How Nashville became a music center

Nashville wasn’t always a thriving place for music and a sociologist examined what led to the transformation:

Since 2005, he has conducted over 300 hours of in-depth interviews with over 75 music professionals in Nashville. He compiled the findings in his new book, “Beyond the Beat: Musician Building Community in Nashville,” released in September 2015…

In order to track the rapid evolution of Nashville, Cornfield examined the city before recording labels arrived. Regional artists — from across the state of Tennessee — had been gathering in Nashville to showcase their musical skills. This large amalgamation of talented local voices allowed Nashville to stand out amongst other Southern music cities.

When record labels sought opportunities in the south in the 1970s, they were pleased to stumble upon the world-class musical production talent harbored in this small city. Cornfield discovered that Nashville mixed opportunity with a rich history, making it attractive to hopeful musicians…

Music City exploded in the 1980s, becoming the country music metropolis that it is now famed to be. As the music industry both expanded and diversified throughout the decade, musicians sought smaller, more intimate audiences, rather than performing for an anonymous mass of a crowd. This way, they no longer had to rely on record labels and could manage the entire music production process themselves.

While such diversification presents opportunities for music professionals, it also made it more difficult for them to establish an occupational community and build a mutual support network. Cornfield makes a point to study this social trend.

Cultural centers and communities don’t just happen: they develop over time (and can also decline over time). Here, it sounds like Nashville was a regional music center that later attracted large actors in the music industry.

I would guess one thing other cities would want to know is how to replicate Nashville’s success in this area. Developing such a niche in a culture industry – whether music, movies, fashion, publishing, or something else – not only provides jobs and tax revenues but leads to visitors, tourists, and a reputation as a happening place. Yet, not every city can be a major player in a culture industry and even the best laid plans don’t necessarily come to fruition.

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