Thoughts from the shadows of a great American city

Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective. As I told ‘The Tennessean’ in 2008, “since moving to Nashville twenty-five years ago, I have met people whose lives do not remotely reflect the caricature of what many outside our city presume to be a Nashvillian” or the Nashville experience. “Underground Nashville” thus explores the soul of the city, not its surface—offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew

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As we head toward Christmas, please do not forget those less fortunate than you. To make sure homeless human beings receive the food, love, and friendship they need, please donate to the Nashville Rescue Mission by calling (615) 255-2475 or visiting Nashvillerescuemission.org.  Thank you.

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The “Grow Your Following” Series
for Singer/Songwriters and Bands

Part 4:  Getting Gigs…When You Have No Following

by Dave Carew

“You can’t get gigs if you have no following . . . And you can’t get a following if you have no gigs.”

Right? Wrong. Fortunately, this pseudo-dilemma only resonates for those who’d rather throw their hands up in the air than actually get their music heard and appreciated. So how do you begin?

Sara Beck—who began her singer-songwriter career in Nashville as a complete unknown and who now has done shows with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Kevin Costner and Modern West—told me, “I visited the clubs in person and let the booker know I was interested in opening slots. But I actually think the best way to get gigs [at first] is to get to know other gigging musicians.”

There’s simply no doubt that opening for other artists is a tried-and-true way to get initial exposure. And Sara Beck’s person-to-person networking strategy is highly recommended. (Note: If you visit clubs in person, be sure to have a demo CD you can leave with the booker.)

Another great way to initially be seen and grow your following is to get involved with one of the more high-visibility writers’ nights around Nashville or your home town . . . with “high visibility” being the salient phrase here. Most of the hosts of these events are very gracious, and are always looking for new talent. And the artists enjoy the synergism of getting exposure and sharing their music with the friends and fans of all the other artists on the bill. Cindy Kalmenson, who hosted the long-running “Girls with Guitars” events in Nashville, told me, “I came to Nashville thinking everyone would go see live music. [But] when I got my first gig, it was only me, the bartender, and the sound man. So I knew something had to be done. That’s when I started inviting friends to perform with me regularly. When we all pool our talent, we all benefit from a loyal and appreciative audience.” By the way, one of the artists who helped jump-start her visibility in this way, specifically through Girls with Guitars, was Mindy Smith.

Finally, another great way to leave obscurity in the rear-view mirror is to host WEEKLY writers’ nights and/or to volunteer to substitute for other hosts. “It’s definitely gotten my name out there,” says Cole Slivka, who hosts the popular “Shortsets” writers’ night at The Family Wash in East Nashville. Typically, Cole opens the night with two or three of her own songs (thus garnering exposure for her music) before turning the night over to some of Nashville’s most respected and popular singer-songwriters. So could YOU host a similar event, substitute for the host, and/or get yourself booked as one of the featured artists?

David M. (Dave) Carew is editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter.” He also is a freelance publicist and copywriter.

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