published Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Curtain Call: Thom Cavin circles back to songwriting

  • photo
    Contributed Photo Thom Cavin has worked in television production since 1985. His real passion has always been writing and performing music.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

THOM CAVIN

Hometown: Chattanooga Valley.

Education: Chattanooga Valley High, University of Georgia, Chattanooga State.

Age: 57.

Vocation: Semi-retired/self-employed Thom Cavin & Associates.


FAVORITES

Movie: “Captain America.”

Play: “Cats.”

Book: “Shock Wave” by John Sandford.

Performers: Bruce Springsteen, Jon Anderson.

Actor: Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart.”

Quote: "Love what you do and you'll never work a day in your life." — Confucius

Thom Cavin wanted to be a music star, but he ended up on the other side of the sound board for most of his professional life. At 57, he is now semi-retired from a career in television and music production and is back pursuing his original passion.

Cavin, along with Joe Logan, has created chattanoogasongwritersassociation.org in hopes of discovering, developing and encouraging local songwriters.

“This is what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he said.

The group has been holding a weekly Writers Night each Thursday at Sugar’s restaurant downtown featuring four local writers and one professional guest writer. They will host a two-day Chattanooga Songwriters Festival Nov. 18-19 and have plans for similar events in the future.

Cavin has produced segments for “Access Hollywood,” “Entertainment Tonight” and “Country Music Across America,” interviewing and producing feature package on some of the world’s biggest stars, including the Dixie Chicks and Bruce Springsteen.

Q: How did you get into production?

A: I started in TV at WDEF as an audio engineer. It was a turning point for me. I was so rooted in music production, I never thought I had a shot at TV. I had no education in it. ... From Channel 12 came the next big highlight of my life when I was hired as creative director by the New York Statue of Liberty Foundation. That was in 1985. That carried me through to November of 1986. I directed a documentary on the renovations and rededication of the Statue of Liberty. That was with fellow Chattanoogan Garnet Chapin. Garnet was project supervisor for that endeavor through the Department of the Interior.

Q: When did the Sound Lab sound studio start here?

A: 1988. Brent Mills and I had gone to the Stone Lion and drank a bucket of [Rolling] Rocks. We had a great conversation about what-if. What if Chattanooga had a sound studio? Would it support it? I was still the crew manager for Mid-America Entertainment, so I was working a couple different areas of the entertainment world.

Q: Didn’t Sound Lab find a nice little niche with TV and commercial production?

A: It sure did. But, after about three years, I realized as the general manager of the Sound Lab that Chattanooga only had so much to offer in the recording production business. It was just breaking even at best. I did decide to create a concert sound division, which I am proud to say is still happening today at Miller Plaza and Nightfall. Concert sound bailed us out.

Q: Is it the same company?

A: The company name changed from The Sound Lab to Sound Lab Audio.

Q: Is that still in existence? Are you still involved?

A: I am not. I sold my remaining bits maybe five years ago.

Q: When did you leave Sound Lab?

A: In 1996, I had the biggest loss in my adult life with the loss of my father. It was a big loss, but it meant I didn’t have to stay here anymore. The opportunity came from my friend Greg Travis, who I’d met at Channel 12, to join him in Nashville. He had just taken over the “Entertainment Tonight” southeastern regional bureau.

It was bittersweet because I knew I’d have to let something go. For the first 18 months I kept the Sound Lab and then was doing “Entertainment Tonight” field audio work.

Thirteen years into that, the next stairstep was that Travis Television now had these LA clients and we were doing “Access Hollywood.” It was formed out of our offices. They built that show.

Q: You were doing field audio with that?

A: Yes, and I also became a producer.

Q: Were you in Nashville or Los Angeles?

A: I was based in Nashville, but went all over the world. I was going to Australia with the Dixie Chicks and to England with Bruce Springsteen. I was thinking, ... “entertainment news has respect as long as it’s not tabloidy.” I didn’t jump out of bushes and I didn’t chase people down the street. I always said, “If you don’t know I’m coming today to interview you, then I’m not.”

Q: How did this work, or who were you and Greg working for?

A: We were what are called producer stringers or freelance regional producers. The shows hired Travis Television. Stairstep up one more and from that we created “Country Music Across America.” It was like “Access Hollywood,” but all country music.

Great American Country bought the show in 2009 and that freed all of us — [on-air talent] Stormy Warren and Greg and me — to do what something else. What “Country Music Across America” really did for me was give me publishing credits for the songs I’d done for it. So all of a sudden I’m a published songwriter. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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