This year, Royal Studios is celebrating its 60th anniversary in November with a star-studded concert.
The South Memphis studio was initially the home of Hi Records and, over the years, recorded many of music’s greats, both past and present. Al Green recorded there, as did Ann Peebles, Rod Stewart, Keith Richards and, most recently, Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. And, there’s no telling how many local musicians have walked through its doors.
Surviving 60 years in business is no small feat, no matter your size or what you do. People’s tastes change; competitors come and go; technology can render one obsolete seemingly overnight. But, Royal Studios is still going strong, bolstered by a Grammy Awards win in 2016 when “Uptown Funk” won Record of the Year.
While 60 years are worth celebrating — and in Royal’s case, there is a lot to celebrate — planning for the next 60 years, or even the next six, may be more interesting.
The music industry was one of the first disrupted by the internet age, and it’s of paramount interest, if not importance, to the current local economy. Memphis is always trying to capitalize on its glory days with the hopes of recapturing them anew.
Royal benefits from its lengthy history, and Willie Mitchell’s estate still profits from his songwriting credits on Green hits such as “Let’s Stay Together,” “Call Me” and “I’m Still in Love with You.”
But, the studio may not be as well-positioned as the layperson thinks. West Memphis’ ARS Entertainment owns the masters of the Hi Records catalog. Since splitting from Hi in the 1970s, Royal has existed as a sort of hired gun, a place where an artist can book studio time, record music and leave.
But Boo Mitchell and his sister Oona have a plan. After the festivities of the 60th anniversary, the pair plans to devote their attention to a new label, called Royal Records. By pivoting to include a record label, Royal can not only return to its roots but also share ownership of the recordings instead of limiting its revenue to however many sessions it can book in a year.
If Royal can succeed, there are implications for the entire city, and we are encouraged by what could be.
Any business, no matter how new or how established, must learn to hear the winds of change — and if there’s one thing Royal knows how to do, it’s hear.