Travis Terrell, Guest columnist
Published 6:00 a.m. CT Aug. 29, 2019
The Nashville skyline as seen from just South of Broadway near 4th Ave. (Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)
When I first moved to Nashville in 2008, I didn’t know what to expect.
I had some college courses in music business under my belt, and I’d been a musician for as long as I could remember. But Nashville is Music City USA, and it’s intimidating to realize you’re now swimming in a much bigger pond.
Before too long, I landed a gig touring with Disney pop band Everlife as a performer; which led to crew and bus driving duty for Alan Jackson, YES, Aretha Franklin, Blondie and Phish; which led to music production work with Micah Sannan; which led to the two of us and Trevor Hinesley founding Soundstripe in 2016.
But even though I managed to find my way, I still remember those first few days in town with a dream in my head and no idea how to attain it.
Today, more young people than ever are moving to Nashville for a shot at making it in the music business, and I can’t help but feel bad when I see them struggling to get a foothold. For that reason, I put together 10 important lessons I learned from my experiences as a Nashville newbie-turned-10-plus-year-resident.
Travis Terrell offers his 10 best tips for making it in Music City. (Photo: Submitted)
1. Music City is a relationship town.
Sitting in your apartment alone won’t do you any good. Get out and go meet people. This sounds so elementary, but 50% of the people who move here will move back just because they didn’t make any friends.
2. Don’t try to dethrone the top musicians and other crew so you can become Taylor Swift’s guitar player or a top session player.
That will most likely not happen. It’s more about creating the new thing and joining the new generation, and that happens when you build relationships with people that are also new to town. In a few years, those new people will be running the town, so get in while it’s early.
Mike Bird greets patrons as they enter The Stage on Broadway during the CMA Fest in Nashville on June 9. (Photo: Mike Clark / For The The Tennessean)
3. Nashville is a 10-year town.
Do not come in with expectations that you are going to get a big job within a year. You may. But probably not. And that’s ok.
4. Get a job while you are figuring out Nashville.
Your first three months should be spent meeting people and finding real work. You need to survive. If you just focus on music, your bank account will run dry and you will be moving back home.
5. Full-time session musicians are almost a thing of the past, except for the top 1% in Nashville.
If you have a desire to be in the studio, become a producer. It will pay dividends to just playing bass sessions. But if you really want to become a session musician, be known for something unique.
6. Learn a craft that is beyond your instrument.
You probably went to school and spent a ton of time learning your instrument, but that is not enough to become full-time now. Apply your knowledge to learning other skills like producing, songwriting, etc.
7. BE HUMBLE.
You will not be the best musician in town. In fact, your barista and waiter are probably better. This is Nashville, and you are no longer in a small pond. You won’t be able to out-play some people, but you could out-nice them.
8. Be a good hang.
Most musicians who get hired on the road are, most of all, good hangs. Look, you will spend 20 hours a day with these people on a cramped-up bus for months. If you are difficult, you won’t last. There are many fantastic musicians who are not working because of this.
Fans listen to Chris Janson perform during the 2019 CMA Fest on June 9. (Photo: Larry McCormack / Tennessean.com)
9. Once you get a good touring job, have fun.
But also start thinking about the day it will end. Even the best gigs will end. You are now a self-employed businessperson.
10. Enjoy yourself.
These are some of the greatest, most interesting, most adventurous times of your life. Even if your stint is only five or six years, you will never forget your time in Music City.
And one last thing: Whatever you think you are moving to Nashville for, it will turn out different. Once you figure that out and are willing to go with the flow, chances are you’ll find your place in Music City USA.
Hope to see you in town.
Travis Terrell is Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Soundstripe, an online platform for independent filmmakers to access royalty-free music via a unique subscription model.
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