Nashville: A Snapshot View

I’m winding up a week in Nashville, and have some observations.  Some of them I expected, some I did not expect to the degree I experienced.  I’ll elaborate on some of these points in future articles, as time permits, because there are some important points to make about the music industry in general, as it exists in Nashville.

I should probably start off by saying that both Nashville and Tennessee in general are absolutely beautiful.  We drove to Knoxville and back today, and the green forests are something to behold.  Everyone we’ve met has been incredibly nice and polite (although we didn’t meet anybody originally from Nashville).  The city of Nashville is undergoing a huge facelift, which I’m very much on the fence about.  I understand the growth, and the accompanying jobs that come with it, but the quaint charm of Nashville is slowly disappearing.

My observations:

  • The music history here is incredible.  I had the opportunity to stand in front of Bill Monroe’s mandolin, from which everything bluegrass was born.  It was a truly cathartic moment for me, and one that I will never forget.  I could easily come back for another week to dig a little further into the history.
  • There is obviously a ton of incredible musical talent here.
  • There are not enough venues to showcase all of the talent.  Those that do get the opportunity are generally playing for tips, even in the more popular venues.
  • Original music is almost non-existent in Nashville proper.  Cover bands seem to be the only thing most establishments are interested in.
  • I did find original music, but had to travel to Franklin (which you’ll hear more about later) and the previously mentioned trip to Knoxville (which you’ll also read more about).  Again, nobody was getting paid for their efforts.
  • Most popular areas of the city are to the point where they resemble the New Orleans French Quarter.  One establishment after another, with high priced drinks, wall to wall people and blaring cover music, which again is being played for tips.  In fact, I’ve seen smaller crowds in New Orleans.

I can’t say I was surprised by any of this, because I had talked to some local artists prior to coming.  I knew the business and the economy of the business were in complete disarray.  What I didn’t know was the true extent of it.  There don’t appear to be any green pastures for talent to thrive in.  Being unique or original seems to be frowned upon throughout the city.  With that being said, I’m sure there are some venues that look for original music, but they’re impossible to find or stumble upon, and are few and far between.

What struck me hardest was the attitude of resignation exhibited by most of the musicians I encountered in Nashville.  They are trying hard and playing their butts off, but you can tell they aren’t able to emotionally connect to their audience, not able to showcase their own music, and resigned to playing Johnny Cash covers in an attempt to gather enough money to pay the bills.  The dreams slowly fade from sight a little more every day, but the passion for the craft forces them to continue on, in the hopes that the dream is around the next corner.  I wasn’t prepared for this, and it is something that will haunt me as I get ready to return home.

It’s no secret that the entire music industry is stacked against the new, original artists, who try everything in their power to get just a little exposure to the beautiful sounds they create.  There is hope, but not through the channels they may have used a decade ago.  Sadly, I don’t see Nashville being one of those opportunities for many.  Fortunately, the state of things in Nashville has strengthened my desire to help these artists through the newer avenues available to them.

Great musicians have the chance to succeed, just not here.