As music fans and industry buffs we often hear of the success stories from the ones who’ve made it. Country artists and rockstars alike fondly recall the hit that launched their career or the moment when they heard their song on the radio. Not often enough, however, are we investing in musicians before their first break.
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Fortunately, two Nashville-based industry professionals recognized the need to support aspiring artists and took action. This duo also understood that the biggest impact could be felt by the most underrepresented population in the business—young women.
Sheridan Gates and Mark Thress (the aforementioned professionals) recently started New Roots, a company whose mission “is to serve young female artists by providing a safe, supportive, and collaborative community in which they can launch their music careers more confidently.” As co-founders of this holistic approach to music mentorship, Gates and Thress lean into their own experiences to best guide young women through the industry.
“Mark and I have known each other for four years now, been friends socially, doing our own music things. Over the course of the last year (2020) where everything shut down, we had to pivot,” Gates begins. “I came to [Mark] with an idea of, ‘Hey, I would love to create a weekend experience for some new female artists that are in town, and offer them what I wish I had when I moved here five years ago.”
Thress immediately latched onto the idea and notes that he had a similar feeling about his experiences. “I grew up, both as a creator as an artist and also as a mentor, aspiring to be the person that I wish I had,” Thress says. Consequently, Thress and Gates desired to turn their expertise into an opportunity for others.
Gates and Thress began to collaborate on what is now the boutique and all-inclusive walkthrough of Nashville’s music scene. As far as the nuts and bolts of New Roots, Gates explains that the participants partake in a full weekend of strategic events.
“[One New Roots weekend] involves a recording session with a Grammy-winning producer, a songwriting session, a file session, and a photoshoot with a celebrity photographer and stylist. We try and give them a taste of Music City, so they get a backstage tour of the Ryman Auditorium and learn some history there. And then they get a chance to perform at a traditional Nashville writers round… and a Q&A session with some industry execs that have been generous with their time to give back to these women as well,” Gates explains.
New Roots effectively hits back at the gender disparities in the music business while simultaneously nurturing the future of the industry. Gates and Thress continue to explain that part of the New Roots experience is debunking the notion that landing a record deal launches careers. Instead, the company focuses on empowering these young women while building up their networks and social media presence.
“Sheridan and I, we’ve cultivated a collection of people that are in the midst of the industry now— that are topical to current information, to current trends, and things that are really flowing in the industry. Typically speaking, if you were to try and get this information or to gain these contacts, you would have either had some family member in the industry already, or you would go to a college program to do it,” Thress states. “The uniqueness of going into a college program is you don’t get the real-world experience. And you also are learning from people that may not necessarily be on top of all the new trends.
“So the uniqueness of what we’re doing now is we’re saying, ‘Hey listen, this stuff is kind of wild and crazy, but we’ve found the people that are currently doing it,” he continues. “We’re going to get together and bind together in this community and try to elevate all of us.’”
Sheridan adds, “When you move to a Nashville or an L.A. or New York, you get so overwhelmed, and so bogged down by what you’re hearing on the radio. You can easily lose sight of your potential and what you have to offer and what you have to say. I think by providing this safe, collaborative space for these women in this network, they now can leave the weekend, feeling like, ‘Hell yeah, I can do this. I’m good enough, I have a place in this industry.’”
Overall, New Roots is the organization that Nashville needs and thought it already had. To date, Gates and Thress have already successfully held one New Roots weekend session and are in the throes of planning the next session for October 14-17.
“I’m constantly blown away in any mentor session I have with the girls. It’s so much bigger than me, this industry is so much bigger than one person, and I’m constantly reminded of that. It truly takes a community and to get anywhere,” Gates concludes.
Thress adds, “We’re realizing that this is not going to happen overnight, but also is not going to happen with just the two of us, we’re really trying to find like-minded people that have even greater resources than us, to help do the right thing for these girls.”