Entertainment Industry Strategic Development Plan: Northwest Alabama Northwest Alabama Council of Local

Project Report
Entertainment Industry Strategic
Development Plan:
The Music Industry
Northwest Alabama
Prepared for
Northwest Alabama Council of Local
The preparation of this report was financed by a grant from the
U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development
Administration, with additional financial support from the cities
of Florence, Muscle Shoals, Sheffield and Tuscumbia; and the
counties of Colbert and Lauderdale.
Submitted by
John Briggs
Vice President/Membership Group
American Society of Composers,
Authors & Publishers
October 2005
Northwest Alabama Council of
Local Governments
PO Box 2604, Muscle Shoals, AL 35662
This report is a supplement to the Entertainment Industry Strategic Development Plan prepared
by Economic Research Associates (ERA) and published in September 2005. That plan focused
on the film, television and closely related industries. This report by John Briggs reviews the
music component of the entertainment industry, and offers several strategic action items related to
music that complement those related to film/television contained in the ERA report. The content
of this report represents solely Mr. Briggs’ observations and suggestions, and not that of his
Muscle Shoals and Music
On a recent trip to Europe, I encountered a number of Europeans who have an
affinity for our American culture. Several conversations ensued that typically led to the subject
of my hometown. When I responded with Nashville, TN they didn't even know it existed. When
I added that I grew up in the Muscle Shoals area, a wide grin would usually greet me. The
conversation would take an excited turn, shifting into the great R & B artists who recorded there
and what it was like growing up in the legendary town.
This eye-opening experience not only surprised me but more importantly provided a deeper sense
of pride in the Shoals area. Musical historians and Europeans are intrigued that WC Handy,
Father of the Blues; Sam Phillips, Rock N' Roll architect and originator; and Arthur Alexander
grew up in this small community. Collectively their musical influence shifted the musical
landscape from Europe to America. Paul McCartney credits his major musical influences
as Arthur Alexander, Tommy Rowe and Little Richard; all three recorded in the Shoals.
Today in Europe, classic R & B acts sell out theaters and even stadiums. A number of these acts
had their initial recording success in the recording studios of Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Thus the
importance of capitalizing on our Muscle Shoals musical legacy takes a center stage from not
only the Muscle Shoals community's perspective but also from an international one.
Ironically the importance of the area's cultural impact is somewhat an unknown factor not only
locally but nationally. In the Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame, one area is dedicated to key music
centers in the US. Memphis, Detroit, and Seattle are a few of the cities recognized but no exhibit
is in place for Muscle Shoals. Another ironic twist is that one of only a handful of film clips that
are played at the museum is the famous Aretha Franklin session at Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals
where she cut "Respect." When I inquired about the omission of a Muscle Shoals exhibit,
Terry Stewart, the Executive Director of the Museum, acknowledged there should be an
exhibit honoring the importance of Muscle Shoals and its significant impact in shaping the
world's music. From a local stand point, the community seems somewhat ambiguous about its
musical heritage. With the exception of the WC Handy Festival, various musical events that
attempt to honor, enhance and perpetuate the music in the area are poorly attended.
The Setting for Muscle Shoals Music
The “Florence-Muscle Shoals Metropolitan Area” consists of Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia
and Muscle Shoals with a 2000 population of 142,950. It is located in the Tennessee Valley
within a two and a half hour drive of Nashville, Memphis and Birmingham. The topography is
stunningly beautiful with rolling hills and an abundance of water. A number of streams and
creeks feed into the Tennessee River where the distance from one shore to
the other can be over a mile. Turtle Point and the Robert Trent Jones Shoals golf courses are
ranked in the top forty golf courses in the country according to a number of golf publications.
National fishing tournaments bring in top anglers from all over the country. The WC Handy
Festival is listed as one of the Top Twenty events in the South by Southeast Tourism
Society with an estimated attendance of more than 150,000. Recently the Marriott Shoals, a
four star resort hotel opened to accommodate the golfers and tourists that arrive to take advantage
of the area's resources. It has become a destination itself, booking conferences, conventions and
special events at an unprecedented level. A major tourist attraction, yet to be announced, will
soon rise from Veterans’ Park, across the street from the resort hotel.
