Old music store spawns 2 businesses
Retail is a tough business. There are trends to be followed and merchandise that has to be kept current. Advertising, employees. It all adds up. I know very little about the inner workings, but I do know online sells have hurt mom and pop stores. This is particularly true in the music business.
The two largest guitar makers, Gibson and Fender, made decisions to sell only to big box and very large stores, leaving stores like Brookhaven Music and Sound to find either lesser lines or used equipment. There are great instruments made by the smaller companies, but if you want a Fender, you want a Fender. So in February 2019, Tyler Bridge closed the area's last music store. He fought the good fight and outlasted most, but the end was inevitable.
Yet there were profitable parts of the business and on Monday after the Saturday Bridge closed his store, Tony Norton and Gregory Smith, who had worked at the Bridge store teaching guitar lessons, repairing guitars and renting band instruments, moved down Railroad Ave and opened a new business -- Downtown Music Academy (DMA). Bridge moved around the corner and opened Brookhaven Sound Studios, where he records everything from radio commercials, cheerleader and dance line cuts to full albums for bands.
On March 2, Norton and Smith celebrated their second year of operation. What began on a wing and a prayer has become a thriving business filling a very specific void. DMA's Norton and Smith looked around town and noticed there were private teachers for every student activity: martial arts, dance and gymnastics. High school athletes could get all the private help they needed to improve their skills. What was missing was a comprehensive program for students interested in music.
DMA now has nine faculty and over one hundred students that range from pre-teens to older adults, says Smith, who runs the lessons side of the business. It has teachers for piano, violin, guitar, wind instruments, and percussion. “We’ve had quite a growth spell with students recently,” he adds.
One of the real surprises at DMA is the amount of repairs Norton has on his desk. “There are a lot of guitars in this area that need attention,” he points out. Not only does he repair guitars but all string instruments, including mandolins, banjos, both electric and acoustic guitars. Norton’s reputation has grown quickly, and now he has artists from all over the area who allow him work on their gear. Norton also handles the band instrument rental program.
Bridge operated what is now Brookhaven Sound Studios in the back of the defunct Brookhaven Music and Sound, he has moved it up front in its new location on Cherokee Street, and he is staying busier than ever. His facility includes a very professional setup with a control room, isolation booth and a large room for full bands. That large room also serves as the rehearsal hall for the Bridge Band, which he continues to lead. Among five recent projects, Bridge is working with two new artists on their first recordings and others on follow up albums.
Avery Landrum, 19, originally from St Francisville, Louisiana, and now living in Brookhaven, is working on her first serious record with Bridge -- an EP with five original songs. Landrum, who has been performing solo since she was 13 years old, is a well seasoned veteran at a young age. “She’s really talented, her songs are good and she knows what she wants,” says Bridge. "That's not always the case."
Landrum recorded a few songs when she was 16, but this is her first full project with Bridge. “I met Tyler in Natchez at the songwriters night at Natchez Brewery." she relates. "He asked me to drop by the studio and we just hit it off. We think a lot alike creatively and I know he’ll be able to produce the sounds I want for my songs. He’s super easy to work with.”
That’s it for now. Be safe. Wear your mask. As the pandemic takes a downward turn, outdoor music festivals will return. Brookstock and Overbrook Song Writers Festival are on the calendar for late summer. Performers are looking forward to getting back in front of you, the audience. Take the shot and let’s get back to some semblance of normalcy.
Support the arts and the artists, my friends.
EDITOR'S NOTE:Shaw Furlow is a local composer, musician and arts promoter. He produces an internet-based video show -- From the Shadyside -- that spotlights area musical talent and is a consultant to school bands in the region.