in Regional Slants
Colleen Cussick stood on the crest of the May 2010 floodwaters that decimated downtown Nashville and took pictures of a waterlogged building and building lot on her cell phone. But it wasn't just any building. Until very recently, it was home to where she worked - Brantley Sound Associates (BSA).
If they were still there, hundreds of thousands of dollars of gear would be ruined, and it's possible that the company would never have been able to recover.
But fate had other plans for BSA.
The original 27,000-square-foot building was next door to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, who is one of BSA's biggest clients. An older building, they enjoyed the location. But when a developer bought that building, Bobby Brantley took it as a sign to look for a place to buy. "We found a much nicer facility about five minutes away," Cussick says, which is 35,000 square feet and features a higher ceiling that allows for more shelving and storage. She laughs and adds that they've taken to giving tours to clients of the new facilities, "it's that nice."
And of course, then there's the timing of it. "If we were still in the other building, it would have been devastating," she says. But many of their friends weren't so lucky, and the Nashville community, not surprisingly, all chipped in to help each other. "Someone needed a desk and we had an extra one. Another company needed power and we gave them a real good deal. Those are kinds of things we all did."
As if the live event business wasn't struggling enough in a tough economy, the flood exacerbated the situation. "Corporate events went away or were completely downscaled. There were last-minute change of venues, but we still pulled off great professional events. You do what you have to do."
Instrument maker Gibson was deeply affected by the flood, and for a full year, few banjos or mandolins came out of their Nashville location. So with all they suffered, it was understandable that they cancelled their annual two-day Summer Jam event - an event that BSA does a lot of work on. But as they rebuilt, they wanted to have a low-key celebration this past September. They turned to BSA for that; and meanwhile, the Summer Jam is back for 2011, and the BSA team is looking forward to being part of it again.
The people at Brantley Sound have a lot to look forward to, as the nearly 30-year-old company stays relevant and active in an ever-changing business climate. Of course, like most regional sound providers, the company started humbly enough.
Bobby Brantley was born into the business, a business his father, Leland Brantley, started in the family garage back in 1973. At the age of nine, son Bobby was the cue card boy for Porter Wagoner, and, from there, he found himself pitching in with his father, doing sound for many of Billy Graham's crusades.
By 1983, Brantley Sound Associates (BSA) was incorporated, and was, for a while, the only local sound company in Nashville. The next year, Bobby graduated from high school and went to college studying radio and TV. He hooked up with Amway and was suddenly doing corporate shows 36 weeks a year.
There have been many milestones: In 1997, the company opened up the Nashville Arena with an Amy Grant Christmas show. In the 2000s they did a lot of work for The Black Crowes, the Oak Ridge Boys and many contemporary Christian acts.
Leland Brantley passed on in 2000, and Bobby's mother, Jane Brantley, was president until Bobby bought the company outright in 2004. Since then, he has continued to build and expand on his parents' good work.
A Parnelli Hometown Hero regional award winner, BSA has worked many great events, big and small. Clients over the years include CMA Music Fest, Fair St. Louis, The Tennesee Titans, Tony Bennett, Iron Maiden, Bonnaroo, and many others including Pope John Paul's historical visit to St. Louis. BMI, SESAC, and ASCAP regularly turn to them for their annual events.
Looking back, Bobby Brantley has a favorite: "You set a goal, and when you hit it, you feel like you succeeded," he says. "Mine was to mix a show for James Taylor." In 1996, he mixed Taylor's performance with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.
A diverse client roster has helped BSA weather setbacks ranging from the economy to the flood's aftermath. Brantley says he realized, years ago, that the company shouldn't "have all our eggs in one basket." The company's gigs are divided between corporate, touring, and local clients like Vanderbilt University - which can use up 16 rigs of equipment when all of their colleges have commencement services.
BSA has been successful with the people they hire, too. Brantley notes that many a returning client does so because of the people he has working with him. "Everyone here is a vital operations manager," he says. "My posse begins with operational manager Dario Ceragioli and general manager Keith Beck.
"Investing in people is the key," Brantley continues. "You can have the best gear out there but if you don't have the best people running it, you're starting with one hand behind your back. Also, it's nice when you create a place where it's fun to come to work."
New Facilities, Gear
This year, BSA has undergone many changes - from a big move to new digs, expanding their services beyond audio, and increasing their digital console inventory. They've added two Avid VENUE Profile consoles plus a Soundcraft Vi4, and dealt with the "frequency fiasco" that the new FCC rules on wireless gear (they switched to Shure UHF-R and ULX-P).
The company continues to grow with their clients, and their clients' events. An event put on by the Nashville Convention & Visitor's Bureau serves as a case in point.
"In 2009, they did a huge New Years Eve show in front of the Hard Rock Café, and there was a ‘guitar drop' instead of a [Time Square-style] ball drop - it was a roaring success," Cussick notes.
So much so that, for 2010, BSA was called on again, but for a much bigger event: They turned it into a three day happening, tied it into a pep rally for the Music City Bowl, added a battle of the bands, and made it a bigger concert. The event went national, as CNN put a crew there to broadcast some of the goings-on as part of their New Year's Eve coverage.
One of their biggest recent - and most satisfying events - was Screaming Eagles week, including an air show at Fort Campbell, KY. They've done it for years, but this past year it was enhanced, as ClearChannel sponsored the two-day concert that started the week off.
For that event, more gear was needed, and BSA had it. The mains were EAW 760s hanging on large cranes, and then there were second delays, also 760s, then a third delay of Adamson Y10 Line Arrays, all covering a parade field (they are officially an Adamson house).
Carrie Underwood, Hank Williams Jr., and Rodney Adkins, along with the U.S. Air Force Band, all played for 70,000 people. "It was a challenge, because we ran the delays with an FM transmitter so we didn't have to run miles of cables," Cussick says. "But it worked out fabulously." On this event, Cussick was a stage manager, and says she heard from military members how the event had never sounded better.
Cussick also enjoyed working with a special crew made of military members. "They were the hardest-working, most selfless people I've ever worked with," she says. "They unloaded the trucks, helped us build the FOH house and monitor world. It was such a privilege to work with them."
Many businesses experience growing pains as the owner finds himself trying to micromanage everything as the business branches into new and unfamiliar territory. That can put the business - and the owner - in a difficult position. Bobby Brantley realized that, and has successfully grown the business to the point that he can rely on a self-directed, self-motivated team while he gets out in the community and works on the big picture.
"We all enjoy our roles, and not a day goes by where we're not enjoying ourselves," says Cussick. "And that makes all the difference in the world, because if you're happy you'll do the job that much better. And there's nothing more thrilling to hear a client tell us that they can't wait to work with you."