Nashville, USA   –   Research

Geography & Demographics

  • Total population: ~678,000 as of 2021
    • Has increased 12.8% since the 2010 census
    • Nashville’s changes in population demographics (size, age, income, etc.) has not negatively impacted the demand for music
  • In the US, two major changes demographically: 
    • 1. The median age for the labor force is getting older (now roughly age 40)
    • 2. The proportion of foreign-born residents in the US is increasing
    • These nationwide demographic changes have similarly affected Nashville
  • Nashville as a city is becoming more educated – more than 40% of all adults in the city hold at least a Bachelor’s degree (Census)
  • Over a quarter of the city’s population is African American (Census)
  • The racial composition of the city is as follows: White (55.4%), African American (27.6%), Latinx (10.4%), AAPI (3.8%), Biracial (2.6%), & Native American (0.2%) (Census)
    • City is becoming more diverse — question of whether this diversity is reflected in the city’s music industry & how to represent it

Current COVID Standings: Statistics, Re-Opening, Etc

  • Total of 99,433 cases in Nashville’s larger county area, Davidson County as of July 6, 2021 (Davidson County)
  • 933 total cases recorded as of September 1, 2021 (Davidson County)
  • On May 14, 2021, Nashville mayor John Cooper lifted all COVID restrictions, meaning that social distancing & masks were no longer required in public places
    • (The New York Times, 2021 July 17)

      • The state of Tennessee is far behind in vaccination rates (very low) (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
        • 53.6 percent of Davidson County’s (Nashville’s) population has received at least one shot of the vaccine, compared to 57.9 percent nationally and 44.8 percent in Tennessee
        • Now, gift cards and season tickets are being handed out for those who get vaccinated
      • On Friday, July 30 2021, Governor Lee issued an Executive Order on the State of Emergency through August 31st 2021 
      • Mayor of Nashville John Cooper announced new COVID protection updates on August 4th, 2021
        • Reimplementation of masks in indoor government facilities, regardless of vaccination status
        • With the Delta variant, the percentage of positive tests is currently higher than 11 percent, compared to less than 2 percent in June
      • Here’s a running list of music and concert venues in Nashville requiring a negative COVID-19 test, masks and/or proof of vaccination

    Size of Music Sectors Overview

    • The music industry supports $3.2 billion of labor income annually & contributes $9.8 billion to the local economy (RIAA)
    • Prior to COVID, Nashville was the highest ranking city for music industry job growth in the US
    • Over 8,300 jobs in music with an average income of ~$80,000 (RIAA)
      • The highest number of musicians per capita in the US
    • Over 200 publishers in the area (RIAA)
    • Known as an “entertainment cluster” –  multiple firms/employment classifications that overlap into other industries beyond just music, close-knit community 
    • The most dense music industry in the US – the density of music industry activity is 20-30x greater than LA or NY (RIAA) 
    • Strong reputation as a music-destination city with an international following
      • Prior to COVID, the city faced the goal of increasing its reputation & role as a music-destination city, especially in bringing in more international audiences for music tourism
      • Need to shift its reputation as a cross-genre musical city

    Trends in Live & Recorded Music (Pre-COVID)

    • The industry itself heavily relied on touring & live music performances for revenue
      • Country music especially emphasized live shows & touring to increase engagement & bring in revenue
      • For many artists, live performances were their single source of income
    • In 2012, the top 200 venues in Nashville made ~$305 million in revenue (Pollstar)
    • Has one of the highest venue capacities per population in the US — however, many of these venues are designated for country music
      • Need for additional venues outside of the country-sphere to expand the city’s reputation as a music destination
    • Nashville-based artists specifically would travel (either domestically or globally) for shows, & their touring would bring back revenue to the Nashville area
    • While country-based touring has increased in recent decades, there has been a recent decline in international touring with Nashville-based artists (especially in non-English speaking countries)
      • A need to raise awareness/attention for Nashville-based artists in non-English speaking markets
    • Conversely, while Nashville is known as music-destination city, there still is a need to bring in more international artists for performances 
    • Growth of major labels locating to Nashville over recent years (particularly in the 90s), however, in recent years, major label activity has declined
      • Reduction in the employment/activity of major labels — consolidation of the majors from 4 to 3
      • Shift towards indie labels, with an emphasis on DIY management 
    • Music publication helped Nashville’s music industry grow significantly, developed it into a music city 
      • City holds the highest number of catalog holdings for country music, folk, Christian rock, & other genres
      • Need for diversification of music placement due to the decline of physical music sales
    • Unlike most other cities, radio continues to be a relevant source of music consumption for Nashville listeners
      • Country-format radio stations are the largest single-block broadcasting outlets in the country
      • Radio continues to be a way to expose listeners to new artists & content, especially within the country genre
    • Rise of streaming technologies provides a way to engage with a variety of listeners, enables multiple revenue sources
      • Challenge to convert listeners into fans that will spend more on content
    • Performance rights revenues continue to grow, with broadcasting & film/TV synchronization remaining steady
      • Pressure on labels, publishers, & copyright firms to “outpace” unlicensed music activity