From this foundation the Shoals is positioned to elevate its worldwide status. The
following is a basic plan that will enhance the area's musical legacy and provide a base for its
The Muscle Shoals International Music Legacy
Understanding the past musical history of the Shoals is essential in establishing a plan for the
future. Initially the native music innovators left the area to find their musical acclaim in other
cities. W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues and Sam Phillips, Father of Rock N' Roll moved to
Memphis and established their own brand of music. Buddy Killen, cofounder of
Tree Publishing and legendary producer and writer Billy Sherrill found their success in Nashville.
In the late fifties and sixties, James Joiner, Tom Stafford and Rick Hall backed by Hansel Cross
opened studios in the area. The one common denominator they collectively possessed was
financial stability. James Joiner's family owned Joiner Bus Line, Tom Stafford's father owned
Florence City Drug Store and Hansel Cross owned Star Motors. Utilizing their perspective
income streams, they acquired equipment and provided a financial base that nurtured the local
creative community.
The first regionally successful record was Bobby Denton's "A Fallen Star" produced by James
Joiner in 1957. James' patience and compensation of talent were an essential part of the first
sparks of success. He provided musicians an income and more importantly time for them to
develop their musical skills.
The record that propelled the Shoals into the international spotlight was
Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" that was produced by Rick Hall in 1961 at Fame
Studio and rose to the top of the music charts in 1962. This important landmark record combined
with subsequent hits on Alexander led to a number of artists seeking out the local music scene.
Jimmy Hugh's "Steal Away," Tommy Roe's "Everybody" and The Tams "What Kind Of Fool Do
You Think I Am” soon followed. Subsequent national and international hits recorded by
Tommy Roe, The Tams, The Spencer James Gang, O.B. McClinton, Ray Stevens, Joe Simon and
Roscoe Shelton established the recording industry foundation and musical reputation of the
An important part of that lure was the talents of Rick Hall and the first Muscle Shoals Rhythm
Section that included Terry Thompson, Jerry Carrigan, David Briggs and Norbert Putnam (a few
local musicians were inserted at various times during that time frame). Additionally two key
producers from Atlanta, Bill Lowery and Felton Jarvis, were instrumental in sending a number of
the aforementioned artists to record in the area.
Although recording sessions at Fame studios were union (American Federation of Musicians), the
three-hour session rule was virtually ignored, creating an experimental heaven for producers but a
marathon school of poverty for musicians that eventually forced the first Muscle Shoals Rhythm
Section to leave for Nashville. Fortunately a number of local musicians moved into their roles
and filled the void. As the years rolled by a number of these musicians would leave for other
music centers based on the continued disregard for AF of M rules. Collectively the group of
musicians, writers, producers and writers who left would be involved in a stunningly long list of
hits across a wide spectrum of genres. Rick Hall was determined to stay in the Shoals to continue
building on their success. The next group of musicians including Dan Penn, Spooner
Oldham, Jimmy Johnson, Junior Lowe, David Hood,and other musicians in various combinations
continued the legacy with Aretha Franklin's "Respect" that led to a number of hits by various
artists that included "Mustang Sally" "Patches," and "When A Man Loves A Woman." The
success created an opportunity for Spooner and Dan to re-locate to Memphis where they wrote
and produced a number of hits.
In 1969 Jimmy Johnson, David Hood, Roger Hawkins and Barry Beckett, with
the support of Atlantic Record's Jerry Wexler, left Fame Studio and established Muscle Shoals
Sound Studio. Within a short period of time, the next Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section had a long
string of hits with artists such as Cher, Paul Simon, Staple Singers, Dire Straits, Bob Segar, Bob
Dylan, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Millie Jackson, Art Garfunkel, Rod Stewart and many more.
A number of musicians, artists and songwriters cut their teeth working at Fame and left to set up
competing studios in the area. By the mid- seventies, at the height of the Muscle Shoals Music
industry, there were a dozen studios with as many as 150 to 200 musicians, songwriters,
engineers, publishers, and artists living in the Shoals. Quite a few of the success stories were
transplants who moved to the area seeking their fame and fortune.
