Interview: Rolff Zwiep, Blackbird Audio Rentals

How healthy is the market for studios in the USA?

Better than one might think, although the studio landscape is what is shifting. There are more home and project studios than ever and on that note, some of them are affecting the sonic quality of what’s getting out there as ‘finished’ product, but many consumers aren’t aware, noticing, or care at all.

Some large-format commercial facilities are closing and/or downsizing these days due to the lowered demand as well as basic economics. So fewer big rooms are available, but there is still a demand for them.

There are a tremendous amount of working studios of varying degrees in the Nashville area and many of them benefit from our abundant inventory. 

Has the market changed in the past 5-10 years?

The market has changed. It is constantly changing. It’s very much a moving target. Sometimes that’s OK… sometimes not. i.e. – the sonic quality of what’s getting out there now, is frequently disappointing and it’s not a good thing to see the general public getting spoon fed with it not realising that there is something better. 

If you are asking about the studio market, yes, of course it has changed. People are able to work faster (not always a good thing) with the technology that’s available now. Digital technology has changed how we do so much and that affects our market a lot.

One example: I have a customer/friend that cut his teeth on analogue tape in the 80s and learned everything about it. He made the transition to digital recording as it took hold and followed the curve with everyone else. Just very recently he bought an analogue console and had it installed in his home studio where he overdubs and mixes most of his work. Then one day he did a project here at Blackbird with a producer he had worked with before and they decided to track to a Studer A827, synced with Pro Tools. That session brought him back to the years he spent working with analogue gear and tape and how it sounded and how he loved working with it. It didn’t take long and he was shopping for a 2in analogue tape machine and it’s just about all he talks about now. Before he bought his own machine, he rented one of our A827s; we took it out to his home studio; and he overdubbed all the guitar on that project he had recorded here. He said they had not had that much fun in a long time and never felt that it slowed anything down! He’s not the only one, using and rediscovering the joy of tape and there are still a few manufacturers out there to support the demand.

Do you see more demand for personal studios over larger commercial spaces?

Not always. The term ‘personal studios’ can be defined in so many ways and the demand changes depending on the space, gear, people or budget.

Personal Studio 

1. It can mean that someone has built a full service studio consisting of a tracking area in their home or building that they use for their own needs and occasional custom projects.

2. It can also be defined as a room or rooms, in a home or building, dedicated to recording, mixing and/or mastering.

3. Another description would be someone with a desktop or laptop system, where it might be a songwriter, engineer or even hobbyist of varying levels of ability, demand, workload, and dedication.

We do business with these and so many more assorted types of studios. I am never surprised at who shows up at our doorstep to rent gear. It can be a total greenhorn or hobbyist needing a couple mics and preamps or a well known producer needing the exact same gear and either one of them might be taking it to their personal studio or some commercial space they have booked.

What about audio post production facilities? Is there much demand for new facilities?

We find that post production facilities are, most times, unto themselves. – self-contained with all the tools they need to do their jobs. We’ll occasionally get a call for some speciality item like a mic or outboard piece or something that doesn’t make sense for them to have in their inventory, only to use it twice a year.

Nashville is seeing more film and video too, so the need for post audio in that field is increasing. We have several very capable post houses here but there is still plenty of that work being sent elsewhere for all kinds of reasons. Mainly out of town production companies that maybe shoot here for sake of the location(s) and then taking it all back home for post production.

The internet has obviously contributed to simplifying high-speed file transfers around the world and so on. Someone like a producer or artist in another location in town or in another part of the world, can hear the results of an ongoing project almost immediately (sometimes as it’s happening). Most commercial studios and some ‘home’ studios have had that ability for many years. The technology is just improving all the time. Nashville is growing again, in every way you can imagine.

What are your plans for the future?

Plans are just that. You can say I plan to do this or that, but plans frequently change along the way don’t they? Right now the sky is the limit, as always. John McBride and Blackbird have been very good to me in more ways than I can describe here and now. After 10+ years it is still fun coming to this place everyday to do what we do… of course some days are more fun than others. So to sum it up, I’m pretty sure I will be here for as long as they will have me.

Lastly, do you have any predictions for the future of the industry in the USA?

Once again, plans for the future. There will always be songwriters, musicians, performers along with the engineers who will record their performances and capture those special moments otherwise lost to time, by whatever means. So hopefully there will be people around who want to capture these performances. So as far as it being an industry and a business, even though the form and how the business is conducted will change, I don’t think it will go away.