By Claire Osburn
While most people are familiar with the state capital’s famous moniker, relatively few realize what being “Music City” actually means for Nashville.
The city reigns as one of the top three locations for the music industry in the country, as it cuts records and creates cash flow.
According to a study by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce Research Center, Nashville’s music industry brings almost $10 billion in annual revenue from Nashville’s metropolitan statistical area, which spans 14 counties. The industry has also generated more than 56,000 jobs, ranging from artists to record labels to marketing and promotions to manufacturing and distribution.
One hundred and ninety recording studios, 130 music publishers, 80 record labels, 124 performance venues and about 5,000 working musicians call Nashville home, as reported in the same study.
The musically gifted have flocked to Nashville in the form of artists, audio engineers, producers and businessmen to be a part of this ever-growing hub of music and culture.
The status ensures that local venues — ranging from renowned former church The Ryman, to native favorites like The Mercy Lounge — book artists ranging from indie acts to heavy hitters, so music lovers have every opportunity to see their favorite bands play.
The total outreach of the music industry is immeasurable, as it is constantly evolving with new technology, tastes and revenue streams.
In today’s technology driven world, anyone with the right equipment can create and upload music from the comfort of a couch, seemingly rendering the music industry useless.
So, how does the lifeblood of Nashville stay relevant and profitable?
Look no further than to MTSU’s notorious recording industry program where many former and current students have already found success in the local music industry.
Katie McCartney, a 2008 MTSU grad, currently works as the director of marketing and artist development for
p Nashville, the country component of one of the biggest record labels in the country.
“Its our [department’s] job to communicate with management for our artist roster, to make sure we’re communicating with all the departments,” McCartney said. “We’re pretty much like the glue.”
The label boasts some of country’s biggest artists, including Lady Antebellum, Luke Bryan and Keith Urban.
While larger labels’ success exists more in the mainstream, it’s impossible to ignore the momentum independent labels are gaining.
Joey Luscinski started interning at folk label Dualtone Records — home to acts such as The Lumineers — while he was still a student at the university. Ten years later, he’s still working at his “dream job” as the director of art and production.
“We’re a really small company, so we wear a lot of hats so probably the best way to put it would be general manager,” Luscinski said of his job. In actuality, he deals with all facets of production, album artwork, manufacturing and both physical and digital distribution.
Though the majors are more vocal about their successes, every type of label has their strengths.
“The business is ever changing,” McCartney said. “The way I look at it, from my personal perspective, is what a major label can offer that you can’t necessarily go find independently is critical mass.”
According to Luscinski, while majors may put out as many as 30 albums a year, indies put out about five. This, in turn offers their artists a more intimate album release experience.
“We’re contingent on an album breaking even and then some,” Luscinski said. “The way that we’re able to do that is because of the fact that every release that we put out is a key release for that year, so we’re all hands on deck for every single release that we put out. Every release we put out is a priority.”
More and more individuals are opting to skip the middleman all together in favor of putting out their own music and maintaining creative control.
James Belt, otherwise known as “Jayme Be,” an MTSU senior majoring in music business, is one such individual.
After moving to Tennessee from Virginia, the Kid Cudi-influenced, hip-hop artist decided to establish his own label, Green Lite Rhythm, which includes a crew of fellow artists, producers and entrepreneurs.
“When I started learning about the way they [bigger record labels] can kind of hold you back in terms of the contracts and the way they can gain your money, they way they handle business, I was just like its just not right, especially this day and age,” Belt said. “Why would you need any of that? An indie label is just as successful, if not more successful than a major label and even if I went to a major label there’s a risk of changing my sound, changing what I do and that wouldn’t carry over.”
Though McCartney, Luscinski and Belt operate on different levels of the music industry, there’s one thing they agree on — the importance of today’s most effective marketing tool: social media.
“[Social media] is a huge part of today’s marketing, it is, dare I say, half of it?” McCartney laughed.
“It’s really a one-on-one kind of relationship when it comes to marketing,” Luscinski agreed. “Social media is a huge part of all that nowadays, so its basically about growing their [the artists’] fan base over socials, be it Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, or what have you.” There are many ways that social media helps artists grow their fan base. In recent years Instagram has become to one of the major social media platforms for building an audience. Although with Instagram finding a way to get instagram followers for free can be difficult, there are services similar to SocialFollow, which may be able to lend a helping hand with building a following for artists and other users.
Belt and his team utilize these sites to create buzz surrounding single releases and communicate with fans, stating the importance of creating an online “congregation,” rather than allowing the Internet to “isolate” them.
Tactics like event promotion, partnerships with sites like Vevo and good relationships with blogs also help maintain Universal’s success, while
Dualtone relies on the power of live performances and Green Lite on word of mouth.
“I’d rather have one out of 50 people love what I do, than 49 people say it’s okay,” Belt said. “At least odds are that one person is gonna be more than likely to tell one of his 10 friends or siblings or whatever and maybe one of their 10 friends will like it. That’s all I need is just one, and then one of them will tell someone else, so we’re looking for that niche market.”
For now that means continuing to release their Logic-recorded tracks on sites like SoundCloud and TuneCore, and playing small shows to build a following.
“There’s so many things that could happen that could make this fall apart,” Belt said of his endeavors. “And yet, we stick together as friends and as coworkers, and we just roll that dice, and we’ll take what we get, and the more we put in the more we get back.”
As far as the future of Universal is concerned, the powerhouse is thinking more about the big picture.
“We don’t ignore anything,” McCartney said. “That’s why we have a dedicated digital department, and why we have a dedicated publicity department, and why we have people like me who are making sure new and different ideas are happening all the time and partnerships with brands.”
Meanwhile indie darling Dualtone is concerned with longevity and ultimately, their relationship with their artists.
“It’s something we come to the table and say, ‘Obviously, you have a great thing going, we have a great thing going, let’s put them both together, and see if we can’t make it better on both ends,’ and that’s worked out really well for us,” Luscinski said. “I can see that logic trickling up towards bigger entities as time goes on to where it’s not so much about ownership of content, but more about building careers, and hopefully that’s what we’re still doing in five or 10 years.”
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