The music industry is a people business. If you want to work with someone, they have to know you or know of you. It should be your job, along with actually making and showcasing your music, to become familiar with people and this town. That being said, what I have not made clear is how to protect yourself and keep your integrity intact. Since moving to town I have warded off unwanted advances, strip clubs, racial prejudice, and drugs – all coming from people I thought wanted to “write” with me, “help” me with my career, etc…
My first example of a toxic Nashville relationship came when I was new to town and eager to fit in. I invested a great deal of time into someone who has been here a while, wanted to write with me, and seemingly knew the “ins and outs” of Nashville. They took me around to the honky tonks, used my vocals on some of their original music, and we even wrote a few songs. I became a fixture in their home and I was their biggest cheerleader. Looking back now, I fear they may have misread my eagerness to talk about music and put myself into industry situations as an eagerness to get to know them.
The first of many red flags was the day they said to me, “I am not writing with you because you are a good writer, I am writing with you because I like your voice.” This does not sound that harsh, but in the context of how it was said it just didn’t sit right with me. I actually started to have second thoughts about moving here and thought maybe I was not a good songwriter and I should just stick to singing. They paraded me around music row showing off my vocals but looking back now all of that was to make them look like they knew “people.” During one such meeting on music row, when they left the room, the record executive told me to watch this person; their m.o. was to get people under their wing and keep them there as long as possible with no real intention of helping their career. This advice heightened my senses and make me more aware of the situation.
All of the late nights and long days helped to wrap me up in this person’s life. I thought, “Man, I am actually making music and doing the Nashville thing!” But why was I spending all of this time with someone who was not sincerely backing my efforts? I thought I had actually gained a friend, a co-writer, and an advocate in this town. Towards the end of the “musical honeymoon” I began to see through the wool over my eyes and I slowly pulled away.
I share this to say at some point or another everyone gets in over their head. You want to believe that people are out to help you. You want to believe that people really do like your singing and songwriting. Sometimes they really do. But as long as people are in the equation, you can rest assured there will always be the possibility of mal-intent. You can not ignore that feeling inside of yourself, no matter how many connections the person has, no matter how many cuts or awards they might have. If they are treating you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, I would hope you run, run as fast as you can and remember why you came here. Rude jokes, uncomfortable situations, inappropriate behaviors are not standard in Nashville. There are plenty of professional people that encourage music and get the job done on the “up and up.”
No matter how much you want music, I hope you want your integrity more. I am not writing this with the “woe is me” victim mentality. I am admitting that I was “green” to town and I didn’t know what was standard procedure vs. being taken advantage of. You should find people with sincere hearts and stick by them. Surround yourself with wise counsel and you will be able to protect your boundaries. Someone once told me that if a career in music is meant to be for you, there is nothing you can do to make it come faster and nothing you can do to stop it. You don’t want to end up as breaking news on Entertainment Tonight or as the featured entertainer of E’s True Hollywood Story. In your eagerness to harness the passion for music, be sure to listen to your gut and keep your integrity intact.