Updated: Jan 28, 2020
I finally made it to NSAI.
For those who don't know, NSAI stands for Nashville Songwriters Association International.
"The Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI) is the world’s largest not-for-profit songwriters trade association. Established in 1967, the membership of more than 5,000 active and professional members spans the United States and foreign countries. NSAI is dedicated to protecting the rights of and serving aspiring and professional songwriters in all genres of music."
Essentially, if you're a part of it you can attend workshops, use their writing rooms, network, and even pitch to a publisher (where they bring in someone successful to listen to a verse and chorus of the song to provide feedback and even use it for something if they wanna.) They meet Thursday nights and to be a member it is $25 monthly. Totally worth it IMO.
I say "I finally made it" because I attempted to go within a couple of days of my move to Nashville. I was at my witts end trying to survive by delivering food for Postmates in my barely functioning van, fighting the crazy Nashville traffic. I planned to go and I rolled up just in time only to find that there were no parking spaces. I couldn’t afford to pay to park so I ended up going home in tears (I know super dramatic.) I since have made a lot of progress in Nashville and survived my first year, but I had not been back to NSAI.
I was driving from work through the cold rain after a long day. A rush-hour from Hendersonville to Downtown was as atrocious as it sounds. I thought about just skipping it and trying it again next week, but after attending a Michael Burt training at work I was feeling a bit more motivated. I kept telling myself I didn’t come here to rest, I came here to work my butt off and make a name for myself, and if I was gonna do that I needed to show up to these things and stop putting it off.
When I arrived, it was actually a pitch to publisher night. I was a few minutes late because of the traffic, so when I walked in, there was complete silence coming from the gathering room and I really wasn’t sure what was going on or what to do with myself. I whispered to the girls at the front desk and they told me it was a pitch to publisher night and that I could still go in. I ended up sitting next to a man I’d met before named Ralston Wells, who writes and books at popular places like Belcourt Taps.
I didn’t have lyrics printed so I figured I’d just observe this round, but he encouraged me to try to play a song because “he could love it and it could go big or something like that.” Thoughts echoed back to my time at the NWLN (Nebraska Women's Leadership Network) conference, where I was told by successful Nebraska alums the importance of showing up and saying yes. Well, I’d already shown up. I went into the backroom and used my email to print my lyrics off.
While I was listening to the other songs, I was doing a lot of mental gymnastics. Half of me was imagining him loving my song and wanting to use it for something immediately, jumpstarting my career and fame (that rarely if ever happens.) The other half of me was reminding myself that he is just one man, and that this is subjective, and that you can only get so much out of listening to one verse and a chorus on one listen and to not let it bring me down even if he hated it.
When it was my turn, I ended up playing “Rome” because it was a very gloomy day. I also felt like it was the type that was most universal/likable for a writer like him.
He ended up saying that he liked the majority of it, he liked my verse and pre-chorus and my melody. He said he my hook “Rome wasn’t built in a day” kind of threw him because it didn’t directly relate to the rest of it. He said something along the lines of “I was completely with you until that, that part kind of bumped me” he suggested I say it in a less direct way, suggesting the line “I wasn’t built in a day.”
His main point of the night was “write to your hook” and it was funny, this critique actually crossed my mind before he even said it. Having gone to weekly critiques for a year now, hearing his feedback didn’t make me feel the least bit bad, even though I know I’m not going to edit the song (finished/released songs aren’t typical for this but it was all I had at the moment) I’m glad I heard it, because it is something I will consider in my writing for the future, and I actually got a really cool idea while I was sitting there for the rest of the night. It’s definitely constructive, and again, I’m here to learn and grow into my full potential, I want to hear these things so I can improve.
At the same time, I do know it’s just one person and one listens. I had someone say the day prior that Rome was their “new anthem” and I’ve gotten feedback saying that the “Rome” line is the best part, so it’s always a matter of perspective. I can see where he’s coming from and writing to my hook is something I will keep in mind, (just as I hear the voices of my song salon friends as I’m writing) but me personally? I still prefer “Rome wasn’t built in a day” to “I wasn’t built in a day.” To me, it was always about reminding myself of the mantra. Getting critiqued often really helps you recognize when you are willing to change something or not. Always be open-minded, but at the end of the day remember that it is your song. You want to feel good about the change in your gut.
As I sat back down and listened to the next song, a girl walked up to me and handed me a folded piece of paper. It was a note that said “loved your song, let’s cowrite!” and her contact info. Honestly, that was the highlight of my whole night. The fact that a complete stranger saw enough in my song to take the time to write me a note and wanted to work with me, before even having a conversation with me, meant a lot. It was also just cool to be in a room full of people who were all trying to make it here like I was. It was fun to imagine all of us in ten years, and hope that we all find a form of success.
After it was done, I stayed around and mingled with some other writers, and took the time to shake the publisher's hand. What was cool is that he remembered my name without telling him. He mentioned again that he liked my song and that he felt bat critiquing the hook. I told him, “that’s okay, that’s why I’m here!” And as someone who can often feel defensive or discouraged when people don’t affirm me, I truly meant it. And that felt good.
I’m definitely going back to NSAI and I’m looking forward to meeting more writers and setting up more cowrites. If you’re new to town I’d definitely suggest getting involved in NSAI. Don’t let the lack of parking and a bad experience keep you away for as long as I was. Show up, say yes. Two rules to follow. I should have gotten back a lot sooner. I can’t change that, I’m here now. It took courage to understand and faith in myself I didn’t have during my first attempt. As they might wanna say, I wasn’t built in a day ;)