Making inroads in the music business is no easy feat for anyone. But for women in Nashville, the uphill climb has traditionally been especially tough. A casual look at the Billboard country top-30 quickly reveals that male artists outnumber women by an average of almost 15 to 1. Coupled with some societal attitudes that reinforce women’s self-doubt, this trend could stifle the aspirations of talented artists before they’ve even begun. But two Berklee grads are seeking to change gender inequity through one amazing mentorship after another.
Girls Write Nashville is a songwriting mentorship program run by Georgia English ’14 and Jen Starsinic ’13. It pairs young aspiring female writers with a professional working female musician. A collaborative “season” lasts close to six months, culminating in the young writers producing and recording original songs in a professional Nashville studio backed by an all-female band.
English, who is also the organization’s founder, began coaching young musicians while at Berklee as a way to help pay the bills. She picked it up again after moving to Nashville and forming an especially close bond with a young girl whom she had met while working at an after-school program. It was this mentor relationship that sparked her vision for what would ultimately become Girls Write Nashville. A grant from Nashville’s Metro Arts Commission got the ball rolling. Since then, English notes, “Our passion for empowering young girls through non-patronizing, professional opportunities continues to drive our daily work.”
As an accomplished violinist and fiddler, Starsinic jumped at the chance to join her friend and help turn that passion into a reality. “I teach music to a lot of kids,” Starsinic explains, “and I see too many girls who think guitar is for boys or who don’t think what they have to say matters.” At Girls Write Nashville, it’s the girls—ranging in age from seven to 17—who have the voice and vision. The mentors are there to turn that vision into reality through, in their words, “empathetic listening and skillful musicianship.” In the end, what these young girls get from the program is so much more than a song on a compilation album or a chance to perform at a local Nashville venue. They find a voice they never knew they had, and foster a confidence that otherwise might not have had a chance to shine.
Still in its infancy, Girls Write Nashville has already been featured in The Tennessean newspaper and on a number of local radio stations throughout Davidson County. This is a movement that continues to gain momentum for all the right reasons.
Not surprisingly, Berklee grads help one another, and this past year every one of the program’s songwriting mentors was a Berklee graduate. Berklee professor Mark Simos recently signed on as one of the organization’s board of directors.
English and Starsinic are working on obtaining their 501(c)3 status and “dreaming of how much more awesome stuff we can do to empower girls in our community.” It will be fascinating to see what English and Starsinic can accomplish. They’ve already proven that they can make dreams come true.