Cassandra Tormes, 45, studio manager of historic Studio A on Music Row, became fascinated by the culture, history and music surrounding Nashville and its surrounding communities at a young age.
Originally from Chicago, Cassandra moved to Tennessee when she was 10 years old. She grew up in Hendersonville around Conway Twitty, saw Johnny Cash at Kroger often and lived around prominent songwriters.
She said she’s never had any musical talent so to be as close to country music as she has gotten over the years means a lot to her.
“Troy Seals lived in my neighborhood and his son was a friend of mine. I would go in their family room and see all these gold records lining the walls and I was very intrigued by that.”
“Country music just became a part of who I am. It became a part of my DNA.”
INTO the BUSINESS
Cassandra went to college at Western Kentucky where she graduated with a corporate and organizational communication degree in 1993 before returning back to Nashville.
“I worked at the Union Station hotel, and they would have these big number one parties, and at the time I thought I wanted to be at the party not working the party,” she said. “I was always intrigued by the music industry.”
When she was 26, Cassandra got her foot in the door by starting off as a receptionist at a mastering company called Georgetown Masters on Music Row.
Over the course of her five-year tenure with the company, she eventually became the studio manager.
“It was a good place for me to be steady and to sit and observes things for a while and learn,” she said. “I sat there quietly and took in a lot about my environment. I think I learned a lot of things that most people learned in school. I had to teach myself.”
While she was there, she had the opportunity to get to know the record labels, producers and engineers around the city.
In 2001, Cassandra left Georgetown to work for Paul Worley Productions as a song plugger.
“After I worked for Paul, I realized my heart was in publishing,” she said.
Cassandra worked with a few other publishing companies in town before briefly working with her friend Garth Brooks, transferring his VHS tapes to digital and archiving photos into a digital format.
She said when that project ended it took her about a year to find a job. Then, in the summer of 2014, the situation with Studio A happened.
“A developer bought the building and had intended on demolishing it,” she said. “Years before when I worked at Georgetown Masters, I worked with Chet Akins’ grandson, Jonathan Russell. I remember his grandfather coming to pick him up to go to lunch. I never knew Chet personally, but I had a relationship with him via my friend.”
She said knowing that Chet had built Studio A and developers wanted to turn it to dust did not sit well with her. So she started attending save Studio A rallies and meetings.
Working with one of the leaders of the rallies, engineer and producer, Pat McMakin, Cassandra was asked to create a database of those attending meeting and rallies. She became a key individual involved, and when the Save Studio A movement developed into The Music Industry Coalition, she became its secretary.
“I totally believe in the power of one and the collective power of people. Seeing how one person or a group of people can change the world is pretty inspiring to me.”
The studio was saved in the 11th hour when a man by the name of Aubrey Preston agreed to buy the building.
“In my opinion, the city government didn’t have much of an issue with the [building coming down]. I understand that people purchase properties as investments and I respect that. However, I think people who are in those situations have a responsibility to protect the city. You have outsiders coming in and making these kinds of decisions that don’t have the best interest of our city at heart.”
Cassandra said Nashville has an obligation to protect the heritage of what made it ‘Music City.’ Studio A is now in a protected trust and has been placed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
“Mike Kopp [president of The Music Industry Coalition] knew they were going to make some changes in the studio so he approached me about the studio manager position and I said yes.”
Cassandra accepted the position in February of 2015 and said at first being a studio manager was baptism by fire.
“I had to figure some things out on my own,” she said, also stating that she received help from Sharon Corbitt-House, former Studio A manager. “I tried to involve her a little as possible, but I definitely needed her input because I had never done anything like this before at this kind of studio.”
Spending most of her time booking clients, navigating through the intricacies of working at a studio and moving things around to accommodate people, she said as well as managing the studio, part of her responsibility is managing people.
“It’s a 24/7 commitment,” she said. “We do a lot of work with interns and we get to work with a lot of great kids.”
“People that know me know that I’m passionate about music. I’m passionate about the historical aspect of it. I’m honored to be a small part of the equation so that I can tell the story from the first-person point of view.”
GROWTH AND CONCERNS for a CITY SHE LOVES
Cassandra said she would be more accepting of the extreme growth of Nashville if it weren’t all happening at the same time.
She said the thing that frustrates her are perfectly good building coming down when there are big holes in the ground, like the one in between 17th Ave N and 16th Ave N on West End Avenue.
“There’s probably so much more behind it than I understand but to me it just looks like a hole in the ground with nothing happening with it,” she said. I would think a city would have something in place to not allow something like that to happen.”
Cassandra said, referring to the old Trail West building that once stood on Broadway, what gives her a yucky feeling is when developers knock down old history building in the middle of the night. She said it’s almost like they know there is shame in what they’re doing.
“They don’t do it where they can be seen, they do it in the shadows,” she said. “I think about the longevity. People go to Europe for the architecture in the cities are amazing and the history but in our country, we don’t seem to value that,” she said.
Cassandra said some of her other concerns are the golf carts being driven around town in highly trafficked areas where people drink, affordable housing and parking.
“I think everyone is so hurried to find a solution to transportation issues, but I think we need to be conservative in our approach to it. It has to be well thought out,” she said.
Cassandra also said she’s not happy to pay outrageous amounts for parking in the city, and seen examples of bait-and-switch many times.
“I love this city so much, and I used to say Nashville felt like a big comfy sweater. It was easy to navigate and you knew the back ways but now, it’s starting to feel like a big wool sweater. It’s kind of itchy, and I’m not settling in it very well.”
“As Americans and Tennesseans, it’s so interesting to me to know that there are other cities that don’t have that sense of community and taking care of their neighbors,” she said. “I think it’s partially a Southern thing.”
Cassandra said a community is an important thing.
Residing in the Sylvan Park area, she said she sometimes communicates with her neighbors through an app called Nextdoor. She said it’s great for many things like staying active in the community and neighborhood news or to find pets on the loose.
“Community is looking out for each other and people paying attention.”
She said when the flood happened a few years ago she took a day off work to help a friend from church clean up.
Cassandra said more than anything, she’s proud to be a part of giving a community.
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