Your Take: Country’s City

Karlie Justus Marlowe | July 25th, 2009

In his News Roundup on Tuesday, Brody noted Craig Havighurst, author of Air Castle of the South: WSM and the Making of Music City, posted an interesting response to the aliterative Tennessean article Is Country Crushing Nashville’s Creativity?, in which reporter Naomi Snyder talked with Music City musicians and academics to see if Nashville’s focus on the country and Christian genres is stifling its musical creativity as a whole.

Havighurst, however, refuted that notion on his Web site String Theory Media and suggested that there is a bigger idea to consider:

At the end of the day though Snyder is asking the wrong question. It makes country music, which is, bless its heart, just a business, sound malevolent towards Nashville’s jazz and hip-hop aspirants. I can’t see that they really care one way or the other. The related and much more vital issue is how far Nashville has come developing an alternative artist development infrastructure that will work in the 21st century, share-everything, post-FM radio, post MTV/CMT world. We became Music City with nationally powerful radio stations (WSM and WLAC) that broadcast Nashville-based pop, jazz, R&B, gospel and yes country music. We continued with a record business that for all its flaws, acted as a pretty amazing curatorial force for great and exceptionally diverse music. That lasted until sometime in the 1990s when the record business lost its way and mass exposure became just another commodity to be purchased on the open market, not a gift given to the most exceptional. People are building the models to replace the record industry at the center of the music business ALL AROUND THE WORLD. If we don’t build some of it here, the Music City dream could be in trouble.

Havighurst raises many interesting points, including Nashville’s role in a rapidly changing commercial music marketplace, which he proposes is the city’s more pressing problem.

What role in country music do you think Nashville will play in 10, 25, 50 years? Do you think it will always be the center of the genre, or, if it can’t profitably respond to the huge shifts in how modern music is being digested, could country’s home base be moved to other cities such as L.A., New York or even Austin?

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  1. Jon
    July 25, 2009 at 10:22 am

    I think Craig’s point isn’t that country’s home base might move to another city, but that if the industry that’s centered in Nashville isn’t able to respond to the changing marketplace, the industry will decentralize. And I’d say he’s right about that.

  2. Nicolas
    July 25, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    I think Nashville will always be the country music town

  3. Rick
    July 25, 2009 at 11:30 pm

    Because of its history and business infrastructure, I expect Nashville to always remain the epicenter of the “mainstream” country music business even as the marketplace changes dramatically. While the big “Music Row” labels are shrinking I still expect them to dominate mainstream country music and keep feeding product to Top 40 country radio into the forseeable future.

    As long as the quality of their product continues to decline into utter mediocrity I expect sales to free fall as well, and not offering physical CDs will hasten that process. Apart from the rare big label releases I like (Jamey Johnson, Ashton Shepherd, Crystal Shawanda, and Holly Williams’ new album), I ignore mainstream Top 40 country music and sure as heck won’t waste money on it! It seems the listener demographic Top 40 country radio has carved out for itself doesn’t feel much differently than I do these days when it comes to buying music.

    What’s more interesting to me is how Nashville hosts the Americana Music Awards and has tried to claim that whole music scene as its own while Austin should rightfully wear that crown. The one thing that almost all “Americana Format” compatible music shares is that it doesn’t sound anything like Top 40 mainstrean Nashville schlock. Americana music is actually anti-Nashvegas and should be based anywhere but Nashywood!

  4. J.R. Journey
    July 26, 2009 at 3:46 pm

    I agree with Rick. I think Nashville will always be the ‘business center’ of country music. Now, whether it will remain the go-to place for quality country music remains to be seen.

    Nashville not only has the history as the home of country music, with WSM and the Ryman and all the other historic places – RCA Studio B and others. But it has just built the Hall of Fame building and the new Opry house, and it houses the headquarters of all the major country labels, plus it hosts the CMA Music Fest, CMT is there, etc. I just don’t see that changing in my lifetime. The only way I can see Nashville not being the capital city of country music is if the country music industry ceases to exist.

  5. Jon
    July 27, 2009 at 7:46 am

    Nashville hasn’t “tried to claim” the Americana “scene.” It was the obvious choice for the Americana Music Association’s headquarters, just as it’s where the offices of the International Bluegrass Music Association are located. See “business infrastructure”/”business center.” Nor is Americana “anti-Nashvegas”; the connections and overlap between Americana and mainstream country music are varied and plentiful, from songwriters to instrumentalists to publicists, journalists and more.

    On the larger question, the point is that to the extent that as technology and associated new business models develop that allow artists living anywhere to independently and directly connect with and market to fans, if the industry as it currently exists doesn’t find a way to plug into that, the need for any single business center dries up. I don’t think that’s inevitable, and I think those developments are happening more slowly and haltingly than futurologists like to believe, but it’s nevertheless a distinct possibility.

  6. nm
    July 27, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Musicians have to live somewhere, and tend to want to live near other musicians and near audiences. So I don’t think that we’ll ever see a situation with artists working in the same genre living completely isolated. (Lots of Americana musicians seem to be perfectly happy living in Nashville, and there’s no reason to expect that to change.) I think it will become easier, though, for local musical scenes to come to regional or even national attention, with new technology. But still … the techies have to live somewhere, too. And they’ll want to live around each other, or around musicians, or something. I just don’t see an atomized dispersal of “the industry” taking place.

  7. Baron Lane
    July 28, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    Like New York’s Tin Pan Alley and Detriot’s Motown the centralized geography of music can change quickly. I agree with Havighurst that it’s not Nashville’s lack of musical diversity that is choking off creativity. I believe it’s the lack of risk in lieu of predictable radio charting and massive sales that is part of everyday business.

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