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The Songwriter’s Guide to Nashville

nashville songwriting

So you’ve made the decision: You’re going to visit Nashville.

You’re a songwriter or an artist or a band, and you’ve heard some amazing stories coming out of Music City. You’re thinking it’s high time to check out this rhinestone studded, boot scootin’ music mecca that everyone is talking about.

Congratulations on making the latest big decision in your music career! Visiting Nashville (or any other music capital) is proof that you’re seriously considering this whole music career thing for real, for real. Making that leap is no small accomplishment.

So while you’re planning, keep this in mind:

There’s a big difference between visiting Nashville, and visiting Nashville to do work and move your career forward.

It can be overwhelming when you start thinking of the possible ways to make the most of your time in town. Like, should you make a bunch of copies of your demo and start dropping them off door to door along music row? (Pro-tip: No.)

To combat the career-planning-anxiety, we’ve compiled a small bucket list to help you make the most of your trip to Nashville:

Before your trip:

How to come up with a band name
Get some promotional material printed.

Research the 3 PROs: ASCAP, SESAC, and BMI.

Dig into these Performance Rights Organizations and see which one feels like a good fit for you. PROs are important because they work to protect your copyrights on your behalf, and collect your royalties from broadcasts and live performances. They also offer a number of other resources, including workshops, shows, events, and meetings with songwriter reps. If you find one you like, join! If you’re not sure, set up meetings during your trip…

+ Hone your songwriting skills with our course, The New Songwriter’s Workshop!

Set up a meeting with a rep at your PRO.

Reps are the little mentor angels from music career heaven. When you’re a member, your rep will meet with you, free of charge, answer any and all of your questions, and help you move your career forward. Keep in mind, they will set up meetings for you only when they think you’re ready for those meetings. So don’t be disappointed if your rep doesn’t hook you up with the head of Sony after your first meeting. They need to get to know you and your music (and your work ethic) before they recommend you to their contacts in the industry.

Organize lyric sheets and demos.

Get all your best songs in order and burn some discs (or bring plenty copies of your album). They should include 3-5 songs, with all your contact info on the CD and on the case. Bring lyric sheets for each song. Multiple copies, each with all your contact info again. Make it easy and clear for someone to get a hold of you if they like your songs!

Print business cards.

You’ll be handing them out like candy! Include your website, email, phone, social media accounts, or any other way you like to be reached.

Have a website or an EPK.

Have a home on the web where people can look you up later. Include bio info, playable songs, and a great photo of yourself on the homepage. While something is better than nothing, be sure your web presence is high quality. If you can’t afford a web designer to build your site for you, Sonicbids will let you create a free, professional EPK that you can continue to use even when your subscription has run out. I use mine all. The. Time.

Email or call anyone you want to try and meet with.

Start reaching out! Publishers, managers, labels, anyone you’d like to try to meet with. Keep these things in mind when cold emailing music industry execs: They will most likely not reply. This is just how it works, don’t take it personally. Be kind and polite. Explain your goals and why you’d like to meet.

DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT send music without their express permission first!

In your first email, ask if you can send them some songs. If they say “Sure!” then go right on ahead. If not, do not send them music. Many music industry businesses legally cannot collect unsolicited material, otherwise they put themselves in a sticky situation where they could potentially be sued for copyright infringement. So just don’t do it.

Know your goals.

Be able to verbalize your goals when someone asks about them:

“I’m looking for co-writers to write for an album I’d like to release next year.” or “I’m gigging around the country and selling records on my own, but I’d really love to find a great management team to work with.”

Or even, “I’m looking to join an awesome crew of staff writers at a publisher and write some of my best songs with them.”

Don’t put pressure on yourself.

Understand that you’re going to scope out the area and meet some like-minded people, not to sign a record deal. This is not the end-all-be-all of trips — it’s reconnaissance.

When you’re in town:

NSAI workshop
Attend an NSAI workshop

Meet with your rep at your PRO.

All that PRO research will pay off when you sit down with your rep. They will listen to your music, ask you about your goals, and the two of you will get to know each other. Be kind and humble and have a great meeting!

Join NSAI and attend a workshop and pitch.

Stop by the music mill building and pick up a membership with the Nashville Songwriter’s Association International. A membership with NSAI gets you access to weekly workshops, pitch-to-publisher nights, song critiques, mentor meetings, and a myriad of other opportunities. Jackpot!

If you can attend a workshop or pitch while you’re in town, DO IT. This is where you can network your butt off and gain valuable education in your field.

Join Global Songwriter’s Connection and attend a workshop or a pitch.

Much like NSAI, Global Songwriter’s Connection is a songwriter membership circle that provides one-on-one mentoring, publisher pitch opportunities, workshops, and more. What’s different and valuable about GSC is that the interaction you get is customized and highly personal to your particular goals. You can book a mentoring session with President Sheree Spoltore right on their website.

+ Nashville is also a great addition to your band’s next tour! Plan and book a tour with our FREE course, Touring on a Shoestring.

Meet with people you want to work with.

Start going to those meetings you set up before you left! Check out demo studios for your songs, get to know the producers, have coffee with managers. Try and find those people that love your music as much as you do.

Be open to impromptu meetings, as well. Strike up a conversation with an awesome writer at the bar? Take them out to lunch the next day.

Check out writers’ nights at these venues:

So important! This is the one thing you definitely don’t want to neglect. Go see some great live music! If you’re a songwriter, go to the writer’s nights around town. Songwriter nights are where everyone goes to network and socialize. You can meet cowriters, engineers, players, and all sorts of music makers at writers nights. If it’s a venue you’d like to play at, approach the host or booker and start a conversation with him about how you could play next time you’re in town.

I suggest checking out The Listening Room, Douglas Corner Cafe, and Wildfire Nights at South. You’ll also find some great music playing at The Row restaurant, Bobby’s Idle Hour, Winners and Losers, and the Commodore Bar and Grille.

Set up some co-writes.

Make an awesome new friend and can’t wait to get writing with them? Set it up! Most of the PROs have writers’ rooms for their members to use as part of their membership. So does NSAI. Go write a hit!

What to do for fun:

You’re here for business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have some fun on your first Nashville trip, too!

Ryman Auditorium
Catch a show at the classic Ryman Auditorium

Country Music Hall of Fame.

Even if you’re not a fan of museums, the CMHoF has something for everyone. From contemporary exhibits, a whole interactive wing to Elvis’ gold cadillac, you’re sure to have a blast.

See a Bluebird show.

Enrich your soul and see an intimate show at the Bluebird. Tickets sell a week ahead, or wait in line for the free show on Sunday night.

Lower Broadway.

Drinking, honky tonks, and some of the best musicianship you’ll ever hear. Yeehaw!

Tour the Ryman.

The backstage tour is so worth it.

Check out local festivals and events.

There’s always something happening in the ‘ville, especially in the summer. Check out NashvilleGuru.com to see what’s going on when you’re in town.

Have you had a great trip to Nashville lately? Let us know all about it in the comments below?

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Sarah Spencer

Sarah Spencer is a singer and songwriter working, living, and playing in Nashville, Tennessee. By day, she is the lead web designer at boutique creative agency for musicians and industry professionals. When she’s not focusing on the web, Sarah spends her evenings writing songs and playing writer’s rounds around town. With a unique combination of experience & skills, she takes to the internet to blog on topics ranging from the music industry and country music, to songwriting and creativity. Her humble labor of love, SongFancy.com, serves as a resource for tools and inspiration about the craft and business of songwriting.