By the early eighties record company consolidations and shifts in musical trends negatively
impacted the local music industry. Within a few short years several studios closed eventually
leaving only three open, Fame, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and Wishbone. Nationally, the
regional music centers were shutting down in Detroit and Memphis. In comparison, Memphis
was left with only one major studio, Ardent. Motown Records relocated its operations from
Detroit to LA. The end result left the US with three major music centers: LA, New York and
Nashville. Today, the three remaining Shoals recording studios exist, but on a level far less
active than their illustrious past.
Industries and markets change on a continual basis. Successful companies evaluate their
strengths and weaknesses to find the best solutions for their future. In the case of the Muscle
Shoals community, once known as "The Hit Recording Capital of the World," local industry
leaders failed to recognize and adjust their strategies to meet the challenges of an ever-changing
market place. The Muscle Shoals area can reclaim its unique marketplace status with a focused
community plan that involves the corporate and private sectors, as well as federal, state and local
governments. Analyzing current music industry trends with an ability to adjust to the ever shifting
music business model is a mandatory part of a successful blueprint for success. The Muscle
Shoals Music legacy has shifted the world's cultural landscape in the past and can do so in the
Strategies to Support Music Industry Growth
Following are some strategies that the Shoals community should explore to stimulate a more
healthy long term growth, as well as to stabilize the industry, preventing further loss. These are
offered to stimulate further discussion. Other strategies should emerge as a result of these
Expand the commercial music program at The University of North Alabama. The
commercial music curriculum at UNA is one of the nation’s oldest yet it is being left behind
by continued improvements by similar academic programs at other universities in the South.
UNA’s curriculum expansion should include more classes in the international
music/business field, in film and television and in the independent world of labels and
publishers. With the advent of music sales in cyber space the music industry program must
adjust to meet the new challenges that lay ahead. In so doing the possibility of the
commercial music graduate remaining in the area to start his own music industry
company is dramatically increased. In turn the area will be an incubator for dot-com music
company start ups. UNA can foster these music industry dot-coms and the cottage industry
will feed off its own success, thus creating more synergy that leads to continued growth.
Example: Based on information provided by Jay Frank, head of label
relations for Yahoo Music, two musicians from Iowa recorded a CD of their
band at home using their Pro Tools Studio and sent it to Yahoo Music.
Within two months they sold more than 65,000 units. If they sold them at
$10 a unit, they would have generated $650,000 without any significant overhead since
both production and marketing costs were low based on the Yahoo Music business
model. If you take this example and multiply it by 10, UNA students could potentially
have a 6.5 million-dollar impact in the local community. Granted the quality of the music
should be on a level that dictates such success but that would be an integral part of UNA's
mission in the development of their students.
The use of music in film/TV is an important growth area in the entertainment field. Music
industry companies have created or expanded their film and TV departments to meet the
additional music content demands from the film and television industry. The university can
respond to this trend by expanding the George Lindsey UNA Festival to include more film
and music panels with guests from Sony Pictures, Dreamworks, noted film composers,
supervisors, etc. Consideration should be given to the addition of coursework at UNA that
provides insight into that world (UCLA's curriculum is an example). It is critically important
that the commercial music and the radio-television-film programs at the university
compliment each other to insure their graduates have the proper tools to compete in this
growth segment of the entertainment industry.
Establish the Shoals area as a songwriter retreat. Muscle Shoals is conveniently located
to Nashville and Atlanta. One common creative thread that runs through all songwriters is
the frequent need to get away from it all to create their magic. The beauty of the Tennessee
River and all of its tributaries is one of the reasons so many outsiders said
that it must have been something in the water that spurned so many musical
success stories. Double Head Resort is the perfect fit for such a setting with water access,
cabins and walking/riding trails. Soliciting major music publishers in Nashville to set up
writer retreats at Double Head with their offices in LA, NY, Atlanta and London is a great
way to start this process. In this same manner, Miles Copeland, owner of First Stars
Management and founder of IRS Label, entertained writers from around the world by inviting
them to his castle in France where they wrote a number of hits. Of the aforementioned music
communities, none has the allure that’s found in the Shoals with its magical waters flowing
through the area.
