How do you get to Nashville’s famous Music Row? Practice, practice, practice.
But if you really want to succeed in the country music capital of the world, pick up a copy of “Making the Scene: Nashville,” a new book that details — as its subtitle states — how to live, network, and succeed in Music City.
In a lucky bit of fortuity, the book’s release coincides with the ABC musical drama “Nashville,” but where that program is fantasy, “Making the Scene: Nashville” was born out of the real-life experiences of Liam Sullivan, a longtime Amagansett resident.
“Making the Scene,” published in September by Hal Leonard Books, offers a step-by-step guide to getting settled and beginning a career in what can be a confusing and insular industry. The book is filled with interviews with industry professionals, each of whom provide unique insight into how the business works and how to work one’s way into it.
For Mr. Sullivan, this take on a guidebook is a natural progression: He has lived in Paris and Amsterdam, launching LINX, a walking guide, in the latter city. He also founded Vertigo magazine, a guide for New York City.
His youth in Amagansett, and the wonder of its natural environment, is behind his ceaseless curiosity about new places and things, he said. “From the time I was 6 years old, in the early-morning hours I was able to go into the back dunes, perch myself over this little pool with tadpoles swimming around, and from there make my way up to the beach to watch the sunrise. You’d have the haulseiners coming down and putting their nets out to the ocean. For the imagination of a 6-year-old kid, this is powerful stuff. Experiencing the beauty of this place firsthand really shaped me.”
Soon after the Stephen Talkhouse began offering live music, in the late 1980s, Mr. Sullivan, a drummer, began to work there, occasionally taking the stage as well. “As a musician, the Talkhouse was a wonderful, wonderful place for a young guy to work, play, and learn about music,” he recalled.
“I’ve always believed that experience yields content and that content becomes your life’s song,” Mr. Sullivan wrote in “Making the Scene: Nashville.” His formative years in Amagansett, he said, instilled both a love for music and wanderlust, and the desire to create what he calls “a musical life.” These traits led him to New York City, where he worked for Spin magazine and Entertainment Weekly, and then to Music City, where he sought success as a musician.
Long before he had taken up residence in Nashville, Mr. Sullivan was visiting the city to attend the annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show. Ducking out of the sensory overload of a crowded and noisy trade show floor and into Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, he remembered, was a defining moment.
“When I walked into that bar, there was a country band playing standards like ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ and ‘Walking the Floor Over You,’ by Ernest Tubb,” he remembered. “Outside, it was 1997, but inside Tootsie’s it was 1960, just a down-home country music joint. That really got me interested in Nashville. When I finally moved there, one of my crowning achievements, as far as I’m concerned, was to play in a country band at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. I love that: Embracing a city, learning about it, and then playing there.” Embrace it he did, learning about the city, country music and its artists, and also bluegrass, Americana, and old-time music.
Initially, Mr. Sullivan intended a book blending the history of Nashville and country music with interviews of its biggest stars. The publisher, he said, made additional suggestions, and his book proposal changed direction.
“As I began to think about my own experiences in Nashville — showing up from New York and establishing myself — I had a connection with singer-songwriters who had also moved from other parts of the country to make Nashville their home. That idea evolved into focusing on the singer-songwriters who are in Nashville and the 25,000 that come to Nashville every year, and giving them a step-by-step approach to getting settled and putting their best foot forward in starting a career. Because a lot of musicians and singer-songwriters in Nashville are ships at sea, floating with no direction. That’s what the book is about, giving focus and saying, ‘Here’s the best approach. Here are the best neighborhoods for singer-songwriters and musicians. Music publishing terms every singer-songwriter should know. How to take a meeting with a music-industry executive.’ You just can’t say, ‘I’m gonna create.’ That’s when you get taken advantage of — you don’t read a contract properly and all of a sudden you’re not making any money from the song you wrote.”
A more extensive book tour will take place in 2013, Mr. Sullivan said. The book’s Web site, insidenashvillemusic. com, includes information about the book as well as a blog. He is also working on a proposal for another book, which will feature short stories and poems about the ocean and shore of Amagansett.
“One thing I want to do,” he explained, “is write about places that have had real significance in my life.”