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8 Track Entertainment is continuing Muscle Shoals’ musical legacy

8 Track Entertainment

8 Track Entertainment and FAME Studios are partnering to produce a series of albums celebrating 60 years of FAME and the Muscle Shoals Sound.

I really look forward to a day drive in Alabama. The scenery can be ripped from a 1950s-style photo on one mile marker to the all too familiar cluster of dollar stores and Sonics five minutes later.\

I'd be remiss if I didn't note the omnipresent abandoned, once gleaming white homes perched perilously close to every Alabama highway.

My first journey to Muscle Shoals began on a misty March morning that was also unseasonably chilly. So much for my breezy trek under Skynyrd blue skies.

The reason for my ride was to visit the home of 8 Track Entertainment, a company making considerable noise in the music business. I was to interview the two men chiefly responsible for the growth of a label that also houses other entertainment endeavors.

I was quickly whisked upstairs to meet Noah Gordon, president of 8 Track, and Jeff Goodwin, the company's vice president, upon arrival. The walls were festooned with gold and platinum records, leaving little room for more musical magic and achievement. After rapid intros, I was transported to a land of great stories and memories of their heroes and their deep, unabashed love for their town, and in particular, FAME Studios.

We've done a partnership with FAME,” Gordon explained. We're going to embark on a series of albums. The first one coming out will be 60 years of FAME and the Muscle Shoals Sound. The lineup on it is Jamie Johnson, Chris Stapleton, War and Treaty and others. Candi Staton is doing a song called ‘Some Things Never Change,’ which was a big hit for Tim McGraw.

“What we’re doing is a partnership with FAME to do new recordings with current, viable artists of all this wonderful music that has been recorded at FAME and in Muscle Shoals through the years. With the docu-series of Muscle Shoals we will continue to tell the story and put out new music that’s current right now.

“Just because time passes, those songs aren’t any less great, right? The proof in the pudding is that you’ve got artists like Allison Krauss singing these songs. You can’t make any of these artists do this, they do it because they want to. They love this music just for the same reason people loved it when it first came out. They’re just as enthusiastic about it now and they love the idea of being a part of something that’s truly Muscle Shoals, and the opportunity to sort of reintroduce it to a new fan base.

“If you don’t tell the new generation and you don’t continue to tell the story over time, everybody forgets. What I want to do is just be a part of making sure the story of Muscle Shoals doesn’t go away and that the music continues to get an opportunity to get a new audience every year, and that’s doable. That’s not something that’s impossible. When I bring up Muscle Shoals to the artists with these songs, they immediately react like they’re teenagers again. They literally come alive.

“It brings back so many great memories; you just hear a song and you feel 18 again. We feel like that is a big part of it, it’s not the only thing that we’re doing, but over the next five to seven years my goal with FAME is to create these projects where all of those wonderful songs get a new life and get an opportunity for current artists, established artists and new artists to have a voice and to get to do their version, their interpretation of these songs to a whole new crowd."

Gordon then spoke about the reason to relocate his family and make the area his home as well as operations base.

"In September of 2021 the Muscle Shoals music association brought a group of producers, song writers, and musicians down, really post-COVID, trying to drum up business for these studios because, let’s face it, if Nashville is hurting because nothing was going on I can only imagine how few sessions were going on in Muscle Shoals. I came down here and just fell in love with it.

“It's so similar to where I grew up in Illinois. We don’t have the red clay but other than that it's very similar and everybody was super sweet, with a home town small town feel. My dad even came down with me because he’s a huge Muscle Shoals fan. I literally fell in love with it and I got to spend time talking with several of the business people. I called Jeff right after that first of the week and I asked if he would think about moving our corporation to Muscle Shoals? He said the only thing I love more than country music, and especially classic country, is the music in Muscle Shoals.

“We came down to find offices and set up some partnerships and dig in. It amazes me that a place that has sold half a billion records doesn’t have a big time thriving music business here, not just studios, not just producers and songwriters and players, but the actual music business. Why isn’t all of it happening here?

“It's going to take a lot of us working together. We’re just one component of this. We're part of a renaissance and I feel like when you’re one of the early people you got to get the megaphone out, you've gotta tell people and you got to get busy. It’s a whole lot of work and that’s okay."

Goodwin began explaining how his background and tenacity will help to build 8 Track and also push the multi-layered company forward.

