Well, I’ve now lived in Nashville for almost 24 years, and it’s no secret that I’ve enjoyed watching the city grow up (as I hope I have), and that I really love being a part of a music community unlike any other. Recently, as a city, Nashville seems to be receiving some surprising, if well deserved, attention that I thought I’d share.
On January 1st this year, luxury travel guide Conde Nast Traveller Magazine, published their list of Top Ten Places To Go in 2013. Number 1, Amsterdam Netherlands; Number 2, Seoul Korea; Number 3? Nashville Tennessee!
The reasoning: “The new Nashville offers two things worth traveling for: a hot, trendy new food scene and its famous, funky music scene. The “haute southern” cuisine is flourishing in Nashville at restaurants like The Patterson House and The Catbird Seat. Not to mention some of the tastiest and most creative cocktails we’ve ever tried. At night, you can’t walk two blocks without coming across some incredible live music, from bluegrass to brass bands, zydeco to country.”
Who knew? Ok…. maybe we did.
Another revelation came (as reported in TheAtlanticCities.com August 2012) in a study by a Toronto-based research group Martin Prosperity Institute, who devised a Metro Music Index to rank America’s most music-centric cities, culling data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis as it relates to a region’s concentration of musicians, music venues and other industry businesses.
The top of the list? Nashville, which has not only it’s myriad recording and music publishing businesses and dense population of musicians, but also a vibrant live music scene which Rolling Stone Magazine named best in the nation in 2011. And folks, really, it’s not just country. Yes, we have all the mega country stars, but we also have Ben Folds and Sheryl Crow, bands like Kings of Leon and even Jack White, who chose to live and open his Third Man Studios here.
Not far behind on the Metro Music Index list: New York and neighboring New Jersey, the Los Angeles region, the Bay Area and Seattle, rounding out the top 5.
The list shows some surprising things about how musicians (and, indirectly, artists in general) choose to live. Though radio and the business of recording music have become more globalized and geography free (example; need a tabla player? Just send your tracks to someone in India and they’ll play on your record), musicians still tend to cluster more in some places than others.
So why do musicians and related businesses like to group together? They are mobile, do not require a lot of capital, access to raw materials, or even proximity to anchor institutions like universities, so they can live pretty much anywhere they’d like. Seemingly, they congregate in places with lots of venues, clubs, conservatories, and recording studios, and they can make a living and stake out a career. Bigger metros like New York and L.A. logically have high densities of music and other entertainment people because of their larger markets and concentration of talent and supporting industries (perhaps you want to be a singer AND an actor?)
But size isn’t everything, as Nashville’s dominance of this list and the rankings of other smaller cities show. Smaller communities often develop significant clusters of musicians and music industry businesses, as Memphis and Motown have in the past. Like in their bigger counterparts, talented musicians are drawn to and cluster around other talented musicians in small cities as well.
So maybe a better explanation of this geographic clustering of talent in this industry, is competition. By competing with each other for new sounds and audiences, combining and recombining with each other into new bands — an evolutionary process occurs from which successful acts may rise to the top and achieve broad success.
As is so true of Nashville, The Atlantic Cites article points out, “Cities with flourishing music scenes also often have underlying creative economic systems that are also supportive of technology and entrepreneurialism. Music clustering can provide a powerful lens not only into popular culture, but into the mechanisms that power our increasingly idea-based and talent-driven economy.” You go, Nashville.
The Metro Music Index (Martin Prosperity Institute)
1 Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN
2 New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA
3 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA
4 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA
5 Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
6 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV
7 Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA
8 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA
9 Rochester, NY
10 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI
11 Orlando-Kissimmee, FL
12 Austin-Round Rock, TX
13 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA
14 Pittsburgh, PA
15 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI
16 Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL
17 Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI
18 Indianapolis-Carmel, IN
19 Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX
20 Denver-Aurora, CO
Based on information from cntraveller.com, theatlanticcities.com and the hollywoodreporter.com