When musicians first come to Nashville they receive advice from all angles and ages. Since there is no exact formula for success, people become zealots for what has worked for them and what they are familiar with. They are eager to share tips and secrets with newcomers. But remember, Nashville is a personal journey – what opens a door for one person may close the same door for another.
The lead singer of a cover band might tell you, “You HAVE to sing in a bar on Lower Broad to be heard!” In contrast, a songwriter could say, “You MUST avoid the bars on Lower Broad if you want to be taken seriously.” This type of contradiction can be found all over town. People will lovingly disagree on what bars to play at, who to write with, what organizations to join, what zip codes to sing in, how much money projects should cost, etc… Remember, this town is a personal experience, one in which your own interactions will help you decide.
One bit of advice that does seem to ring true across the board is the need to join a P.R.O. When you first come here all these initials can be a little over whelming. BMI, ASCAP, and SESAC are all PROs. But what exactly is a PRO? PRO stands for performing rights organization. Their function is to collect the performing rights royalties on behalf of its members, composers and music publishers. The PRO then distributes these royalties to its members, minus the PRO’s administration costs.
This is a VERY basic description of a PRO, for more information contact them directly. The three major PROs in the United States are ASCAP , BMI , and SESAC. This is not a blog to tell you which one to join. It is a blog to show you the benefits of a PRO. When you go to the home page of these businesses you are welcomed by photos of artists like Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Wyclef Jean. Someone newly arriving to Nashville may look at these websites and surmise they are a little out of their league. “I can sing, but I am no Lady Gaga. Why would I need a PRO?”
Does this sound familiar? Don’t count them out just yet. Even though they are working with major, money-making professionals, who is to say you aren’t going to be one one day? Also, if these artists think it is important and necessary to be a part of a PRO, then maybe they are on to something – don’t reinvent the wheel. People who take themselves seriously and start learning the ins and outs of royalties, collections, and the laws related to the playing of music will be ahead of the learning curve.
Most performance rights organizations offer career-building workshops and songwriter support. For example, BMI offers a nationwide series of industry showcases, seminars, professional workshops and podcasts to assist in professional development. SESAC actively encourages the music community by sponsoring events that nurture the art of networking. With ASCAP, you are able to get connected to a broad network of associations just by joining.
A few weeks ago I was able to schedule a meeting with my PRO representative. I was asked to bring my best three songs. I agonized over which ones to bring. I didn’t want to leave a bad first impression – you only get one ya know! I made sure to be on time, arrived with songs in hand and many questions buzzing through my mind. I had to collect my thoughts so as to guard the time of this person who could be listening to anyone else in Nashville on a Friday afternoon but they chose to meet with me. The meeting went well lots of pluses, and a few areas to work on. He told me which venues to avoid, how to present myself and welcomed another meeting. You always want an open door like this. All in all I was very glad I got to go! Even though I am not making money like Taylor Swift, I still got the chance to be encouraged by my PRO.
If you are a member of a performance rights organization, take advantage of the workshops and tools they provide to the members. If you are new and deciding which one to choose, talk to friends and see which one they recommend; second and third opinions are good in this case. When all else fails go in and meet with them to learn why you should be a member. You will find the place that feels like home and hang your hat.