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Papa Tried
October 3, 2010 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Dispatches From a Guy Trying Unsuccessfully to Sell a Song In Nashville.

Via McSweeney's Internet Tendency, but not comedic in any way I can detect. Just a guy with a day job pursuing his dream, writing about the pursuit.

The author (Charlie Hopper) on MySpace, including 6 songs
posted by msalt (36 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
a Guy Trying Unsuccessfully to Sell a Song In Nashville.

That pretty much describes the entire male population of Nashville, doesn't it?

(And the "male" part is just because of the use of the word "guy.")
posted by The World Famous at 4:51 PM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Here's a link to the whole series.
posted by muddgirl at 4:52 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


You're not a kid at 33.
posted by ovvl at 4:58 PM on October 3, 2010


I have actually been to that Buca di Beppo. If I had been asked to make a list of places I did not expect to see referenced in McSweeney's, that place would no doubt have been near the top.

Once when I lived in Nashville, a cabdriver gave me a free copy of a demo he'd recorded. It was -- and I later confirmed this with a songwriter who knows and likes country better than I do -- terrible. Not even a fascinating trainwreck Legendary Stardust Cowboy terrible; just by-the-numbers boring.

I still have the CD somewhere, though, because the driver mentioned he'd been in town trying to make it in the business for 11 years. It was too pitiful for me, too, to throw away.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:04 PM on October 3, 2010


“Under Her Porchlight” (referenced in the article) isn't a bad tune. I definitely think it could fit in on a country radio station.

Charlie should write a song about hustling to sell songs in Nashville. It would at least make him more Internet famous.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 5:16 PM on October 3, 2010


It Can't Be Nashville Every Night.
posted by bwg at 5:28 PM on October 3, 2010


That pretty much describes the entire male population of Nashville, doesn't it?

Heh. I'm reading Jimmy Webb's Tunesmith and he makes a crack about how there are no napkins in Nashville because the songwriters have used them all to scribble ideas on.
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 5:30 PM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks, Karlos. Now I know what to get my brother for Christmas.
posted by msalt at 5:32 PM on October 3, 2010


Thanks, Karlos. Now I know what to get my brother for Christmas.

It's very good!
posted by Karlos the Jackal at 5:33 PM on October 3, 2010


also: F**k This Town
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:35 PM on October 3, 2010


This guy works at the Applemart on West End Ave. in Nashville. "Lonely Town" is actually really catchy.
posted by ghharr at 5:54 PM on October 3, 2010


[changed the link to go to all the dispatches per OP request, carry on.]
posted by jessamyn at 5:59 PM on October 3, 2010


F**k This Town would be a great punk song too.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 6:02 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's not all about the money. Or maybe it is.

Oh, of course it's not.

But is it?


Of course it is! Why on earth pretend it's not? If it's not about the money, then there are thousands of places you can play and distribute your songs for the public enjoyment with a minimum of the strain chronicled here.

This is a great read, though. I'm one of those who professes a love for country but usually qualifies it with a lot of hedge-ifiers about what kinds of country I like, usually not including big Nashville hits by country stars. However, I just spent a week in Oklahoma, and while there I decided to listen to "new country" stations, because they just don't have this kind of station where I come from. I found myself really digging the stuff after only a couple of days, developing favorites and singing along. The songwriting craft is pretty top-notch - no surprise, since so many artists are not writers themselves, and source only the best of the best of songs from the thousands of songs available. The writers are never afraid to address topics and themes other genres would consider too baldfaced or maudlin, and yet they are actually pretty universal and touching themes (found myself choking up or smiling wryly or nodding in remembrance now and then). There's a fair amount of wit, some great turns of phrase, and some very accomplished singing and playing. No shame in writing for Nashville, I'd say. It's not like it's easy to write stuff that solid.
posted by Miko at 6:04 PM on October 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


Heh. The writer has my number in Dispatch #2:

All my friends say the same thing about country music: they like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and alt-country like Whiskeytown or Gillian Welch. But they hate modern Nashville.
posted by Miko at 6:06 PM on October 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


WELL, HELL, BOAH, SINCE WE'RE ON THE SUBJECT OF HUMPIN' COUNTRY SONGS, WHY NOT LISTEN TO MINE?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:12 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


MINE TOO!

The closet doors have been opened!
posted by Miko at 6:13 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's probably partly money, mostly recognition--even if you release your tunes for free over the net, it's not particularly likely you'll become a nationwide sensation, or even a region-wide sensation.

