What Is “Music Row”?

Music row is an area in Nashville, Tennessee where hundreds of music-related businesses are found. These businesses are cogs in the country music, Contemporary Christian music and gospel music industries. This area in just southwest of downtown Nashville has become synonymous with country music, to the point that when some people want to refer to the country music industry as a whole, they say the phrase “Music Row”.

How Did Music Row Get It’s Name?

Several times, I have been asked “How Did Music Row Get It’s Name?”, which I find amusing. Music row is the area of Nashville between 16th Avenue South and 17th Avenue South, which are referred to as Music Square East and Music Square West, respectively. This area is home to numerous record labels, radio stations and recording studios, as well as music publishing houses, video production companies, licensing firms and corporate headquarters for radio networks. Some of the local streets are named for famous country & western musicians of the past, such as Chet Atkins and Roy Acuff.

Famous music production houses like RCA Studio B are also found there, though industry giants such as Sony Music, MCA, Gaylord Entertainment, Starstruck Studios, Mercury, Warner Chappell and EMI can be found there, too. These many country music enterprises are part of what has come to be known as “the Nashville Sound”.

Nashville Music Row History

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The history of Nashville Music Row began as a part of the country music recording industry in the 1950’s. In fact, as early as 1950, Nashville had the nickname “Music City U.S.A.”. Nashville was even instrumental in getting rock-n-roll off the ground. It was in Nashville where Elvis Presley began to record the hits that would make him an American legend, while the Everly Brothers also got their start in Nashville. By this time, a decision by RCA Records to create a branch office in Nashville led others to locate offices in the region, as the south was an important place to sign acts.

In the mid-1950’s, rock and roll music passed in popularity what was called “country & western music” at the time. Nashville music appeared to be only regional in popularity, and it appeared in need of a makeover. Men like Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins gave country music its makeover, producing a smoother, cleaner country music sound. Better production values combined with more sophisticated arrangements to create the Nashville Sound. This made country music a little more like rock-and-roll and a great deal more acceptable to the American pop culture audience, and country music has continued to be a major American pop music genre over the past several decades.

Nashville Sound

The question “what is music row and how did it change country music?” splits fans of American music. Music row is involved in every aspect of the country music business, even mass-producing country lyrics and songs, while using slick producers and studio musicians to create the distinctive Nashville sound. This has led some critics to say that the corporate nature of music row has made country music too formulaic and homogenized, while stripping the music from its original roots in folk music and gospel music. These critics point to the profit motive and corporate greed for eliminating the organic, spontaneous and genuine nature of country music and country life. Others say the production of country music takes real life country experiences and translates them into an appealing product for a wider audience, thus bringing the experience of country living to more Americans than it would otherwise.

There have been country movements apart from (sometimes even revolts against) “music row” in the country music scene over the years. For instance, “outlaw country” of the Texas-Oklahoma region and the “Bakersfield sound” out of California have achieved wide audiences in decades past. Even today, Austin, Texas has a vibrant “Texas country” music scene, where country artists perform songs influenced not by the sounds coming out of Nashville and music row, but by country music acts of a previous generation. These country music artists tend to distance themselves from the Nashville country music scene.

Meanwhile, other products of music row have sought wider mainstream audiences. Acts like Shania Twain, Faith Hill and the Dixie Chicks have found crossover appeal with American audiences. Often, their crossover songs appear to have more rock or pop influences, or (in the case of the Dixie Chicks) tackled non-traditional Nashville or country issues.

Music Row remains a huge factor in the country music industry these days. Some of the most famous musicians and musical acts are part of the Nashville sound created on Music Row in Nashville, and tens of millions of Americans consider “country” to be their preferred type of music. Music row looks as though it will continue to be the Madison Avenue of country music for generations to come and, as long as country music remains popular, music row should be a factor in the American music industry.