Brett Nolan threw himself into the music industry in high school, when he played in a local reggae band. His interest in recording was piqued very shortly after that when his band visited a recording studio in Jamaica. His combined business and recording school knowledge from the Recording Workshop gave him the foundation to self-start and grow a business called The Soundry, a small studio tucked away in Soddy–Daisy. When not recording music, he is a gun-for-hire keyboardist with a wide range of stylistic abilities.
What is the Soundry? How long has it been around?
Brett: The Soundry was originally called Studio 27 and it was an empty space that musician Eric Parker approached me about. He called one day and told me that he had this space and equipment and wanted to know if I wanted to help him build a studio there. We started small by building a few walls and functioned pretty minimally for about two years before we realized we were gaining interest from others who wanted to see a studio in this area of town. That knowledge paired with the number of connections I’ve made over the years that I knew would want to come use this space took us to the next step of sinking some money into the place to upgrade it in April 2013. We’ve been here for almost five years now.
Why is it called the Soundry?
Brett: It was actually Eric’s idea. He is a co-owner with Ben Parker Steel Company, which explains all the steel and steel fabrication decorating the place. He sent me a text one day asking me what I thought about calling the studio “The Soundry,” and I told him I loved it. I think it’s fitting for all the metalwork we have in here, but I did find the quantity alarming the first time I checked the place out because metal doesn’t lend itself to good acoustics. We use it sparingly, but still choose to keep it around. The name hearkens back to a time when Chattanooga was most well known for its steel foundries.
Why did you see a need for this in town, and in particular why in Soddy-Daisy?
Brett: The only studios that were in town before we came into the picture were in the Northshore area, and they never stuck around for long. I come from the late 90’s-early 2000’s when Elmer Cole and Pyramid Studios on Lookout Mountain kind of ruled the scene since the 80’s. It was a classic, big studio. When Mike Johnson’s Ultrasound Studios went out of business and Pyramid Studios was torn down, we just wanted to keep the spirit of having somewhere to go, escape the world, and create alive. You can escape distractions like being interrupted by your children, or the UPS man knocking on your door, or your spouse telling you to take out the trash. Recording is like church in a lot of ways. You go there to focus on something and then when you’re done, release yourself back into the world. There weren’t a lot of locations like that and the ones that were around didn’t last very long. Our goal was to have a place that would be stable, have low overhead, and that would stick around and be there for artists. There wasn’t anything like that on this side of town. At first it was an accident; it evolved into The Soundry and has been successful ever since.
What are some common questions/issues you encounter when working with musicians?
Brett: I think that musicians, especially new ones, come in with an idea of how the process is supposed to go. Often, it’s not the most cost-effective or productive way to go about the recording process. It’s not my job to tell them what to do, it’s my job to hit record. If they do ask, however, I will share my opinion with them.
I see a lot of unfinished work here. People will come in and start projects with such passion but due to money or life circumstances, things don’t tend to get finished – especially if they are recording their project in small increments. Coming in for a whole weekend and knocking out as much as they can means life doesn’t get in the way as much and you have more time to focus on your project. We try to keep our costs down so people can accomplish more at any given time. The more hours you book back to back, the cheaper the time is. The best results come from booking the studio for two days and making a goal of accomplishing as much as possible without sacrificing precision and artistry because the project isn’t sitting in limbo for years. Those projects tend to be completed and are shared with the public, which is ultimately the goal of recording in the first place.
I also see people giving away their music, which is the new norm I suppose. I can’t say that I’m a big fan of that but there’s not much we can do about that. I think that the time you put into recording a song or art is the same as a painter giving their art away. I think it cheapens the art and makes it less about the art and more about you. Having said that, I am a little older than current artists are and I could easily be the guy who preferred the old days. I think that any art needs to be valued, because a print of a Picasso isn’t the same as the original piece. I think that having an MP3 of a song isn’t as genuine as having the original recording. Unfortunately many listeners don’t care either way. Either we’re gonna see a resurgence in appreciation for the original medium or the art will continue to cheapen where the music is your business card and everything else is persona and social media popularity and I’m not very encouraged by that at this point. I’m open to evolving on that though.
What musicians have you worked with?
Brett: I work regularly with Randy Steele, TJ Greever, Broke Down Hound, Courtney Holder, the Molly Maguires, Drakeford, Amber Fults, and so many more in town that are so talented.
What advice would you give rising musicians?
Brett: Don’t let the legalities and details dissuade you from accomplishing your goals with your art. It’s unfortunate that we have to walk that line between balancing business and art but give equal attention to both and don’t lose yourself in the balance. Listen to people who have been there before and have experienced it. If they fell on their faces, then listen a little harder because they have a lesson worth learning from. Stay humble and people will want to support you. The more you listen, the more you’ll be listened to. Your quality of character is more important than who you know, and shapes who you get to know.