Hello Nashville music community. I'm back. I stopped making music sometime in 2018, and I returned to my career as a corporate lawyer. Why? Well, for three reasons: I don't like being broke, I enjoy the intellectual stimulation of my job, and the Nashville music business is 100% struggle. Don't get me wrong, it's a struggle for every musician, not just me. You have to want it more than you want anything, and you can't mind being broke. Hopefully, you'll find music friends who have your back and enjoy small successes along the way. Your continued pursuit of success will be fueled by the light of opportunity at the end of the tunnel and little tidbits of opportunity that are sprinkled along your musical journey. Unfortunately, after several years in, I struggled to see the light of opportunity on my path.
I had dreamed of making music professionally since I was in the single digits. Finally in 2010, I took a sabbatical from law to pursue it. I turned to music, nearly full time, in 2012. Since then, people have asked innocent questions, like:
Why don't you tour?
Are you on the radio?
Has any big artist recorded your songs?
All of these questions take a bit of time to unpack. I'll share this: commercial success in music takes:
access to opportunity.
Personal drive is key, but it's easier to sustain when you know that industry acceptance and access to opportunity are available to you - when you've got the talent. This holds true for just about any person or endeavor.
Diversity in Country Music - the Nashville Music Scene
Any non-white person who arrives on the Nashville music scene would find it challenging to sustain the personal drive to be successful on the Nashville country music scene. They would instantly see that country music is closed off to diversity. It's harder for diverse artists and writers to make solid friendships, book gigs, and get in the writer's rooms that count. What's my proof? Show them to me - the diverse writers, producers and players who record and produce music in Nashville? We come through town with big dreams and leave.
The diversity doesn't exist because the availability of opportunity doesn't exist. You can't deny that the Nashville labels and reps and producers are friendly guys and gals when you meet them at an industry networking event, but helpful is an entirely different thing. No one gets anywhere in the music industry on their own. Power players have to not only recognize an artist's or writer's talent, but be willing to make introductions and open doors. If you want to check out some of the diverse artists that are making waves in Nashville give a listen to Blanco Brown, Mickey Guyton and Jimmie Allen.
This is not a "woe is me" story because I view myself as one of the most fortunate people alive. But admittedly, right or wrong, I felt excluded from opportunity - be it local producers, gigging opportunities or radio airplay consideration - even on indie stations. Of course, one can say that talent is subjective. You'll have to judge my music for yourself. https://www.youtube.com/shailittlejohn
During quarantine, I decided to return to making music out of the love for the art and my own creative expression. I will go back to pitching songs and trying to build relationships because I love to meet people. The opportunity for black country artists and writers, particularly female ones, will only change when the fan base evolves both in mindset and diversity.
Roadblocks on the Soul-Crafted Journey
I share this story to explain that the soul-crafted journey is not utopia. It exists inside of you. It teaches you about yourself and others. It can fill a hole, but it might reveal another one. You can't control if and how you'll be received when you present yourself authentically. You can't control if country radio stations refuse to give you radio time or if country music fans won't share your music or follow you on Instagram. The act of going on the journey - one step at a time - is about heart. The wind and the rain, the people passing by, are on their own journeys. Don't confuse what is about you with what is about them.
Live in the moment, and do what you can to create the life you want. Don't focus too much on the success you want to see. This can rob you of the joy that comes from the journey - the act of creating. Sometimes you must divorce yourself from the outcome in order to find satisfaction in the process.