“Don’t Come To Nashville, Get A Van & Start Playing” – Sturgill Simpson’s Advice To Aspiring Country Artists

Sturgill Simpson country music
Semi Song

Any time you can get an hour and a half of conversation with Sturgill Simpson, you have to listen.

Sturgill stopped by the Trillybilly Worker’s Party podcast a couple years back, and amid conversations about growing up in Kentucky, acting, politics, Kanye West, and his Sound & Fury record, they discussed something that most aspiring country artists should lend some ears to.

Sturgill expounded on the country music industry, the powers that be, the gatekeepers of the industry, and offered a nugget of advice to aspiring young musicians that want to move to Nashville and make country music.

And it’s a little nugget of advice that I happen to agree with, depending on what your goals as an artist are. Long story short, if you want to be a songwriter that sits in an office with a few strangers and cranks out songs like a factory worker, then yeah… go ahead and move to Nashville. A lot of talented songwriters live there. A lot of talented musicians live there too.

But… if you want to be a touring musician and build a real fanbase (operative word being real), then you gotta hit the road hard:

“It’s an industry and it provides jobs, and 99% of the people are good people, they are just doing a job. And the job is the job, but at the end of the day, ultimately, they don’t believe in anything except getting paid because that’s what we’re all here for right?

Where I screwed up, I moved to Nashville thinking I wanted to be a songwriter… but I didn’t know what writing songs in Nashville now really meant until I got here as a 35 year old man and looked around and you see the writing on the wall, and you see what that means now.

Now, I’d rather go die in a train wreck than do that… sitting in a cubicle with 8 other people writing literal horse sh*t dribble, feeding the formula. And I was like ‘well alright, I don’t wanna do that, I’ve got all these songs so I guess I’ll try and record them and make a record.’

So you kick around the can…  and you realize Nashville is not gonna be any help so we just got busy playing shows and touring.”

Cynical? Maybe… but like I said earlier, it really just depends on what your goals are. Tons and tons of artists have moved to Nashville with nothing but a guitar on their back and a dream in their heart… and they’ve made it. It’s rare, and for many it takes over a decade, but is possible. And hell, nowadays you can just lip-synch 5 seconds of a song on TikTok every day for a month and someone will hand you a record deal if enough 13-year-old girls like it. I digress…

Back to Stu… here’s his advice for aspiring musicians:

“That would be my advice… my advice to anybody coming to Nashville is don’t come to Nashville, just get a van and start playing everywhere else.

Because you’re not going to get paid to play here, there’s only like 30 players and they’re all going to show up and decide whether your star is bright and shiny enough for them and if they decide ‘no’ then you’re just gonna end up spinning your wheels here for 5 years for nothing when you should’ve been playing everywhere else.

And that’s it in a nutshell. You need a lawyer and you need a good booking agent you can trust, you don’t really need anything else anymore… a good publicist helps.”

His buddy Tyler Childers echoed the same sentiment a while back, and it also mirrors something we’ve said on our podcast, Whiskey Riff Raff, multiple times.

You want real fans? Get out on the road, tour your ass off, and earn them. You’ll probably be better off for it (and you’ll definitely own all your music). But once again, that all depends on what your goals as an entertainer, musician, and/or songwriter are.

Take or leave it, but there you go… words of wisdom from Sturgill Simpson.

“Make Art Not Friends”

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock