Nashville vs. Beethoven

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I recently saw some blog posts discussing someone’s unfortunate comparison of a well-known Nashville Southern Gospel writer to Beethoven.  Comparing the two is like comparing Peyton Manning to Hank Aaron; in other words, there is no real basis for a comparison at all.

Many casual listeners of music may not understand why I would say that.  So, let me give you a bit of an inside look of Nashville.

Nashville of course primarily produces pop/folk music of various genres.  When I use the word “pop”, I am not using it in a pejorative sense; I simply mean music for the average listener (some of which I like and some I don’t).

It goes without saying that there are many very fine musicians in Nashville producing pop/folk music.  In fact, I greatly admire the particular writer that these blogs are discussing.  I have considered hiring him in the past to orchestrate my projects.

But I am quite sure that this writer is embarrassed by this recent attempt to elevate him to Beethoven’s level.  Suggesting such a comparison shows a lack of understanding about the differences in function between classical music and pop/folk music.

Here is the bottom line.  Music produced in Nashville is designed to be appealing to average people.  And its quality is constrained by how much people are willing to pay for it.  In today’s world, they are not willing to pay very much, and as a result, the quality is by necessity not as high as it could be.

Many have a misconception that when artists record, they spend months with writers, months with arrangers, and months in the studio with an orchestra.  For almost all artists, nothing is further from the truth.

Here is a more normal situation.  A writer might work on a song for a few days.  Once an artist decides to record it, an arranger spends a day writing parts (if there are to be written parts at all).  Then musicians record the song in about an hour of studio time.

Somehow, I think Beethoven’s work took more time than that and it shows in attention to detail, etc.  I am not making a moral judgment; I am simply saying he had some advantages that Nashville artists don’t.  And that is why the arranger in question should not be compared to
Beethoven; he never has had and never will have the luxury of spending
as much time per piece as Beethoven did.

The reason Nashville music is rushed is simple: lack of resources due to the reality of economics. Quality music is rarely profitable.  Just look at the financials of practically any symphony that is still actually in business.

If you consider this situation to be a problem, who should get the blame?

Not the arrangers/writers. If an artist can only budget $10K for arranging a project, an arranger
can hardly spend a full year working on it to get it perfect.

Not the studio musicians.  They make good money (roughly $80/hour in Nashville), but don’t work full weeks.  Regardless, they deserve to be paid well for their incredible skill.

Not the producers.  You can’t blame the person paying the bills for cutting corners so that the project has a shot at profitability.  By the way, most projects aren’t profitable at all.

To some extent, you can blame listeners who steal with illegal copies and downloads.  But it is highly unlikely that eliminating piracy would solve the problem.

Rather than passing blame, perhaps we should just accept that it is what it is.  Frankly, the efficiency in Nashville is staggeringly good due to the talent there.  Watching the Nashville String Machine orchestra record a project in a day without prior practice is mind-boggling.  And the arrangers come up with very good stuff considering the budgets they are under.

Let’s just accept that there is a place for classical music and a place for pop/folk.  Both have their own functions, strengths, and limitations.  For that reason, it really is silly to compare a Nashville writer to Beethoven.

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