Nashville Is A Small Town

With a population over 600,000, you might not think Nashville is a small town, but it is. And in terms of the music industry, I've been told and I'm learning that it's very much a company town. Everybody talks to everybody. Reputations travel fast, and you never know who you might be talking to or who they might talk to. This person is friends with Eric Paslay, or that person used to live with Taylor Swift's bass player, or the table in the house that you live in used to belong to Alison Krauss. Nashville truly is a music community with ties running deep and wide, so be cool. Be positive. Be easy to work with. Be open to ideas. Be a generally good person to be around. These things - sometimes more than your talent and skill level - can honestly be the difference between watching that next door open or not.

As a new songwriter in town I try to go out to at least 3-5 open mics a week. They're good opportunities to try out new material and expose your music to other musicians and songwriters, as well as hear theirs. These people are your peers, colleagues, and potential collaborators, and even if you don't end up working with them you might work with someone connected through them. Yes, as I've written before open mics in Nashville are very much the same as open mics anywhere else, but where they differ is that we've all chosen this city and are all kinda in the same boat. I've met people and had some great conversations while just standing around, drinking a beer, waiting for our slots to come up on the list.

The other night I was out at a particular open mic, listening to a songwriter that I have heard and met before (we're not really friends, but we're acquaintances because if you go to enough open mics you start to see a lot of the same people and faces get familiar). He's a talented guy and a regular at this open mic and others, but about a minute into his intimate second song of the night he abruptly stopped and said with some frustration that the boomy bass EQ on his guitar through his on-stage monitor was too distracting for him to continue. It was a jarring moment when juxtaposed with the apparent quiet tenderness of the song and the usually lighthearted nature of these events (sure, your songs may be serious, but everyone is out to have a good time). He borrowed another musician's guitar and tried again, but encountered the same problem. And seemingly before I realized what was happening he was off the stage putting his guitar away directly in front of me, his aggravation showing through the way he was packing up. It caused me to stop for a second and say to myself, "What the hell just happened?" And I could hear the surprise in the voice of the host as she thanked the performers and introduced the next ones.

Two things: first, it has been my experience that open mics in Nashville have better sound quality than most if not all others that I've played at. Venues around here have on-stage monitors, and time is usually taken to get the levels and EQs right for each performer - a practice that is decidedly unusual in other places. Yes, there were some technical issues going on with the PA throughout the night, but even though that's the case this was still an open mic. Of course everyone wants to sound their best, but you can't expect things to be perfect. When he stopped playing it was abrupt and a little startling, particularly because the crowd was hearing none of the problem that he was apparently dealing with. As a professional, sometimes you have to work through conditions that are less than optimal.

Second, I've seen this guy play before. I know he's talented, my interactions with him have always been friendly, and for whatever reason he was obviously having a bad night. We all have them, and I wouldn't be surprised if he felt or feels bad about how he acted. It's not my intention to call him out, but rather to use the story to illustrate a point we should all keep in mind: what about the person there that night who hadn't seen him before? What were they thinking about the songwriter complaining and then leaving the stage because his monitor mix wasn't what he wanted it to be? First impressions are often the most important, everyone's trying to get it right the first time, and whenever you're playing an open mic you have to assume you're making a first impression on at least someone, if not a very important someone. And no matter how poorly you think you've played or the difficulties you had to deal with, you have to ask yourself: what kind of impression do you want to leave?

Nashville is a small town, and it's important to act like it.

Leave a comment

    Add comment