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Ben Folds battles to save RCA Studio A

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This week has been a battle of preservation in Music City. Should we save RCA Studio A or let it go? Monday, Ben Folds hosted a rally to Save Studio A, which has turned into a preservation effort to save Music Row because of its historical significance.

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Nashville has been evolving over the years, even more so the last couple of years with the building of condos and new convention centers and lodging options downtown. Ironically, there isn't a grocery store in the heart of downtown. Remember the song written by Thom Schuyler and sung by Lacy J. Dalton, "16th Avenue?" It would have the wonderful verse, "Cause they walk away from everything, just to see a dream come true. So God bless the boys who make the noise on 16th Avenue."

What would happen if the musical noise was stopped and the only noise you heard was that of a jackhammer and drill putting up yet another condo?

Ben Folds is aware that Bravo Development, LLC, a condo developer, is buying the building that houses the infamous Studio A. According to the Tennessean newspaper, it also houses offices of many others, including singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson.

Ben Folds has operated RCA Studio A for the last 12 years and has spent over $1 million as a tenant. Chet Atkins and Owen Bradley originally had the vision almost 50 years ago for the recording studio. Both legendary and newcomers in music of multiple genres have used the studio for their recordings. From Alan Jackson to Kacey Musgraves to Ronnie Milsap to Elizabeth Cook, there have been quite a few artists that have established their presence there in RCA Studio A.

Click here to read Ben Folds original letter.

Tim Reynolds of Bravo Development would soon respond via Nashville Scene saying, "it is our full intention to preserve and incorporate the studio into our design. We are now in the early stages of the engineer work and architectural work, but if that can be achieved, we will incorporate that studio and preserve it.”

Late Tuesday evening, Nashville Scene would reveal an open letter written from Harold Bradley, Owen Bradley's surviving brother. He helped build the RCA building, as well as being one of its current owners alongside the estate of Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins. It would be shocking to read the letter as it claims contrary to popular belief, Elvis had never recorded at RCA Studio A. Bradley goes on to say that the building was built not for nostalgia, but for business.

Ben Folds would then respond to Harold Bradley's letter with the following:

“I would agree that ‘Nashville’s evolving sound is a synergy of creative energy.’

As I said before, I believe that our music heritage should be protected and preserved. It’s up to our city and business leaders — working alongside the people who make and support our local music scene — to find the right balance between progress and preservation.

But as those folks weigh in on what’s best to do, I hope they recognize from a musician’s perspective that great spaces like historic Studio A — the only such space left in the world with its unique sonic and acoustic design — are integral ingredients in the recipe that fuels our ‘synergy of creative energy.’ It’s frankly a testament to the genius of both Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins that both historic Studio A and B are still state-of-the-art. These two spaces and their approaches to acoustics have stood the test of time. We are grateful that the current building owners have allowed musicians like me to work with and collaborate with some of the greatest artists of our generation to keep these spaces alive and busy.

If we didn’t have these and other uniquely Nashville music assets, in time I believe we would cease to be relevant to current and future generations of music makers.”

Most recently Wednesday morning, Ben Folds posted on his Facebook page about his reasons for not purchasing the building, as well as why he is passionate about preserving our musical past for our future.

"I’ve written quite a bit about Music Row lately. I’ve said my piece, however there is a question that keeps coming up. It’s a legitimate question, but it requires a few paragraphs to answer. So this is for those who’ve asked. Then it’s time for this piano player to continue on his orchestra tour in Europe and step down from the podium.

Why haven’t I purchased 30 Music Square West myself?

The owners’ asking price has been $4.4 million for the whole property (it’s valued by local govt at $2.4 million) not to be divided. The studio comprises nearly half the building which comprises about one fifth of the footprint of the property.

I’m a touring recording artist and not a developer or real estate mogul. Four million plus clams is well out of my range. As a tenant I’ve been trying to put together a scenario that brings the owners’ asking price, establishes the historical status of the property for preservation, and provides a cash flow for interested developers, but I’m just the dude renting this space. This has become even more feasible now, thanks to overwhelming response to my open letter. Now, with all the players we have on the sidelines, we have more time and I’m positive we can help pull this ambitious plan off. The obvious, easier and more regrettable path involves leveling the building and using the large footprint of the property, taking advantage of the generous zoning to put up condominiums. Let’s be real. Any developer that puts over $4 million into this property does so with intent to demolish and build condos or shopping and that’s probably why the property hasn’t closed yet in the face of public outcry.

As the tenant of 12 years I’ve paid $800k in rent, have thanked the owners privately and publicly, fixed what I could, and made sure the room was still making beautiful music. Mr. Bradley can’t ‘fire back’ because I never ‘fired.’ I have no quarrel with this man or his extended family, and I can sympathize with his plight and understand why he might take the history and acoustics of this room for granted. Maybe his generation can now appreciate that a musician of my generation or younger only has a few examples of the greatness of Studio A left on the planet. It’s a gift that Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins (and Harold Bradley) gave to the world, whether they knew it or not. By a few miracles it’s still standing. I exercised my First Amendment right to express my opinion as the tenant, and it turns out there’s quite a bit of support for what I had to say. If the owners would like to get their asking price, secure their family’s gift to the city and music history, and place the building into the hands of investors that can find the proper cash flow, then I would think I’ve been their best friend. Now they have supporters around the world who are also their best friends. It’s not my property to determine the fate of the building - I’ve just spoken my heart and put my efforts to brokering a solution.

My aim is to make sure historic RCA Studio A is standing and making music of future generations long after we are all gone. By drawing attention to this I also have the opportunity to cast a spotlight on those on Music Row who have been individually struggling with their versions of the same story as they watch bulldozers level acres of our rich music history every day. Now maybe #SaveMusicRow and #MIC can get together with the Mayor, and city and business leaders to galvanize their efforts. The incredible industry Nashville has attracted, from health care to car manufacturing, from future country stars to inspired tourists, are here because they want to be in Music City, and Music Row is the heart of that.

Nashville is good at getting things done. Let’s make progress and secure our lifeblood. Let’s take the tougher, smarter road - get past these few obstacles so we can move on to what we do best – making music."

Stay tune as the Save Studio A story progresses. You can also follow Ben Folds Facebook at www.facebook.com/BenFolds.

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