Nashville Studio Offers Unsigned Acts Free Time in Return for Buying CDs

In a bid to keep its studios and engineers busy between major record label projects, Emerald Entertainment in Nashville is giving unsigned acts up to four days of free recording and mixing time. In return, the act has to buy its CD albums — at least $1,200 worth — from Emerald.

The company, which owns and operates several large recording studios on Music Row, numbers Shania Twain, the Dixie Chicks, James Taylor and Mark Knopfler among its recent clients.

So far, four acts have either completed or scheduled sessions under this new plan, according to Emerald’s special projects coordinator Mark Wittman. They include a solo act, a pop country band, a gospel quartet and a bluegrass band.

Wittman says he is interested in dealing only with acts that have developed a following and thus a realistic prospect of selling albums.

“Most of our work is master sessions,” Wittman explains, “and because of that we’ve got weekends open. I’m filling in the weekends with these projects. What we’ll do is record, mix and master a project for a client. We don’t charge them for the room, the engineer, the tape or anything. The only thing they do is buy the [CD albums] from us for $6 a piece.” The minimum order, he adds, is 200 albums. After that, albums can be ordered in lots of 100.

“We’re taking a gamble that anybody who’s worth their weight ought to be able to sell a thousand CDs in a year,” Wittman says. “By the time we get through with a project, our cost on it, depending on whether it’s a single artist or a band, is anywhere from $4,500 to $6,500.”

An act must provide its own artwork and the printed insert material as well as collate the pieces. Emerald will reproduce the artwork directly on the actual CD and supply the jewel boxes (the CD cases). If an act records songs other than its own, it is responsible for licensing the songs.

Emerald retains ownership of the master recording from which the albums are made but will sell it outright to the act for $6,000.

“I think it’s going to be an ongoing thing,” Wittman says. “It’s a great break for the little guy. As for the studio, we’re booking our down time. And our engineers, who are always sitting in the second chair to big producers, get to sit in the first chair [on these projects]. So they get more [producing] experience.”

Recording technology veteran Glenn Meadows, who masters all Emerald’s major label work, also handles the mastering for this project.

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to