Zootopia: Grassmere Shows Potential As Nashville's Next Music Nabe

Colt Ford 2015
The Factory by Goldy Locks

Colt Ford

Average Joes, United Pressing and FutureShirts anchor an entertainment cluster away from Music Row.

At many companies, the staff girds itself for yelling and ranting when the boss is having a bad day.

But just off Nolensville Road in the Grassmere section of Nashville, a handful of music firms are accosted on occasion by the sound of... spider monkeys.

“They just go ballistic at some point during the day,” says Average Joes CEO Shannon Houchins.

“After a storm,” adds FutureShirts GM Jon Ekker, “you go outside and it’s like a party over there in the bird cage.”

“Over there” is the Nashville Zoo, the best-known attraction in the Grassmere area, which may be emerging as a significant locale for music-related companies in need of large amounts of space. Average Joes and sister company Hideout Pictures, FutureShirts and United Record Pressing have all made the industrial district home in the last 18 months. Located five miles south of downtown and eight miles from Music Row on Allied Drive or Keystone Avenue, the companies occupy a space that’s much more blue-collar — and more affordable — than the real estate in the high-profile music districts.

But they’re also companies that do the less-flashy grunt work of the business. Average Joes does have a recording studio and some video-shooting capabilities on its property, but one of the firm’s chief needs was storage for its merchandising assets and a growing mail-order business for comic books and Star Wars memorabilia. FutureShirts specializes in music merch — T-shirts, ballcaps and jackets — and requires plenty of space for its raw goods. United is a historic record-pressing plant that existed for decades on Chestnut Street, surviving through the CD age only to outgrow its previous location with the recent revival in vinyl.

That Chestnut facility “was an older building, so it had some safety concerns, and then the [vinyl] resurgence pretty much kind of pushed us to move,” says United marketing and business development manager Kendale Rice.

The Grassmere location made sense “mainly because it was an industrial park,” she adds. “Lots of big warehouses and older manufacturing plants were already in this area.”

Each of the companies has its own quirks. The smell of plastic pervades the parking lot outside United, capable of pressing up to 40,000 records a day by acts such as Jack White, Bob Dylan and Glen Campbell. FutureShirts counts Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert and Alan Jackson among its customers, and it likely makes them feel at home by advertising its creativity on the front door, which lists such quixotic office hours as 9:01-5:06 on Wednesdays and 9:02-5:15(ish) on Thursdays. Average Joes, co-owned by country artist Colt Ford, has a pinball machine in the lobby and a rich set of props throughout the building, including a Stormtrooper figure that serves as a makeshift headphone stand in the recording studio and a giant Billy Ray Cyrus statue in the warehouse (Hideout produces the CMT show Still the King, which stars Cyrus).

All three companies moved to Grassmere from other locations around the city, each of them looking for space and/or affordability. United bumped its floor space from 40,000 square feet to 141,000 — “and we’ve used almost every square foot,” adds Rice.

Average Joes, which had been paying $24,000 a month to rent offices at Cummins Station downtown, decided to purchase a building and paid $1.2 million for its property, chipping in an additional $700,000 for improvements.

“We own the building, and we have over three times the space, so it’s kind of a no-brainer,” says Houchins. “We have all the functionality that we didn’t have before. We had a little studio where you can do vocals; now we’ve got a full studio. We had no space to shoot [TV and video footage]. We had to rent another place to shoot. And we had to pay for parking; now everybody parks for free.”

FutureShirts spent two years searching for the ideal location that would provide room to grow on a reasonable budget.

“What we have here is access to interstates and space for semis, trailers and buses to come,” says FutureShirts operations manager Corey Neal.

“We looked everywhere, and there were issues,” says Ekker. “A lot of places didn’t have loading docks, or enough warehouse space compared to office space. Nothing fit, so we landed over here.”

A handful of other music enterprises were already in the area. The distribution center for the Provident Christian music group recently left Grassmere. Central South Distribution still has a building on Vulcan Drive.

Average Joes has brought a couple of other entertainment businesses along with it. The company rents out office space to Girlilla Marketing, which lists Florida Georgia Line, Darius Rucker and Rascal Flatts as clients for its digital marketing services. Average Joes also added another tenant: We May Be Gladiators, a digital content firm that manages comedians, including Rodney Carrington, and has an associated comedy business, 800 Pound Gorilla Records.

Houchins envisions buying more property in the area, mainly for parking, since the company could be shooting three TV shows simultaneously and would need to accommodate crews for each. But he’s not alone in seeing Grassmere as an up-and-coming area for the right kinds of music companies. Music Row and the downtown area are still attractive for publishers, labels and marketing firms, and the Berry Hill neighborhood has become a haven for recording studios. Grassmere might well be the place where music- and entertainment-based production plants converge.

“The environment is very much entrepreneurial,” says Neal. “It’s enticing a lot of creative people. I mean, there is an apparel manufacturer who makes their own clothes in-house — you would never know she’s right there, but she’s right there. You have space, you have access, and it’s not as crazy price-wise. So I think we’re going to see a lot more movement here in the next couple of years.”

As long as they can handle the spider monkeys.