Berklee Today

Nashville Connection

Pat Pattison
Photo by Mark Small

One might get the impression that Professor Pat Pattison moonlights for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce because of his efforts to forge ties between Berklee and the Music City. I asked him about that, and he laughed saying, "It's not me, it's Jim Ed Norman, president of Warner Bros. Records Nashville. His agenda is to see Nashville become the best music center in the world. He sees a connection with Berklee as a way to attract people to the area who know what they are doing but are not typical Nashville musician-types." The collaboration of Norman, Pattison, and several other key players seems to be working as a growing number of Berklee alumni choose to live in Nashville.

A veteran songwriter, Pattison's motivation to get involved was the shared belief with Norman that Nashville is a great place to launch a music career--especially for songwriters. Over the past 15 years, Pattison has brought hundreds of students to Nashville during spring break on buses chartered by Warner Bros. to spend five days at panel discussions, studio tours, superstar question- and-answer sessions, songwriter workshops and showcases that he coordinates. Norman and others in high places open their doors annually to offer the students an inside look at the range of career opportunities.

For the avuncular Pattison, it is logical to show students options as they contemplate a post-Berklee strategy. Many who have accompanied Pattison on the spring break trip ultimately moved to Nashville. With a little bit of pride, he named several former students presently employed as staff writers for important Nashville music publishers. "Greg Becker and Gillian Welch are at Almo Irving, Scarlet Keyes and Dillon Dixon are at Warner Chappell, and Andrea Stolpe is at EMI," he said. "We are also gaining a real presence in the Nashville studios. Since [MP&E Professor] Stephen Webber got on board for the trip seven years ago, we've been getting tours of all the best studios in the city and have had top engineers and producers speak to the students. There are Berklee alumni now managing Sound Kitchen and Ocean Way Studios--two of Nashville's top recording facilities."

Ironically, Pattison's own connection to Nashville began on a spring break in the late 1970s at the suggestion of Berklee alumnus Tom Casey '75, who was then president of SESAC. "Tom told me I should start collaborating with writers in Nashville," said Pattison. "I went down there one March to check it out. I liked the atmosphere and decided to go there as often as I could--which amounted to two or three weeks each year.

"After doing that for a few years, Gary Culley ['89], one of my students, told me he was going to Nashville on his spring break and asked my advice on what to look at. I told him I would show him around. He showed up with five friends, and I took them to my appointments and arranged a few tours for them. When we got back to Berklee, we gave a clinic for the songwriter's forum. The forum president asked afterward if I could arrange a trip like that again. I said yes, and that was really the beginning of the tradition."

The next spring, 39 students carpooled to Nashville. Among the activities Pattison arranged was a student showcase to which he invited some industry bigwigs. Pete Fisher, then head of publishing at WEA's Nashville office, attended. Among the performers were Chris and Scott Dente '87, who later formed a top-selling Christian group called Out of the Gray. "Fisher was impressed with the talent and motivation of the performers and said he wanted Warner Bros. to get involved with Berklee," recalled Pattison. "He spoke to Jim Ed Norman, president of Warner Bros. Nashville, who agreed to hire a bus every year to bring Berklee students to Nashville."

Aside from the spring break trip, Pattison gets to his Nashville condo as often as time permits to cowrite with a roster of songwriters. Having written songs since 1965, Pattison brings a lot to the table. In addition to having his songs cut by several artists, he was one of the primary architects of Berklee's songwriting major, the only college curriculum of its type in the country. He has authored three books on songwriting: Writing Better Lyrics, (Writer's Digest Books), Songwriting: Essential Guide to Lyric Form and Structure and Songwriting, and Essential Guide to Rhyming (Berklee Press). He is also a much sought-after clinician. [A list of clinics can be found at]

"It seems that everything I do feeds everything else I am involved in," said Pattison. "I give lyric writing seminars all over the country now, and that tends to attract students to Berklee. The writing that I do feeds my teaching, and vice versa. My experience here at Berklee continues to be great. I found out when I was about 35 that I was a teacher. It has become my primary focus. If I never wrote another song, I think I'd be okay: but if I didn't teach again, I don't think I'd be okay."

by Mark Small '73