The Nashville Effect

by Richard Florida

Two members of rock-n-roll royalty are getting married. A couple of weeks ago, news broke that White Stripes drummer Meg White and guitarist Jackson Smith (son of legendary MC5 founder the late Fred "Sonic" Smith and singer-songwriter Patti Smith) plan to tie the knot later this month. While both are born-and-bred products of Detroit's legendary music scene, their nuptials will take place 500 miles south in Nashville, Tennessee.

A few years ago, Meg's ex-husband and current bandmate Jack White made the move from Detroit to Nashville. Inspired by his time there producing Loretta Lynn's Van Lear Rose and the city's warm embrace of those who aim to "write hits," Jack White now lives there full-time with his family, and his new side project: The Dead Weather is based out of his new multi-purpose headquarters in the city.

The White's trips down I-75 are part of a broader trend. While conventional wisdom holds that modern technology allows musicians to work from anywhere they choose (while weakening the influence of traditional record labels and rights-management organizations), the reality is music, like many other industries, is actually becoming more concentrated and clustered over time.


(Source: Martin Prosperity Institute, Music and Entertainment Economy Project)

In 1970, Nashville was a minor center focused on country music. By 2004, only New York and L.A. boasted more musicians. The extent of its growth was so significant that when my research team and I charted the geographic centers of the music industry from 1970 and 2004 using a metric called a location quotient, Nashville was the only city that registered positive growth. In effect, it sucked up all the growth in the music industry.

While Nashville may not possess the size and scale of New York City, the celebrity-making allure of L.A., the top-40 hit-making appeal of Atlanta, or even the critical cachet of Austin or Montreal, across many genres it possesses the world's best writing and studio talent and the best recording infrastructure. Today, it's home to over 180 recording studios, 130 music publishers, 100 live music clubs, and 80 record labels. It's turned into the Silicon Valley of the music business, combining the best institutions, the best infrastructure, and the best talent. And, like Silicon Valley's broad reach across many high-tech fields from hardware to software, biotech to green energy, Nashville has become the center for multiple musical genres from country and gospel to rock and pop, attracting top talent from across the United States and the globe.