Getting Started in Nashville
So you just moved to Nashville, you’re a good solid player with a good attitude and excited to begin working. You don’t care about being a superstar, you just want to play music with others but you are quickly learning that this can be hard to do. You are having a hard time getting off the ground. What do you have to do to get started in this town?
Regardless of your talent level, the truth is simply that talent alone isn’t going to get you work. Nashville, like any major music Metropolis, attracts talented people by the masses. They literally flock to this place in droves. This creates a supply and demand problem that works against the musicians. Knowing and understanding this is crucial. Ultimately, the only way in is by slowly nurturing relationships that will lead to opportunities. The best place to build these relationships is in the nightclubs around town. There is no shortcut to this, it’s going to take some time so be patient.
A newcomer to Nashville recently told me his story. He moved to Nashville about a year ago with the goal of becoming a part of the country music scene here. He has been frequenting the clubs downtown with the intention of sitting in and getting to know some of the players. Even though he’s familiar with most of the standards that are being played, he’s having a hard time getting past the idea of hustling to sit in. He said that he views his reasons for networking as self-serving, and this prevents him from talking to musicians because he feels self-conscious about it – like he’s using them. The end result is that he just walks around watching bands, never talks to anybody, and then goes home.
I, as well as many others, can relate. When I first moved to Nashville I was in a similar situation. How does one introduce them self to all these total strangers and maneuver his or her way into sitting in without coming off to self-serving?
One thing that worked for me was seeking out groups of players and artists that I related to musically. This makes it much easier to form real relationships that can evolve over time. Try to find a group of players, or singer that you really connect with. Maybe you really dig their song list, or are inspired by the performances of one or more of the players in the band. If you can feel a real connection through the music, it should be easy to engage in some genuine conversations – the music is your common ground. Find out when they’re playing again and become a regular. Over time they’ll gradually get to know you and sitting in will be part of a natural progression. Maybe try to cultivate a handful of different situations like this. Also, try to find these kinds of inspiring groups that are playing either earlier shifts and/or at the less popular bars. Those situations will be more laid back and might make it more likely for them to take breaks. And that combined with a smaller crowd in general will make it easier to engage in conversation.
The key to gigging in Nashville is relationships. It’s hard to force friendships and relationships to happen, they need to naturally evolve. You need to regularly put yourself in different kinds of situations where this can happen. It just takes time, persistence, and patience. Most importantly, be a good person. Of course being proficient on your axe will help to.
There is no guarantee that this approach will allow you to achieve the kind of success you envision. But for that matter, there are no guarantees in the music business, or life in general. So just suck it up, be in it for the long haul, and get out there and start pounding the pavement. Be friendly and outgoing and put your best foot forward. Talk to people. Take an interest in their careers and lives. Try to find some common ground and build relationships with players that you relate to. If you have already tried this and haven’t yielded much results, try harder.
That’s what it takes to get started in Nashville.