Name any gigantic country hit of the last two decades or so and there’s a better-than-average chance that it was generated from Nashville, Tennessee.
Sure, Texas factors into the mix, and maybe there’s a touch of Bakersfield in there, too. But for the most part it’s a 30-block-or-so chunk Southwest of downtown Nashville, nicknamed Music Row, that has served as the country music capital of the world since the 1940s. It houses record companies, music publishers, booking agencies, recording studios, management offices, session musicians, and everything else you’d need to make it as an artist or a songwriter. It’s the country music business Mecca of the modern world.
But over the past handful of years or so, Music City, Tennessee, has grown beyond churning out the latest Taylor Swift or Luke Bryan or Lady Antebellum and expanded its horizons to include multi-million-dollar rock ‘n’ roll success stories like Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, Paramore and a relocated Jack White (and his bands The Raconteurs and Dead Weather); platinum rap artist Young Buck; and teen idol pop group Hot Chelle Rae – genres that are giving the town a more musically cosmopolitan reputation.
“The lines are getting blurred,“ agrees Joey Moi, the Tumbler Ridge, BC, native songwriter /producer best known for co-producing several of Nickelback’s million-selling albums, and co-writing the band’s chart-toppers “Gotta Be Somebody” and “Something in Your Mouth.”
“There are literally thousands of talented people just sitting around chomping at the bit to work on anything.” – Joey Moi
Moi has been living in Nashville for the past two years as a partner in Big Loud Mountain, a management/label/artist development firm that has delivered six No.1 singles in a row for country artists Jake Owen and Florida Georgia Line. That includes FGL’s “Cruise,” a song Moi co-wrote, which recently established itself as the top-selling country digital single of all time at six million copies. For Moi, it’s been an eye-opening experience.
“What I’m discovering is that Nashville is so rich in talent, and not just country,” he says. “When I first came to town, it was so overwhelming to see how many talented people there are in one place. There are literally thousands just sitting around chomping at the bit to work on anything. And the word is just starting to get out.”
It’s up for debate whether or not this change in perception surrounding Nashville is a new phenomenon.
“I would say it’s happening more,” notes Espanola, Ontario’s Terry Sawchuk, a Nashville-based songwriter and producer who topped the charts with Jake Owen’s “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and has worked with JUNO-award winning jazz singer Matt Dusk on the majority of his albums.
“When I talk to the old-school people – the Roger Cooks [“I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing,” “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress”] of the world, the guys in their 70s who have been here forever – they say that things have always gone in waves. The L.A. writers would all move here every couple of years because there was more going on here. So there’s always been a history of transient movement, in all styles.
“If you look at most session musicians, songwriters and artists, traditionally, they are not from Nashville. They come here for the great talent pool, steady work, and low cost of living. With them, they bring their diverse influences, which then play a big role in the musical make-up of the community. It’s safe to say now that Nashville is the Silicon Valley of music.”
Sawchuk strengthens the argument that Nashville’s stature as strictly a one-trick country music pony is changing.
“Because there’s an infrastructure, genres that I’ve always written have more acceptance now, more avenues,” he explains. “For instance, the publisher that I’ve hooked up with – Kobalt Music Publishing – is very much an international company, so they’re getting me pop cuts in Germany, Poland and film and TV in Los Angeles.”