How to "Make It" in Nashville
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
I have a problem with momentum. I played, wrote and lived in Brooklyn for three years, made an $8,000 Kickstarter record there. Then I got frustrated and moved to Nashville last year, ended up second place in their local radio competition a few months ago, and got lots of radio play. Now what? With my career I always seem to be able to get momentum going, but then it fizzles. How do I keep momentum? How do I get to the next level? What should my next level be? I'm SO broke all the time I can't afford much more than DIY fixes. I have SO many questions! I haven't toured yet, should I? Should I make a new album? Should I seek out A&R people? There are so many directions to go, but which ones actually work? I've been doing this since 2007 and feel like I'm doing something wrong. Help me, Fan Landers!
New Lady in Nashville
Dear Lady of Nashville,
There is some part of this that doesn't make sense. As much as success is sometimes dumb luck, at least 47 percent is due to one's ability to hustle (other factors that may help: good songs, being hot, being a well-connected white man). You obviously have some real hustle if you can drum up eight large via Kickstarter for a debut. You have a lovely voice and are a fine songwriter; I can understand why people pay attention to you -- and maybe that is just what's happening -- but to me it sounds like you have a ton of ambition and hustle, and that maybe the issue is not so much "what next?" but the idea that the next thing is going to give you a permanent career fix.
There may only be one big thing that happens for you every once in a while. The rest is the hustle, hassle and joy of what I imagine you are doing: playing shows, trying to promote them, trying to connect with other musicians. You are new in a town where everyone is trying to make it, where there is a decent amount of pay-to-play action, and plenty of been-around-forever, by-the-book industry guys who will insist that if you do X, Y or Z everything will fall into place -- it's easy to be a little crushed or even consumed by the idea of the next right move and a traditional career trajectory that forever ascends. But very rarely is that the case.
I am glad you are looking for DIY fixes, rather than asking how to find a manager to fix things. There are some things you can do to make sure that you are paving the way for opportunities to find you, and for you to create something like momentum: Play a few shows a month, ingratiate yourself into the scene wherever you find it, find your peers in the DIY country scene and network with them, do showcases and basement shows, get on an in-store at Grimeys, start a tumblr where you profile other songwriters in town so you have a chance to talk to people about the city, career and craft (free advice for yourself and other musicians). If that's too involved, maybe just ask people who's career model you admire if you can buy them a drink sometime and pick their brain; sponge up some mentorship, ask them some big-picture questions about how they got to where they are, their philosophy about it. Maybe you can rope in a few cameos later on when it's time to make your next record.