Leadership & Community

SOLID Town Meeting

I have a certain sadness, a sense of mourning, that seems to be constantly with me. Something is gone, something has died; something that won't be recovered. It's as if the house in which I was raised has burned to the ground; the family photo albums are lost, the home movies destroyed, the old furniture smoldering in a heap. I can no longer smell my dad's pipe tobacco or my mom's pot roast in the air. It's as if I were living in one of those dreams where you are in a place that you know but, something is different, something is wrong, something is not quite as it should be and you can't seem to do anything about it. I have a certain sadness, a sense of mourning, that seems to be constantly with me -with me on Music Row.

For several decades Nashville has provided a livable, nurturing and sane environment for those driven by the desire to test their creative mettle in the business of music. It has been the choice of many musicians, songwriters and singers as well as those pursuing careers as publishers, publicists, managers, agents and mail room clerks; a choice they have made over New York, Los Angeles, London, Dublin, Chicago, Austin, TX, Muscle Shoals, AL and many other smaller music centers in this country and beyond. Part of the beauty of the Nashville music community has been its geographic compactness; everything nestled in to this 3 X 5 block rectangle in the heart of the city. Another part of the package was the short drive and easy access to and from nice neighborhoods in the suburbs. Add to that the success of the country music industry, the advent and growth of the Christian music industry, the continued sophistication of the recording facilities, the new management and legal offices opening up all over the Row, the bodies of higher education that offer degrees in music business, the new label and publishing edifices sprouting up every other month, 15 new record labels, more jobs, more opinions, more arrogance, more isolation, more demand, more intensity and, "Voile!" Welcome to LA.

The real essence of the beauty and allure of Nashville as a destination for those seeking a career in the business of music was its sense of community. People talked to one another. People encouraged one another. People rooted for one another. They shared information, collaborated on songs, worked for the communal good, housed, clothed, advised, taught, nurtured, spoke well of, loaned money to and bought beer for one another. It was widespread. It was contagious. It was part of the deal and it was sincere.

Now, do these things still happen? Yes, certainly they do but, they seem to occur in isolated circumstances. I am no longer aware of a pervasive feeling of community and it would seem that I am not alone. Enough people were concerned about the deterioration of our Music Row culture that they got together and created a program to preserve it. That's why we're here this evening. Hallelujah!

Some of you in this room know that I have spoken these words before, a couple of times, actually, at the beginning of the Mentoring Program co-sponsored by NARAS and Leadership Music. I am flattered that two of your members heard these thoughts and wanted me to deliver them to this gathering this evening and perhaps further expand upon them. Ironically, I doubt there is a person in this room that needed to hear these whiny little thoughts of mine. The fact that you are here, the fact that you have been working on the concept of this organization for a couple of years now, the fact that you have a name and a purpose and a focus and a newsletter, the fact that you have corporately identified the value of community and the fact that you have decided to put it into action is a testament to the fact that my words already ring hollow. I sensed something and wrote a speech about it; you sensed something and stood up and challenged it. Soon, and very soon, Music Row, the larger music community and the rest of world will feel the consequences of your leadership. I can think of no healthier circumstance.

Once again it seems the chilly winds are blowing down 16th Avenue. We are caving in upon ourselves. This is not a new or isolated scenario; it has happened before and it will likely happen again. This time, however, you are preparing yourselves and this business will begin the process of falling into better and capable hands: Your hands. So, I salute you for your energy, your enthusiasm, your insight and your progress.

In closing, if you will indulge me a few more moments, I'd like to pass on several humble bits of advice based on a variety of situations I've observed while finding my way in this business since I wound up here in January of 1978:

1. Remember why you're doing this: I hope it's because you love music. Don't lose touch with that. It's easy to do.

2. There's a good chance the public does not share your tastes: but, don't let that dictate all your decisions. At this point in time our music sounds like it's trying to please too many people. At the same time don't think too little of the public. They can only respond to what they hear and they only hear what a promotion guy tells a label head he can get a program director to play and the program director is only going to play what he thinks will make his radio station sound hipper and younger and more exciting so the local car dealership will want to advertise on that station and that will make the station manager happy and he will get a big bonus at the end of the year and be able to take his wife and kids to Hawaii for Christmas and the station owner will be able to buy more stations and soon the whole country will be listening to that easy-to-dance-to little number that promotion guy said he could get played.

3. Never forget what you do best: If we're honest with ourselves we know there are certain things for which we are well-suited. There's nothing wrong with stretching but, stay close to the things you do well; they will serve you and this community the best.

4. Just because a door opens doesn't mean you have to go through it: Chances are many of you will be given wonderful opportunities during your careers in Nashville. Think those opportunities through before you accept them. Peace of mind and time to live a balanced life is priceless.

5. Know one really knows: This town is brimming with great songwriters, musicians, publicists, producers and marketers. Not one of them is certain about anything they do. Believing in something is noble. Guaranteeing its success or failure is ignorant and arrogant.

6. Question things: Unlike our music, all of our institutions are suffering from too much tradition. If you find yourself on the board of the CMA or the CMF or NARAS or AFTRA or any other Music Row related organization ask questions; challenge things.

7. No is an acceptable answer: From time to time you will be tempted to avoid a phone call or a meeting or you will wander around in a perpetual state of dread expecting any minute a chance encounter with someone whose been trying to get an answer out of you regarding a really shitty act or song they pitched. If you have yet to experience this let me tell you it is very unpleasant; it is also unnecessary. Choosing to tell someone nothing instead of finding a decent and direct way of saying, "No," may seem humane; it is anything but.

8. Stay on the street: Every time I walk into a record label building I feel that armed guards with crossbows are posted in turrets watching every move I make. I feel like great secrets are being hidden from me as if The Dead Sea Scrolls or The Shroud of Turin are being examined within those walls. And, when I worked in one of those buildings I remember gazing out of the little window in my cell at people like you running around freely, talking, sharing, making plans. Wherever you end up, whatever your pursuit, stay close to the street; that is where everything happens, especially the music.

9. Continue to serve each other: Competition and vindictiveness are very present dangers in this town. This is carried on by people who have no talent. Soon enough they will destroy each other and it will be safe to go out in the streets again. Continue to believe in what you have started here. It works.

I wish you well. I thank you for allowing me to be a part of this event. Peace.