The following is an excerpt from Making the Scene–Nashville: How to Live, Network, and Succeed in Music City by Liam Sullivan.
“I’ve never known a musician who regretted being one. Whatever deceptions life may have in store for you, music itself is not going to let you down.”—Virgil Thompson
Nashville, Tennessee. The name is known around the world as the home of country music. It has been referenced in hundreds of songs and if you say, “Nashville, Tennessee,” out loud long enough, you’ll notice it has a musical ring all its own. The warmth of those two words has drawn musicians of all stripes to this city for decades. For Nashville’s original inhabitants, playing music served as relief from the hard work and toil they endured forging a new life. They employed instruments such as violins (fiddles), guitars, and mandolins. They called out in song on back porches, churches, hilltops, valleys, and plateaus that make up the landscape of the state of Tennessee. It can be argued that music, to the early settlers, was as important to them as the food they put on their tables. Music was their spiritual nourishment. The songs they sang often drew upon themes from scripture, local folklore, and the hardships of working the land. They were songs of faith, everyday struggles, love, heartache, and pain. As country music grew in scope those themes would remain the bedrock from which future songwriters could pull inspiration.
Nashville is unquestionably a historic music hub. The Ryman Auditorium, which sits in the heart of downtown Nashville, has served as a beacon, if you will, for musicians for more than a hundred years. If you’re a musician, you want to play the Ryman Auditorium. The longest-running radio show in American history, the Grand Ole Opry, still broadcasts live from the Ryman Auditorium a few times each month. Situated around the Ryman down on lower Broadway in Nashville are the honky-tonks: bars bustling with live music, tourists, locals, and musicians from around the world. There is no other place like it. Amateur and professional musicians flock to Nashville each year to become part of what has become a musician’s paradise. However, the musical landscape has evolved beyond country music. Now, every genre of music is represented in Nashville: jazz, blues, rock, R&B, soul, country, and bluegrass. With the completion of the Schermerhorn Symphony Center in 2007, opera and classical music are represented as well.
Preparation Meets Opportunity
Moving to any new city is a challenge. For musicians, that challenge can sometimes be greater. As musicians, we make noise. There’s no getting around it. We thrive on working with other musicians and either playing in rehearsal spaces or gigging out. We need spaces where we can create, record, and hang out with other musicians. As musicians, we also need to know where to play, where to buy gear, where to see live music, network, and exchange ideas. We need to know where to live, where to buy a car, where to buy clothing or that cool hat. We also need to find jobs that fit a musician’s lifestyle.
As musicians, we prepare, we practice. We work at our craft so that when “preparation meets opportunity,” we’re ready. Therefore, moving to Nashville should be looked at in the same way. We need to set a budget and take care of all the variables before making that big move. Think of it as preparing for a gig. What will you need? A guitar tuner, an extra set of strings, extra pairs of drum sticks, batteries, a backup guitar, mics, patch cords, etc. In assembling these, you are prepared, not scrabbling around at the last minute asking other musicians in other bands at the gig, “Hey, can we borrow your drum stool? Our keyboard player needs something to sit on.” As musicians, we are constantly learning, not only from the music we listen to, but from people who see us perform. In the coming chapters you will read firsthand advice from musicians who have moved to Nashville and the challenges that they faced. I’ll also be interviewing music industry professionals who will offer up helpful tips so that once you get settled you can make your plan of attack and get your music heard.
There will be tips on how to get a music publishing deal and the benefits of becoming an ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC member. You’ll read about networking at open mic/writers’ nights, and how to find writing partners for co-writing projects. And finally, you’ll learn the best approach to getting a gig so that you’re not playing to the crickets on a Tuesday night at 1:00 a.m. I’ll also offer up my own personal account of the challenges that I faced as a musician when I first moved to Nashville and describe some of the hurdles that I had to overcome in order to make Nashville my new home.
The social diversity of this country is as vast as its borders. This should play a part in your thinking when relocating to Nashville. Social nuances vary greatly from the East to the West, North, and South. Nashville, like any city, has its own rhythm, and the more in tune you are to that rhythm, the better off you’ll be. Therefore, I’ll explain how Nashville became such an important music city, and how everyone from early music pioneers to today’s country music legends helped make that happen. Once you’ve figured out the lay of the land you’ll want to branch out to the various services that musicians rely on, as well as where to eat after a late-night gig (very important!). You’ll need to know where to get CDs made and duplicated. You’ll need to find local producers and recording studios so you can make a demo. Additionally, you’ll need to make the most of contacting local social networking sites, newspapers, radio, and TV stations that will further help you promote your image and build a following. Understanding how this music town works before you arrive is vital. By supplying you with historical references, modern resources, and interviews with a wide range of music professionals, this book will help guide you through the challenges of moving to Music City USA, Nashville, Tennessee.
Making the Scene–Nashville will serve as a comprehensive guide for musicians and artists of all types looking to move to and establish themselves in Nashville, Tennessee. Sprinkled with historical references on how Nashville became the home of country music along with interviews from a wide range of music professionals and resources, this book will become a prime resource helping artists and others meet the challenges of moving to Music City USA – Nashville, Tennessee.