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Off The Record

Music & Recording Industry News By Dan Daley
Published March 2012

The rewards for studios that offer film-sound services can be substantial, but do they risk alienating clients who just want to record music?

It's not easy for studios to cross over from music recording to film sound, but it's a good thing when they can manage it. Certain Los Angeles facilities, like Village Recorders, have long-standing presences in the film world, and a number of New York City studios regularly take advantage of the city's status as the centre of the TV advertising universe, and the fact that it is home to numerous prime-time network shows. Getting involved with local industries like this has enabled a few studios to maintain a certain level of income and, when some clients manage a hit or two at the box office, even thrive for a while.

In Nashville, that kind of diversification is a little harder to pull off. So no one begrudges Nashville's studios a little success when it turns out that some high-profile movie stars, who happen to call the area home, stop by for an ADR session or two.

Fred Paragano started Paragon Studios in 2002, in a southern suburb of Nashville, when the area might have had more cows than people. The region has since sprawled, even as the music recording business declined. Paragano says he saw that coming even before construction of his three-room, Russ Berger-designed facility was fully completed. Accordingly, he began adapting his business to include other services, including DVD authoring, audio post-production and even basic field production for both audio and picture. As other music studios were bringing more audio service providers, such as Pro Tools operators, under their roofs to expand their range of services, Paragano offered shelter to a film editor and his Final Cut Pro rig.

The decision has paid off. Paragano says that the various aspects of audio for picture now comprise as much as 90 percent of the studio's revenues. It does not hurt that actors Ashley Judd and Nicole Kidman live in the area (the former is sister and daughter to the mother-daughter country duo the Judds, and the latter is married to another country hit-maker, and fellow Aussie, Keith Urban), and regularly use Paragon for ADR sessions. The studio also hosted some principal photography for Country Strong, a box-office bomb that nonetheless provided a very good opportunity to put the use of the studio itself as a movie location on the facility's rate card.

Paragano is understandably circumspect about discussing movie-star clients, but he does acknowledge that star power helps gain validation from Hollywood studios, who are happy to find reliable places that keep ADR sessions convenient for their actors (Paragon has done work on the last 10 Kidman movies, including hits like Australia). The relationships have expanded the work that Paragano has been able to do with film-makers. "The strategy has been to go from doing bits and pieces of projects for Hollywood to doing projects start to finish,” he says, including sound supervision, sound mixing and production services, library-based sound-effects work (foley cues are spotted there and subcontracted to an LA post-production house) and other sound and picture post services. Getting deeper into film work has also influenced his buying decisions: his most recent large-format console purchase was an SSL C300 desk, which he says gives the studio more depth in sound-for-picture applications while still keeping the music side strong.

But Paragano is aware that Hollywood success can be a double-edged sword. Film sound work pays higher rates and, just as important, it makes the work schedule more predictable: as of January, Paragon was booked through July with work on three new films. But this might come with a loss of awareness of the studio as a music facility. "People might get the impression that all we do is picture work, and that's a concern,” he says, noting that the studio's large tracking room is often of little use to Hollywood clients. To manage this perception issue, Paragano recently hired someone to develop the studio's marketing strategies, in order to maintain its presence in both camps — a tricky mission that only a few studios, including the Village and Soundtrack in New York, have proven adept at.

Then there's the film industry in Nashville. Nick Palladino, a music engineer and producer, saw film as a better business prospect than music in Nashville 25 years ago. Both he and Paragano agree that Tennessee's Film Commission has historically put more effort into luring production to the state, at the expense of touting its post-production capabilities, which they say are critical to keeping the work there. And the fact is that Georgia and Louisiana regularly outbid Tennessee for the production gigs, thanks to better tax and spending incentives, while in Georgia's case, Atlanta's existing post-production infrastructure also helps.

"Digital [technology] helps level the playing field,” says Palladino, whose NPALL Audio facility has also taken advantage of Nashville's clutch of movie stars, taking on jobs like ADR with Dolly Parton and former senator Fred Thompson, who starred in The Hunt For Red October and Die Hard 2. "But we don't have enough of a post infrastructure here to build the kind of reputation we need to take it to the next level.”

Paragano is spending more time in LA these days, to learn to better adapt Paragon's workflows to gel with those of Hollywood, and to cement the personal relationships that are the currency of all businesses (especially in media). He's happy that he was able to steer his facility away from the low-rate/high-volume paradigm that many studios have had to acclimatise to. But he's not ready to lease a Mercedes and negotiate a corner table at Il Covo just yet. "I like post-production — it's a great business. But I still love music.”