Some buildings are believed to be inhabited by supernatural forces, and there’s usually a negative connotation when a house or other structure is thought to be “possessed.” But with the Music Mill in Nashville, any type of spiritual presence that might exist there has produced nothing but good things for countless people over the past 30+ years.
Built in the early 1980s by producer Harold Shedd and business partner Donnie Canada, the Music Mill, at 18th Avenue South and Roy Acuff Place, was basically a big log cabin with an inner studio, a building inside a building. But it became a groundbreaking 64-track recording facility and the home of countless writers and artists, a place where history was made by people that Shedd believed in when no one else would. Such names as Alabama, Toby Keith, a pre-Mutt Lange Shania Twain, and others would go on to break the mold of country music and sell hundreds of millions of records, many recorded under Shedd’s guidance. The building also housed a publishing company with writers who would go on to write huge hits, and even become best-selling artists themselves.
Today the building is the home of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). On the NSAI’s website is a new video documentary chronicling the history of the Music Mill, featuring interviews with Shedd and artists whose careers were launched at the building, including Billy Ray Cyrus, Randy Owen, KT Oslin and others. The video was put together by NSAI Executive Director Bart Herbison, who jumped at the chance to buy the Music Mill for the organization in 2005.
“We were in what was the Bill Hudson building on 17th Ave. on Music Row,” Herbison recalls, “and we were bulging at the seams and I’d heard that the Music Mill was being sold. It was going to become a high-end Spanish restaurant. I called Harold and said, ‘Harold, do you want to drive by the Music Mill for the next 30 or 40 years and see somebody serving enchiladas out of that famous building? It needs to be about music, and it needs to be with somebody who launches careers, because that’s what the building has been about.’ We’re a not-for-profit organization with a limited budget. But after I made some calls to see if we could get some people to help us, I told Harold how much money we had and he sold us the building for less than what he was originally going to get (from the restaurant owners).” Now mostly retired, Shedd seems to believe that supporting songwriting over sopapillas was a good idea. “There’s nothing I can think of that would have been as rewarding as having the NSAI in the Music Mill,” Shedd says. “The building was always a friendly place for songwriters and publishers as well asartists. Bart has just taken it another step, really helping and educating people in so many ways. I don’t know of anyone who would be better in that building than Bart and his people.”
While Shedd is effusive in his praise of what Herbison and his staff continue to do in the Music Mill, Herbison is equally as adamant about Shedd’s place in country music history. “With everything he accomplished in this building and in the industry, Harold Shedd should be in the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he should be there while he’s still living. He has a gift, a gift to know artists who would change music history, and he used it several times with people who had been turned down. It’s unbelievable that he isn’t in the Hall of Fame already.”
With writers’ rooms, space for workshops, offices for 12 full-time staffers and Herbison’s own office in the room where Shedd once sat, the Music Mill is a hub of nonstop artistic activity. “It’s a very creative building,” Herbison says. “A lot of young songwriter and artist careers have launched out of this building since we’ve owned it. We say there’s magic in these walls, that there’s music in these walls. It’s not an accident that we’re on Roy Acuff place…it’s not an accident that Elvis recorded most of his stuff over on the corner (at RCA Studio B)…there’s just really something around here that’s magic.”