Life in Music City – A student’s Perspective.

Stu Whisson 1
“It’s Not All Cowboy Boots and Stetson Hats Y’all.”
Creative Songwriting student, Stu Whisson’s point of view on life in the iconic Music City – Nashville.

One of my many but slightly odd goals, wishes, pipedreams, whatever you wish to call it, since my late teens, was to visit Nashville. Part of this came about from a slightly odd purchase of a Garth Brooks album that led to a greater discovery of the likes of Tim McGraw. Now let me just say, I am not an out and out country fan. Being a child of 70’s Britain, there were and are so many genres and bands, artists out there that captured my imagination way before: Genesis, Peter Gabriel, ELO, The Police, Fleetwood Mac and too many more to mention. You could say then, that country, to a lesser than greater degree was a guilty pleasure.

However, that was not the reason for my wanting to visit. Having taught myself to play the guitar and keyboards, and at the time being able to warble out a tune here and there, my desire was more out of curiosity, Nashville being a city who’s key focus is on the music industry. Having visited Nashville a few times now, I can easily say that my preconceived ideas about the home of country music, the industry, the people and what it’s truly like to live, write and be to a small extent part of a community of musicians and writers, were all blown out of the water very, very quickly.
What’s the first thing you think of when someone says Nashville to you? Is it cowboy music, the honky-tonk bars, Johnny Cash, The Ryman, Stetsons, cowboy boots, The Bluebird Café or the TV series of the same name? To many these days it’s likely to be a good mix of all of the above – one influencing the other.

Upon my arrival, I expected to see everyone wearing cowboy hats and boots-a-plenty. The irony of this, as my girlfriend, who is from Nashville put it, ‘You can spot a tourist miles away in Nashville, because they are the only ones wearing cowboy boots, Stetson hats and dressed up like they’ve stepped off of the set of the TV show’. The locals, the residents of Nashville don’t. They wear normal, everyday clothes. Granted, like everywhere, there’s a good amount of Hipsters floating around, drifting up from the trendy 12 South area, full of fancy bars, restaurants and Jeni’s Ice-cream parlour, where you can buy an overpriced ice-cream complete with Hipster Beard Sprinkles if you so wish.

The city is geared around and focused on music. There are publishers, record labels, recording studios a plenty. I believe every major label is here and some of the largest and most well equipped and staffed recording studios you could ever wish to set eyes on. There are musical equipment shops of every size, budget and more! Gibson make their guitars right here in the city and you can take a tour of the factory. Nashville is very much like LA is to its own industry. You go into a bar, or restaurant and the waitress will be some aspiring singer, songwriter, much like the waitress would be an aspiring actress in LA; and every Uber driver I had, was a musician of sorts. One of our neighbours was a successful session drummer, his wife from Manchester in the UK, a singer; in another part of the subdivision, there was a guy who works for Dolly Parton.

Everyone, to some degree, knows someone who is involved in the industry. There is a palpable sense that those of a certain age who do come here, are just waiting to be discovered. The reality, like their counterparts in LA, is that not all will.
The people of Nashville are incredibly warm and welcoming and rightly very proud of a city that is steeped in music history surrounded by amazing countryside and beauty – it’s a little like the UK countryside on steroids. And the industry here is booming; Nashville has moved on from country music to become a centre of music making excellence. The city is growing by 1000 people every two weeks, and many of those who arrive are in the music industry, flocking from LA and New York. Even the hugely famous come here because of the unwritten rule that the locals don’t bother the famous residents, new and old, when they are out enjoying life in their new home-town.

As an outsider, coming here as a musician, the first thing that strikes you is how highly skilled everyone is. Be it the band playing in a bar, who would be incredible elsewhere, considered so-so here, but sounding amazing still. Or the guy working in the music shop, picking up a guitar and playing and singing something original, probably made up on the spot, or even my girlfriend who’s a lawyer, but is a highly accomplished pianist. It’s humbling and made me instantly aware of where I was and where they were and the jobs they were still doing. My ideal was to co-write with some people whilst I was here. There are ‘meet-up’ groups but these tend to be just people getting together to strum along and sing along. There is a lot of co-writing that goes on, an incredible amount, but it is often amongst those already within a very select circle, those that have got their foothold within an industry that everyone there is knocking on the door of. It is obviously apparent that you need to not only be incredibly well skilled, something I am still working on, but you need the contacts too. That I am working on also and will only reign in when I know I am good. I’ve eaten a lot of humble pie in these six months, seeing some incredibly talented people that deserve great success but are waiting tables, pouring beer, or playing keyboards singing songs in some taco bar.

For me, in my 46 years, I’ve never met such a welcoming, friendly bunch of people, who live and breathe music, attract incredibly talented people from all over the US and the World, yet remain positive and open to the possibility that it could be them who becomes the next Taylor Swift or Keith Urban, than I have in Nashville. If you’ve never been, then why not? Y’all welcome!

Stu Whisson
BA(HONS) Creative Songwriting.