Nashville has made me a better songwriter.
Great songs and songwriters are everywhere and this town is good for me creatively. More than that, though, I came here to work at it and to learn from the best.
Learning from the best is just what I did tonight thanks to an event hosted by Berklee Alumni featuring hit songwriter/artist Rhett Akins and professional musician/author Eric Normand (fellow Berklee alum).
Eric Normand and me
Eric started out the evening discussing his recent, self-published book "The Nashville Musician's Survival Guide." In the book, he details the in’s and out’s of making a living as a musician in Nashville through three primary areas: live shows, studios and touring.
Eric said candidly that "it's the book I wish I would have had when I moved to Nashville." His advice to young musicians was to "take every gig" because gigs lead to other gigs and relationships. He also noted that being in Nashville was like being on a never-ending job interview because you just never know who you're going to meet. He certainly knows his stuff, and among other gigs, he has worked as a guitarist and tour manager for Rhett Akins since 2004.
Rhett spent about an hour discussing his journey as an artist and songwriter. He reminds me of the guys I grew up with on the farm, complete with a baseball cap and flip flops. He's comfortable in his own skin, matter of fact about it all and honest. I could write pages about all he shared, but here are a few highlights:
• He'll write "500 songs to get the five hits that get recorded"
• He takes the approach of writing "good and commercial"
• He used the analogy that he is “trying to sell chicken” but he has also added “baked chicken” to the menu, meaning that he tries to stretch himself to write songs with commercial appeal that also have heart.
• He said that you might write a song on your back porch and love it, or you might be write a song on your back porch that will end up on everybody else's back porch.
• He said that songwriting was something he was meant to do, and he had a “rock ‘n roll heart and a country mind.”
Rhett Akins and me
Rhett talked about how it all began on a truck tailgate playing songs for folks back in his home state Georgia, the series of connections that led to Nashville and how he landed his first publishing deal and record deal.
He also talked about The Peach Pickers, a writing trio he is part of with Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip. Rhett coined the phrase because all three are from Georgia and they ‘pick’ guitars for a living. The Peach Pickers are growing their own fan following, ya’ll can like them here!
Rhett finished up by saying that while you can learn the craft of songwriting, “you are either born with a light” as a songwriter or you're not.
Much appreciation to Rhett and Eric for giving of their experience and time, and for Berklee Alumni and NSAI for hosting us!