Networking, Nashville-Style

Berklee alumni working in the Nashville music industry reach out to the next generation of Berklee students, who are visiting for their spring break to learn from Music City's pros.

March 16, 2016

Nashville is once again a rapidly growing hotbed of the music industry, and judging by the amount of new buildings, the construction industry is struggling to keep up. So one might think it's an ideal locale for music industry networking, but to many in Music City, networking comes with a negative connotation. Any glad-hander can network. In Nashville, it's all about the hang. For that, you actually need to care about—and be reasonably knowledgeable about—music. You have to spend quality time with people. Most importantly, you have to be the kind of person that people want to hang with (i.e., nice).

But even a kind-hearted music lover can have trouble meeting people in a new city. Fortunately for Berklee students, many of whom traveled to Nashville this week to learn about the industry from those who work in it daily, they have a built-in contingent of friendly comrades ready to hang: Berklee alumni in Nashville.

On Monday night, many of those alumni gathered, along with Berklee students on the college’s annual Nashville spring break trip, to hang at the Soulshine Pizza Factory. For students considering a possible move to Nashville after graduation, it was an ideal opportunity.

An Extended Family

Among those in attendance was Dillon Dixon ‘93, an international songwriter who just finished a tour with the band High South. Dixon came to the party in large part because he knew one of his favorite faculty members, Jeff Ramsey, would be there, and Dixon was eager to roll out the welcome wagon to the next wave in the ongoing Berklee-to-Nashville migration.

“What I really like to do is help the new kids,” Dixon said. “I want to give back, because I have all these contacts down here, and these kids are great. I can see the excitement in their eyes. They’re going to do exactly what I did. I moved down here with $700 in my pocket and a Ryder truck with my car in tow, not knowing where I was going to sleep. When I moved to town, I only knew two people, both from school. The two alumni got me a place; I slept on their couch for two weeks and they made some phone calls. Next thing you know, I’m taking care of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s house and living in her cottage.”

One thing led to another, and slowly but surely, Dixon launched his career. Today, he cites Dave Petrelli for keeping the Berklee alumni community in Nashville strong.

Petrelli, a pianist who is featured on the hit television series Nashville, hosted an alumni panel for students on Sunday.

“Not everyone has a family of 500 people they can call on when they come to a new town, but because of Berklee, you will,” Petrelli told the students.

That network includes the likes of Grammy-winning producer and songwriter Tom Hambridge ’83, whose credits include work with Buddy Guy, Keb’ Mo’, and ZZ Top, and who has performed songs for films such as Cars and Ratatouille. Hambridge advised students that Nashville is a great place to raise a family. Hambridge was joined on the alumni panel by Maureen Murphy, a background vocalist who has sung with many groups, including the Zac Brown Band and Phish; Murphy cites Donna McElroy, professor in Berklee’s Voice Department, as her lifelong mentor.

“There is work here,” Murphy told students, “but you have to work your ass off.”

Getting Started

That sentiment was echoed by more recent arrivals, such as Kim Auch ’14, audio engineer at The Tin Roof, Mike Stankiewicz ’12, chief audio engineer at Sound Emporium, and Jerilyn Sawyer ’13, who works for the management team representing clients such as Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker. And the list goes on.

Sawyer noted that her internships at Warner Music and Sony were crucial to her career, and that she is currently seeking to hire two interns; Berklee students immediately thereafter mobbed her, but that’s what she expected.

“And her internship is posted on the Berklee Career Manager,” noted Brian Curr with a "hint-hint" nudge; Curr facilitates internships for Berklee students in the college’s Office of Experiential Learning.

Internships were a major topic of discussion during the hang on the second-floor patio at the Soulshine Pizza Factory. Carly Tefft, a 2015 graduate, talked about her recent move to Nashville with students Micaela Cattani, Faride Blanco, and Isabel Campillo Betancourt.

Tefft works as a vocal teacher at a private school as her day job while also pursuing her own music and interning at Diamond Eye Music.

“Berklee really let me grow in a lot of different areas instead of confining me to one thing, so I feel really prepared,” Tefft said. “I don’t have a publishing deal or a record deal, but I have little projects here and there that I really believe in, and that’s how the ball gets rolling.”

Having friends to call on for a good hang doesn’t hurt, either.

More on Berklee in Nashville 2016