ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Nashville's most lucrative and recognizable export, country music, has had a challenging 10 years. In the past decade, country music sales fell. But for Nashville's pop, rock and independent music sectors, the aughts have been the most fruitful decade since the 1960s. As part of our coverage of "The Decade in Music," Craig Havighurst of member station WPLN has that story.
U: Yeah, welcome to Grimey's.
CRAIG HAVIGHURST, Host:
Grimey's New and Preloved Music is a mile from Music Row, but a world away in its approach to the music business. The record store stocks jazz rarities on vinyl, and just about every local band with a CD for sale. It holds regular in- store showcases, like this recent one by breaking Nashville soul/pop duo Sam Ruby.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
RUBY: (Singing) Take another breath. Take it from me somewhere I want to be...
HAVIGHURST: While old-school record shops have been disappearing from cityscapes around the country, Grimey's has defied industry trends from almost the day it opened 10 years ago.
M: You know, I don't even feel like I'm really part of the music business anymore.
HAVIGHURST: Co-owner Doyle Davis says the shop has tried to be a community hub as much as a retailer.
DAVIS: We champion what we know, what we love, and what's around us. And I am not here to break the latest priority developing act for some label, you know? It just doesn't seem to work anymore.
HAVIGHURST: One flight up in this old brick building at 1604 Eighth Avenue, there's another company following an unconventional path. Thirty Tigers was founded by David Macias.
M: I'm lucky enough to have been laid off very early in the process so that I could start this business.
HAVIGHURST: Macias is one of scores of downsized major-label executives using their expertise to try to fix what's broken and preserve what works in Nashville's best-known industry.
M: We started out as a consultancy to help artists that were kicked out of the major-label sandbox, but could still sell 20,000 or 50,000 units and could earn a living from that.
HAVIGHURST: Today, Thirty Tigers runs new-media marketing campaigns, and pitches songs to film and television. Meanwhile, other entrepreneurs are assuming the risks associated with developing artists' careers. Many are building on backgrounds in publishing and artist management, and signing artists to so- called 360 deals: releasing recordings, selling T-shirts and managing tours in a coordinated effort.
M: Wait, wait, wait. Have you seen this article? This is amazing. One second, let me find it.
HAVIGHURST: Nashville Music business manager Mary Ann McCready rifles through her desk and pulls out of paper by Richard Florida, the sociologist who studies creative economies, and who has called Nashville the Silicon Valley of music.
M: He's basically saying Nashville has the highest concentration of music industry in North America. And in the bar graph, which you can't see here, the line for Nashville goes off the page.
HAVIGHURST: Musicians, songwriters and producers have flocked here over the past decade. And a few are finding success far outside of country. There's million-selling pop-punk band Paramore, and Jack White of The White Stripes, who moved to Nashville and opened an office of his record label. Perhaps best known of all are international rock stars Kings of Leon.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SEX ON FIRE")
M: (Singing) Lay where you're lying, don't make a sound. I know they're watching, they're watching. All the commotion...
HAVIGHURST: These are sweet sounds indeed to Jason Moon Wilkins. He co-founded Next Big Nashville, an annual conference showcasing Music City's alternative side. He likes many of the trends he sees, but he's also pressing the city's marketing and tourism power brokers to invest more heavily in the genres that haven't already made millions.
M: Because I do still think there are gatekeepers who are getting in the way of things, of progress and of just perception. You know, they're still investing almost all of their money, and almost all of their efforts, into promoting one side of Nashville. Not just country, but one specific style of country and brand of country and that is so limiting for the city.
HAVIGHURST: On the other hand, Garth Fundis, a producer and former chairman of the Recording Academy, says Nashville's rock bands haven't had this much of the world's attention in the 30-plus years he's worked here.
M: Those bands have always been here. They have never been able to put Nashville on their record and still be taken seriously. That's not as much an issue anymore. Thank God it's finally being recognized, and anything can happen.
HAVIGHURST: That optimism has to be tempered by the fact that revenues for recorded music are off by nearly half since 2000. Then again, in its 60 years as Music City, Nashville has always been good at improvising.
For NPR News, I'm Craig Havighurst in Nashville.