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The Texas recording industry makes its name with quality
On the Record

Singing sensations Destiny's Child, Pat Green and Los Lonely Boys may not seem to have much in common. Despite differences ranging from musical style to how long they've been performing, though, these performers and thousands of others have at least one thing in common: they're Texas musicians who have used Texas recording studios.

The Texas music recording industry involves thousands of businesses and millions of dollars. More than 4,000 businesses identify themselves as Texas music recording businesses, from recording studios to record labels to distributors, according to the Texas Music Office (TMO), the state's clearinghouse for Texas music industry information and promotion. The businesses employ more than 21,000 people statewide.

The product created by those employees and businesses generates money for the state in the form of sales taxes. In Texas, businesses that produce audio records, tapes and disks generated more than $3.5 million in taxable sales in 2003. The real money is in the final sale of music recordings to consumers.

While the state does not track audio recording sales specifically, it does track sales from record and video stores as a whole, and in 2003, such retailers made almost $318 million in taxable sales, meaning just under $20 million for state coffers, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

Quality, not quantity
The powerhouses for the recording industry have long been Nashville, Los Angeles and New York, according to Nashville producer Rick Clark.

"Every other house [in Nashville] is a studio," said Clark.

In January 2005, TMO's Business Referral Network listed 745 studios for the entire state. Texas has fewer studios than the major recording markets, but the quality of the state's facilities is on par with the big boys, said TMO Director Casey Monahan.

"Texas is very competitive in terms of the quality of the facilities and the level of experience of the people who run them," Monahan said.

Clark agreed. He worked with the group Los Super Seven in 2004, recording the group's third album at a studio complex in Austin. He said he specifically selected a Texas studio for the album.

"It was important for us to capture the feel of the Texas music community and do the project in the Austin community," he said. "We were looking for a place that had a good vibe, good atmosphere, a modicum of privacy, and [the Austin studio] fit that bill."

Clark said he intends to return to Austin to record in the future.

"I would be very certain of getting a great product at the end of the day," he said.

Clark likened Austin to Memphis and predicted steady business for the city's recording industry.

"Memphis is never going to be a Nashville in terms of the size and scope of recording industry services, but it will always be a destination for a segment of the music industry that seeks out the talent vibe that Memphis has to offer, and Austin is very much the same way," he said. "Austin is always going to be a music scene, and I don't ever see it drying up."

Ray Benson, lead singer for the Grammy-winning country group Asleep at the Wheel and a producer for other acts, said Texas studios have a promising future.

"The state is definitely a hotbed of activity, and it's rivaling the major centers as time goes by," he said.

Rick Garcia, executive vice president of Hacienda Records in Corpus Christi, said the Texas tradition of music is a plus for recording studios statewide.

"In Texas, the music scene is really happening," Garcia said. "I see us becoming a big player because of that."

Hacienda Records is a recording studio and label. The label specializes in Tejano music, but the recording studio services all kinds of music. Garcia said the label draws artists primarily from the South Texas area. He said different cities are hot spots for different styles of music and recording.

"Blues/jazz would be Austin; ad work and jingles is Dallas; Tejano would be Corpus [Christi] and San Antonio," he said. "Texas is so big that even within Texas, there's a lot of genres represented."

A bargain at any price
Monahan said that as the word about Texas studios spreads inside the industry, more producers like Clark will be drawn to the state.

"The more successful albums [there] are that were produced in Texas, the easier it is to attract non-Texas producers to our state," he said. "It's a combination of chart activity and word of mouth that ensures continued growth of our state's recording industry."

Monahan said Texas studios also are a bargain.

"All equipment and personnel being equal, it's less expensive to run a business in Texas than in New York and Los Angeles and to a lesser extent Nashville."

Cheaper business costs mean more affordable services. Benson, who has his own studio in Austin, Bismeaux Studio, said Texas studio prices are a plus for artists.

"It's a bit less expensive than in Nashville, New York or L.A.," Benson said. "We do save people some money."

Dan Workman, president of Houston's SugarHill Recording Studios, said sometimes his studio receives clients for the simple reason that they're there.

"We have had the major labels call us to work with an artist when they're going to have an extended stay in the Houston area," Workman said.

Other artists come to SugarHill because they like the sound of other productions done at the studio.

"We've had people come from all over because of our association with Destiny's Child," Workman said.

Destiny's Child, a Grammy-winning Houston-based rhythm and blues trio, recorded at SugarHill for their second and third albums. SugarHill, founded in the late 1940s, mostly attracts clients from Texas and Louisiana, but has drawn musicians worldwide.

"It's both a blessing and a curse to be outside the major markets," Workman said. "The downside is that we're not in the thick of the physical proximity of the business. I can't walk out my front door and see the Capitol Records building like I would in L.A. The good part is that we've learned to be very fast on our feet and very good and very quick. [And] Houston is an inexpensive place to travel to."

Changing the status quo
David Dennard of Dallas' Dragon Street Records is less optimistic about the fate of the professional recording industry, both in Texas and worldwide.

"The day is coming that artists will record their own songs and then market them online," he said. "There's a whole new era that's about to happen, and it will make record labels obsolete."

Dragon Street Records is a niche record label that focuses on artists who were small-time stars in Texas in the 1940s and '50s.

"The biggest trend in recording is that people are doing their own recording," Dennard said. "The technology has gotten so that with a little time and skill, people can make their own really terrific records. "I don't know how [recording studios] are making it, except for ad work."

Monahan said there's still a place for studios after a band records on their own equipment.

"Many bands record their tracks at home, then go to a studio to mix and then master [their CDs]," he said.

Garcia said Internet song sharing also is a challenge that the industry must meet.

"It's something we have to adapt to--evolve with," Garcia said. "It's not going to go away."

Workman said the key for studios is to work with the changes.

"[The Internet] has destabilized all the major means of distribution," he said. "It's been amazing. I embrace it. I'm excited by it."

Suzanne Staton