I’ve just returned from a few days in Nashville where, even amidst the chaos of the Broadway party wagons and the honky-tonk hen dos, it was abundantly clear that country music’s capital city runs on music.
Music is stitched into the fabric of life there in a way you won’t find in any other city on earth. It’s there in the party scene, where every bar has live music blasting out almost every hour of the day and night. It’s there on Music Row, where the close proximity of so many music businesses creates a buzz missing in other, more spread-out centres of industry (even Kensington High Street isn't quite the same). And it’s even there in physical music’s high profile, with CDs and vinyl on sale across a huge variety of retail outlets.
But what really strikes you is how Nashville makes the standard music business rhetoric – that artists are their own brands – a reality.
Everywhere you look, country superstars have their names across a wide range of products. From the legends with their own museums (Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline); to the star names with their personal honky-tonks (Kid Rock, Alan Jackson and Jason Aldean, pictured) or clubs (Florida Georgia Line); to the treasure trove that is Jack White’s Third Man Records empire; and the incredible amount of musicians who seem to have their own hot sauce line; Nashville is more than happy to help them realise their market value.
Even the labels, studios and venues are at it. Big Machine pushes a nice line in liquor in its own shop/bar (indeed, it seems to sell as much booze as it does records); RCA Studio B, rich in Elvis Presley history and more besides, remains a must-see tour for everybody on the tourist trail; while legendary spots for country stars to play, such as the Grand Ole Opry, Bluebird Café and the Ryman, all have ubiquitous merch lines. And while songwriters might be under-valued by the wider business, in Nashville they get their own Hall Of Fame and, via the city's listening room network, the chance to build their own reputations in front of a live audience.
It’s perhaps hard to see all this catching on here in the UK – could Camden really host a Blur pub and a Menswear fashion emporium? Maybe not, but as the debate over artist rights continues to rage – fuelled, ironically, by the Big Machine and Taylor Swift row over Scott Borchetta's deal to sell the label – the principle is worth noting.
Nashville knows what artists are worth. Now it’s time for the rest of the music industry to catch up.
* To read Music Week's feature on Nashville's songwriting business, click here. To read our 2019 Maren Morris cover story, click here. To subscribe to Music Week and never miss a vital music biz story, click here.