NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The bands filling the streets of Music City with songs throughout the night might not be the ones who end up on the radio in a few years.
And if they do, it most likely won’t be because they were discovered playing in a bar or a honkytonk, according to Middle Tennessee State University Associate Professor Tammy Donham.
Donham studies new media and marketing in the music industry. She says it’s been years since talent scouts would sit in the back of a bar in Nashville to try and find their next big star.
“A decade ago, a record label used to sign an act and spend a lot of money,” Donham said. “They would invest $500,000 or a million or more on that act without really having any assurance that they are going to get a good return.”
However, with the power of multiple social media platforms and streaming services, companies looking for the next big thing in music can look at the audience an artist already has before signing them on to their team. Therefore, artists need to be their own video editors, marketing managers, data analytics specialist and content creator to find a group to help back them with resources and finances. That is in addition to being a talented singer and or songwriter.
In short, to make it big you already need to be big. It’s a formula singer/songwriter Emma Kleinberg is very familiar with.
“It’s easy to be like, ‘I didn’t anticipate being a video editor in my life.’ That’s not what I wanted to do, but now I’m spending hours every day editing TikToks I’m making,” Kleinberg said.
Kleinberg’s hours on the app have gotten her attention and followers. Under her username @imemmaklein, she has two TikToks that have garnered millions of views, but she credits her wins in the music industry to the connections she has made and the network she has established while in Nashville.
“Everyone is saying TikTok is the wild west and no one really gets it. For me, in my experience, nothing has come from it yet, but hopefully soon. That’s kind of what every musician making TikToks hoping for,” Kleinberg said.
But even with a couple of viral posts and a top 40 finish on “American Idol,” Kleinberg is working multiple side hustles to make ends meet. She says playing gigs around town can be a way to make a living through music, but that is a hard path too and one that doesn’t always lead itself to an artist being able to perform their original music.
“I imagine if somebody who was in [artists and repertoire] saw someone on Broadway who was incredible the first thing they would do is go online and see how many followers they have on social media,” Klein said.
Donham says that guess is exactly right.
“The pandemic has certainly propelled this forward, but it was happening actually before the pandemic started where the labels were shifting more towards analytics and the statics: Spotify numbers, TikTok numbers and so forth. And they are looking for that growth trajectory. They are looking for those artists with a strong following and artists who have experienced a lot of growth in recent weeks and recent months and have a lot of momentum,” Donham said.
Yet that doesn’t mean handshakes, connections and a scout feeling like you have that “it factor” doesn’t matter anymore.
“[They] still have that gut feeling and they still use that even to this day,” she said.
So rather than chase the latest craze, trend or hot thing, Kleinberg has decided to stick to her gut. She posts content she would like to see and writes songs she likes to listen to.
“Don’t cater your entire artistry to meet the needs of a social media platform nobody understands,” Kleinberg advised other artists.
She also says that just because someone may not be discovered playing in a bar in Nashville, that doesn’t mean Nashville isn’t an amazing place to be for a musician.
Kleinberg credits the culture of collaboration and network she has formed in Music City with some of the success she has already experienced.