For Students, An Intensive Immersion in Nashville

Mike Keefe-Feldman
March 27, 2014
On March 14-19, 2014, 120 students traveled to Nashville with Berklee to learn about the music industry. Above: Berklee professor Stephen Webber introduces father and son producers Kyle and Jason Lehning.
Berklee professors Pat Pattison (right) and Stephen Webber (left) with former Berklee student Charlie Worsham (center), a singer-songwriter signed to Warner Bros. whose debut single reached No. 13 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart
Berklee students, including roommates Brent Cheshire (far right) and Steve Barnett (far left), joined in on a bluegrass jam session with local pickers and singers at the Station Inn in Nashville. “It was just such a unique experience,” Cheshire said of the trip. “Who gets to do this? It almost feels like home, and someday, it could be.”
Berklee student Bill Grady (center left) sits in on the bluegrass jam with some of Nashville’s finest.
Students chat with alumni in the Nashville area at an alumni reception at the Bound’ry. “I’m really listening to all of these unbelievably successful people, because no two people get to the same point of success the same way,” student Philip Donnan Irwin Jr. said.
Students tour the Gibson USA electric guitar plant in Nashville, where they were introduced to the process of crafting guitars as well as a prototype of the Midtown-X, a Bluetooth-enabled electric guitar that tunes itself, an innovative technology that will hit the market in approximately six months.
“Students in heaven,” said Stephen Webber, program director of Berklee's Valencia campus' music technology innovation master’s program and a co-organizer of the Nashville trip, as student guitarists got to test out some of the inventory at the Gibson USA electric guitar plant.
“No one’s going to say, ‘I’m glad you want to be a record producer. Here you go,’ Brent Maher, a six-time Grammy-winning producer, told students aspiring to music production careers. The key, Maher said, is to go out and find great talent and create an atmosphere in which that talent feels comfortable working with you.
Producer and songwriter Keith Stegall meets with students after his presentation at Warner Music Nashville. “I encourage you to do whatever the seed that is planted in your core tells you to do,” Stegall told students.
Hit songwriter Gary Burr speaks to Berklee students as Pat Pattison shepherds student questions. “We’re in the lottery business,” Burr said of the Nashville songwriting community. “Every day, we write up a new lottery ticket, and you can’t skip a day.”
“I was here four years ago, sitting in your seats,” said singer-songwriter Liz Longley ’10, who attended the Berklee Nashville trip when she was a student. “I highly recommend Nashville. It’s not like the show on ABC," she said, provoking lots of laughs from the Berklee students in attendance.
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman
Photo by Mike Keefe-Feldman

On March 14-19, 2014, while many college students were heading back home or visiting sunny beaches for spring break, 120 Berklee students traveled to Nashville, Tennessee for an in-depth look at the music industry as seen through the eyes of Berklee alumni in Music City, USA and an undeniably accomplished lineup of artists, songwriters, producers, and engineers.

For students determined to carve out their paths in music, it was, many said, one of the most important experiences of their lives.

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A Life-Changing Experience

Students traveling to Nashville with Berklee were treated to expert tips from Nashville veterans such as six-time Grammy-winning producer Brent Maher; producer and songwriter Keith Stegall; songwriter Gary Burr; bluegrass sensation Sierra Hull '11; producer/engineer Kyle Lehning; Grammy-winning songwriters Beth Nielsen Chapman and Gary Nicholson; and Grammy-winning artist Kathy Mattea.

Read "Ten Tips for Students from Nashville Pros and Recent Arrivals" here.

Students such as Logan Kendell, a professional music major focusing on songwriting and contemporary writing and production, peppered these presenters with many questions, aiming to squeeze as much knowledge as possible out of the trip. For Kendell, the questions were born not only out of academic curiosity but also out of practical career considerations. Kendell became a father just five weeks ago and came to Nashville on a mission: “I’m here to find out if this is a good city for me to bring my family to and if it’s going to allow me to provide for them,” he said.

Mattea’s presentation was particularly inspiring for Leo Bescotti, a first-semester student from Zimbabwe, who said it was “really helpful” to hear Mattea talk about “having the confidence to persist in what you do.”

Students took advantage of the remarkable opportunity to sit in on a recording session with Mattea, who was backed by a band made up entirely of former Berklee students now thriving in the Nashville scene. Other trip highlights included a bluegrass jam session at The Station Inn, at which students played alongside some of Nashville’s many talented pickers and singers, a visit to the Gibson USA electric guitar plant, and tours of several of Nashville’s most storied studios, such as Sound Emporium Studios (home to recordings by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson), RCA Studio B (Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton), and Blackbird Studio (Jack White, Kings of Leon).

As a whole, the trip helped demystify many aspects of the music business for Bescotti and other students. “You see the building that says ASCAP and you go into labels and studios and learn the difference between them,” Bescotti said. “Before, I would hear lots about the music industry, but for the first time, I’m seeing it.”

The Students Become the Teachers

The Berklee student trip to Nashville has been led by professor Pat Pattison for nearly 30 years, but Pattison says the most recent trip was “a landmark year and a transformative year” because “for the first time, really, we have had so much exposure to really successful people who have, at one time or another, been in the seats you’re sitting in as Berklee students.”

Those former Berklee students and past Nashville trip participants included producer, composer and musician Jason Lehning '94, as well as popular singer-songwriters Liz Longley '10 (whose last album was produced by another Berklee alumnus, Gus Berry '10) and Charlie Worsham '06.

Stephen Webber, program director of the music technology innovation master’s program at Berklee's campus in Valencia, Spain and a co-organizer (along with Pattison and associate professor Mark Wessel) of the Nashville trip, noted that “10 years ago, on a day much like today,” Worsham was playing on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium with other Berklee students on a similar Nashville trip, “and now he’s signed to Warner Bros. and he’s had a huge year” which included his first single, “Could It Be,” reaching No. 13 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart.

Worsham cited Pattison’s influence on his songwriting, pointing to the importance of Pattison’s object writing method as a pathway to uncover the raw material that one may then chisel into songs.

“You have to make time for no-rules writing,” Worsham said, encouraging students not to worry if the results initially resemble “a compost pile.”

“Crap makes the best fertilizer. That’s a good Pattison-ism,” Worsham said.

Students also heard from Worsham’s manager, brand manager, publisher and A&R representative in order to get a more complete sense of the business of “breaking” an artist. Worsham’s most recent album was engineered by Eric Masse ‘07, another Berklee alumnus who also attended a previous Berklee Nashville trip. Masse spoke as part of a producer’s panel and mingled with students at an alumni reception, fielding numerous questions from aspiring producers and engineers.

“I loved Berklee,” Masse says, “and the best thing for me was the relationships I built with fellow students. So I’ve been telling these students about how, when I came down to Nashville, I had all these Berklee friends that were looking to make music and that was really helpful. We all pushed ourselves to help one another.”

That spirit of community is part of the draw to Nashville for Leah Grams-Johnson, a songwriting major who will be graduating in May. Grams-Johnson said the Nashville trip “has been one of the most valuable experiences that I’ve had during my time at Berklee.” She’s currently exploring internship opportunities, charting her course for Nashville, and she’s not alone.

During his presentation, Charlie Worsham asked for a show of hands: “Who’s planning on coming to Nashville?” he asked. Several dozen hands shot up instantly, and just like that, the next round in the ongoing Berklee-to-Nashville migration began.