Nashville for the Independent Musician can be heaven or hell and sometimes both at the same time. Music City still remains one of the most exciting places to be and work as a writer or musician. But you need to do it right. You need to know the rules – and eventually, break them. Here are some tips to help you navigate this soulful, harsh, competitive and amazing city we love to call our home.
The New Nashville
New or not yet in town? Here’s a quick reality check about good ole Nash. It’s not what the famous TV show tells you it is. Obviously. It’s also not just honky tonk central – most locals wouldn’t ever be caught dead on Broadway. It’s just an American city, like so many others, where the economy is insanely good and where the East Side has been taken over by a flock of hipsters, hippies and young professionals of all kinds. So put your sneakers back on.
What does it mean?
- You will not play at the Bluebird within a month of arriving to town.
- You shouldn’t walk around town in your blue, red and white cowboy boots and fringed leather jacket just because you heard it in a song (do it if it really is who you are though…by all means!). Nashville is not a Halloween party. Just be yourself.
- There is a thriving indie scene in town covering all genres and people are more than excited to hear and see something different from the old fashioned singer-songwriter night or honky tonk parody.
In Nashville and in the music industry in general, it often simply comes down to whom you know rather than how good or qualified you are. Life ain’t fair and the world is mean, remember?
This applies to the music biz people as much as it does to musicians. But really, you gotta be pretty good to make it here.
Some make it here purely because they have impeccable technique and work ethics. This is often the fruit of hard work and does not necessarily mean they’re all great artists. But then again, hard work comes first. Others make it because they really are something else and have a story to tell. And this is where they’ll find the top notch musicians who’ll help them shape a professional sound. If you have both the technique and the talent, keep working, you came to the right place.
But above all: You gotta network. Dirty, I hear you say. Well get over it, is all I can answer.
You need to make friends and get to know everyone in town. Everyone will tell you, Nashville still feels like a small town most of the time. People know who’s who and who’s doing what. Word gets around. Everyone will know about your moodiness or lack of punctuality real fast. So make sure you don’t get a bad rep while you can’t afford it. No one here has any patience for musicians who can’t be on time, didn’t rehearse or passed out in the green room. Be a pro.
How to network?
Nashville has wifi and it could help. If you don’t know anyone in town, check out the many Facebook Groups for Nashville musicians and go to all the events where you could start finding your people. Greet musicians after the sets, introduce yourself. Hustle.
There’s an app fo that.
Make sure to use social media but also networking apps:
LinkedIn – not the best for this industry, but still good for research and maybe find the right connections.
JammCard – Invite based app only, try and get yours.
BumbleBiz – Yes, Bumble, like Bumble Date. Whether you’re looking for love or not, you may find it helpful to look for other professionals looking to network.
Shapr – Shapr is not yet huge in Nashville but there’s more and more people giving it a try. So should you. Have coffee with a sound engineer, make friends with a stylist, find co-writers.
Calling All Songwriters
Want to be a songwriter in Nashville? Welcome. The town is full of opportunities and good people who will help you navigate the city and play writers nights. But the competition being the most serious and fierce in the world, you will have to roll up your sleeves and prove a work ethic of the highest level.
So you want to play the Bluebird? Maybe you will. Make sure you call them every Monday morning and try your luck. Also check out the auditions for a Sunday night spot once a quarter.
But more importantly, look at all the other songwriter nights this city has to offer including but not limited to the Commodore Grille, Merridee’s in Franklin, Bobby’s Iddle Hour on Music Row, the Crying Wolf in East Nashville and so many others.
Get in touch with the organisers. If you can’t find them, talk to people who’ve played there to get the right contact. You’ll owe them a favour, which is good, it means you’re connecting.
And finally, check out if Songwriters Associations could help you (NSAI, TSAI…). They work for some, not for all. While you have to pay a monthly membership, you can also enjoy writing room access, pitching events and access to other members’ info to find your perfect co-writer.
Spread Love it’s the Nashville Way
And last but not least. Be nice. As in, real nice. People in Nashville are friendly and they mean it. Be sure to respect and embrace that warm Southern vibe. It’s one of the things that still makes this busy town so pleasant and special. Nashvillians will also not take any shit. So you’ve been warned.
It’s in your interest too anyway. Remember at the bar, the airport cafe or even in your Lyft: you never know whom you’re talking to. And that person may just be the next big thing or your next best connection.