A good friend of mine once said:
“They never tell you ‘no’ in Nashville — they just don’t tell you ‘yes.’”
While amusing, it’s actually sadly true more often than I wish it were — and it’s something I’m sure many have experienced both in this town and beyond.
You see, Nashville’s music community has its own unique mentality compared with other hubs like New York and Los Angeles. Maybe it’s partially because Nashville is a southern city, and people are just so darn polite here, they’re afraid to break your heart and let you down. But, secretly, songwriters in Nashville are also always trying to gain a strategic edge. So while they’re always looking to co-write and work with bigger and bigger artists, they also don’t want to develop a reputation for turning people down.
Here are a couple ways to know if you’re getting the “Nashville No.”
Not Getting a Response… At All
If you’re lucky, you’ll organically develop relationships with hit writers — hopefully, you’ll have the chance to bounce song ideas back and forth and connect on projects. But a lot of the time, it’s not that easy.
And that’s normal; you’re supposed to have to earn your seat at the table.
Although, it still does sting pretty hard when you throw a great idea out to someone and get no response at all. Email crickets. Sure, that’s a polite way of saying they’re not into that particular idea. It’s usually best to just drop it and move on rather than force the issue. It may not be the right fit, and that’s fine.
In person though, the “Nashville No” can be pretty awkward when, for example, you’re at a café and you run into a publisher or A&R person you know and try to hand them a CD or request a meeting. In this town, that’s a recipe for the most awkward silent pause you’ll ever experience. They might even just stand there for a while silently before even taking your card. Nobody is going to tell you straight up they don’t want you when you’re inches from their face — they’ll just be polite (or politely ignore you) until one of you leaves.
Here’s the thing: You’re getting a “no.” And it’s important to recognize that, more often than not, it’s coming from a place of politeness, not rudeness. While this is no doubt frustrating for you, it makes sense for them to only focus on responding to artists and songs they’re interested in. But that doesn’t mean you should quit and walk away; it just means that at this moment, it’s not a fit.
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There’s No Room in the Schedule
I once made the faux pas of approaching a writer much higher up on the fame ladder — I was new on the scene, and he had already had a couple hits. I told him I admired his work and asked if he was interested in writing. After a long, awkward silence, he finally told me there was just no room in his schedule. I took the hint, shook his hand, and told him it was nice meeting him.
This “no” comes in a different form, too. If you’ve actually managed to get a meeting or co-writing session, but they keep having to reschedule, it’s a soft “no.”
If you’re working with an artist who really is highly in-demand, you might have to deal with being low priority on their list and getting moved around a lot. But if they move you around a couple times and can’t seem to find time to reschedule, take the hint — they’re politely showing you the door.
+ Read more on Flypaper: “How to Be the Band Nobody Wants to Play with – Ever Again (in 10 Easy Steps)”
Hearing “You’re Great, But…”
Once you reach a certain level, you’re gonna hear this a lot — a compliment followed by a “but.” “We love your music, but it’s not the right time for your act,” “You’re a great artist, but our roster is full right now,” or the dreaded “Your songs are great, but I have a ton just like them.”
These are all still a “no,” but they’re not necessarily hard ones. In fact, take it as a compliment and a potentially open window for the future. They like you enough to listen and respond but aren’t able to do anything at the moment. If the stars line up, you may well be working together in the future. If not, you’re at a point where you’re at least getting noticed, which is a good thing!
If you’re in the industry, you’re going to hear “no” a lot — whether the fabled “Nashville No” or otherwise. It’s important to take it in stride, be polite, and thank everybody for their time.
The important thing is not to take it personally and don’t burn your bridges; sending a pissy email isn’t going to get you anything but a bad reputation. Instead of pushing someone who has demonstrated a momentary lack of interest, take the opportunity to hit the pavement and get back to work creating higher and higher quality songs. Collaborate as much as possible, and spread your name patiently.
Better opportunities await you down the road.
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