Moving to the Music City

Alexandra Ellsworth

“Number two, number two,” cried a waiter in a crowded barbecue restaurant on 12th South Avenue in Nashville, Tenn. Adam Naylor, a recent UA graduate, talked loudly over the oldies rock music playing in the background and the conversations of people sitting at tables around him. He shared his experience of pursuing music in a city where thousands of others like him come to do the same thing.

“So far my favorite thing about living in Nashville has been establishing roots in a new place,” he said. “I have really enjoyed meeting new friends and being at work and thinking about how everyone that I know now I didn’t know a year ago.”

In May 2012, Naylor left Tuscaloosa and joined the approximately 40,000 people who move to Nashville each year to pursue the music dream. Nashville is ranked as “the nation’s best music scene,” according to Rolling Stone magazine. With more than 180 recording studios and 5,000 working musicians, it is no surprise that the city has earned the nickname “Music City.”

Naylor said the music atmosphere was one of his favorite things about embarking on a new chapter of life in Nashville.

“You have so many artists, producers and publishers here, and so the [music] scene is here,” he said. “Getting into it is a challenge, but at the same time you are amongst others who are doing it so there is this mutual striving for it. I think it is been fun to see what I am up against and still be able to go for it. Just to have the opportunity to be finished with school and be in a position where I am able to do this and focus on this – that alone has been very exciting.”

After graduating from The University of Alabama in 2011 and working for a year in Tuscaloosa on staff with a campus ministry called The Navigators, Naylor decided to take the plunge and move with his three friends and bandmates to Nashville. Almost immediately, he fell in love with the city, and one of his favorite memories was from over the summer in Centennial Park.

Naylor remembered hundreds of people filling the park on a summer Saturday night. A small orchestra played big band music as people danced around the park under the moonlight. Naylor was one of them and in that moment, he knew Nashville would be a place he could call home.

“That was a cool memory because it showed me that Nashville is a cool city in that there are a lot of young adults my age, and I think it was just a fun atmosphere,” he said.

Although music was something Naylor knew he wanted to pursue, he said moving was not an easy choice.

“It was probably 2012 when I was talking to a number of different people that really just told me this is a good move,” he said. “It’s a risk but it’s not foolish. I think once I got on board with that, I think that is when I wanted to really give it a go, because I wanted to do it, but I didn’t want to make a foolish move.”

Now his band has parted ways and Naylor is pursuing music on his own, but with the community of other musicians he said, he does not really feel alone.

“As everyone says, most people in town have some affiliation with music,” he said. “A lot of the guys I work with are musicians too, and so it’s kind of hard to get away from it. And something I have noticed is there is camaraderie between musicians. It’s not cutthroat.”

Shaylee Simeone, a friend of Naylor, said Nashville’s atmosphere is something special. Simeone has lived in the city for a year and half after graduating college and is recording an album and pursuing professional songwriting.

“I absolutely love it,” she said. “Music is definitely everywhere. For example, I’m playing music in a fro-yo shop tonight. Who does that? Nashville. Nothing brings me more joy than to sit down with someone, talk about life, and try and put it to a tune. I am blessed upon blessed.

“That’s the best thing about this city too. There are so many people doing it. It’s like a giant small town. People want to see their fellow man succeed, so it’s all about connections and writing sessions and generosity and a willingness to listen. There are some truly special people living in this town.”

Naylor said he also enjoys collaborating with other musicians.

“People tend to get together and have shows together instead of trying to step on each others shoulders to get somewhere,” he said. “I have really enjoyed that. It’s been cool especially finding out where you fit and where you contribute. Once a group of individuals figure that out, you can bring something to the audience that is better because everyone is bringing their specialty.”

Simeone said it was other musicians who helped her get to where she is today.

“There will always be those competitive people in every town,” she said. “But mostly there is a spirit of camaraderie. People want to support each other, because we’re all in it together. I got to where I am by someone reaching out to me, so why wouldn’t I do that for others? Also, like in every area of life, you get places when you’re nice to people.”

However, pursuing the music dream does not necessarily pay much so most artists work additional jobs to pay their rent.

“Sometimes it is tough to be here,” Naylor said. “Not because anything extreme is happening to turn me away, but because it feels like nothing is happening. It’s like I am here, I’m working and some weeks I don’t have much time at all to spend on music.”

Naylor works at the Marriott Hotel at Vanderbilt shuttling guests and doing valet parking. He also helps with The Navigators at Belmont in conjunction with the Vanderbilt Navigators. He said it is sometimes difficult to balance his job that provides for his livelihood and what he really wants to be doing – music.

“Some days, it’s just working my job and then I’ll feel discouraged because I didn’t move here to work the job I am working,” he said. “I moved here for music. So that is probably the biggest challenge; but at the same time, that kind of goes away just from encouragement from others or feeling like I am coming into my own. So it’s challenging but it’s not disheartening.”

The temptation to give up is in the back of many struggling musicians’ heads.

“The hardest thing is that yes, every day you are tempted to give up,” Simeone said. “There are so many people doing what you do, and doing it better, even. But I think the trick to that is setting your own standard of success. My standard is that I would love to make a living, large or small, off making music. I want to play and write for the rest of my life and I will be wonderfully satisfied.”

Developing who she is as an artist has helped Simeone deal with the stress that comes with trying to make a living with music.

“I’m not out to be the next T-Swift, and with that comes a gentle security in who I am and what I do,” she said.