“It’s basically a city of songwriters and that’s what gives it its strength, that’s what gives it its lasting ability. You’ve got people making all different kinds of music and that’s what attracts me to Nashville as Music City.” – Emmylou Harris
Before visiting or moving to Nashville, many people have misconceptions about this place. Take it from a local: They either get the shock of their lives and adapt, or leave disillusioned. My hope is that this post will help you avoid some of those pitfalls that beset many fresh-faced hopefuls. Read on if Nashville is a place you hope to experience some day.
You’ll hit it big in six months.
Most people seem to have a fictionalized idea of stardom in their heads – and who can blame them? TV shows and movies all perpetuate that myth. Ask anybody that knows anything, and they’ll tell you it’s a “ten year town” (sometimes closer to seven). If that shocks you, consider this: Turnover is very high. Many people move to town with the idea they’re going to become the next Carrie Underwood or Garth Brooks after playing a few open mic nights. In short order, they’re on the plane back home when they didn’t get discovered after just a few months. And this isn’t a new phenomenon – it’s been going on for decades. Folks in the industry tend to shrug most new people off for the simple reason that they’re unlikely to still be here in a year or two. In a way, you need to prove you’re serious. This means more than showing up and expecting to be discovered. You’re going to need to knock on doors, get told no a lot, work hard on polishing your songs, and hone your craft. It’s not an easy road, but nothing worthwhile is. If it’s in your blood, you can’t help but put in the work and hustle.
If I can just get a number one record, I’ll be set for life.
Getting a number one hit can be difficult – there’s a lot that goes into the process. First, the song has to be absolutely *killer*. Second, the right people have to listen to it and pass it on to the artist (this means getting to their producer, A&R person, manager, etc). Third, the (hopefully A-list) artist has to actually want to cut the song. Then – most importantly – it’s got to catch on with radio listeners, iTunes, Spotify, and all the rest. All these things have to come together for the magic to happen. Don’t get disheartened just yet – it’s not impossible. There are many Nashville writers who have had number one hits, and a few others who have had multiple number ones. But if you think that means you can retire to the Bahamas after just one…think again. With the advent of the internet, the music industry isn’t what it once was. More than a decade after Napster, they’re still trying to figure things out (although they’ve got a better handle on it). That being said, while you might have gotten a check for millions in the 90’s for a top ranked song, that’s simply not the case today. And keep in mind, if you’ve got co-writers, you’ll be splitting any proceeds with them! You can still make a chunk of change – possibly even enough to make a living on – but put that gold Lamborghini out of your mind until you’ve had a bit more success.
A publishing deal means you’ve “made it.”
Not necessarily. In a publishing deal scenario, you’re giving up all or part of your publishing rights for a “draw” – that means the publisher is paying you a salary so you can write songs exclusively for them. That doesn’t mean you can sit back and rest on your laurels, though – publishers expect you to write every day, usually multiple times a day. And for that matter, you will be expected to churn out a hit. Depending on the contract (usually a year) they have the option to renew or drop you if you haven’t hit gold yet. While publishing deals as such are increasingly being abandoned in favor of single song contracts, they do still exist. But should you get one, instead of patting yourself on the back for “hitting it big” (okay, pat yourself on the back a *little*), look at it as validation of your talents. Now it’s time to get your nose to the grindstone and write some hits.
Nashville is only country music.
You can always tell a tourist here if they’ve got boots, hats, and Western fringe shirts on. The truth is, many rock, indie, and pop records are made in town (and quite a few indie rockers even make their homes here). While country music is certainly a main driving force, the lines between genres have been blurred for quite some time. Although the niche for non-country music in Nashville is smaller, it is there and growing. If your music is something a little off the beaten path, I encourage you to visit and do some research. You may find that you are perfectly at home here, with no trouble at all. Or you may struggle and realize L.A. is a better fit. You will never know until you’ve scoped out the scene for yourself, though.
Unfortunately, the life of a songwriter and artist is often difficult. If you’re doing it for the money, you’re going to be sorely disappointed – people with a “lottery mentality” often wash out very quickly. Bottom line, you do this because you love it and you couldn’t possibly do anything else, which makes it easier to take some of the disappointment that comes on the road to success. There’s a reason they call Nashville the “Music City” – it’s made the careers of many well-known artists, and it can do the same for you with the right mentality.
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based Grammy nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of 3. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music related blogs, including his own.