Nashville may be the center of the recorded music industry and, while it has attracted scads of musicians over the past several decades, it remains a narrower kind of music scene compared with say Brooklyn, according to analysis by my U of T colleague Dan Silver. In an earlier post, I explored Jack White's move from Detroit to the Music City. Silver picks up on the Punch Brothers' Nashville-to-Brooklyn relocation, making an important distinction between music industry dynamics and music scenes.
This is not about comparing New York and Nashville in particular. My point is more general: we need to think not only about music industries, but also about music scenes as a factor in attracting musicians to cities and sustaining their creativity once they're in place.
Punch Brothers leader Chris Thile was a bluegrass prodigy in the "progressive bluegrass" trio Nickel Creek. Based in Nashville, the platinum-selling group was famous for mixing bluegrass with diverse genres and covering songs by non-bluegrass artists like Pavement, Elliott Smith, and the Jackson 5. But after Nickel Creek came to an end in 2007, his new act Punch Brothers chose to make its home in Brooklyn.
While Nashville is full of industry opportunities and plays host to a dynamic live scene, it tends to value expertly played country and pop-rock sounds over more unconventional musical risk-taking. In NYC, Thile feels at home incorporating prog rock, chamber music, and klezmer into the Punch Brothers' more adventurous sound.
Silver, who plays a key role in our MPI Music and Entertainment Economy Project, explains why Nashville, despite its widespread opportunities, is not always the best home for musical omnivores like Thile:
There is likely a symbiotic relationship between recording industry infrastructure and music scenes, as scene members work session gigs by day and clubs by night. And yet, on the other hand, there may be a negative influence whereby heavy industry concentration creates an over-professionalized environment that is not open to some kinds of musical innovation. The grunge sound of '90s Seattle and Olympia grew up where there were few recording studios, and the scene made a virtue out of the unprofessional sound that emerged.