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Breaking into Nashville

Discussion in 'Ask Adam Nitti' started by AdamMeinerding, Nov 22, 2010.

  1. There a lots of various posts around the forums related to this, but I've never looked at your forum much so I thought I'd ask..

    So the scenario (not reality) is I have a bachelors degree in music.. I "think" I've mastered the bass ;), my gear is ready to go, and I just got a room in someones trailer outside of Nashville. I'm ready to start gigging everything and anything. However, I don't know a soul. What would you say to do?

    Not that I'm clueless, but I'm interested to see what you have to say on the subject.
  2. Aaron_D


    May 9, 2010
    Tallahassee, FL
    Look for want ads, get all the work you can. Dont play for free unless you have to.
  3. BillyIVbass


    Sep 24, 2008
    Gear Reviews Guitar World Online
    I'd say a paper degree means nothing. Get out and play anywhere. Learn the Nashville Number System and really learn how to support and artist.
  4. adamnitti


    Nov 29, 2001
    thanks for stopping by the forum!

    if i understood your question exactly, you described a scenario that isn't yet reality in which you have a music degree and live within proximity of the city. what are your goals? are you looking to work exclusively in town, or are you looking for a tour? in either scenario, relationships are absolutely key here. nashville very much has a vibe of 'musical family', so to speak. networking is essential to your success in getting plugged in, but the most important thing in my opinion is to cultivate real relationships and friendships that go beyond the 'what can you do for me?' level... hope that makes sense. most players see right through any sort of pretentiousness or extreme salesmanship when it comes to a player's self-promotion, and usually don't respond favorably. it takes time to build relationships and alliances that are real, but it is the more sincere and valuable way of doing things and makes for a career that will offer longevity. ultimately, people want to work with players that are a source of positivity and are a cool hang. mastery of an instrument is almost irrelevant, due to the fact there are tons of players here that can cut the gig; it's how you treat and interact with people that will keep you getting called back. have your act together on the bass, and especially have your TONE together... i can't emphasize that enough.

    you might also want to do a search of "nashville" here in this forum. i've responded to other similar posts and included even more info that might help you out. thanks again for posting, and i hope i was at least able to offer you some usable insight. all the best to you in your musical pursuits!

  5. Take to heart what Adam said. He is spot on. I've been in Nashville a year and a half, and have found that most musicians I've met are all about relationships first, skill/talent second. Very few inflated ego's! Most are all down to earth, and just good human beings. If someone comes to town with a huge ego, they will not last long here.
    jondiener likes this.
  6. plangentmusic

    plangentmusic Banned

    Jun 30, 2010
    Get in with the right guys -- who are either lucky, ambitious, have connections, or skilled at marketing themselves. Skill is secondary.
  7. Would belonging to a musicians union such as the AFM help much, if at all?
  8. cycler


    Oct 6, 2010
    Not with that mug.

  9. Thank God it's not mine, although mine's not much better. I do, however, have ALL my teeth, and they're white too. :D
  10. fishman35


    Oct 3, 2005
    I am in Nashville. I grew up here and was in the biz for years. This town will chew you up if you let it. Billy is right, learn the number system here. Union is not required, if you are really good.
  11. chadhargis

    chadhargis Jack of all grooves, master of none Supporting Member

    Jan 5, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    I have no aspirations to be in the business. Heck, I'd PAY to play if I got the chance, not the other way around.

    But I grew up here. It's very much an "insider" city. As has been said, it's not what you know, but who you know. That doesn't mean you can be a bad player and make it. Not at all. The dudes playing for change on the street corner in Nashville are better than most recording musicians anywhere else.

    The thing I find most interesting about this town is that the "power people" are so unassuming. You'd never know they were music titans by the way they act. Just last week I was doing some IT work down on Music Row for a booking agent who's been in the business for years. He's just a "good ole boy". A really nice guy, but he knows everyone in the business. My company has another client also on Music Row. A global royalty management company. Just some wonderful people. Love doing work for them.

