Nashville's Diverse Music Scene Makes it a Mecca for Entertainment, Tourism

CMA Music Festival in Nashville, TN
CMA Music Festival in Nashville, TN

The Zac Brown Brand performs at LP field during the CMA Music Festival, which draws thousands of country music fans to Nashville, TN each year.

"What you see from the outside is not what you actually get in Nashville, and to me, that is what makes the music scene here so special," says Katie Studley, director of new media at Thirty Tigers.

It's 8 p.m. on a Saturday in downtown Nashville. Cowboy-hat-wearing tourists are streaming in and out of the honky-tonks that dot lower Broadway. One couple stops to take a picture with the life-sized Elvis Presley statue that permanently stands guard outside Legends Corner, while others drift toward Printer’s Alley.

This may be the image that most people conjure up when they consider what it means to spend a night in Music City, but that’s not the whole story.

Certainly, the image of country bands belting out the hits for packed crowds in Tootsie’s and Robert’s is an integral piece of Nashville’s history as a music town. But if you widen out just slightly, you might find a hip-hop duo shooting a music video in a warehouse turned art gallery or, even further, the city’s most celebrated local rock band playing a sold-out record release concert at Mercy Lounge.

There’s a reason why Nashville isn’t called “Country Music City.” From the tiniest practice space to the biggest record label (and every publishing house and open mic in between), Nashville is more than a music town – it’s a diverse, self-sustaining music community for fans and artists alike.

Live Music

Nashville’s music scene has raked in accolades from major publications like Travel + Leisure, Nylon, SPIN and Rolling Stone, which declared it the best scene in the U.S. in their 2011 “Best of Rock” issue. Home to more than 100 music venues, there’s always live music to see in Nashville, whether it’s bluegrass at Station Inn, punk rock at The End or electronica at Mai.

Some of the city’s most popular music venues include Exit/In, The Basement, Cannery Ballroom, 12th & Porter, Bluebird Café and, country music’s “mother church,” the Ryman Auditorium.

Music Tourism

Big name attractions keep those music venues busy. The annual CMA Music Festival regularly draws upwards of 60,000 country music fans to downtown Nashville for a weekend of celebrity meet and greets and concerts, while landmarks like the Grand Ole Opry, Musicians Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame offer year-round entertainment for music fans. Nashville also plays host to other events like the locally grown indie rock festival Soundland, the Americana Music Festival and the National Folk Festival.

The Business

Nashville's vested interest in maintaining its musical identity led to the founding of the Nashville Music Council, a joint partnership between the mayor's office, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau. The council's goal is to develop the city's music economy by enhancing education programs and supporting music professionals in the community. 

Currently, Nashville already dwarfs rivals like Los Angeles in highest concentration of music industry, according to an article by Richard Florida in the Atlantic. In total, Nashville boasts more than 80 record labels, 130 publishers and 180 recording studios. Between the health-care industry – the city’s largest employer – and music innovators, Nashville’s creative class is deeply embedded in the local economy. It’s a distinction mirrored by colleges like Belmont University, where music business and nursing are the school’s most popular majors.

Then there are the traditional support jobs that come with the industry, as well. For example, Viacom, parent company of MTV and Nashville-based Country Music Television, announced in late 2011 its intention to open a new accounting and finance office it the Cool Springs area of Franklin, creating more than 100 new jobs. 

With Blood, Sweat and Soul

But for members of the industry, numbers alone don’t account for why Nashville is special.

“What you see from the outside is not what you actually get in Nashville, and to me, that is what makes the music scene here so special,” says Katie Studley, director of new media at Thirty Tigers. “Nashville’s local music scene may not always straddle the cutting edge, but we do what we do with blood, sweat and soul – and we can’t help it.” 

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