Music City cleaned up at the Grammys. Its artists have topped the charts in multiple genres over the last few years. It's increasingly the destination for A-list entertainers looking for a new home. And Rolling Stone recently named it 2011's "best music scene."
Nashville is hot, no doubt. There are those who think it could be even hotter.
Mayor Karl Dean wants to capitalize on this recent momentum with the Nashville Music Council, a 60-member group that draws together the music community, city leaders and business interests to find ways to leverage Nashville's unique position as an all-purpose hub that's home to more than just country music.
Though it seems like an obvious partnership, rarely have city leaders and the music industry joined together in such a concerted way. Tim DuBois, who's been in Music City nearly 35 years as a songwriter, record label head and now as leader of the performing rights organization ASCAP's Nashville office, has heard talk of a partnership over the decades, but never seen anything come of it.
"It's a pretty powerful group and you can feel the energy in the air," DuBois said. "You can see the things happening with the definite result of moving this thing forward. That's real different. That's not talk, it's action."
More musicians and music industry types live here than in any other city in the country, except Los Angeles and New York. That group along with a wide-ranging variety of support businesses, from tour buses to concert video screen rentals, generates about $6 billion a year in the area and 54,000 jobs, Belmont University research shows.
There are more than 80 record labels, 100 live music venues, including the iconic Ryman Auditorium, 130 music publishers and 180 recording studios.
When Tim McGraw brings his buddies from L.A. and New York to town, he always gets the same reaction.
"Everybody they hear they think is a star," McGraw said. "You can go down to the corner and listen to a guy who is the best singer you've ever heard and you can't believe he's standing there with his case open on the corner."
But leaders want to make the music scene flourish even more. The music council has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars so far in creating partnerships in key areas of music technology development, making the city more inviting for entertainment-oriented businesses and musicians alike, and soon has plans to expose every child in Nashville schools to music education — something that has largely lost its cultural value over the years.
That's in addition to the millions in advertising and promotion meant to keep Music City ahead of a pack of ambitious competitors like Austin, which bills itself as the "Live Music Capital of the World," and Seattle, now trying to make the "City of Music" tag stick. The city also is helping finance a new 200,000 square-foot wing of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum as part of a convention center project.
"Nashville's best days are still ahead of it, and that is very clear when you look at this music industry," Dean said. "It's taking off here; it's getting increasingly interesting and increasingly complex."
While country music remains the big dog in town, the city's sound is much more colorful than it was 20 years ago. Jack White, Kings of Leon, The Black Keys, Ke$ha and country crossovers Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift now share the spotlight and there are vibrant Christian and gospel, punk, pop, folk and roots music scenes.
White, a transplant from Detroit and music council member who Karl recently gave the first Music City Ambassador Award, saw the possibilities Nashville presented when he came to town to record with Loretta Lynn. He moved his family and his business here a short time later.
"It's definitely very encouraging and supportive because the environment that any artist is in starts to dictate the creativity of the artist and the output of the artist. So if the environment is supportive it can be very helpful to the creativity," White said, before comparing it in some ways to European nations where the arts and artists are fostered and supported through government aid. "Obviously in this town you can see from the mayor's office on down that they're very supportive and interested in the idea of Nashville's musical culture."
In the past, artists like White came to Nashville despite the indifference of city leaders. The music council would like to make it easier for artists to settle in Music City rather than other hubs. The council has set up an all-inclusive resource website and has launched live music app on iTunes with an Android version to come later this summer. The council is even building artist housing.
Music council member Emmylou Harris feels the group is making the city even more inviting.
"It's still a place for songwriters to come, but make it a friendlier place," she said. "I'm excited about the idea of more venues and obviously the music education I think is really important. We really need to make this better than it is."
The initiative goes beyond making Nashville more friendly for the average musician. The music council recently partnered with the Nashville Entrepreneur Center, a tech business incubator run by Vanderbilt professor Michael Burcham. The council will pair music industry leaders like DuBois, former Sony Music Nashville chairman Joe Galante and tech business pioneers Tawn Albright and Mark Montgomery.
"I've been hired by other cities to look at what they do, but I don't see any other city that has the commitment of the chamber, the commitment of the convention and visitors bureau, the mayor and the public at large putting their money where their mouth is," said Montgomery, who built one of the first direct to consumer digital services. "It took us a little while and it took a little arm twisting, but I feel like we're moving in the right direction."
AP writer Caitlin R. King in Nashville contributed to this report.