Recording studio owner leaves Nashville for Memphis

Friday, December 29, 2017, Vol. 41, No. 52
By Andy Meek

MEMPHIS – A little more than a year ago, Scott McEwen had an epiphany that would end up bringing the Nashville recording studio owner to Memphis.

The landlord where he operated his Fry Pharmacy studio IN East Nashville – so named for being housed in a 1920s-era building in Nashville that was once the site of, you guessed it, a pharmacy – started hiking his rent.

The writing at that point, McEwen explains, was on the wall.

So, he started looking elsewhere in Nashville for a space to which he could relocate. Except in the 11 years his studio had been in business, a real estate boom hit Nashville. Prices, to McEwen, looked astronomically high. He looked outside the city, to the suburbs. Then farther and farther out.

So far out that he ultimately found himself considering the home of the blues.

“I’d started realizing, ‘Man, I don’t want to open up a studio in these farther-out towns,’” says McEwen, a native of Detroit and musician for most of his life, as well as a self-professed “gearhead” when it comes to recording equipment.

“I was like, you know what? I don’t even like Nashville! The traffic is brutal. You can’t even get a hamburger. Every hamburger is, like, some fancy, you know, farm-to-table hamburger that’s like $18. I don’t even like it!

“So, I was just sitting there looking at a map and going, ‘I’m going to move to Memphis.’ By the way, most of clients don’t even live in (Nashville). They travel to record with me.”

Which is to say Memphis would work just as well as Nashville for his purposes – or, rather, just as well as Nashville used to.

McEwen changed the name – to Memphis Magnetic Recording Co. It took him two weeks, but he found the right spot and a building he fell in love with, a few blocks south of Beale Street at 618 Vance Ave.

He and wife Claire are in the process of moving to Memphis – McEwen says he’s staying with a friend here at the moment – and rehabbing the studio space to get it ready for a February opening.

Unlike in Nashville, where he rented, he was able to not only afford the space in Memphis, he was able to buy it. The Economic Development Growth Engine for Memphis & Shelby County awarded the McEwens a $20,000 Inner City Economic Development (ICED) loan to help improve the building’s exterior appearance, as well as to expand the facility and install a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system.

According to the EDGE board, the loan will help restore the 1,990-square-foot building and expand it to include a loading area, lobby, main entrance and a restroom that complies with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, plus the HVAC system.

In documentation supporting the loan award, EDGE officials said the studio, which will target roots rock, blues and soul music, “will specialize in offering access to museum-quality vintage analog equipment in a new, high-quality studio setting.”

McEwen didn’t tell clients and everyone else he knew, at first, about the relocation to Memphis. He leaked it out to a few clients, and all of them told him it was a good move, that “we love Memphis.”

He has a thing for old buildings in a city’s downtown. That’s apparently what drew him to the Vance Avenue space that was built in 1920, according to EDGE documentation. It’s brick, and the walls are “like a foot-and-a-half thick.”

“We’re a full-fledged recording studio, but I also wanted to change the name to have a totally new fresh start,” McEwen says. “I have this feel like – I’m not trying to get all hippie on you – but I feel like there’s this magnetic pull of Memphis to music. And I also record on magnetic tape. It’s like, Memphis Magnetic Recording. It’s perfect.”