Sound & Vision: Seattle vs. Nashville

Sound and Vision
Emily Fox

KEXP's Sound & Vision airs every Saturday morning from 7-9 AM PT, featuring interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter. You can also hear more stories in the new Sound & Vision Podcast. New episodes are out every Tuesday. Subscribe now.

It’s called Music City ,USA for good reason. According to the Recording Industry Association of America, music contributes an estimated $10 billion to the economy of the Nashville metro area and music helps create and sustain an estimated 56,000 people there. 

Seattle’s numbers are just a fraction of that, no matter what report you look at.  

Nashville’s greater opportunity for musicians is part of what’s driving some Seattleites to cut their ties here and make Nashville their home. Aaron English, who grew up in Gig Harbor, was a professional touring musician based in Seattle until the end of 2018. He says he moved to Nashville for a personal relationship and to be closer to the beating heart of the music industry. “It’s called hedging your bets,” says English, “I guess that Nashville has an abundance of opportunity - and it’s such a small city, it’s a bit like being on a college campus.”

Kate Tucker left Seattle for Nashville 8 years ago after a breakup. “Music is so infused into the culture here,” says Tucker, “you can almost guarantee that the guy behind you at the grocery store is on his way to a song-write, or the girl who’s checking out your groceries just came from one. It’s such a song city. And it doesn’t really depend on who you are or how old you are or what your image is – it’s more about how good your song is.”

Kate Tucker’s songs were apparently so good that she ended up in a co-write at a major record label the first week she arrived in Nashville. 

Willow Scribner has been playing with her husband as the duo Willow & Wood for nearly two decades. They got married in 2005 and bought a house in West Seattle, expecting to stay here. But, four years ago, they decided to move to Nashville after a handful of other musician friends made the move.

“We went down there to visit it and honestly, I just fell in love with the city,” says Scribner. “It was so lovely and warm – literally warm – and welcoming and had such a diverse community of musicians and they are super-supportive of each other.  And so, we kept going back down and going back down, doing a few shows, and after the 3rd or 4th time, I said – ‘Hey, Mr. Wood…you want to move to Nashville?”

Bradford Loomis grew up and started a family in the Seattle area. He says he got into music late in the game, deciding to become full-time in his 30s. He was laid off from a day job at Verizon in 2012, which eventually led to an eviction and living hand-to-mouth. That’s when the family decided to move to Nashville – it was cheaper there (rentals in Nashville average a little more than half of Seattle’s costs and the Case Schiller index says you’ll pay about a third of what it takes in Seattle to own a house in Nashville).

“I’ve always had a wife and kids - so there’s a cost to everything,” says Loomis, “so a big part of our pursuing music as a career has not just been how much money can we make but also, how little can we need?”

Since he’s been in Nashville, Bradford Loomis and everyone else I spoke with was blown away by the collaborative nature of Nashville’s music scene.

“There’s so much co-writing here and the best way to get ahead here is by helping others and, in fact, the nice guys do finish first here – which is pretty rad,” says Loomis. Aaron English agrees with this sentiment. “My day looks like yes, lots of collaborating,” he says. “I’m also doing a lot of education so, going to seminars or watching webinars or reading and reading and reading or having meetings. A lot of that you could do anywhere, but it helps if you go to the coffeeshop, you go to the club and everybody you know is there… or everybody you want to know, but don’t yet.”

Willow Scribner says Nashville’s music community has been welcoming. “Moving down there, we felt that people were very supportive, very open, willing to share contacts with you, share shows, suggest shows, would come to our shows and we’d go to their shows. This sounds silly, but it almost feels sort of like church,” she says.

Creatively, Nashville seems like a pretty good move for these artists. They are exploring new ways to share their art and they feel more productive. “I think I had written like 2 songs in 2016 and I moved here and promptly wrote 29,” says Bradford Loomis.

However, having Seattle roots has been advantageous in Nashville. Aaron English says that being from Seattle has had some benefits. “There’s some cache there. Everyone wants to hear you if you’re from somewhere else,” he says. Kate Tucker has experienced the same thing. “I started to get a lot of writes, initially, because I was from Seattle,” she says. “People wanted something that was authentic and different and real, and Seattle is definitely viewed that way from here.”

All these artists say they want to keep close to Seattle in one way or another. Willow Scribner still has a house in the Pacific Northwest. “We decided to keep the house because weren’t quite sure if we’d love Nashville, or if we’d get down there and 6 months later figure out this is the worst idea ever,” she says, “so, we wanted to keep one foot here.”

At the end of the day, Nashville has been a creative challenge for all these artists. “They threw down gauntlet and said this is the Music City,” says Aaron English, “I am constantly surrounded by the expectation that I will be making music snd the people I meet and people I hang with will be making music. There’s nothing like giving yourself a short leash and saying, ‘I’m going to make music, I’m going to succeed in it.’  In Nashville you’re either in or you’re out….and I love that.”

This story was reported by Lisa Craze. 

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