Nashville: Life in Music City USA
Neither the Nashville company that printed one of the first hymnals more than 180 years ago, nor the author of a popular Civil War ditty, nor even the Fisk Jubilee singers after their triumphant 1871 European tour – none of them could have known that they were beginning an industry that would define the city.
They were small beginnings; the big boost came when radio became the mass medium in the 1920s. A local insurance company, National Life & Accident Insurance, started WSM radio station both as a public service and to promote its image. The station sealed its place in history in late 1925 when it began Saturday night “barn dance” broadcasts that became the Grand Ole Opry. (Another insurance company, Life & Casualty, similarly began a radio station, WLAC, which powered an R&B playlist that made celebrities of local talent. The beautiful L&C building was downtown’s first skyscraper.)
Record companies following the talent began opening Nashville offices in the 1950s. When Elvis began recording in Nashville several years later, the city’s position as Music City USA was beginning to solidify. Visitors often take in a tour of RCA Studio B to follow in The King’s footsteps.
Fans of the music know that today they can get their fill of the music and artist profiles from home via Country Music Television and Great American Country cable television stations, both headquartered in Nashville.
Just a trip down Music Row (16th and 17th Avenues South) demonstrates that much of Nashville’s music business is seen rather than heard: the publishing industry here is vast. Christian worship music and contemporary Christian popular music make up a great deal of the publishing, but there’s no shortage of country.
The ”rights” organizations make it possible for musicians and composers to make a living doing what they love. Broadcast Music International (BMI), the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and SESAC all have offices on Music Row. Nashville is home to the Country Music Association, formed to keep country on playlists when rock and roll music was threatening to edge it out. The Barbershop Harmony Society and the Americana Music Association, which is down the road in Franklin, bring together people with a love for those American music traditions. Naxos Music, also in Franklin, is one of the world’s largest classical music publishers.
Finally, though, we don’t just play guitars for records, we make them both, too: Gibson Guitars is located here, and we have a small record pressing facility, United Record Pressing.
So when you visit the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, you’ll see guitars, gold records and rhinestone-studded clothes, but in the offices is where the real work is done, protecting and preserving the precious heritage of 100 years of country music and more.
That important work is a big part of what makes Nashville “Nashville.” According to estimates, the music industry aids in creating and sustaining more than 56,000 jobs in the Nashville area and contributes $5.5 billion to the local economy
Of course, you can’t put a price on the thrill of spotting a celebrity. Nashville celebrities are fewer in number than New York and Los Angeles, but we have plenty. Unlike the coasts, we hardly pay our celebrities any extra attention, as Nashville is far less star-struck than other towns. There’s an unwritten Nashville code: leave the celebs alone. That’s Alan Jackson at the gas station and Kim Carnes leaving her yoga class. That’s Jack White picking up dinner at Whole Foods. Kings of Leon made a scene in the bar where you were having a beer. Nicole is having her nails done a few chairs down from you. Robert Plant is ordering Thai food. Mike Mills wanders into the Gold Rush.
They’re just neighbors, or else they’re just visiting. Either way, it’d be rude to bother them.