A Quick Guide for The Indie Singer Songwriter who’s New to Nash
The music industry is in flux, and nowhere in the world is feeling it more than Nashville. The model of success has changed, and a whole new generation of emerging artists are re-learning what it means to build a career in making music. In less words: Everything has changed.
Perhaps you’re considering making the move to Nashville to pursue your dream as a country music singer/songwriter. I wouldn’t discourage you! Follow your dream and ride it out till the end of the line. But do it smartly.
The music industry is changing every day. Here are some simple truths and falsities to keep in mind as your navigate your way to success.
In Nashville, everyone is talented.
Yes, there are a gajillion amazing players and singers and nine times out of ten, it will feel like everyone in the room is better than you. And sometimes, it’s true. But what you need to know about living in a music center is that the population of indie artists and songwriters skyrockets. The diversity of these artists and songwriters is also incredibly varied. That means you’re going to have a lot more talented folks, and a lot more mediocre acts as well. Which leads me to my next point:
You don’t have to be talented to be famous.
I hate the “F” word – famous. Yuck. People who move to town to “get famous” are certainly not my favorite kind of people. But, for the sake of this article, no, you do not have to be the most talented person in the city to garner notoriety. You do have to have the ability to carry a tune, or write a good song, or play a good measure. Success in the music industry is determined by a somewhat enigmatic combination of talent, hard work, and luck. At the end of the day, practice makes perfect, so get cozy with the idea of always trying to improve yourself.
It’s a cut-throat environment.
Being a musician in Nashville has been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had, simply because I’ve made so many amazing, life-long friendships here. If you come here to be an indie artist, then you’re in good company. Thousands of folks just like you take the bus into town every year. They have all the same hopes and dreams as you, the same interests and experiences. You’ll meet so many like-minded folks just visiting. And, unlike other music centers, Nashville fosters it’s music community like no other. We’re all in the same boat, let’s paddle together!
You move to town, play every night, and eventually get “discovered”.
This just doesn’t happen anymore. You don’t land a gig at a honkey tonk and get seen by the A&R rep who will bring you to the major label CEO who will then sign you and make all your dreams come true. Why? Long story short, there simply just isn’t enough money going around anymore. Doing business in the music industry has changed, but has ultimately put a lot of power back into the hands of the indie artist. Don’t wait for someone to make your career happen for you – make it happen for yourself!
Everyone is trying to be the next Luke or Miranda, and you should too.
Absolutely 100% false! Luke and Miranda already exist. They’ve already filled those positions. And guess what? YOU have a position to fill, too. And you’re the only person who can do it. Nashville is a great place to learn what other successful artists and songwriters are doing. But it’s hypercritical that you remain who you are and don’t try to be someone you’re not.
You have to be at the top of your game before you come to Nashville.
Nashville is a wonderful place to learn if you are just getting your feet wet. There are a lot of artists and songwriters who come here for the workshops, the learning opportunities, the people to learn from and the places to play and hone your skills. On the other hand, people move here after they’ve earned a fantastic following back in their hometown, which is also wise. Define your goals, figure out what motivates you, then decide if you want to make the move.
It’s impossible to make a living as an indie artist.
You can absolutely make a living for yourself as an indie artist! As I said before, you just have to be smart about it. The indie artist has to be somewhat scrappy when it comes to multiple income streams. Obviously you’ll be selling your own music and merch. Look into licensing, writing for other artists, playing or singing backup for different acts, and other ways you can make money from your skills. You’ll be surprised how much you can do on your own terms, without depending on others to make it happen for you.
It’s impossible to get paid to play.
TRUE: Yeah, mostly true. But there are exceptions.
From my experience playing at various venues around town, the songwriter/original music scene is a hard one to be involved in when you’re expecting compensation. Because Nashville is so saturated with artists who are willing to play for free for exposure, many places don’t set aside an entertainment budget. For paying gigs, you either have to get creative, be ok with tips, or start booking out of town.
You’re bound to run into a celebrity at your favorite coffee shop, strike up a friendly conversation, and gleefully hand over your demo when he asks for it.
TRUE, TRUE, THEN FALSE
Oh my. Yes, there are plenty of well known artists and industry execs walking around Nashville, enjoying life in this beautiful city. Some folks are even friendly and kind and will converse with you if you say hi. But never. Never. Oh my goodness, NEVER hand out your demo willy nilly to someone who does not ask for it. Let me repeat: Do not give your demo to an unwilling recipient! If they want to hear it, they will ask. Chances are, if you see a celebrity out on the town, they are in no mood to listen to your music and probably just want to have a nice day out of the house. Just don’t.
Playing at the Bluebird means you’ve really arrived.
The Bluebird cafe is certainly a rite of passage for the indie singer/songwriter, but playing there will not make or break you. If you don’t pass the audition the first time, try again. If you still don’t pass, try again until you do. It is definitely an amazing experience and a wonderful venue, but playing the Bluebird will generally not shape the course of your career. If you get the opportunity, have fun. If you don’t, try again or move on and keep doing what it is that you love to do.
The only way to make money in the music industry is to pursue a major label deal.
The era of the major has come and gone. As stated above, the current music industry puts a lot of power directly into the artist’s hands. This is an indie artist’s industry now. The all-or-nothing, major-label-or-go-home mentality will wear you down, burn you out, and limit what you can really do for your own career. Research what you can do to put your music out there on your own. And, spoiler alert: you don’t have to spend gobs of money to start earning money. You’ll find that once you start to make a name for yourself, the major labels will begin to be interested. Then you can decide if it’s going to be a partnership that will be beneficial for you or not.
You have to write your own songs.
While it will certainly help you in many ways, you do not have to write your own songs. Nashville is a song town, and there are many amazing songwriters who are always itching to write with and for artists. Go out to a writer’s night and talk to some of the songwriters who’s tunes you enjoyed. Chances are you’ll be able to book a cowrite with them, or have the opportunity to sing and release some of their songs.
You have to play an instrument.
Just like songwriting, it’s not a requirement to be able to play an instrument. However, it will be of tremendous help to you when it comes to playing out.
If you’re thinking of making the move, you totally should, at least once in your life.
I think you absolutely should. There’s nowhere on earth quite like Music City, USA! If you get here and hate it, you can always leave. If you get here and love it, then you just took the best risk you could ever take! I moved up here at the peak of an existential crisis. I kept thinking, “I’m terrified to do this, but I’m even more terrified of living out my days, wondering why I never tried.” That thought alone was enough to make me quit my job, pack up my guitar, and take the leap.
Are you considering moving up to Nashville, Tennessee, to try your hand at being an indie artist or songwriter? Tell us about your hopes and dreams below. We want to know what moves you!