Monday, June 29, 2009

'The Nashville Effect' Part 3: New York Is Cooler Than Nashville (Industry vs. Scene)

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2009 at 2:57 PM

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You may remember Daniel Silver: He posted a follow-up to Richard Florida's post over at the Atlantic's Daily Dish blog about the "Nashville effect," of which Jack White's move to our music-saturated city is a shining example. If you missed it the first time, here's a quick recap:

Florida: Nashville attracts musicians disproportionately, sucking up musical talent from around the U.S.A. So, Nashville has become the Silicon Valley of music--for many genres.

Silver: The first part might be true, but still--Nashville is not very diverse, musically.

Now Silver has posted a follow-up, where he makes the case that there's a difference between industry dynamics (studios, labels, publishing companies, etc.--the stuff Nashville specializes in) and scene dynamics (the social influence of fellow musicians and audiences). He takes the as an example the Punch Brothers, who moved to Brooklyn instead of living in Nashville, as mandolinist Chris Thile did as a member of Nickel Creek. And guess what? New York is cooler than Nashville! "In a rich, fast, omnivorous, energized music scene like New York, musical ideas, connections, and inspirations can occur that do not occur elsewhere," Silver writes. "Though Nashville's scene is certainly about more than the mainstream country and pop industry, it simply cannot compete with a place like New York on this level." OK, so we've heard this argument before--but Silver says he's not comparing Nashville to New York, just using the Punch Brothers example to make a point, which goes something like this:

The music industry might attract seasoned and ambitious professionals (like the White Stripes), session talent, and songwriters. There is likely a symbiotic relationship between recording industry infrastructure and music scenes, as scene members work session gigs by day and clubs by night. And yet, on the other hand, there may be a negative influence whereby heavy industry concentration creates an over-professionalized environment that is not open to some kinds of musical innovation. [My emphasis.]

And while I don't agree with Silver on every point (and I think that conflating Seattle and Olympia is a mistake), he makes a good one here. Nashville audiences, by and large, do not like to be challenged. We tend to overvalue chops and accessible songwriting. Our city is home to approximately 1,000 industry showcases for deodorized, mediocre, ready-for-a-close-up acts every week, and smaller bands that draw in other cities often find near-empty rooms here.

That isn't to say there isn't room for professionalism in art--there's no substitute for a well-executed recording delivered by seasoned session players. But it's also true that an overemphasis on professionalism sucks the life out of music. The only thing worse than art for art's sake is professionalism for professionalism's sake, and that might be the real "Nashville effect."

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