the facility would offer a win-win proposition for the university. In 2001, Bellmont University used the rest of the funds to purchase Ocean Way Recording Studios. But, for it to become a successful operation and asset to the university and the professional music recording community in Nashville, it would take leadership. Once again, fate would intervene and this time it would bring the right person at just the right time into the story of the legendary Ocean Way Recording Studios of Nashville, Tennessee.

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Chris Tomlin is pictured with his production team in the control room of Studio A, "The Church," of Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

From 2002-2007, Ocean Way Recording Studios operated as both a commercial recording studio and as an educational facility, but it needed a shot in the arm. As digital audio workstations began to dominate the professional music recording industry and as home studios started cropping up, more and more of the large-scale recording studios began to find themselves in dire straits— and Ocean Way was among them. In fact, the saving grace for the studio facility may well have been that it was also, in part, an educational facility. The commercial aspect of the studio needed both leadership and guidance to make it a successful enterprise. Fate intervened. In 2008, after having spent twenty-five years at the helm of the Sony Tree family of recording studio facilities— legendary recording studio engineer, producer and veteran recording studio facility manager— ironically, the very figure who saw the potential of the facility as both a commercial studio venture and as an educational facility, Pat McMakin, would become the studio manager of Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. He would eventually turn it into one of the world’s greatest recording studio facilities, but it did not happen overnight.

The first major issue at hand what how to successfully merge a commercial facility and an academic institution together. The answer for this issue turned out to be straightforward. Take Studio C which was not heavily being booked and turn it into the academic component of the facility. In the meanwhile, allow students to also utilize Studio B for projects on the weekends when commercial bookings are not as apt to occur. This mode of operation would allow for Studio A and its large tracking area to be utilized for large-scale projects, which would keep the commercial side of the facility busy on a more consistent basis. The greatest challenge turned out to be the final piece of the puzzle. Keeping Studios A and B consistently busy meant thinking outside of the box. As digital audio workstations continually replaced analog tape machines and consoles which had been extremely costly to both purchase and maintain over the long haul— artists, engineers and producers began to do more and more of their music production work in home recording studio ventures. Plus, music streaming services had started cutting dramatically into the profits that had been made by the record companies. It was a disaster. Budgets all but dried up for commercial music projects. The industry was beginning to falter in a way that even the professional veterans— those who had seen a thing or two— had never seen before. Adding to the woes for the professional recording industry, the globe experienced a major financial recession that began in 2007. By 2012, this set of sweeping trends had led to a number of great music recording studio facilities closing their doors across the country. In Nashville, as a number of venerable recording studio facilities began closing their doors, Pat McMakin, feared that Ocean Way Recording Studios could also become a casualty of these disastrous trends, as well. During that year, there were weeks when the facility was not booked for a single commercial session. 

But, it was the effort of Pat McMakin to find a business model to overcome the economic challenges that the industry faced at the time that would lead Ocean Way Recording Studios to become one of the greatest recording studio facilities in the world. It also became a crusade to save the large-scale recording studio facilities in Nashville and to an even greater extent, to save Music Row itself for future generations of engineers, musicians, artists and producers. His vision to use the massive space that the facility had for tracking large-scale projects led orchestras, choirs and big bands to come to the facility to record music, score soundtracks and to develop music for large-scale audiences, films, television programs and video games. Prior to the implementation of his vision, recording studio facilites on Music Row and throughout the Nashville metro area had predominantly been developed just to record music (mostly country, Contemporary Christian and gospel music), but, now Ocean Way Recording Studios began to open up new creative avenues for business which gave all of the surviving large-scale facilities in the area a new business model that could allow them to thrive into the future— even despite the coronavirus pandemic. During the pandemic, it was Ocean Way Recording Studios under his leadership that provided a model for safely re-opening and returning to business during the period. In fact, he sees the ability to use former spaces— such as the one upon which Ocean Way was created, could be extremely useful— as community centers or for other creative music educational programs. It is his belief that educational programs in music can benefit all of us— especially our young people across the country. It is true. Ocean Way Recording Studios has become a model of excellence as both a commercial and as an educational world-class recording studio facility. 