Take a hard look at our aesthetics. One of the obstacles the Shoals faces in reestablishing
our music industry is one of community aesthetics. On a number of occasions I've invited
music industry professionals to visit the area. Usually these executives live in NY, Nashville,
Atlanta or LA. Their respective communities have strong building codes with historical
overlays and strict zoning. When they approach the Shoals area via highway
72, a number of industrial buildings litter the side of the road giving one the impression of
poverty or at the least, at attitude that says we don’t care. Warehouse buildings can be found
in downtown districts, commercial districts and even in residential areas. When crossing
Patton Island Bridge, they encounter a prison yard landscape with chain link fences
obstructing a breath taking view of the Tennessee River Overall this manmade visual clutter
detracts from the natural beauty of the area and negatively affects the overall perception of
the community. Changing this negative perception is an important part of the solution.
Florence, Sheffield, Tuscumbia and Muscle Shoals community leaders should develop a
centralized plan that addresses this important challenge. A few suggestions along those lines
include the following: Historical overlays, brick/wood/masonry requirements with rear
parking in downtown and commercial areas, exclusion of billboards in downtown districts,
replacement of the chain link fence on Patton Island Bridge and Wilson Dam with
architecturally significant structures that enhance the aesthetic aspects of the river and bridge,
reestablishing a rail/trolley line from downtown Florence into Colbert County via the
replacement of missing train rail/bridge section over the Tennessee River, rehabilitation of
historical buildings in downtown districts focusing on in fill of vacated lots with new
buildings that reconnect to the area's architectural past.
As a part of this effort, encouraging loft apartments and loft space in the proposed East
Florence (Sweetwater) Entertainment district for young aspiring songwriters and musicians
would enhance the community’s appeal for these creative professionals.
Support the development of more local live music venues. A lively entertainment scene is
an essential element in stimulating local music talent, giving young and aspiring musicians a
wide range of venues to practice and hone their art. The Shoals is making strides in this
regard, with recently added venues such as the Smokehouse Billiards and Grill, Swampers
and Keynote Room. Both the proposed Sheffield Downtown Entertainment District and East
Florence (Sweetwater) Entertainment District could provide many of these live venues.
Athens, GA, with its reported 400 local bands, scores of music venues and several recording
studios is a prime example of this concept.
Complete the Roots of American Music Trail ™. The Roots of American Music Trail ™
was developed in early 2005 to attract music heritage enthusiasts to the region which birthed
so much of our nation’s indigenous music. The trail starts in Nashville, Tennessee, passes
through the Shoals, and temporarily ends in Tupelo, Mississippi. Later it will continue
southward along the Natchez Trace to Natchez, MS. As mentioned earlier, awareness of our
musical heritage is stronger in the international arena than in our own community and the US.
Thus developing a marketing plan that targets the international tourism market will bring
increased revenue and recognition to the region creating a strong foundation that will
continue to grow. This process, over a period of time, will gain momentum generating an
increased market awareness and eventually self perpetuation of a vital marketplace.
Important elements in the realization of this plan will include financial assistance from the
federal government, the local chambers of commerce, local and regional tourism agencies
and state agencies in Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. Nashville is a logical city to
approach in this initial stage of planning based on its strong financial base and interest in
international tourism. Ralph Schultz, who chairs the Nashville Convention and Visitors’
Bureau and works closely with Nashville mayor Bill Purcell, has expressed in interest in the
music heritage trail.
Catering to the needs of international tourists is an important factor in bringing them back to
the area in addition to insuring they leave with a positive experience that will be conveyed to
their neighbors in their respective communities. The Retirement Systems of Alabama (RSA)
and Mr. Harvey Robbins have created a magnificent base of operations that should continue
to be expanded. The Marriott Shoals resort, Double Head Resort and the renovation of
downtown Tuscumbia enhance the area's natural beauty and appeal. W.C. Handy's home, the
Frank Lloyd Wright Rosenbaum home, and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame add to the
tourism mix. As mentioned earlier, three top forty-ranked US golf courses, the Robert Trent
Jones Golf Courses and Turtle Point are national lures.
Suggested attractions and changes that will enhance the experience of the Roots of American
Music trail ™ travelers include:
----Historical markers that include Sam Phillips home, Buddy Killen's childhood home, the
first Fame studio location in downtown Florence, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Fame, and
many other highly marketable sites.
----Bus tours of Fame, W.C. Handy, Helen Keller's Ivy Green, Sam Phillips
home, Frank Lloyd Wright's Rosenbaum home, Buddy Killen's childhood home and the two
Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (both the original and the final studio).
