by Jessica Nicholson | MusicRow Magazine | Oct. 14, 2020
In June, as the national Black Lives Matter movement surged around the country, industry organization Nashville Is Not Just Country Music released a survey of creators and business executives in the Nashville area, led by the question “Does Music Row Reflect Music City?”.
The majority of those surveyed represented Black/African-Americans (46.2%), and white/caucasian (42.8%), and nearly 40% of participants were artists and singer/songwriters. The survey revealed that 66.2% of those surveyed do not believe the Music Row-area music industry is interested in genres other than country. Nearly half (43.4%) report that they sometimes believe they would have a better career if they left Nashville, while 47.6% believe they have experienced discrimination while working in Nashville’s music industry. 43.4% said they do not feel they have access to resources in the Music Row/Nashville music industry to advance their professional and/or creative careers.
Music industry veterans Jamila McCarley and Thalia Ewing, known as Mimi & Muziqueen, had already been working in Nashville’s music scene for several years. Mimi founded Collab Music Network in 2015, while Muziqueen launched Muziqueen Publishing Administration in 2014. Together, they have more than 20 years’ experience in publishing administration, licensing, and catalog development.
They teamed to build the organization a few years ago to help serve non-country music creators and business executives in the Nashville area, and to help build a networking community and resource hub for Nashville creators and execs in Urban, R&B, pop, hip-hop, rock, and other non-country genres. They began hosting quarterly industry mixers and monthly Urban Writer’s Rounds.
“We saw a need to be a facilitator and advocate for the creators of music that don’t just do country music,” Nashville native Thalia said. “So the Urban Writers Round was birthed out of that. We were very specific when choosing writers, so we wanted to make sure we have someone that represented each genre of music. We wanted to make sure we had equality and gender representation and ethnicity as well, so there was always somebody in the audience who could relate to somebody on the stage regardless of whether it was the music they played or how they looked, or whatever the case may be.” Thalia said.
MusicRow Magazine spoke with Mimi and Muziqueen about the organization’s work to expand opportunities for the non-country music community in Nashville.
MusicRow: This organization is very focused on education. Why is that such a cornerstone of what the organization does?
Mimi: Education is the reason why Nashville Is Not Just Country music was started. We came together as independent music publishers to cultivate talent and pitch music. We found out very quickly that the average creative in Nashville that was doing music outside of country music, did not have the music business education or knowledge. Some of these people have never heard of a split sheet, hadn’t heard of compositional rights. Thalia, just being a music business education advocate, she’s like, “Okay, we can’t do business here without education.” So we started offering education sessions. We did one about monetizing your music. We ran into a lot of artists who started releasing music, but hadn’t done all their registration, so now they are not in a position to collect their money that they’re working so hard for. Instead of complaining about it, we decided to serve the community where the greater need was.
Thalia: There is a lot of mis-education out there, so we wanted to bring in professional experts to discuss how business is really done.
For other genres, a lot of that industry infrastructure is already set up in Nashville, and it is for the most part centralized around the Music Row, Brentwood and Berry Hill areas.
Mimi: Nashville created an infrastructure for aspiring and existing country music artists, and musicians and creators can be dropped into that structure and maneuver. That is the same thing that we are looking to do, to cultivate Nashville’s diverse music scene. It puts Nashville in a very unique position to expand and build their legacy, to be part of the next wave of what’s happening right here in their backyard.
What needs to be done to continue to build that kind of infrastructure for non-country music executives and artists?
Thalia: I’ve heard various reasons from people within the Music Row community, that they don’t know what to do with Urban, R&B and that genre of music, and that’s a legitimate, concern on their end, when you have a structure that has worked so well in a particular genre of music. There are other cities and places that have been able to tap into those genres of music and have been able to do it well. I believe if resources and capital were allocated towards that as a priority or interest, then there would be great success in those areas here, just like in other cities. Having Nashville investing in the urban music community will boost the economy for the city, as well. It’s all win-win all around, because if a label invests into a local artist, that local artist makes it big, that has now put Nashville in a whole new trajectory. Now more artists and creatives want to move here, but we’ve lost some artists to other cities as a result of them not being able to scale here in Nashville.
Mimi: Tay Keith is a good example. As a result of his success, he’s been able to sign up artists under him, multiple talents. Now we’re creating economic opportunities for multiple people after the success of one person.
There have been several panels in recent months that have centered on the experiences of Black executives and artists in Nashville. The Nashville Is Not Just Country Music panel was one of those. What is your reaction to the experiences that were discussed during the panels?
Thalia: There are very few people of color that just work in general jobs in the Music Row area. When I say general, I mean licensing, copywriting, royalties, very administrative-types of jobs. It has not been an easy road being a Black female with 15 years experience, to navigate a career in Nashville on the business side of things and in the corporate space. So it’s really refreshing to hear that companies are now re-evaluating their processes and hiring, where they select talent from and broadening the pool. I’m looking forward to this being something continual. There are lots of very qualified people of color that have degrees in music business that really deserve an opportunity to have their career here, and not feel like they need to move to another city in order to just put their music business degrees to work. I also hope that the companies will follow through and reach out to all universities and bring in all interns of all colors and backgrounds.
The pandemic has forced so many organizations to find new ways of getting their messages out—Zoom meetings, that sort of thing. What is next for Nashville Is Not Just Country Music?
Mimi: Right after our panel discussion, we were inspired by everyone’s honesty, and we followed up with everyone to discuss what actions we can take. So we are in the process of putting together services we feel this community really needs, in areas of publishing, management.
The writer’s rounds are special, a time of community. We want to expand on that with building a digital community, without losing the integrity of the community of the writer’s round. After every event, our hearts are filled, and we are part of this community that we serve.
Who are some of your favorite artists that are rising right now?
Thalia: Well, Aaron Dews is amazing.
Mimi: His artistry and work ethic are incredible. There is an artist by the name of Tahne and she worked with Shannon Sanders, so we’re definitely excited about that music that’s about to start rolling out.
Any final thoughts to add?
Mimi: If you look at the streaming charts, hip-hop and Urban have the top numbers. It’s about facilitating economic opportunity. We want to bring opportunity and empowerment to this creative community. We can help facilitate and support efforts that the Music Row area may be seeking in partnering with creatives in the Urban music space. It’s everybody that is getting with this mood, getting with the wave of understanding that Nashville is not just country music, and it really never has been.
Thalia: I’m just excited to see the next five years, if Nashville really puts forth efforts towards these changes, we will be unstoppable. We can really take charge and become that diverse leader in these areas—especially in the South, with the history that the South holds.