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Nick Spezia, Alan Umsted, Steve Schnur, Trevor Morris and their production team are pictured with the legendary Pat McMakin at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

Ocean Way Recording Studios is one of the greatest recording studio facilities in the world. There are three major components which make Ocean Way Recording Studios a magnificent place to record your next project— the equipment, the space and the people who comprise the amazing staff. The facility has three studio rooms— Studio A, Studio B and Studio C. Studio A— often referred to as, “The Church,” is an amazing space for tracking a project. Studio B is essentially a room for mixing, but it also includes a recording space. And, Studio C is essentially a small suite that can be used for mixing as well and contains a small workstation. Each of the studio rooms has access to tremendous amenities. But, Studio A features a full-size kitchen, a large lounge area for artists and performers, an entertainment area and large restroom facilities. The equipment that can be found in the control rooms at Ocean Way Recording Studios is an astounding mix of both classical vintage analog gear and microphones, as well as the latest and greatest in digital equipment.

The equipment that can be found in the control rooms and the microphone locker at Ocean Way Recording Studios is amazing. The console in the control room in Studio A is a classical Neve 8078, the largest of its kind in the entire world— at 80 input channels with 64 monitor returns, it is an astounding desk which is kept in pristine condition and is one of the greatest sounding consoles in existence in the world. As a client, you will have access to microphone preamp models from AEA, API, Focusrite, GML, Milennia, Neve, Telefunken, Vintech, a Custom Squash Box and units from Martech are available by request. Clients will have access to the use of equalization units from API, GML and Pulse Techniques. A client can access dynamics processing units from DBX, Empirical Labs, GML, Neve, SSL, SPL, Summit Audio, Tubetech, Universal Audio (also from Teletronix and UREI which are now both a part of Universal Audio) and a pair of coveted, classical Fairchild 670s. As far as reverbs, or effects units are concerned, as a client you will have access to units by AMS, Bricasti, EMT, Eventide, Lexicon, TC Electronics and Yamaha. Studio A also has a Yamaha C7 grand piano and a Hammond B3 with a Leslie. The cue system is a custom-built 14-channel system that features both a musician talk buss and a control room talk buss.  Clients in Studio A can record through a Pro Tools HDX system (version 12) that features AVID HD 48 analog inputs and outputs and is handled by an Apple Mac Pro computer system. Currently, the system also allows engineers, producers and artists to have access to more than 150 amazing software plug-ins which can also be used on their projects. By the way, engineers, artists and producers also have access to a monitoring system which features models from Yamaha, Mackie, Tannoy, ATC and ProAC, plus, a custom designed Ocean Way Audio professional audio monitoring system. But, perhaps the greatest feature of the studio is its incomparable microphone locker which features both classical and vintage models from AEA, AKG, Audio-Technica, Beyerdynamic, Coles, Crown, DPA, Electro-Voice, Neumann, Ocean Way Pro Audio, RCA, Royer, Schoeps, Sennheiser, Shure, Sony, Spire Audio and Telefunken. And to top it off, the studio has access (for a limited time) to an array of microphones from DPA which are designed specifically for orchestral recording. And by the way— all of the above is just what you will find in Studio A. In other words, if you are fortunate enough to have a recording session in Studio A, you can just say to yourself, “It’s gonna be great,” because without a doubt, it will be. However, Studio B which now features a brand new SSL Origin console is equipped similarly to Studio A— in other words, it has almost the same set of gear and access to the fabulous microphone collection, as well. Studio C is a smaller space which features a Digidesign ICON D-Control control surface and is designed primarily as a listening space and as an area for in-the-box mixing sessions. The equipment that can be found in the control rooms at Ocean Way Recording Studios is phenomenal which is why it is one of the greatest recording studio facilities in the world— but, it’s not the only reason.

