Keith Urban, Three Doors Down, Taylor Swift, Chicago, Michael W. Smith – the list of major artists who have recorded at the Sound Kitchen recording studio is a Who’s Who of giants of country, pop, rock and Christian music that covers two decades. Founded in the early 1990s by Dino and (former Kansas vocalist) John Elefante, the Sound Kitchen, half an hour south of Nashville, is one of the largest recording facilities in America, with seven recording studios, including a 4,000-plus square-foot room that might be the location of the recording of a symphony orchestra the next day and the site of a corporate training event the next.
A corporate training event? Yes, because in addition to being a top-shelf recording facility for multi-platinum acts, the Sound Kitchen’s present owner has devised a way to pay the bills in a changing economy, while helping provide an income stream for artists and songwriters.
The Elefantes eventually sold their successful enterprise to Dallas-based Weston Entertainment. But by 2008 the recording industry was in a serious downturn, and the Sound Kitchen was being considered for purchase by a large financial institution for use as a payment processing center. That’s when Ira Blonder stepped in. Blonder, a real estate professional with a successful track record of working on Nashville’s Music Row, says he couldn’t bear to see a studio with such a rich history be used for anything besides music.
So he bought it.
“I was involved in the sale of Ocean Way Studios to Belmont University, the sale of the Quonset Hut from Sony to Curb Records, and other transactions involving important studios in Nashville,” Blonder says. “I’m about re-purposing facilities and the preservation of country music’s history. It’s very important to me as a steward that these studios are placed in the right hands, because the history of Nashville and the preservation of the culture are paramount to me.”
Blonder purchased the Sound Kitchen at a time when smaller studios couldn’t stay afloat, and to keep the doors open he had to figure out how to keep the rooms booked. “We took about a year to regroup and develop a plan,” he says, “and part of that plan was to hold VIP events that would allow songwriters to come in and practice and demonstrate their craft, in addition to continuing to function as a major recording facility.”
So today the Sound Kitchen is the site of, among other functions, corporate team-building events that promote creativity and camaraderie, and give corporate employees a bit of a bonus for their hard work. At these functions, corporate staffers are paired up with big-name songwriters who teach them the basics of the creative process while actually writing a song with them. Then, after dinner and perhaps some household-name entertainment, the employees and their songwriting instructors perform those songs live for everyone. “It’s a lot of fun,” Blonder says, “and gives those folks a chance to use the right sides of their brains a little more than they might be used to on their jobs. And it gives them a chance to meet those people whose music means so much to them.”
American Songwriter enjoys a working relationship with the Sound Kitchen, and as part of his 2011 Lyric Contest “Grand Prize” package, songwriter Bill DiLuigi cut a demo for his original song “Between Nowhere And Goodbye” at the Sound Kitchen, with production by Grammy-nominated producer Kent Wells and a group of A-list Nashville session players. “The Sound Kitchen is the real deal,” DiLuigi says. “The rooms, the vibe, the hospitality, the history – it’s all there. You can make a world class recording there.”
Blonder may have some detractors who would take issue with the idea of using a legendary recording studio for team-building events or tracking contest winners, but he doesn’t look at it that way.
“This is very personal for me, and we work very hard to maintain a level of integrity,” he says. “Whether it’s with Dolly Parton or Anberlin or Steven Curtis Chapman, this is still all about music, but it’s also about the music and entertainment business, and it happens on so many different levels. My job is to preserve this amazing facility and help it continue to grow. There are great writers out there who have had huge hits, have great catalogs, but may never get another cut. So through the events we hold those writers get to live their accomplishments and enjoy themselves and we pay them. And to me, that’s success.”