Planning a Trip to Nashville? Read This!

Creative Commons License:  Some rights reserved by munabril
Nashville.  Creative Commons License: Some rights reserved by munabril

by Lucy LeBlanc

I’ve been asked several times about my experiences in Nashville. So, from the prospective of a fledgling songwriter, who lives 2500 miles from Nashville, and who tries to make the trek a couple of times a year, here’s what I discovered.

1.  Organize, organize, organize. My last trip was three weeks long. I booked it in June for an October timeframe.  I had been to Nashville before, but never for that length of time; however I had an over-riding feeling that I would fill all my days with co-writes, classes, pitch-to-publishers and maybe a demo session or two. I not only filled all my days, I could have stayed for longer. This is how I planned it, right after I booked my dates:

  1. As soon as my trip was booked in June, I contacted two publishers I had met previously to let them know I was coming to Nashville in the fall. I heard back from them both. It was too early for them to book a meeting with me; but to remind them closer to my arrival date. I sent them a friendly reminder in late August, then another one a week before I headed to Nashville. Only one responded. We met up for coffee late one afternoon at an outdoor restaurant patio, and talked for over an hour. I’m still building that relationship.
  2. I contacted potential co-writers in the same order, and started filling in some co-writing dates the closer it got to the trip.
  3. I called my PRO affiliate in the states (which is ASCAP) and inquired if they had any workshops happening while I was in town. Oh yes, they did. A country workshop that was headed up by a pro writer (Trent Willmon); one week long, every morning from Monday to Friday. I had to submit a short bio and a song, for them to assess if I could attend. It ran from 9am until 11am. It got my days that week off to a great start.   You can also book an appointment with an ASCAP rep. and have a chat about your songwriting career.
  4. I contacted Nashville Songwriters Association (of which I’m a member) and inquired if they had any workshops or pitch-to-publishers sessions happening while I was in town. They did. I went. I also booked a writer’s room there for my co-writes; and scheduled a couple of mentor meetings.
  5. I checked out Jason Blume’s workshop at BMI and attended the same. He runs one a month. Try to get into one of his workshops. They fill up fast. Info on BMI’s website.
  6. I attended Deanna Walker’s class (Hit Songwriter’s Seminar) at Blair School of Music, Vanderbilt University on Monday nights. I had been taking her class on-line, via Skype (the only student to do so), and now I got the chance to be there in person.
  7. The week before leaving, I cut CDs with my songs on them, made sure I had a large notebook, several pens, a small appointment book to tuck in my purse (too small it turned out), my rhyming dictionary, and a sturdy satchel to carry them in. Yes, I know I should book my appointments on-line, and use one of the on-line rhymers, but hey, what can I say.  I do have an iPad, which I bring with me, along with my iPhone….and lots of business cards.

Chance meetings with other songwriters, became potential co-writers, and those were scheduled in on the fly. I met up with another publisher over lunch, and he invited me to speak to his songwriting class at a community college in Nashville. At night, and on the weekends, I would try to get out to various venues that had acoustic songwriter nights. I wanted and needed to hear Nashville singer/songwriters to absorb the whole scene. One Sunday, I attended a gospel church service, for some awesome inspiration.

Would I schedule my next trip differently? Yes. I would try to have the co-writes starting from day one if you can, instead of scheduling other events before the co-writes. I found that if we didn’t get the song written in one session, I needed to have time in my schedule to place a second co-write. I realized that with the Nashville writers (at least the ones I was writing with), that they want in-person co-writes. They’re not too fond of using Skype. I simply ran out of time, during my three weeks in Nashville. Now, when I head there again, I’ve got two co-writes scheduled to finish up a song we started back in October.

Also, I might space the co-writes a bit better. I had three scheduled one day, and it was a bit much. Oh, and give myself some time to grab breakfast and lunch. Writing on an empty stomach, or one fueled with potato chips and coffee, was not my idea of stimulating.

2.  Accommodations: because I was going to be there for three weeks, I had to start looking for some reasonably priced accommodations.  First I tried to book a room in the Nashville House (it’s free for SOCAN members, for a two week stay), but as you can imagine, they book up really far in advance. I was out of luck.  So, this is what I came up with:

