Memphis’ museums cater to music tourists from around the world, but the glory days of blues, soul and Stax are definitely over.
Memphis today barely shapes modern musical tastes.
Now, a star from those days at Stax wants to put Memphis back in the lead.
David Porter plans to officially open his new venture, Made in Memphis Entertainment, a $5 million music studio on the outskirts of Downtown on Monday.
“We’ll have a viable music industry here within three years,” Porter said.
Led by patent and trademark attorney Tony Alexander and Nashville recording star Hamilton Hardin, the new studio has its own record label.
It also has three artists signed, albums in the works and Porter, Alexander and Hardin met in Los Angeles with music industry executives over distribution deals.
“You’re going to know more about Memphis on a national level. It’s going to be more of a music tourist attraction,” Hardin said. “More artists are going to come. When Bruno Mars and Beyoncé start talking about Memphis, it will have a big impact.”
A two-story beige brick building at 400 Union Made in Memphis houses. The former insurance office has been completely renovated over the past year, including 70 tonnes of concrete poured to help keep the sound outside of the recording studios shaped by famed British studio designer Michael Cronin. Porter recently introduced the new studio and revealed his big ambition to package and market Memphis music.
“He’s been talking about it since the 1990s. He wants to create the 21st century version of Motown in Memphis,” said music writer Ron Wynn, former music critic for The Commercial Appeal and author of “The Tina Turner Story,” a biography of the rock star from Brownsville to West Tennessee.
Considered one of the few musical legends still residing in Memphis, Porter remembers the city as an epicenter of soul music on the level of Nashville’s country and Detroit’s Motown sound – until the implosion of Stax by 1975 artists scattered across the country.
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Currently, the local recording industry appears to be booming, led by Ardent, Electrophonic, Phillips, Royal and Sun studios, although the company remains modest in terms of employment and national influence on musical trends.
The city is no longer widely known for producing new artists in the same way contemporary country and pop musicians such as Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Jack White and modern bands Black Keys, Kings of Leon and Paramore are associated with Nashville and its music industry of 20,000 employees. .
Made in Memphis could bring to life a music industry made up of booking agents, intellectual property lawyers, accountants, talent agents, marketers, software and PR companies, authors -composers and musicians. Many of the latter might have a reason to return home and buy houses.
“Any big band you have on tour today, I would say one of the 10 band members is from here,” Alexander said. “Unfortunately, most people in Memphis feel they have to go somewhere else to be successful.”
Porter, who was inducted into the Memphis Music Hall of Fame in 2013, said the new studio was created so that, long after his retirement, he could continue to cultivate a certain sound unique to the city, prepare the musicians to a marketable presence and ensure their music is widely listened to around the world.
“David has an established track record. If he’s able to sign major artists, he’ll be successful,” said Toronto music teacher Rob Bowman, author of Soulsville USA: The Story of Stax Records.
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Made in Memphis is home to a recording studio and goes above and beyond most other studio companies. It also houses a record company of the same name as well as a production unit and a publishing branch. In the music industry, these are the four basic units of business.
Because all four are inside Made in Memphis, the company is like a grocer that grows, packages, and markets its own lines of food products. Managing these processes allows the company full control over its products. Porter said this comprehensive roster will help energize the city’s music industry.
“We need an industry boost with a presence that says, ‘Stay here, grow this industry here,'” Porter said. “We have to build the energy first. That’s what we lack. The energy.”
An obvious obstacle faces the company. Musicians can avoid record companies today. Bands amass fans on the Internet. Fewer than 250 million new CDs, cassettes, digital albums and vinyl records are sold each year, down about 60% from 2004. Slumping sales have cut songwriter jobs by about 80% full-time Nashville since 2000, when half the recording studios had failed. by 2012 in Austin, Texas.
Rather than depending on record sales, musicians are now touring, playing in concert halls, stadiums and outdoor festivals for money. Fans responded, eagerly flocking to experience a live event. Two years ago, the top 100 tours brought in $3.1 billion. Concert halls and arenas are essential.
Austin bills itself as the live music capital of the world, while demand for live music has led Las Vegas to open five venues, building an image as a music destination and spawning local artists with national followings such as Panic! At The Disco, Five Finger Death Punch and Imagine Dragons.
Despite the national trend toward less recorded music and more live performances, Porter said he sensed an opportunity. Nashville’s pop sound varies little from year to year, while Memphis’ reputation for original music remains strong.
“The reason most people don’t want to pay for music (recordings) anymore is that they’re not getting anything worth paying for,” Porter said, adding, “Here’s the difference between Memphis and Nashville: Nashville has vibe, but it’s not authentic Memphis feels authentic, but it doesn’t stage the music like Nashville does.
Porter intends to give Made in Memphis a solid model so that when he retires, the studio can continue to bring in talented musicians who can write, perform and market music from the same way Stax was able to reproduce his sound years ago.
“We have a significant opportunity to make an impression on the world playing to the strengths we have,” Alexander said.
Made in Memphis will not depend solely on record sales. The studio will produce custom music for film and television, and will license music and market the Porter song library it has owned since the Stax era.
“Stax’s passing never took the talent away from Memphis,” said Bowman, the author of “Soulsville USA.” “Much of the music is rooted in churches in gospel and soul music. There are a lot of unsigned young talents. I see all kinds of people who could be stars with the voices they have.