It's all about the song
Freshman year in Nashville
My buddy Robert Daniels, did a post yesterday on the saying that Nashville is a "ten year town." Well, that is a well worn phase and while some people do go a little faster, if you investigate the history of the town and the people in it, you find it holds true more times than not. Although with the modern era of instant communication, and therefore MANY, MANY, MANY MORE PEOPLE DOING IT as LESS AND LESS people actually achieving tangible results, it actually now is becoming more of a "TWENTY YEAR TOWN."
But what exactly does that mean? Why ten, or any arbitrary amount of time? There are some very distinct reasons, and much don't have to do with the writers/artists themselves. It has as much to do with circumstances, relationships, and, as much we hate to admit it, LUCK.
But LUCK is when opportunity and preparation meet.
In 2001, I wrote a book, called "FRESHMAN YEAR IN NASHVILLE." It was a very small handbook, about 60 pages, which detailed observations on the first six months to a year here. But I also included things that would happen on down the line. I likened it all to HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE all over again.
It was based around things I had seen in my (at that time) nearly 20 years of being in town. And now, with THIRTY years in town, it is even more in line. I never updated it due mostly to the fact that technology and the industry changes so fast, you almost cannot keep up with it. But some of the generalities are exactly the same.
The interesting thing is that ALL OF THESE LAST THREE YEARS EACH. So you have like "first, second and THIRD year FRESHMAN, SOPHOMORE, ETC. And while some go faster, ( I made the connection for my first cut, on Shelby Lynne, the first night in town, but it took TEN YEARS TO GET THE NEXT ONE) it usually is more like this, and for many, it takes even longer and all too often, NEVER "PAYS OFF" financially. But the longer you are here, the more you see that there are many more things that are rewarding in a career than having financial victories. They come in many ways and you always take the ones you get.
"NEVER LET YOUR HIGHS BE TOO HIGH OR YOUR LOWS BE TOO LOW."
Understand that the "Any year" framework, doesn't mean that after that time you will suddenly be getting cuts, hits or rolling in the dough, (in this day and age there is not a lot of that), it means, frankly that your skill level and the level of your contacts, should provide some ways to get opportunities.
But here, in my opinion and experiences is how it works:
Wide eyed and bushy tailed, Everything is new and exciting.
Start playing open mics, getting on writers nights. The mind races, songs come from every direction. You can't wait to go out and get yourself OUT THERE!
6 month mark. You start having to be concerned on money, Most people have saved up and think they'll get a studio or writing deal and now have to start thinking about getting a job, or jobs.
This lasts 2 years into the third year. Then it starts to get frustrating. You start having to look at your songs in a more introspective light.
Everything seems like it is RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. Every meeting, every co-write, every opportunity is THE ONE!
Friends and family tell you how great you are and how EVERYTHING YOU DO IS A HIT SONG AND JUST HAS TO BE ON THE RADIO!!!! YOU ARE A STAR, JUST WAITING TO HAPPEN!!!!!
The vast majority of people, about 88% of those that move in any one time are gone by 6 months to two years. People you started performing with fade out, quit, go home. Most you don't even realize. they are just gone.
But you are still very excited. You are playing more writers nights but also having to work harder to keep up.
Now it starts to get really tough. Sometimes you get writers block. You realize your songs were not as good as you thought they were and have jettisoned most of what you moved here with. You don't co-write as much because you are working multiple jobs. Some have dropped out, gotten married or involved, kids on the way.
The college people have graduated and are finding out the real world is NOTHING like they thought. That company they interned with and were expecting a job, HIRES ANOTHER INTERN.
The "fifth, and sixth sophomore years bring with it, pressure from family and loved ones to quit, stop spending money (which you have cut back on drastically) and either come home or find something else.
The biological clock is ticking, especially for women. Some get more of "CAREERS" than "JOBS."
But overall, there are subtle and not so subtle changes in the music. The songs are clearer, more dynamic. They get some actual jobs in the town. Performing on private functions. Doing sessions, getting some attention downtown.
There is growth, but overall it's like running in place in molasses.
Now things get interesting. You have been offered some single song deals. Put on good rounds. Have good friends, a few of those have gone on to have deals, a hit or two or maybe even a record deal. These are people that were ahead of you when you moved to town and now you see their fifteen year journey is paying off.
