Songwriter U: Should I Move To Nashville?

Photo by Caine O’Rear

Don’t Move To Nashville

That is, if you’re having big dreams of becoming a staff-songwriter at a publishing company. Those jobs don’t exist anymore; not in the traditional Tin Pan Alley, Brill Building, Music Row sense. When the music publishing pie was much larger than it is today, there were plenty of cuts to go around, and mostly the best songs won — not anymore. If all parties involved (i.e., artist, label, producer, writers) don’t have a level of income participation in writing and recording the song, chances are they won’t record it. Oh, there are a few legacy artists who have made so much money and can call some shots who will record an “outside” song, but they’re getting older and taking the old ways of doing business with them.

Instead of two seasoned writers in a room, writers who have forged a unique musical relationship by drawing on each other’s strengths over many years of working together, writers who can finish each other’s thoughts, you now have three or more participants: the “artist,” “track-guy,” two “real writers,” and sometimes the “producer.” More often than not, they’re meeting for the first time. 

Most pro-writers tell me they would never get in the books these days with a fellow colleague unless an artist or producer was part of the co-write. Unless you’re friends with Keith Urban or Luke Bryan, often times the “artist” is someone commercial radio has never heard of … yet.

A tough business has gotten tougher. Artistic concessions exist which were rarely there before. The days of Gershwin & Gershwin, Mercer & Mancini, Bacharach & David, Reid & Shamblin are gone.

Move To Nashville

If you’re a budding “artist” with a bazillion “likes” and you know the difference between a pretty good song and a really great one, this is still the place to be. 

As I mentioned earlier, if you’re lucky, talented, and a good hang, you can get into a room with guys like me and some of my buddies, and write something that might just get you a record deal. That is, if you’re willing to share some (all) of your publishing with the label. 

If your strength is on the production side, there are plenty of opportunities to engage with, and invest in, talent that is working every coffee shop and playing every writer’s round 24/7, 365. It’s a long game, but the only game. 

The studio scene is mostly dead. Demos are done “in the box.” Players are producing at home. Live playing is better than ever, though. You may have to start out in a van with four others, but you may end up on a private jet someday. 

If you’re still having dreams of becoming the next Mark D. Sanders or Bob McDill, sure, c’mon down! Unless you’ve got a pile of great songs with “the next big thang,” don’t count on getting a publishing deal. The Days of Wine and Roses are in the beautiful past. 

Steve Leslie is a professional songwriter and publisher in Nashville, Tennessee. He teaches songwriting at www.songassembly.co