Nashville. The home of country music. It makes me think of the past. The Grand Ole Opry, Tootsie's, Music Row, the Bluebird Café, and Waffle house. Does Waffle house deserve to be on the list of the great things about Nashville? My tummy thinks so, and it is full from going to breakfast there today.
I was talking to a songwriter named Skip that I met at the Commodore Grill last night. We were both playing the Open Mic on Sunday night. We both commented on how friendly folks are in Nashville. He told me that he noticed it as soon as he walked off the plane. Nashville is everyday people, doing the same everyday jobs, (like we all do) but with a friendly smile and a Hi.
How does a town get a reputation like that? I bet every city wishes that visitors to their towns felt that way. I work at Dillons grocery store (Kroger) and that is what my company wants. They want us to be friendly to get more customers, to get more customers to come back, so they can sell more groceries and make more money. We are always coaching and training our associates to be friendly but how do you get everybody in town to be friendly.
Let me share what I think the reason is with a story from my audition yesterday. This was not my first time to audition at the Bluebird. This was audition time number three. At the audition yesterday they asked, " How many people have been here twice?" I raised my hand. Was that the total truth? The truth was that it was my third time but I have been here twice.
Fifty people were there to audition. You get to play one minute. A verse and a chorus. The reasoning is this, If somebody is listening to a song on the radio, if they don't like it they will change stations after one minute. This is how they have done the auditioning at the Bluebird for years. Today we live in a faster paced world than ever. If I am watching something on You tube I always check the time to see how long it is. I can make a decision if this subject, song, skit, etc. is worth investing my time. Who knows in the future the Bluebird may only give us 30 seconds to make a great impression.
The host showed us how and where to hang the chords after we unplug it from our guitars. She also demonstrated how to adjust the mic stand to get it to be the correct height. Also what information that they wanted us to share before we play. Our name, where we are from, and the name of our song. It is amazing how many people can not follow simple directions.
The last audition I attended had three girls that were pre-teens. They were very talented and had very good songs. Here is an example of what they would say, " Hi! My name is Emily and I am twelve years old. I am from Memphis, Tennessee. The name of my song is Rainbows and Glitter. Did you catch the extra piece of information in their introduction? I am twelve. Twelve! At twelve, I wasn't auditioning at the Bluebird. I was sitting on the couch watching a black and white TV that got four channels on a sunny day.
After the third child had told her age, a guy about my age got up to play. He looked very serious. He said, " My name is Alan. I am fifty- three years old and the name of my song is "Life lessons." The whole crowd started laughing. I made up the song title because it was a trivial detail.
I was amazed at how many people had just moved to Nashville. A twenty year old girl from Texas had been in Nashville for one month, a thirty year old guy is going into his fifth month, and old gray hair guy has been her ten years and the list goes on and on. The people that are coming here are dream chasers. They are not sitting on the couch saying, "Someday, I want to move to Nashville." No, they are quitting their jobs, packing up the kids clothes, finding a new school for their children to attend, finding a new home in a good or not so good neighborhood, and rolling the dice with their life.
They are the Lewis and Clark adventurers of the twenty first century. I believe that people are happier in Nashville because they are chasing the dream. Maybe, their dreams won't come true, maybe they will be going back home in a couple years but they won't have to live with regrets. The coulda, woulda, shoulda regrets. I think this makes Nashville residents happier and friendlier.
The Bluebird is now owned by Nashville Songwriter's Association. I have been a member their for about ten years. I have sent in many song to be evaluated at NSAI- Nashville Songwriting Association International. In the old days you could pick your evaluator. I remember the first song that I ever sent in. It was called Fourth and Main. My evaluator was Richard Helm. Richard gave me what I needed from an evaluator. Open and honest feedback with lots of encouragement. His encouragement was like a crazy man throwing gasoline on an open flame.
Richard wrote a page and a half on my first evaluation. I was dying for feedback. I wanted to get better but I needed help. One thing to remember was how green I was to the process. I had ideas for songs and they were creative but I didn't know how to edit a song. What a curse and what a blessing. I would write down ideas with no filter. What is a filter? The voice in your head that says, "Change that" even before you type it. Some stuff was good and some was bad but in the beginning you just need stuff. Richard coached me on the things that I needed to improve on.
