January 12, 2015 Mike Kopp

Nurturing Nashville’s Creative Class

It’s taken for granted, especially when we as a community start believing what the “experts” are saying about us. Nashville is the “it” city, or Nashville is becoming “a mecca for creatives.”

At the heart of this surge – or resurgence as some natives would attest – of Nashville’s stature as a place to live and do business, is our creative class. This class has many faces. The media has defined the class of late as more business entrepreneurial, those who use technology to drive innovation in health care and other industries. More recently, there’s even been some attention drawn to technology entrepreneurs who would drive innovation in music development and distribution. But technology without content is nothing.

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The largest element of our creative class is – and has always been – those who fundamentally, in the most elementary sense of the word, “create” the music. Songwriters, musicians, engineers, producers, cartage professionals, and others who more often than not work in the shadows of our local music scene. We see an occasional headline about successes or tragedies of music celebs, but little attention is given to these countless other music artisans who go about their business struggling each day to make ends meet in a local economy that seems to put less and less value on their art.

The “creation” of the music through the art of “story telling” is what’s made us. The lower Broad honky-tonks, large venues or events that drive tourism offer but a small showcase of an end result. The true creators tend to operate in obscurity out of the sight and minds of tourists, as well as many of our local business and government leaders.

No one is at fault for this unintended circumstance. The music artisans are often too busy scratching a living to network or advocate for their craft. And our leaders face daily challenges of staying competitive for investment, as well as job retention and growth in today’s ever expanding global marketplace.

But having spent the past two years immersed among many of these artisans, I have come to appreciate how vital their existence is to helping fuel our local economic engine.

In a prior life I served as deputy commissioner of economic development for the state of Tennessee, and witnessed first-hand how our creative class of music artisans can be a draw for international corporations that seek to find the right stimulating environment for their employees.

Yet, as we look ahead to 2015, we must ask ourselves what more we should be doing to support these artisans. Where are the incentives to “create” the music that makes us? What kinds of investments are we will to make as a society to nurture this class so that can sustain their craft? We have local educational institutions churning out waves of new artisans, but they quickly discover after they leave the cocoon of campus life that there exists little or no support system for sustainable success.

I’m not advocating a single silver bullet government or private sector answer. The challenge demands the strength and wisdom of our entire community, and calls for the same kind of big thinking and dialogue given to those efforts made on behalf of other local industries.

Nashville is blessed with a host of music artisans who would welcome a seat at the table alongside those in business and government who have the proven ability to turn challenge into opportunity. This sector of the creative class are hungry for help, and willing to continue to do what they do here in Nashville if the community will heed their cry.

Who’s game?



Mike Kopp is a partner/manager with the All Good Factory and president of the Music Industry Coalition. He is also an advisor and friend of FoxFuel Creative.

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