It’s not light work to build a fan base, wherever you are.
“Give me a call sometime—we’ll write together!” says the 285-pound, 6’4” bouncer of the cozy music club where I’ll spend my Monday night.
It’s not unusual, of course; virtually everyone you meet in Nashville is some manner of songwriter, musician, agent, producer. Not unlike many other populous cities, I make my way through a sea of people sporting mustaches and drinking PBR, and find a place to stand next to a table. The songwriter showcase begins.
Bleach-blond girls who have moved here to “make it big,” sing thoughtful and clever lyrics. Masterful guitar players make 3-chord songs sound better than they ever would. About two acts into the night, however, I notice that I’m one of the few members in the audience paying attention to what’s happening on stage. Most of the audience are either preoccupied with inebriation (or trying to get there), or “networking” with other songwriters.
Let me stop the narrative there.
I’m not sure what your goals are as a musician/artist/songwriter. Many of the people who have relocated to Nashville do so from a desire to be around the best creative people, and to have a much better chance for their music to be noticed on a larger scale. I think most of us have a similar desire.
Is a relocation to a music mecca like Nashville/Austin/New York/Los Angeles necessary to make that happen?
Out of the myriad songwriters I met that night, only two of them had actually built a following in their hometown, worked with the best people in their region prior to moving to Nashville, and toured at least part of the US before moving. The others had just made the move to Nashville, hoping that they could work their way up from the bottom. Which of those do you think were seeing greater success here?
I say this to encourage you and to give a reality check.
If you are having a hard time building a successful music career in your hometown, chances are it certainly isn’t going to be any easier in a city full of people who have already done just that.
There are rare cases, of course, where the stars align and an artist with no experience and just raw talent relocates to once of these cities and sees monumental success, but generally, it is better to grow where you are and to “graduate” to these other cities once you’re on the same level as the other artists who are there.
Can you book a show and get paid for it in your hometown?
That’s great! It is really hard to book paying gigs in Nashville. Can you get people to come hear a set of original songs and pay a cover at the door to hear you? Fantastic. People in Los Angeles have 1000 other options the same night that you’re playing, so once again it is really difficult to get people to come hear original music in LA, and pay for it!
Can you win an award in your state for best-written song this year?
Absolutely awesome. I’m sure I don’t need to even mention how incredibly difficult it would be to do that in a “music industry city.”
Consider your goals, too: If your goal is to make a living playing music and you don’t care about fame and fortune, you might be MUCH better off staying in your hometown to pursue your music career. Chances are, you have these advantages:
- Less competition from other bands/artists trying to build a fan base of their own.
- You get to play in front of fans who are not jaded or blasé, but are actually excited to hear good music from their hometown.
- Once you start establishing a name in your hometown, you will probably start to meet other artists on your level, or better than you, who can help you to grow with your artistry and opportunities.
- You have friends and family in your hometown who will support you by coming to your shows, being your roommates, loaning you gear, shooting music videos for you, etc.
- You know your hometown. You know how the people behave and what they like and what they don’t. You’ve spent a good portion of your life there, and you don’t have to spend years learning the ins and outs of a new city’s infrastructure and feel.
I could go on, but I’m sure you’re beginning to see the picture. Even if you end up relocating to a bigger music city, wouldn’t it be great to have all that other experience and knowledge under your belt first? I certainly think so.
So, give your hometown some love before you hit the big city. You might find that Joni Mitchell is profoundly truthful when she says, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone?”