    I think the motto in Nashville is, "It's nice to be important, but it's important to be nice".
    jondiener likes this.
  12. I love Nashville and I am always treated very well when I'm there. One of my best friends lives outside of Nashville and has worked in the music business for 30 years. He took time off due to illness and has been trying to get back in the business for over a year now. Even he is having a difficult time despite his experience. It is hard to get doors to oepn for you but once they do, you will find the people to very genuine and honest.
  13. Snarf


    Jan 23, 2005
    New York, NY
    This is exactly why I'm moving to Nashville next year. I couldn't take the New York mentality; I'm more southern at heart. I love playing any music, and playing country to me is just as good as playing wacked out fusion junk.
  14. Gizmot

    Gizmot Supporting Member

    Mar 22, 2009
    Nashville area
    Nashville is a wonderful place - the people are sensational, the weather is great and the vibe is incredible. Those things alone mean that there is a lot of competition for work - any work. However, a number of people find various ways to make it. I hope you find your place here and succeed.
  15. mcm


    Oct 2, 2007
    Nashville, TN
    dont worry about the money, and just play, play, play, and meet people. SOME money will come. Nashville is a killer place to be in 3 or 4 working bands, but not a killer place to make killer money. although some people are doing it.
  16. Boof


    Oct 3, 2008
    I've lived here almost 27 years, so I guess I can chime in on this.

    First, I would quibble with the idea that playing ability is "secondary." It's absolutely true that if you're a jerk, or people sense that you're so overtly ambitious that you can't have a normal conversation, then playing great won't save you. BUT... this town is full of really, REALLY good players. It's pick it - or pack it. In nearly three decades here, I've seen countless hot-shots come to town from the coasts (or elsewhere), desiring the easier, laid-back life, a better place to raise kids, etc. Some arrive thinking it's all C chords and hay bales, and assume they'll walk in and show the hicks how it's really done. Almost always, they're stunned when they see how efficiently creative things are here, and how many killer players are vying for the work. Can't count the times I've seen this type get his butt kicked. This may be the only town in the world where your pizza delivery guy can very likely play you under the table.

    That said, it's not about being Victor Wooten (no offense, Victor!). A bass player will find a place here if he/she can listen, groove, get tones that fit and inspire the other players, play lots of styles, adapt, work with people, be inventive, and most of all... SERVE THE SONG. It's not about how much stuff you can play. It's about making the song - and the singer - sound good.

    I've toured and recorded here as a guitarist, bassist and trumpet player, and I can tell you that there is world-class rock, pop, R&B, Contemporary Christian (P&W!) and country recorded and played live here every day. Versatility is not merely appreciated; like all the foundational elements that make up a good (GOOD) player, it's required. And all that - what, to me, makes up a ready-for-prime-time player, isn't secondary. It's just assumed. Don't come here if both barrels aren't loaded as described above. Or if you do come, I hope you know your way around a pizza route.

    Secondly, the attitude thing alluded to in previous posts, the getting along, the hang... That IS really important. Players want to be around people who are nice to be around. Sessions are usually (or should be) full of good humor, interlaced in the serious business of gettin' it done. It makes the workday go a lot better. And if you need to stick out, if you bring a negative "thang" to the process, if you're all about you instead of all about the song and making it better for everyone, they will look over your shoulder at the long line of good players behind you, waiting to load in, and ask one of them to come in and sit down.

    I'm not sure I know anyone here who didn't play some free stuff while getting established. And you will see people whose names you recognize playing freebies quite often - if the music is good. You're a musician. You play. Sometimes the music, or the hang, or doing a favor for a friend makes it worth playing for no pay. And when you're starting out here, it's often the only way you'll get to plug in and play for a while.

    The plumb work here is in sessions (you'll start with demos, and maybe move up to masters, which are records) and, to a lesser degree, touring. The usual path (if it's working for you) is that you find some scruffy live gigs, and meet some people that way. Then one of those new friends brings your name up for a few road dates. Mid-level stuff... maybe an older artist who's not on the charts anymore, or a noob who's got label interest, or maybe just a regular old club gig in Resume Speed, Iowa. It's work.

    Then maybe you snag a good artist gig, and tour for a while. "Touring" here is not typically a matter of being out for months. You leave on, say, a Wednesday. Play three shows in different towns. And you're back Sunday night. In the Summer, with fair dates and lots more concerts, you might be out for a few two and three-week stretches.