But then again this area of stuff is not my forte, so please feel free to dismiss this comment.
posted by KChasm at 6:15 PM on October 3, 2010


I'm sure you're right that recognition is a huge motivator, too. I know only a couple of songwriters, but I guess I'd say about them that they also just want a career. I'm sure they'd love a big big hit that generates lots of money, but they really seem to value being able to pay the bills selling a song or two a year, and might even value the long-term performance of a career that lets them work from home with a notebook and a guitar or piano, leaving time to do whatever else it is they love to do, over a one-time giant hit. Though I'm sure nobody would turn down the hit. It would be a thrill to hear your song blaring out of the sound system at the mall or being played by cars driving down the street - no question.

It would also be fun, for decades afterward, to win bar bets every time that song came on the jukebox.
posted by Miko at 6:20 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is my belief that this fifteen-question self-exam, which can be taken in private without damage to one's cred (if any), might reveal an undiscovered tolerance or even attraction to the actual music pumped out of country music radio stations each hour.
posted by Miko at 6:38 PM on October 3, 2010


That pretty much describes the entire male population of Nashville, doesn't it?

I'm reminded of a short film I saw, where the film-maker set up a camera outside a supermarket in Hollywood, and asked each person coming out, old or young, male or female, "how's it going with your screenplay?" They all assumed he really knew about their writing efforts, and described the latest obstacles that they faced.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:51 PM on October 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm friends with and do session work in a studio co-owned by the guy that wrote "Take My Breath Away" and "Highway To The Danger Zone." I'm also friends with and play with the co-owner of the same studio and he has a Gold Record as a producer.

Trust me--I know for a fact that the money is in songwriting and publishing--not so much in performing, engineering, or producing. And certainly not in session work.

PS: Awesome links for Fuck This Town. I know Robbie and still work with the band he used during the South Mouth sessions and was working as a cable-wrangler at the time for that album.
posted by sourwookie at 7:28 PM on October 3, 2010


Of course it is! Why on earth pretend it's not? If it's not about the money, then there are thousands of places you can play and distribute your songs for the public enjoyment with a minimum of the strain chronicled here.

Beyond recognition, there's a perverse and somewhat nostalgic yearning for validation by the remaining (and fading) old-school industry machinery -- a recognition that while sometimes unfair and usually cruel, the industry gatekeepers really do know what they're doing for the most part. I'm feeling that same drive with the publishing industry, to get the approval of an agent and a mainstream publisher even though I could Kindle my book out tomorrow.

There's a certain rigor and discipline it imposes. Undoubtedly some good works are squelched by that system. But I bet 95% of songwriters and authors would improve their work by making the effort to master it.
posted by msalt at 8:27 PM on October 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


If it's not about the money, then there are thousands of places you can play and distribute your songs for the public enjoyment with a minimum of the strain chronicled here.

Those engineers down there really know how to record beautiful electric guitar sounds, maybe part of the allure is to be sprinkled with acoustical fairy dust.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:03 PM on October 3, 2010


I would like to hep myself to more Nashville music some time. But this is the best country song I've heard in years and years.
posted by Bookhouse at 9:51 PM on October 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


The closet doors have been opened!

me too! welcome to the future i guess
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:58 PM on October 3, 2010


I would like to hep myself to more Nashville music some time. But this is the best country song I've heard in years and years.

James McMurty!

Did sound for him in my home (by "home" I mean the neighborhood dive that is more my living room than my actual living room)! That song references my hood (by "hood" I mean SW MO and NE OK) all over the place.
posted by sourwookie at 10:41 PM on October 3, 2010


Out of the vault: Nashville songwriter Shawn Camp waits 16 years for new album's release

**

the remaining (and fading) old-school industry machinery

This may be anecdotal, and I'm by no means an expert, but over the years I have known and have met several veteran musicians of the Nashville scene (some of whom decamped to Austin and elsewhere after decades in Nashville), and the impression I have is that it's as bad now as it's ever been work-wise: recently, for instance, I met a singer-songwriter who had been there for 20 years, and had worked with some really big names in rock and country, and said he finally decided to leave. He said a lot of veteran Nashville musicians who used to work regularly are out of work right now, fwiw.
posted by existential hobo at 11:03 PM on October 3, 2010


I found myself really digging the stuff after only a couple of days, developing favorites and singing along.

Oh, yeah. A good song is a good song regardless. Me and several co-workers (none of whom are really huge country fans) have decided that "Chicken Fried" is our current favorite song.
posted by jonmc at 10:57 AM on October 4, 2010


That song references my hood (by "hood" I mean SW MO and NE OK) all over the place.

