November 29, 2023

Making the Scene: Nashville


Nashville’s been known as Music City for some time now, but things have certainly changed from the old days. I’m not sure exactly how it used to work when folks would make a pilgrimage here to become the next member of the Opry, but stereotypically this involved stalking a drunk George Jones in the alley between the Ryman and the famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Or something like that.

Today, Nashville is a major music hub for all genres, and people come here to pursue all manners of music careers, including songwriting, music publishing or, indeed, audio mastering. Not to mention that what you’re likely to find in the alley behind Tootsie’s these days is a frat boy puking – if George Jones was still around he’d probably be holed up in some swank green room somewhere taking shots of Geritol instead of shots of whiskey (his bad joke, not mine).

I say all of this because a new book purports to have the inside information on how to “make it” in Nashville. “Making the Scene: Nashville – How to Live, Network, and Succeed in Music City” hit shelves recently, and though it appears to be focused primarily on musicians and songwriters, the 300 page book says it’s for everyone interested in making our town the home base for their music career.

I haven’t read the book, so this definitely isn’t a review. I’m sure there’s some good advice in there for those that are new here, as well as some insights on networking in general, but seeing the existence of the book prompted me to think about my own experiences when I was new to Nashville, and for what it’s worth, I’d like to share them here.

  • First of all this place can be intimidating. Very intimidating. When I first moved here I only knew a few people, and sometimes I would go out to small clubs during the week. And I found out that on any given Tuesday at any given dive, I might see the best band I’ve ever seen perform live, even if they’re only playing to 15 people and were just put together as a one-off side project. As a guy looking to start a band at the time and not yet confident in my abilities, that can be a big shake-up to any confidence that you do have.

What I Learned : Turn that intimidation into inspiration, and use it to push yourself to be the absolute best you can be. This is advice you’re likely to hear a lot from people that have been here a little while – don’t just shrug it off just because you’re tired of hearing it – it’s important.

  • Also concerning intimidation, the town can be very cliquish. Though it is a nice medium size city with friendly people that are easy to talk to at the tons of bars and venues, a great many of them are trying to make it doing the exact same thing you do.. So many times those that have become successful (no matter their careers) will stick together and try to attempt to “block” the competition (you).

What I Learned : The funny thing is, many unsuccessful people will also try to mimic this type of attitude, which is not only stupid, it’s downright annoying. The best you can do is gather as much of that aforementioned confidence as you can, and if you are talented at what you do, many times you will become recognized. This of course is provided you also have a little luck (it’s an unfortunate truth) as well as a lot of…

  • Networking. You hear it all the time. It’s what most of those 300 pages in “Making the Scene: Nashville” are likely about. Location, Location, Location? Nah – it’s Networking, Networking, Networking. But here’s the secret, it’s no different here than it is in any other city, and the only secret is you’ve got to put yourself out there and shake the hands and go to the gigs and set up coffee meetings and etc. etc. etc. When it comes down to it, if you are not talented at what you do in Nashville, you will be weeded out because there are a lot of the most talented people in the music industry here. If you are talented, you can still get lost in the shuffle pretty easily, but eventually, having enough people know your name will begin to help lift you out of the crowd.

What I Learned : First of all, one great thing about Nashville is that networking often means you get to hang out late at bars and music venues, which admittedly is pretty fun, but it’s also not an excuse to get wasted every night. I’ve seen people try that and believe me, they get lost in said shuffle very quickly. Also, depending on what career you’re going for, that aforementioned bad word – luck – often has more influence than anyone would care to admit. Fortunately, “hard work” has even more influence.

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