Ocean Way Recording Studios has a tremendous amount of amazing acoustic space for creating your next amazing music or sound for visual media project. Studio A is large enough to accomodate a full-size choir or even an 80-piece orchestra and has done so on multiple occasions. The Studio A room boosts four isolation booths, a piano room and a machine room— in addition to the main studio room, which is one of the largest in Music City, USA, and the spacious control room. To get an idea of the spaciousness of the facility, it is useful to think of each room in the facility in the same manner in which we might consider a home or office space, which is in square footage. With those parameters in mind, it is useful to know that each of the four isolation booths provide 110, 160 and two of them have 130 square feet of space for recording. There is a single booth at the back of the facility that is 70 square feet. The piano booth measures 270 square feet. The machine room provides 130 square feet of space. The main studio room measures an astounding 1,900 square feet. The control room for Studio A where the Neve 8078 is located measures an amazing 800 square feet. In all, Studio A provides a client with (minus the machine room, and the control room) an incredible 2700 square feet of perfect acoustical space to do their best creative work. In other words, Studio A alone at Ocean Way Recording Studios measures out to be more than 3600 square feet in size. But, Studio B is also a sizeable component of this world class facility in its own right. The control room for Studio B measures 345 square feet. But, it also has two booths for recording which measure 110 and 121 square feet and two booths for amplifiers which measure about 70 square feet apiece. The main recording area in Studio B measures over 700 square feet (736 sq. ft.) which in itself is quite a large space. Though Studio C is a space that is mainly used just for in-the-box mixing— it also contains an almost 400 square foot space for recording and has a small vocal booth area. The control room in Studio C measures in at 345 square feet, just like the same area in Studio B. Each of the studio areas at Ocean Way Recording Studios is more than spacious enough to handle any recording project of any type, plus, it is also important to consider that the facility also has an important educational component, as well. But, while acoustic space is such an important component to consider when we look at a recording studio facility, it is the amazing people at Ocean Way Recording Studios that make it one of the very best places to record music and sound in the world.

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Pat McMakin, the Director of Operations at Ocean Way Recording Studios in Nashville, Tennessee, is pictured with his amazing staff members Sal Greco and Steven Crowder. Throughout his tenure, Pat McMakin has assembled an amazing staff of engineers and technicians who are the backbone of one of the greatest recording studios in the world. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin. 

Since 2008, Pat McMakin the legendary engineer and producer who had also been a prominent Nashville recording studio facility manager throughout his career, has been the Director of Operations for Ocean Way Recording Studios. He has guided the studio through some of the most tumultuos years in the history of professional music recording to become one of the greatest recording studio facilities in the world. Prior to Pat McMakin’s arrival Ocean Way Recording Studios he had worked on hit records for Dolly Parton, Ricky Skaggs, Exile, Vern Gosdin, George Jones, Highway 101, Lonestar, Shenandoah, Brooks and Dunn, and *NSYNCH as a legendary recording studio engineer and had produced acts such as the O’Kanes, Aaron Tippin and David Kersh. He had also managed the Sony ATV, or Tree Studios recording complex and Tree Productions for more than twenty-five years. At Ocean Way Recording Studios, his right-hand man became Steven Crowder— a well-known Nashville engineer and producer in his own right who had worked at the famed Javelina Recording Studios (originally the site of RCA Studio A) and whose amazing credits include: Willie Nelson, George Jones, Jimmy Buffet and Vince Gill. Also, rounding out the fantastic group are two other amazing staff members— Jamie Warden, who is the operations manager who has worked on projects for such artists as Amy Grant, Bon Jovi, Curtis Mayfield, Kenny Chesney, Vince Gill and U2 and also, Ron Romano, who is a technical wizard from Bellmont University who manages all of the computer systems for their umbrella of recording studio facilities (Ocean Way, Columbia Studio A and the Quonset Hut). It is an amazing staff of knowledgeable and passionate professionals who stand poised each and everyday to assist the clients at Ocean Way Recording Studios in their quest to both create and record great music and sound for television, film and video game projects. 

At Ocean Way Recording Studios excellence is just a way of life. It is a commitment that each of the engineers and technicians who work at the facility make to their clients each and everyday— no matter whether that person or group is the hottest act on the country music charts, a legendary performer in popular music or an act recording their music for the very first time in a major recording studio setting. For Pat McMakin, and the amazing staff at Ocean Way Recording Studios, the phrase, “It’s gonna be great,” speaks to their desire to make your experience working on your project in the facility the best one that it can possibly be. It is one of the greatest recording studio facilities in the world. It is a great facilty that has an educational component that is an important part of its mission. And, it just happens to be a place where great music is made each and everyday.  At Ocean Way Recording Studios, making great music is a way of life. 

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Pat McMakin is pictured alone in the control room of Studio A, "The Church," in Ocean Way Recording Studios where he is the Director of Operations. Ocean Way Recording Studios is one of the finest recording studio facilities in the world where great music for performance, film, television and video games is recorded and mixed on a daily basis. Image courtesy of Pat McMakin.