Destination branding: Hey, Nashville, what’s your musical brand?

August 21, 2014

During my recent visit to Nashville, Tennessee, somewhere between listening to a mash-up of artists perform at the Grand Ole Opry and a visit to the Johnny Cash Museum, along a tour of the legendary Ryman Auditorium, the Carnegie Hall of the south or the “Mother Church of Country Music,” I learned that the phrase “Music City” was first used by a WSM-AM radio announcer in 1950, and it stuck. Essentially, a brand was created in that moment.

While many brands lose their claim to fame over the years or when new competitors enter the marketplace, in the over six decades since then, the Music City brand has never failed on its brand promise. The brand is so strong that each year hundreds of aspiring musicians pack up their bags, leave home, sleep on a friend’s couch and work odd jobs just to get the chance to play and try and make it in Music City.

Most of America associates Nashville with country music and struggling musicians trying to be discovered in any one of the dozens of honky tonks along Music Row. It is true this city eats, sleeps and breathes music. You can literally hear it day and night. You don’t have to go searching for it: it will find you. But Nashville has certainly evolved from a town that once was on the map for making great country music artists, think Patsy Cline, Little Jimmy Dickens and George Jones, to a town that just simply makes great music.

How would one even define country music today? Popular songwriter, singer Taylor Swift, one of the top grossing artists for the past several years, could be defined as country by some and pop by many. Or vice versa depending on whom you talk to.

Over the course my long weekend there, I heard live music in over a dozen venues sung by Vince Gill and Connie Smith themselves and old timers in sequined, fringed cowboy getups to an alternative 90s rock band bringing my high school friends and I back to our “glory days” to bluegrass bands with fiddles and a soulful female R&B group who did a mean take on Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love.”

East Nashville, particularly the 5 Points neighborhood, located just a few miles from Music Row over the bridge crossing the Cumberland River, could be similarly compared to Brooklyn, NY for its artisanal products, alternative thinking, love of vintage and salvageable history, has become the hotspot for anything goes in music. Rock band Kings of Leon or famed guitarist Jack White, who both get more airplay than most of Music Row’s struggling musicians combined, are calling this home.

Nashville was not branded Country Music City, that distinction may now belong to Branson, Missouri. It is simply called Music City, because it is less about the type of music played and just more about the music. Good music is good music, whatever it’s called.

And with that I’d like to say, “I’m with the brand.”

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