Doug Sarrett long ago received some advice from his dad: “Do something you like, because you’ll be doing it a long time.”
A sound engineer in Nashville for the past 35 years, working with some of the biggest names in music, it’s advice he is glad he took.
Having grown up in Texarkana, Arkansas, he moved to Nashville in 1980 after two years of community college near his home. He chose both city and school because of music.
“I thought I was a drummer,” he said with a sheepish smile.
As it does for many aspiring instrumentalists (or other musician-types) following their dreams to Music City, life took a turn in a bit of a different direction.
Sarrett got to stay in music, still heeding his father’s wise words, doing something he likes.
Earning a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree from Belmont, with an emphasis in music, Sarrett began interning while still a student. One of those gigs turned permanent after graduation and he’s been at it ever since.
He started working in two different studios in Nashville, both now closed, and then started working around Music Row as chief engineer. Today he works primarily from his fully-equipped in-home production facility, “Uno Mas Studio,” (unomasstudio.com) in Brentwood.
To say there is variety in Sarrett’s work is an understatement.
“No two days are ever really the same, and that has kept it interesting,” Sarrett shared recently as he sat in front of the huge soundboard in his studio, looking back on another successful year.
In 2017 he recorded music for Disney Theme Parks (in Orlando and Tokyo), One Republic and U2, contributing to three songs on U2’s latest album, “Songs of Experience.” Although he never met the band members, it was a great thrill for him and his collaborators to get to work on their album.
The year also included a trip to Havana, Cuba, where he worked with artists, musicians and engineers there.
Here at home there were solo artist records, song publishing demos (for songwriters and publishers hoping for cuts by a major artist) and musicals for schools to perform. He did live performance mixes at Franklin Theatre and 3rd and Lindsley for such artists as Lynda Carter, Jesse Lee Jones, Tim Akers & The Smoking Section, The Eaglemaniacs and Twelve Against Nature.
“I’ve done projects where I recorded every note of every instrument or vocal, and then mixed the project as well, and I have done projects where I came in for one day to take care of that day’s needs,” Sarrett said. “I am usually hired by the producer or the record company, although sometimes the artist will
request me, to help get recorded whatever needs to be done.”
Sarrett speaks modestly about those record companies, artists and producers, but as he names his clients, it quickly becomes obvious he keeps prestigious company. Artists with whom he has worked, listed on his studio’s website, constitute a “Who’s Who” across various music genres. With few exceptions (such as One Republic and U2), he is acquainted with all of the artists.
Twenty-five years ago, Sarrett knew having his studio in the basement of his new Brentwood home would be a huge help to him, with working hours being anything but conventional. He took on the build-out project soon after completion of home construction in 1993.
Although he and wife Eve, married since January 1986, are now empty nesters, in those days they were parents to two young children. He wanted to be an involved dad, and had already seen friends in the business struggle to spend time with their families.
Although he “would not recommend back-to- back construction projects,” completion of the 1100-square- foot facility served its purpose. With his workplace just a few feet away, “I could have dinner, help with baths and bedtime” and return to work for a few hours when necessary. He and Eve have been in their home, and he in the studio, ever since.
The studio’s name has a typical music guy’s story behind it.
“It’s pretty unusual to get a keeper take on the first pass,” Sarrett said, referring to the usual multiple takes for a recording before it’s final. “So we say, ‘Let’s do one more,’ several times.”
With “Uno Mas” meaning “one more” in Spanish, a phrase most people are familiar with, the name for his studio stuck. He said there is also double meaning, as in “just what Nashville (Music City) needs – one more studio!”
Changing with the times
Like anyone in the business over the past 35 years, Sarrett has lived through tremendous change as technology altered not only the way music is recorded and produced, but the way consumers acquire it.
The popularity of compact discs back in the ’80s and ’90s “helped a lot of folks make a lot of money” in music, Sarrett said. And in those days, he might have three or four projects at a time from which to choose.
The digital revolution changed all of that.
Today, not only are the engineers and producers able to do their work and transmit to each other in smaller spaces with less expensive equipment, the consumer of music can buy individual songs, rather than entire albums, making it more difficult for anyone involved in the recording of a song to make money.
“I have had friends who gave it up,” he said, referring to colleagues who, as the business became more challenging, chose to move to more conventional jobs with more regular hours, who now receive a W-2 instead of the numerous 1099s Sarrett must keep track of each year.
Sarrett doesn’t blame them and even admits to some jealousy, at times, of the more traditional lifestyle. Yet he has chosen to stay with it. The projects keep coming and he continues to reap much satisfaction from the career he chose.
He said he decided to do whatever he could to adapt to the changing times, to make technology work to his advantage and keep up with the changes.
“I try to offer things that keep me relevant and stay at the forefront of opportunities,” he said.
Away from work
Another big part of Sarrett’s life is what he describes as his “healthy distraction:” his weekday morning visits to the Brentwood YMCA, walking distance from his home and studio. It’s there where he not only works out for about an hour and 15 minutes, but also convenes with a dozen-or- so friends. Regular early morning Y-goers can’t miss the chatty group that consists of men and women alike.
“The Y group started for me about 15 years ago, when I realized sitting and listening to music all day wasn’t good for my long-term health,” Sarrett said. He started his exercise routine slowly, adding a minute a week until he reached where he is now.
He noticed a number of folks showing up at about the same time, around 7 a.m., some of whom he recognized as parents of classmates of his children. Others he came to know by their simply being there when he was.
Over time they have become a close-knit group, and Sarrett especially enjoys the fact that “we talk about everything but music,” giving him a break from the long days of studio work.
“We’ve been through lots of life together – from weddings, to divorces, to grandbabies, to funerals,” he said. “It helps keep me aware that there is more to life than music, and those relationships are important to me.”
Even in his work, however, it is evident that relationships are important to Sarrett.
A self-described extrovert, he confesses to a bit of loneliness after long days in his studio when it’s just him working and he sees nobody else. After days like that, he looks forward to the ones when others join him on projects.
When asked about projects or events that stand out to him over the years, he immediately referred to the people involved.
“There were some great projects I worked on where I was treated poorly,” Sarrett said, and, conversely, some other, sometimes less-notable ones, where he was treated great and the entire experience was a pleasure. Those pleasurable ones, with enjoyable collaboration, are the ones that stand out.
“It’s really about the people more than anything else,” he said.
And in a business that has changed drastically and become more competitive over time, one has to wonder if that philosophy just might be the secret to his success.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at email@example.com.