  1. Holiday Inn (by Vanderbilt)… can get a discounted rate, if you’re member of NSAI. (I’ve stayed here on a previous trip to Nashville).
    Benefit: the Commodore is in their hotel. You can enjoy singers in the round every night, while you eat supper. They have a shuttle that can ferry you free to Music Row, and to downtown. Computers in the lobby you can use, and free wifi….in the lobby only. Also, a nice pool.
    Downside: hotels are the most expensive option…..unless you can get another songwriter to share the room and cost with you.There are plenty of nice hotels in Nashville to stay in. I’ve mentioned the Holiday Inn because I’ve stayed there, and I love that you can head downstairs and listen to singer/songwriters at night. They also have open mic at the Commodore at 10pm…so if you are a singer/songwriter that wants to play, make sure you show up at 8pm to sign up for the open mic. I’m not sure if that is every night though.
  2. Scarrit Bennett Center….a former woman’s religious college that’s now used as a comforting hostel, set over 10 acres. This is the first time I’ve stayed in a hostel/ dorm environment. Stayed here during my first week on this trip.
    Benefit….can walk to Music Row. Short couple of blocks to NSAI. Beautiful grounds; but I didn’t have time to explore them. Computers in the main building you can use. Free wifi in all the separate dorm buildings, but the signal can be very weak, and drop you off, if you’re in one of the further dorms. Best benefit….the cost. $50.00 a night. With tax, $62.00 a night. I think if you’re staying for a month, they can provide a monthly rate.
    Downside: shared bathroom. One bathroom, in between two rooms….but you can lock it from both sides. Air conditioner didn’t really work that well. It’s been so hot during my first two weeks here. No free shuttle. No coffee in the room. Help! The main building does provide coffee in the morning, but cuts out mid-morning. No cafe or coffee shop on the grounds. They do have a snack machine. Yes! Potato chips are a staple for me, when I travel.
  3. Rent a room from a Nashville songwriter. For my third week here, that’s what I did.
    Benefit: you’re staying with a songwriter. I felt plugged into all the music business out there. I met other Nashville songwriters coming over to her place. I got to write with her; learned about the events happening in town; and hung out with her at various singer rounds. You feel settled here, in a home environment. Acoustic song sing at night with other songwriters in her living room. Full access to the kitchen and living room. You’re actually sharing her home. Cost is very reasonable.
    Downside: I had to share one bathroom (no big deal, as I’ve raised three boys with one bathroom between the five of us). I needed to rent a car to get around…however, by car, it was only 15 minutes to Music Row, and 10 minutes to the Commodore.
  4. Timeshare. I got lucky. For my second week here, I stayed with a friend (also a songwriter) who owns a timeshare; so I was able to crash on her pullout couch in the living room….and we shared the minimal cost. If you can arrange something like this, it’s a great deal!
    Benefit: full suite…kitchen, living room, one or two bedrooms. Outside and indoor pool, and hot tubs. If you room with a songwriter like I did, you can have private acoustic concerts/singalongs in your room at night. The timeshare usually has a variety of events you can attend; that can be tempting; but try to stay focused on why you’re in Nashville….to co-write with Nashville writers, to pitch to publishers, attend songwriting workshops, and networking.
    Downside: The timeshare I stayed at was near Opryland. A long ride every day to Music Row. Definitely need to rent a car.

So, during my three weeks in Nashville, I stayed in a different place every week.  I’ve found, for me at least, that the best place to stay is at a songwriter’s house. You’re plugged into the Nashville scene right off the bat. However, because I love changing things up, never getting too comfortable in one place, on my next trip to Nashville I’ve going to stay in various places, like before.

Next time I’m going for five weeks.

Co-Writing Coast to Coast with the S.A.C.

Dayna Shereck, John Pippus and Lucy LeBlanc
Dayna Shereck, John Pippus and Lucy LeBlanc

by Dayna Shereck

I can list several reasons why the S.A.C. has been so important in my personal journey as a songwriter, but would like to say that the fellow writers I have met and the connections I have made have had the greatest impact.

Several months ago, through a network of songwriters on Facebook, I came across a song that was posted called “Half A World Away”.  I immediately connected to the song and was eager to see who had written it.  John Pippus and Lucy LeBlanc of Vancouver were the creators, and they had developed something really magical. I re-posted the song and complimented the writers on how much I liked it.

Early this past June I had the opportunity to go to Vancouver for a couple of days and wanted to see if I could do a co-write while I was there.  I emailed the SAC Regional Writers Group in Vancouver and was quickly connected to Lucy LeBlanc, who was so warm and kind.  She suggested a three-way co-write with her writing partner, John Pippus, and I was delighted.

We figured out a central meeting spot that was convenient for everyone. I was staying at UBC, and Lucy was coming from White Rock.  Lucy and I met at the station closest to John’s place and we headed over there together.

I spent a little time observing their co-writing style and identifying the best way for me to fit in.  I quickly learned that Lucy was a wonderful lyricist and John was a great melody man.  We bounced some ideas around, and I loved some of the riffs John was playing. I was slowly developing a chorus in my head.  It was a little country, and I thought it might be something we could work with. Lucy immediately began to piece together a story, and John nailed down the verse melody with a catchy guitar riff that I immediately fell in love with. Within a matter of hours the song was coming together.

Lucy LeBlanc adds, “Dayna came prepared. She had a chorus for a country song that seemed to crackle with energy. So, we started working with it, throwing out ideas and crafting the verses. It’s a good feeling when it all comes together, and you end up with a song that resonates among each of us.”

It was my first time writing away from home–with the exception of Nashville…and it made me feel so grounded to be writing while I was in a place that was completely new to me.

After our first session we were tremendously excited about how the song was developing and made arrangements to meet the next day to finish it. With the exception of getting stuck on a musical bridge, we did almost finish it, and sorted out the bridge and fine-tuned the details over skype once I got home.

Lucy was able to do some sightseeing with me, and graciously helped me find my way back to where I was staying.  As I sat on the bus and replayed our song through my iphone voice notes, I felt even more confident about what the three of us had created.

I was happy to have connected with Lucy and John in Vancouver, and would certainly access the S.A.C. to set up co-writing opportunities when travelling to other cities. The song we wrote is called “ I Still Want You”.  We are hoping to have it demoed in Nashville and hope to have it pitched to an artist.

Visit the Songwriters’ Profiles for this trio:

Dayna Shereck
Lucy LeBlanc

John Pippus