----Renovation of East Florence buildings and the implementation of the East
Florence (Sweetwater) Entertainment District plan.
----Creating a regional entertainment district in downtown Sheffield that attracts visitors,
tourists, conventioneers, and leisure travelers from throughout a 200-mile radius. Many of its
venues would showcase the area’s music heritage.
----Explore relocating the Alabama Music Hall of Fame to the Renaissance complex
(hotel, conference center, Center for Business and Economic Development, River Heritage
Trail, Veterans Park) in Florence. In the process, expand the scope of the museum by
renaming it the "Roots of American Music Museum." Reconfigure the museum to retain the
state's musical legacy but add legendary American music innovators to the mix to attract
more visitors. Live music activities should be incorporated into the museum with weekly
mixers (ala Nashville's First Center for the Visual Arts). Suggested location of the new
museum would be Veterans Park along the banks of the Tennessee River (ala Rock N`Roll
Hall of Fame in Cleveland). RSA should develop a live music entertainment district around
the museum that accentuates the river with the sounds of R & B and Rock music being
performed in each venue. Obviously strict building codes that focus on aesthetics should be
Typically Europeans take a month off for Holiday (vacation) travels.
Their preferred time of the year for travel is spring, summer and fall.
Currently the Muscle Shoals area has a number of events that fall within
that time frame.
They include: WC Handy Festival, Helen Keller Festival,
George Lindsey UNA Film Festival, Muscle Shoals Music Cityfest, Alabama Music
Hall of Fame Concert Series and the Trail of Tears concerts. Jerry Phillips is developing a
Sam Phillips Week that will provide an additional event. Assembling the collective events
into a sellable package will compliment the Roots of American Music Trail ™ (example:
Memphis in May and Morgan Freeman's involvement in bringing back the blues to
Clarksdale, Mississippi are both strong international tourist success stories). Special
consideration should be given to creating international tour packages that include regional
music destinations Memphis, Nashville, Tupelo and Clarksdale).
All music related events and area attractions should focus on highlighting the R & B/Rock N'
Roll musical legacy of the area (Example: The Swampers Lounge at the Shoals Marriott
plays a collection of R & B/Rock hits that were cut in the Shoals). A vast majority of
international travelers have no knowledge or taste for country music. The tourists that
do will find their musical tastes covered by the Nashville market.
Explore the relationship between music production and film/TV production for their
mutual benefit. The Shoals area appears supportive of the fledgling efforts to stimulate the
growth of a film/television industry here. Tonya Holley’s “When I Find the Ocean” has
dramatically lifted the profile of this young industry. And now an official film commission,
the Film Commission of Northwest Alabama, has evolved out of its status as simply a
committee of the Shoals Chamber of Commerce. Entertainment industry observers point to
the natural connection between film/TV production and music production and some have
urged that the new film commission devote at least some of its energies in support of the
region’s legendary music industry. The film commission can promote the area’s creative
music talent and production capabilities for film scoring, giving the Shoals a significant
competitive advantage over other potential film locations. One successful film producer from
outside the region suggested the film commission produce a short (3- to 5-minute)
promotional video about filming in the Shoals that emphasized the area’s rich and talented
music industry.
Setting the Musical Tone for the Future
In closing, the longer the area waits to enact a plan that preserves its musical legacy the more
difficult the task. Audwyn McGee is a noted Shoals artisan in the visual spectrum who works in
several mediums. Harvey Robbins recognized his talents and employed him to restore the
wonderful Norman Rockwell environment in Tuscumbia in addition to numerous other projects in
the area. His magical touches in the Shoals should be a part of the plan described above. The
Muscle Shoals area has an opportunity to compete with communities that are listed nationally as
some of the most desirable cities to live in. Some of those communities include Franklin,
Tennessee, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and Boulder, Colorado. One resource that is
missing in their respective communities is the musical legacy that only the Shoals area can claim.
Protecting this resource and insuring its future growth accentuates the importance of executing
this plan. Tourism, technology, education and developing a haven for writer retreats will be
the foundation to build on. Leadership, vision and wise financial investments are essential in the
execution of this plan.
Today is the day we move forward and set the musical tone for the future of
the Muscle Shoals area.