    At any rate, for many touring players, the eventual goal is to get enough session work going - or a writing deal, or maybe some production projects - that you can stay in town. I cannot count the people I know who have followed (or tried to follow) this basic path.

    At every step along the way, your work will come from other players. The drummer you did the freebie with. His bud, the bass player who happened in on that freebie gig. Etc., etc., all the way up to the master session stuff. You don't "apply" for gigs. The bass player's leaving. The drummer and guitar player mention this bass player they did a free thing with last week... good groove, nice cat, really great tone. He's in. If you were the guy who got up off his butt, left the season premiere of "CSI Wherever," and went to play that little freebie, well...

    There is some paying club work on Lower Broadway. You might make $80 bucks for a four-hour gig. Maybe more - some of the better bands (those who know how to entertain & pack the place - AND work the tip jar) make a couple hundred a man. But it's tip-jar based. The clubs on Lower Broad make money hand-over-fist, and they have a pretty steady system. Most guarantee $50 a night per man against tips. If you stink, or if the band playing next door that night has a fiddle player who looks like a centerfold (it happens), you might be taking home the fifty. A few clubs in other areas pay a little, but not many, and not much. People play them to showcase, or to keep playing, or to get a band together. Back in '84, when I came here, I left a very steady world of club & society work. My wife didn't have to have a job, and we did fine. The first night I worked in Nashville, I was thrilled because the singer/writer had two songs on the current Alabama album, two members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band sat in, and I'd read a piece on the other guitar player in Guitar Player Magazine. Wow! I've made it already! That night, my take from the tip jar was $6. Six. Dollars. Ouch. But the drummer on the gig called me for another, and another. I worked a bunch with him for a while. A few years later, he formed the band Restless Heart. That's how it goes.

    Another thing to get together is tunes. Silly as it sounds, know everything. You're not going to rehearse for a Lower Broad gig. You get a call, and you show up, and you make it sound like you've all been playing together since birth, even if you're subbing and you just met the guys for the first time while you were tuning up. I try to think of it this way - if I hear a classic rock or country or pop tune, I need to know it. Period. Of course you can't do that entirely, but you should try, cause looking in the eyes of a guitar player who just called the ONE dang Tom Petty tune you're not hip to is a lonely place to be.

    You won't rehearse for sessions, either, except in some cases on REAL big projects, and by that time you'll know all this. You show up, sit around with the writer playing a guitar or work tape, make your own number chart (on bigger stuff, the leader often makes charts ahead of time), and go in and cut the song that you've just heard for the first time. Many, many, many of the records you've heard were cut that way. A run-through for arrangement, another to settle the parts, and it's red-light time. On a typical three-hour session, the goal is often to get five songs. And they'll sound like masters. Cutting fast while maintaining quality is a skill, or a bunch of skills that work together. After each keeper, you go into the control room or lounge, listen to the next song, make your chart, and do it again. It's a lot of pressure at first, but you get used to it, and it's fun. And this is a lot of where the being a nice guy thing comes in. That diffuses the pressure of the situation.

    Lastly, number charts. Learn how that works. It's not rocket surgery, but it'll help to spend some time working that way before you get here. Know enough about theory that you REALLY know your keys. If you don't INSTANTLY know the 6 of Bb, you will NOT hit that G root with the drummer. Do that a few times, and they can't afford to call you again. Number charts make it possible to play a song right now, in any key, with any groove, and nail it. Learn to write and read number charts.

    I hope all that is helpful or at least interesting to some. This is a great town. I wouldn't live anywhere else. You can form lasting, great friendships, raise a family humanely, live creatively, make a (somewhat) decent living most of the time, and always have the potential to hit a home run (big session career, songwriting success, whatever). Sometimes it seems like there are two million good bass players in town. But a nice guy who can play, and can leave the ego at the door, has a pretty good chance of keeping the bills paid. I should temper that by saying that, right now, things are as lean as I've ever seen them in Nashville. The record business has fallen apart, and nobody's really sure how it's all going to shake out. Even the vaunted "A-Team" session players are doing demos and a few tour dates these days. Just sayin'...

