Can Karl Dean’s industry think tank rebrand Music City?

by Adam Gold

[Nashville Scene] Nearly everyone can agree on why Nashville should be considered a world-class city and a music-business player in the same league as New York or L.A.: We’re the cradle of country music, the citadel of contemporary Christian. We’re home to many of the most skilled session players, songwriters, producers and engineers in the world.

And yet, touring bands make a beeline from Louisville to Atlanta — around us. When it comes to local bands, the national media suffers from some kind of amnesia: By the time the next one hits, they seem startled all over again to learn Nashville breeds something more than country music. It doesn’t matter who moves here, or who makes the pop crossover of the decade, or who sells more than 24 million digital tracks while the rest of the industry is throwing up its hands: For anything other than country, the Music City brand stops at the Music City limits.

Everybody knows we belong at the top of the big leagues — everybody in Nashville, anyway. What’s harder to pin down is why the rest of the world doesn’t seem to agree.

But for the past year, at Mayor Karl Dean’s behest, a think-tank of music-industry heavyweights has been asking the question: What will it take to give the Music City brand across-the-board weight? What will make Nashville a destination not just for tourists, but for the creative class that gives cities a cool cachet that translates into increased revenue and real-estate values?

Known as the Nashville Music Council, the mayor’s group amounts to a Justice League of music-business honchos, supplemented by up-and-comers from the trenches who make up in enthusiasm and ideas what they lack in connections. They’ve addressed themselves to a common topic — what’ll it take? — and applied it to a variety of fronts: industry development, venues, education, even public transportation.

Now a year into its existence, the council has many in the Nashville music community scratching their heads and wondering exactly who they are and what, if anything, they’re accomplishing. As an advisory board to the mayor — like the Health Care Council — they’ve managed to split into four subcommittees: branding, creative talent, live music and music education. And so far, a cynic might say, that is their greatest accomplishment.

But there are looming developments that may answer the project’s critics. The council is still wading through minutiae in an exploratory phase that, while time-consuming, could well be worth the wait. As a whole, it’s a big brain, rich with ideas, eager to work, full of power — but rife with question marks. While the council and the mayor are no doubt developing the biggest picture yet of Music City, it’s only slowly coming into focus. Keep reading.

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