    Frictions & Tensions

    • Prior to COVID — lack of government intervention to enable growth in the industry
      • Was not really an issue, as the industry was able to grow on its own without government support
      • Since COVID, musicians, industry professionals, and venues need more support from the government to survive
    • Roughly 80% of all Nashville musicians have experienced unemployment since COVID began in March 2020 (Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, n=2,589)
      • Many Nashville musicians relied solely on music for income
      • Over half of all musicians experienced an average reduction of $10k in income within the past year
    • There is a huge impact on venues as well — Metro Nashville venues lost 72% of revenue & 73.5% of employment (Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce)
      • Translates to $17.1 million lost income & $24.8 million lost from Nashville’s GDP (Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce)
    • Rise of mental health issues within the industry -> COVID negatively affected the mental health of 70% of Nashville music industry professionals in some sectors (Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce) 
      • COVID accelerated/intensified any pre-existing mental health concerns for professionals due to the dramatic increase in instability 
      • MusiCares survey found that more than 25% of industry professionals faced moderate to severe forms of depression due to the pandemic (n=2,835)
    • Development and gentrification leading to rising rents and rising cost of living, pre-COVID, acceleration of these issues in COVID (Interview with Chris Cobb) 

    COVID Impact on Music Sector Health

    • COVID hit Nashville’s music scene hard — roughly ⅓ of music & entertainment industry jobs no longer existed in April-July 2020 (Brookings Institute)
    • Inability to perform live has an estimated cost of $100 million in income for Nashville musicians 
      • Many relying on unemployment payments
    • Live music venues, especially smaller, independent venues, have also been hit especially hard
    • Nashville chapter of NIVA gave following information on independent venues in August 2020:
      • Nashville’s 15 independent venues have experienced 90% revenue loss since March 2020
      • Venues have an average of ~6 weeks until permanent closure; 15% will be gone in a month
        • Some venues & clubs have turned to crowdfunding & donations for financial support, which has delayed closure
        • Others have turned to paid livestream performances, although this only makes up a small percentage of lost revenue
      • This has since been addressed in some capacity with CARES Act funding approved in September of last year
    • As Nashville struggles to get support from the government & larger organizations with music aid, the community has come together to help those in the industry who struggling with livelihood
      • Nashville Farmer’s Market providing food vouchers to unemployed
    • An upside: extra time on the hands of business and venue owners to form nonprofits and other organizations, focus on those, forced to be flexible (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
      • Issue: now facing exhaustion and burnout, hard mentally (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
      • Having live music back recently has helped some mentally  (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
    • Increase in importance of sense of community, checking in with others working in the music industry (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
    • Music industry workers moving out of the city, more music industry workers turning to other forms of income (Interview with Chris Cobb)
    • Music tourism lessening, hit to the economy (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
    • Still not enough organizations in Nashville that exist to address issues both pre and post COVID-19 (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
    • Many older venues selling, unsure of what the future holds for them (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
      • New owners, lack of constancy
    • Coming back to live music:  (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
      • Venues losing more money being operational than they were when they were closed due to overhead costs, difficulty getting funding
      • Lots of noise complaints, even in areas with old venues, as they open back up


    • As Nashville faces challenges of expanding international tourism, there is a need for regulations within both local & state governments to incentivize this growth
    • Prior to today, there was little government involvement in enabling the city’s growth in its music industry
    • In 1998, Nashville created a rule that prohibited home recording studios from legally operating, with an emphasis for musicians & professionals to use studios owned by labels & other firms (Bloom, Pitchfork)
      • This ban was overturned in July 2020, allowing for musicians to legally use home studios during the pandemic
        • Some limitations still apply, as home studio owners have to apply for a permit
    • Music Makes Us – an education program dedicated to educating students in the music, film, & entertainment industries founded in 2012, received $12 million in federal funding (RIAA)
      • Has helped Nashville establish itself as a strong contributor to music education
    • To address the rising mental health concerns, Music Health Alliance launched 2 funds with the Music Business Association, the Scars Foundation, & the Country Music Association to provide counseling services for music industry professionals
    • Outside of the music sphere, Nashville recently has pushed for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in its state government that would negatively impact Nashville’s socioeconomic health
      • The legislation would force trans students to compete in sporting events according to their birth-assigned sex & would prevent LGBTQ+ information from being taught in schools
      • Music companies located in the city including Sony Music, Curb Records, & Big Machine have since spoken out against the legislation due to how it targets LGBTQ+ individuals in the industry
        • The legislation would also negatively affect a wide array of business operations for music companies 