I remember one comment that Richard said to me in my evaluation. "Jim you need to move to Nashville." These words were coming from a former A&R guy from a major label. Some folks may not know what an A&R person is. A&R stands for "Artists and repertoire. It is the division of the record label or music publishing company that is responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and songwriters. I was thrilled. Somebody thought that I had the goods. I was excited but then I read the next line.
"But Jim, I'm afraid that Nashville would ruin you." I was so glad that Richard went on to explain because I was confused. Nashville is all about hit songs. Nashville is about the music business. Did you catch that last word? Business. Business is not a fun word. I like fun words and fun things. I like to play sports. I like to play games. I like to play basketball. I like to play guitar. Play is my key word. Business and play don't go together in my world.
Business's have rules. Kroger had lots of rules. If I want to remain an employee at Kroger I got to follow their rules. Rules are not fun but I will admit that they are necessary. Kroger can not stay in the grocery business if we don't sell groceries. Plain and simple. We also got to sell the groceries for more money than we paid for them. This is called profit. Every business needs to make a profit or they will not be around very long. These principles apply to the music business also.
The money makers in the music business are hit songs. You can have the best artist in the world and he will not succeed without a great song. We have heard the comment about how great singers can sing the phone book. What is a phone book? Yes, they can but the phone book won't become a number one hit and that is where the money is.
I was writing songs that meant something to me. Were they universal like the music business wants? No. Were they creative? Yes. I remember one song I wrote, God in a box. The song was about how I limit God by my lack of faith. God can do great things but I forget that he can. I don't shoot for the stars instead I throw Frisbees onto the roof top. What would God do in our lives if we fully believed that he wanted nothing but the very best for us. Would their be anything that we would not be willing to try?
I struggled with the idea of moving to Nashville. Every book you read about being a songwriter tells you that you need to be present to win. "Move to Nashville." I want to win. I like to win and I hate to lose. I understand this about myself. I am a terrible gambler. A gambler loves to wins and is okay with losing. That is how they can bet big sums of money and roll the dice.
I remember the day that God gave me a peace about if I should move. I was at an NSAI event in Nashville and Tom Douglas was the speaker. Tom has written many hits over the years and is in the country music songwriting Hall of Fame. Here is a list of some of his songs, Little Rock, recorded by Collin Raye. Grown men don't cry and Southern voice recorded by Tim McGraw and another one of my favorites- The house that built me, recorded by Miranda Lambert. Great songs.
Tom went to college at Georgia State University and received an MBA. He sold advertising in Atlanta. At the age of twenty-seven he quit his job and started a publishing company with a couple of his friends. Two years later he packed up and moved to Nashville. He spent four years in Nashville writing and playing at coffee houses and plugging his songs. He acknowledged later that , "He never got anywhere because my songs weren't very good. " He moved to Texas with his wife and started a successful career in commercial real estate.
Tom did the commercial real estate for thirteen years. The last five years his interest in songwriting came to life. He started reading books and attending the Dallas songwriting chapter. His songs were getting better and people could feel the emotion in his songs. Tom was writing songs because he loved it. He didn't have to write. His paycheck did not hinge upon his ability to write a song. He was free to write his songs in his way. After finding this freedom he wrote a song that would become a hit song. "Little Rock"
Tom told that story to the crowd at NSAI. A room full of songwriters from Nashville and other cities throughout the USA and the world. Tom said something like this. " You don't have to live in Nashville to be a hit songwriter. I am living proof of that. I don't know where you are from but I am telling you that your dreams can still come true. You can be from Topeka, Kansas and you can make it big. "
That was a God moment in my life. Here was a problem that I had been thinking about and struggling with. I will tell you how I felt. God in that moment of time said, " Jim you are right where I want you. I want you in Topeka, Kansas. I know you want to do this but trust me, you don't have to move to Nashville." When Tom made that statement that day to a crowd of two hundred fifty songwriters I heard someone shout out, "Amen!" That someone was me.
How long can a God moment like this affect a person? A long time. As I type out these words I feel the rush of adrenaline I felt that day. Do I think that my songs are better than the seasoned songwriters in Nashville? How in the world will you get a publisher to even listen to your songs without being in Nashville? I don't have the correct answer to either of those questions. It's not my responsibility to figure it all out, to worry about it, to scheme about it, to meet the right people, and the list goes on and on. God is in the music business. God is in the life business. God will take care of the details. I need to do my job. Write the best songs that I can. The rest is up to him.