Yeah, we're from the same hood. My two favorites are the reference to the big McDonalds and the comparison of an erection to a Bois D'arc fencepost.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:00 AM on October 4, 2010


I finally saw the movie Nashville last year and I have to say it is a God-damned masterpiece.
posted by neuron at 12:58 PM on October 4, 2010


All my friends say the same thing about country music: they like Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, and alt-country like Whiskeytown or Gillian Welch. But they hate modern Nashville.

Well, to be fair, modern mainstream Nashville country is really really shitty.
posted by FatherDagon at 1:17 PM on October 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thank heavens that rock and hip hop are 100% gold, then.
posted by msalt at 4:37 PM on October 4, 2010


I read all of the dispatches. I kinda get his motivation and I kinda don't. I definitely don't know anything about the Nashville Machine so I'm in no position to evaluate. To me, this is fascinating for an entirely other reason . . .

Much of art history places a high value on the Myth of the Rebel. It's a standard scenario:

1. There is an Establishment that evaluates what is "good" and what is "bad. They act as as the gatekeeper for qualification. By merit of it's position, the Establishment often becomes entrenched and insular. They hold the power to invite individuals to their ranks or lock them out. The reasons for this are frequently arbitrary. The establishment perspective eventually becomes disconnected and begins the gradual slide into irrelevance.

2. There is a person or persons (Rebels) who are either rejected by the Establishment or willfully elect to not participate in that framework. Their efforts can make an immediate impact or go unnoticed for a long time. No promises in this position – but there were also no promises if they played the game laid-out by the Establishment.

3. The Rebels, by persistence, or talent, or luck (or some combination thereof) eventually diminish or supplant the power of the Establishment. And the cycle continues . . .

This story is completely different. It's about a guy who has a longtime love and capacity for creating music. He ventures into the belly of the beast to see if he can win within the Establishment framework. This is made all the more interesting by the fact that we live in era when self-publishing (though not self-promotion) is readily accessible to anyone. It's like an inverse Rebel myth or something. Really fascinating. I wish him well in his endeavors.
posted by quadog at 11:52 AM on October 5, 2010


I get that, but I wouldn't say that the quest of a practitioner of an art farm seeking recognition by the establishment is unusual - that's why the Establishment exists. It's the same story as trying to make it in Hollywood, or on Broadway, or into your first solo gallery show.

What's a little bit new and interesting here is to see the quest celebrated with regard to a songwriter. The cult of authenticity where songwriting is concerned has a special power. Since the 1960s, pop culture arbiters have accorded many more accolades to singers and performers who "write their own material." Indeed, the last fifty years have brought us amazing singer/songwriter talents, and in many ways they have started to seem the norm from which professional (non-performing) songwriters deviate. Most music magazines and blogs and profiles have focused on the original material generated by performers or bands, the writing process, etc. This cultivation of material from creation through performance and recording is one of the criteria for considering a band or performer 'great,' at least as far as the various stripes of rock music of the last several decades is concerned, and it has become a defining feature of those genres. But it's really more of anomaly - songwriting has more often, and in more genres, been a marketplace product, in which an artisan songwriter creates songs, and specialist performers perform them. Lots of genres have accepted that model uncontroversially - Motown, disco, and pop music don't generally fetishize the original writer as part of the music production process. But country, it seems to me, is on the fence. There are country greats who mostly rolled their own - Johnny, Willie, Kristofferson et al. But there are at least an equal number of country greats who don't write many, if any, of their own songs, yet are still regarded as career legends. Dolly Parton is just one example.

So it's interesting that we get to hear from this person who recognizes the values inherent in both - the original songwriter performing his own songs, as this writer did in his rock band, and the craftsman songwriter engaging with the music machine - and discusses, for an audience more comfortable with the former, what he sees as the challenges and best qualities of being the latter.
posted by Miko at 12:08 PM on October 5, 2010


Similarly standup comedy -- while judicious covers are a mark of taste for the likes of The Shins and Will Oldham, no self-respecting comedian would admit buying jokes these days.

Though no one is bothered that Jon Stewart (a former standup) et. al. have ace writing staffs.

And then there's film and theater, which go the other way -- scripts generated by the cast are rare, celebrated in the occasional ensemble that pulls it off but raising suspicions of ego damage more often.
posted by msalt at 1:35 PM on October 5, 2010


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