    Government Funding

    • Some of Nashville’s venues were able to receive funding from Congress’ Payment Protection Program (PPP)
      • However, these payments were meant to be short-term fixes & can’t be heavily relied on long-term
    • In September 2020, the Nashville Metro Council approved $2 million in funding from the CARES Act to fund independent venues (King)
      • Applied to indie venues with revenues of less than $5 million annually
      • Venue owners were also able to apply for $100k emergency grants to cover two months of expenses (King)
      • Question of whether this has been enough for venues to make it out of the pandemic (King)
    • Push for support of the RESTART Act & the Save Our Stages Act, as if these bills passed in Congress would significantly aid Nashville venues
    • Overall, lack of social safety nets for the creative sector, currently don’t have much of a seat at the table  (Interview with Chris Cobb) 
      • Especially those behind the scenes (set designers, make up artists, techies, etc.), there are a lot of people outside the traditional realm of music business that could use the support of local government  (Interview with Erin)
      • One idea to help: propose a creative working-class Bill of Rights
      • Lack of funding of organizations that are trying to aid in the crisis
    • Hard to get government funding for the arts when it isn’t tourism-based (Interview with Erin)
      • Live music gets more funding than recorded music, very hard to make off of revenue streams


    Bloom, M. (2020, July 30). Nashville Lifts Its Restrictions on Home Recording Studios. Pitchfork.

    Burnett, M. (2021, April 19). 

    Davidson County . (n.d.). Nashville, TN. 

    Farmer, B. (2021, April 14). Mental Health Takes Center Stage As Pandemic Devastates Nashville’s Live Music Scene. NPR. 

    Florida, R., & Seman, M. (2020, August). Lost Art: Measuring COVID-19’s Devastating Impact on America’s Creative Economy. 

    Gemtracks Staff. (2021, March 22). Top Record Labels in Nashville, Tennessee 2021. Gemtracks Beats. 

    Harper, D. G., & Cotton, C. (n.d.). Nashville Music Industry: Impact, Contribution and Cluster Analysis: MC2. RIAA. 

    Hilt, E. (2020, December 17). New report details impact of COVID-19 on Nashville music industry. WTVF. 

    Illers, E. (2021, July 30). Governor Lee extends TENNESSEE’S state of Emergency through Aug. 31. 

    King, A. (2020, September 29). Nashville Music Industry Bands Together, Distributes Food Boxes for Relief. Digital Music News.

    King, A. (2020, September 8). Nashville Approves $2 Million CARES Act Funding for Indie Music Venues. Digital Music News. 

    Leimkuehler, M. (2021, April 16). Music industry leaders ask Tennessee lawmakers to stop ‘disastrous’ anti-LGBTQ legislation. The Tennessean.   

    1. C. S. (2021, March 2). MusiCares Shares “Wellness In Music” Study Results. 

    Mazza, S. (2020, September 9). ‘Hurting so bad’: Nashville’s live music industry limps toward murky future. The Tennessean. 

    McCall, J., Smith, B., & Wunderlich, J. (2020). 2020 Music Industry Report.

    Medina, D. (2021, August 16). Are there COVID-19 restrictions in Nashville? No, but Here’s where you’ll need a vaccine or mask. The Tennessean. 

    Nashville & Davidson Metropolitan Government. (n.d.). Nashville COVID-19 Response. 

    Nashville, TN, US. (n.d.). U.S. Census Bureau QuickFacts Nashville. Nashville, TN, US. 

    Office of Mayor John COOPER ANNOUNCES COVID-19 public Health Protection Updates. (2021, August 4). 

    Official GUIDE map of Nashville, Tennessee. Pinterest. (2021, August 16). 

    Rau, N. (2020, August 26). Nashville live music industry on the brink of calamity; asks government for help. Tennessee Lookout. 

    Simon, R. (2021, July 1). A Historic Nashville Music Venue-Now Open-Is Fighting to Survive. ‘Everything Has Changed.’. The Wall Street Journal. 

    The Associated Press. (2020, March 3). Tornado strikes near downtown Nashville. Las Vegas Review-Journal.