"Can you imagine starting a movie agency up and business going out to Hollywood and trying to convince them to take my actors? We did it. Over a hundred films we've worked on, over 20 some odd tv series. I put people on TV and then all of the sudden the North Carolina movie business company shut down. A lot of my actors got older and died off just like in Poltergeist movies. So we transitioned to movies like The Firm and Forrest Gump. We also came along at the right time to help them get the Dukes of Hazzard on TNN. That sustained me until I got into the racing business.

“I began thinking about every NASCAR track I’ve traveled to. I got to see my family maybe 3 days a week and it started breaking my heart. The kids are pretty well grown now and I thought there’s one thing missing. I want to go back to the music business. My journey started in Montgomery, Alabama, with friends writing letters to Rick Paul at FAME to open up some doors and get an opportunity, not as a singer or writer, but to be in the business. It worked. I had to work harder than anybody. I did find my spot and that’s why I’m very passionate about my work. I’ve had to learn how to do it all.

“I worked at the Airborne record label and was head of A&R. I built the publishing company, was the shipping company and I was also the promoter. I don’t know how to work any other way.

“When I got into the racing business I had to do business to business. If you don’t do business to business you cannot get a $10,000,000 sponsor to partner without that approach. They'll write the $10,000,000 check, but you have to show how you’re running my company. That means I go to the race track on Thursday, I’m there Friday, we race the truck series on Fridays and Saturdays, then I go back home, take the family to church on Sunday. I crank back up Monday, and then on Tuesday I’m back on the road, and what am I doing? I’m growing their business.

“My reputation allowed me to reach out to all the corporations across the country that played a part. Those are valuable contacts and many are still there today. So, I know the role I play. I started out to be a producer, and I got pretty good at it. I got pretty good as a manager and had to figure out how we’re going to get the money to keep the bills paid. That's the role I employ coupled with the knowledge on production and in publishing it works well for 8 Track.

“I couldn’t find a better partner than Noah in this world and I look up to him. He’s 51, I’m 61, but I look up to him because he’s a very unique individual because God blessed him to write hits, and God blessed him to produce hits, and God blessed him with an engineering degree. He knows every part of the contracts because of his experience as a producer and artist on a major label. How many people do you know that can go over a contract and read every line with that kind of knowledge? That's what makes him special."

Goodwin offered an example about their symbiotic nature with the timeline of one of their hit songs. "Am I the Only One" by Aaron Lewis was a hit.

“From the time that song was cut to the time it was out, to the time when checks started coming in, you're looking at 18 months. I've got to keep the company running for 18 months until that check comes in. You have to watch the cash all the time and you can’t overload the foundation that supports this company."

The two men were quick to make sure that they're not the only drivers behind 8 Track's early success. Claire Cook-Taylor is the vice president of public relations/media and Ira Dean, 8 Track staff songwriter, are also essential names on the company masthead. I'd like to thank 8 Track staff members and Calhoun County native Todd Owens for being the catalyst for this story.

My favorite part of our day was hearing the plans they had to compensate artists, a concept that has been anathema for almost two decades. The pair detailed that much like vinyl has become a part of a release plan, local and regional broadcasting will once again be catalysts for new music. Outfits like 8 Track have figured out how to fill the financial void that the cratered coffers of the early 2000's left behind. The answer is in its past.

Songs will no longer be picked by faceless corporations to be stacked on homogenous playlists. Real local and regional radio will program for their communities. Call letters will fill the spaces that Google and Spotify can't possibly begin to.

Television has become more specialized, and content will ascend to its rightful pole position. The truth is that we have smart TVs with very little to watch. Creativity will trump big budgets and subscribers can rest their thumbs and restlessness. One of the more exciting plans is the TV component of 8 Track. They're doing a companion piece to the splendid Muscle Shoals documentary from 2013 and have much bigger plans to announce shortly.

These are just a couple of avenues in a myriad of revenue streams. Money will also be made in the future on multiple fronts to include publishing, performances and of course, writing great tunes. Steaming will also demand attention with more generous contracts. The newly established cut on these will serve the artist as more art is localized.

8 track Entertainment has two signings that should be familiar to everyone. The flagship artist will be Muscle Shoals' own Shenandoah, a ’90s bulwark against tired country radio. Fronted by Marty Raybon, the band placed an astounding 26 singles on country charts.

The second is Dan Tyminski, of "O Brother Where Art Thou" fame and a stalwart member of Union Station, Alison Krauss' backing band.

An area with a history this luminescent deserves a reigniting. The music created here left a plentiful garden that will receive a reseeding in the form of attention, capitalization and private/ public partnerships.