You are invited to perform with and possibly write with some hit writers. You find your way in the back doors of publishers. People more inclined to be musicians, find their way into backing bands or groups. Many have to take it on the road to make money. Some find studio work. Few and far between at first, then developing more and more as time passes.
Your songs are MUCH MORE solid, and you wind up in the back doors of publishers. There might be a deal or more of a "handshake representation."
Independent cuts are starting to come, mostly artists you write with. Your name gets around. People know you.
Some find out that their fortunes actually lie back home Usually about year SEVEN (The seven year itch) they find better gigs, family ties, and find that their Nashville experiences have put them far above their local competition. Sometimes it gets so lucrative at home they can't come back, but most will keep a hand in, make regular trips or keep those relationships going. But if you stay...
You see a LOT of people disappear, replaced by others. You see the landscape change around you. Writers nights and hangouts close, change formats, or simply are gone. The wrecking ball takes a lot of your old haunts. A lot of labels, publishers, producers, you knew have quit, closed, relocated.
Music styles have changed. The people you knew on top of the charts are gone. New Styles and people you don't even know are now everywhere. A lot of it SUCKS! and you want "YOUR form of music" to come back. But it never does. Music doesn't go backwards. Some of it you like. But you find out a lot of your musical style has changed and a lot of your songs are now last year's trend.
By the second and third JUNIOR year, you have found a rhythm. Things frustrate you a lot because you are always seemingly RIGHT THERE and something is about to TAKE OFF, and doesn't. But you have learned more about the music BUSINESS, and realize it is not as rosy as you imagined.
"THE MORE YOU KNOW ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS
THE LESS YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT THE MUSIC BUSINESS!"
You get to know people who have had hits, deals, and are still not quite satisfied. Many might have had a huge hit, but instead of being "set for life" you find out that they barely made much because of previous writers deals they had to pay back. And of course, by now you realize that NOBODY is making what you always thought they would.
There is a reason for the term "STARVING ARTIST."
You find yourself in great rounds, solid co-writes. You do some celebrity benefits ,with hit artists and writers. You are invited to some really cool social meetings. Parties, writers retreats. You have a few songs that KILL people whenever you play them.
SENIOR YEAR (Year 10, 11, 12)
Now you have a confidence about you and things don't bother you much. You are considered an "old soul." You have either had a deal or two and have hit many, many, many ups and downs. You are able to recover faster.
There are those who have formed their own companies and done quite well. Those who are out completely. Those that don't care. You've attended weddings, funerals, births, openings, closings.
The people you thought would be stars and have everything in the world, have quit, being shot down over and over and finally gave up the ghost. One or two you thought were just goofballs and would be long gone are now running companies, are the ones you have to meet with to play songs. You have to face some young kid out of Belmont who barely knows what a song is that is telling you what you have to do to succeed.
You have made connections at labels, producers, publishers, over and over, only to see them be fired or companies close and you have to start all over.
You have had song after song "go on hold" only to never have anything happen. You have cuts that never make the final project. You get a cut and the singer says something on social media and gets fired from his deal. You have every one tell you that you have the NEXT SINGLE and the record company closes. Any way you can get kicked in the teeth, you go through.
You've seen people come in and pass you who were big time flashes in the pan. You see some people who are absolute JERKS that manage to survive. And some of the nicest people in the world who have changed, gone bitter or simply quit. And a few that got what they deserved. You've seen a LOT of people catch fire and then go out in a blaze of glory. They fall OFF THE CHARTS, FASTER THAN THEY GET ON.
You have seen a handful succeed amazingly and can say "I remember when they did their first writers night.
You learn to treat everyone the same because you see the same people on the way down you saw on the way up.
You may hit gold or come up empty, (or do a lot of both.) But you mostly have learned to enjoy the ride. You remember "IT'S NOT THE DESTINATION, IT'S THE ROAD THAT GETS YOU THERE." You decide it has gone blasting past you in the blink of an eye, so as Chris Wallin says "DON'T BLINK."
You find that even if you haven't become a rocket, you have met the best friends you have ever had and have enjoyed being in the most creative community in the world.
You might not be rich financially you are rich in life experiences. Some will still move away. But the relationships and memories go with you. And you pass that on to others.
You NEVER really GRADUATE or stop growing. You just might enter other phases of a career. That might be helping others along the way. (Works for me)
NASHVILLE. It's a HELL OF A RIDE. Enjoy it.