Most first-time visitors are amazed at how friendly and helpful people in the Nashville songwriting community are. If you’re a stranger in town wanting to connect to the songwriting scene it’s not that hard. There will be lots of newcomers like yourself who are eager to meet people and lots of people happy to answer questions and talk about songwriting in Nashville.
BEFORE YOU ARRIVE
1. If possible, don’t come on the weekend. There are very few writers nights Friday through Sunday and offices aren’t open. A good strategy is to arrive Sunday so you can hot the ground running on Monday. Stay as long as you can – it can take a few days to get oriented and figure out the best places to meet people and it’s nice to have enough time to follow through on plans to play songs for someone or go to lunch.
2. Reach out to all the contacts you have in town (if any) to let them know you’re coming. People are busy, especially people in the music business. If you want to write with, play songs for, or have lunch with someone, book it with them well in advance so you don’t miss the chance. If any of your friends, family or fans know people in town they are willing to contact on your behalf, let them know the dates you will be there so they can try to help you get appointments.
3. If you want to play out at writers nights, contact the hosts as soon as you know when you will be here to schedule times to play. If the hosts are not familiar with you, some will listen to your music and give you a spot if they like it, but don’t expect a prime-time slot. It may be very early or very late, but it will still be a chance to impress the host and whatever audience is there. Others allot part of their show as an open mic they will ask you to play before giving you a scheduled spot. to Visit the Open mics & writers nights page for a list of local songwriter nights and open mics.
4. If you are already a member of ASCAP, BMI or SEASAC, call to make an appointment with a member representative. (If you don’t know what they are, click here) Call to find out how you can make an appointment, but don’t be surprised if they are booked up. If you are lucky enough to get in front of a member representative, they can listen to a few songs, help you assess if and where you fit in the market, and can get you in to see publishers if they think you’re ready. If you are not already affiliated with one of them, call all three, let them know you want to find out about their organization, and try to get appointments.
5. Get your songs ready to present. Get feedback on them from people whose judgment you trust, not just the ones who feed your ego and tell you they’re perfect. Polish the writing as much as possible. If you can afford it, use a professional critique service such as Barbara’s, or one of the others listed on the Resources page of this website. Unless you already have studio demos, keep it simple. For someone still learning the craft a good guitar/vocal or piano/vocal with the vocal out front is sufficient. Make sure the singer is in tune and enunciates well enough to understand the lyrics. Be sure the guitar is in tune and keeps a steady rhythm. Provide a link to your music online or have it on a flash drive. Some industry people still have CD players but some don’t. Have one-page lyric sheets available. Be sure your name and contact information is on everything.
6. Check the calendars of the local original music venues (click for a list) and check out the people who will be performing while you’re here. Look for shows that feature people who are having some success in the genre of music you write. You can learn from watching them, plus they may have friends in the industry who come out to see them. For shows at the Bluebird Cafe reservations are a good idea. However, if Bluebird show is sold out, there are usually last minute cancellations and a few standing-room-only spots, so you can often still get in if you arrive 30 to 45 minutes before it starts.
These are some general guidelines for making the most of your trip. For a list of specific suggestions of places to go and things to do, click here.
1. Public transportation is minimal and a car is the best way to get around. Lyft and Uber bother have a strong presence. If you are driving yourself, use a GPS or get detailed instructions before you try to drive anywhere. Nashville streets are not laid out logically.
2. Have realistic goals and expectations – if you think you can “be discovered” in a few short days you will probably end up very disappointed. If you’re too desperate to make connections that will help your career it might make people uncomfortable with you. If you relax and adopt the attitude that you’re there to learn and meet people you will find endless opportunities for both and you might end up making some great connections after all. (click here for tips on networking.)
3. Stay organized – put all your appointments in your calendar and check it frequently – it’s easy to get overwhelmed.. If you end up with a collection of business cards at the end of the day, write notes on the back about where you met the person, what they do and your impressions of them. If you saw or met people in the industry, write down who they were and what they do. If you stay busy you won’t remember it all.
1. Promptly send a brief thank you to anyone who was helpful to you. Some people still appreciate a hand-written note but if your style isn’t that formal a short email is fine. Gratitude shows class and helps keep the door open. It also reminds them of your existence so they don’t forget who you are. Don’t expect a reply. People are busy.
2. If you made arrangements with anyone to send them some music, book a future appointment, call a contact they gave you, or anything else, FOLLOW THROUGH PROMPTLY. If you don’t, or if you let too much time pass, you not only fail to get the value from whatever was set up, but you create the impression that you are unprofessional and not serious about your career.
3. Contact all your songwriting friends and tell them about your trip. You will better remember what you learned by repeating it and you will get better insights into the experience as you answer their questions and hear their comments. This also opens the door for them to call you every time they make a trip so that you can learn from them. Songwriters who move to Nashville tend to bond with other talented writers. They share information and connections and grow together. It’s often said, that songwriters “move up with their class.” For those of you from out-of-town, you still need to create a community of songwriters to grow with, so find others who make trips to Nashville and help each other get better at the craft and business of songwriting.
4. Reflect on your experience and use it to assess whether or not to pursue a professional songwriting career. It’s a tough business and it may be harder than you thought. Be realistic about your chances and don’t waste time and energy deluding yourself. Maybe it’s not what you want after all, and that’s okay. But if it is, then use what you learned and start planning your next trip.