    Rusty Russell
    DrayMiles and jondiener like this.
  17. adamnitti


    Nov 29, 2001
    rusty, thanks so much for posting. absolutely fantastic insight from a seasoned pro! also thanks for conveying so much more eloquently some of the points i was trying to make earlier regarding required talent and the hang... :D awesome stuff. hope to cross paths with you here soon!
  18. cycler


    Oct 6, 2010
    wow Rusty:
    ought to be required reading somewhere.
    DrayMiles likes this.
  19. PDGood

    PDGood Supporting Member

    Sep 19, 2010
    Nashville, TN
    Interesting reading and I concur with my fellow Nashvillians. Great city, great music community, great vibe. Fun place to be.

    One thing I would point out is that this is NOT the town to make money playing local gigs. If that's your goal this is one of the worst places to be. There are so many people here who will play for free just hoping to get discovered that the average gig pay is way lower than elsewhere. For example, I played in wedding bands around Atlanta and made $225 to $250 a night for some very light work. Here $50-75 is typical for club work with equal hours. Many venues you play for the door and that can mean call your friends and see how many you can get to show up.

    The good gigs here as mentioned are in session work and touring with a well known artist. Touring can be lucrative, but the downside to touring is that it is not all year round, but it is just enough to keep you out of the loop for doing sessions. Producers tend to get comfortable with their favorite session players and call them over and over. So even if you're great, if you're out of town half the time, they will be forced to call someone else and that's who is going to become their regular. A friend of mine who was one of the top acoustic players in town said, "If you're a session guy, you can never say 'No'."

    Players and singers come here from everywhere. It's impossible to overestimate the talent level. For example, I used to hire a group of girl backup singers. Two of them had degrees at North Texas (highly regarded for music) and had worked 2,500 sessions together before moving to town. (Did I mention they were only in their 30s?). The speed with which they could put harmonies together was amazing. The other gals were just as good. They could just look at each other, point to who was going to do the high, middle and low parts and bust into 3 part harmony. Unbelievable.
    Same with guitar players. I hired Pat Buchanan one time (famous session player in town) and I've never seen anyone pick up music as fast as he did. We cut three songs in about 45 minutes. We got to the last song and before he had even heard it he said, "Just go ahead and hit record.". I said, "Well, you've got to at least hear the song one time don't you?". He said, "No, go ahead and hit record - by the time the song is halfway through I'll have it figured out and the last half of the song will be good. Then we'll go back and punch the first half." Then he did it.

    So talent is important, but so are the relationships. I heard a guy got a cut on a Diamond Rio record because his wife worked out at the same gym as one of the band member's wives and passed the song along. Those things happen, and many of them in bars with drinking buddies.

    One thing that hasn't been mentioned about bass players is where you play in relation to the beat. If you play along with a metronome, almost every player (on any instrument) will be either a tiny bit ahead or behind the beat. I don't mean getting into the next note, I mean a very very small amount. It's a feel thing. Playing behind the beat is what gives things that drugged out sound. Some rock bands I know seek out drummers with this trait because it has a certain sound. Some players play in front of the beat which gives a song a driving sound. But the great session bass players play exactly on top of the beat. This gives a feeling of tightness to a recording that is ideal for Nashville session work. As far as I know, this isn't something that can be learned, it's just a trait that some have but most do not.

    Final bit of advice is - if you come to town with a goal in mind, plan to stay long enough to make it happen. I can't tell you how many song writers have moved here with $500 in their pocket planning to stay until the money runs out and hoping to get discovered before it does. Plan on getting a job (any job) so that you can stay until your dream is fulfilled.
    DrayMiles likes this.
  20. Read Boof's post...then read it again...and again....come back to it next year.... all of it is spot on as far as the past 10 years here in Nashville. The "Hang" factor is pretty important. Everyone here can play, but you're only on stage a few hours a day, and in close quarters in the bus for 20+hrs. Another thing that gets a bassist on the tour is backing vocals...if you can sing well, you are a diamond in the rough.... Rehearsal/Gig/soundcheck etiquette is important too... now go read Boof's post again.