Tens of thousands of diehard country music fans will descend on downtown Nashville for the annual Country Music Association (CMA) Festival. The event offers a rare opportunity not just to see dozens of top-tier country music artists perform but also to meet and greet those stars, as well as some of the up-and-coming acts the various record labels situated on nearby Music Row aim to make it big.
Those fans come from all across America. They take their annual vacation days from their jobs as nurses, office managers, firemen, bankers, and the like to make the trek to Music City U.S.A. to indulge their deep love of country music and the special brand of fantasy it infuses into their everyday lives. Some of those folks probably wonder what it would be like to work within the county music industry and to know and promote the bigger-than-life stars that play on the big stages.
Nicholas Badeaux, a former student of mine at Middle Tennessee State University located just outside of Nashville is actually living that dream. Ask Nicholas how he ended up working for one of if not the most influential county music record labels in the world and he will tell you that it all started in my classroom.
I remember vividly the day in the summer of 2013 when I saw Nicholas reading a book about how to break in the music industry. I told him that I believed in him and told him to follow what he was really passionate about. Nicholas was a graduate student at the time who was studying to become an Athletic Trainer, but he increasingly knew that he wanted something different, and specifically, something to do with music. He just wasn’t sure exactly what that looked like or how he was going to do it.
What I did next was a small gesture in my mind. But as it turns out, this one moment set Nicholas on a collision course with the job of his dreams. I purchased a ticket that Nicholas as a student couldn’t afford to attend a prominent Music Business Conference being held in Nashville.
My only requirement for him in exchange for accepting the ticket was to get five contacts while he was there and set up meetings with each of them.
On the day Nicholas attended the conference, he was lucky enough to hear Jimmy Harnen of Big Machine Label Group speak. After the lecture, Nicholas spoke with Harnen and his assistant, Megan Knutson. This led to a coffee meeting with Ms. Knutson who gave Nicholas his first big shot in the music business, an internship at Big Loud Shirt/Management on Music Row.
Nicholas interned at Big Loud Shirt for a year and a half when most interns are only there for six months. He did everything they asked of him no matter how late it took him or what it consisted of. This work ethic led him to an opportunity as a personal assistant for the hottest act in all of country music at the time, country duo Florida Georgia Line, assisting them with travel needs and home setup in Nashville. After a year in that position, he landed a promotion to tour manager for an up-and-coming country artist, Chris Lane. This is where Nicholas made the most connections. While travelling for a year and coordinating all show setup and travel arrangements for three separate cross-country and Canada tours, Nicholas learned the true ins and outs of the “road life” and what characteristics he needed to be ultimately successful in the music business.
After a year in this position, Nicholas was able to move on to a position as logistics coordinator at Big Machine Label Group, the place where it all started for him back in Nashville. Big Machine is the hottest label in country music, boasting a roster of arts including Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw, just to name a few. This is where and when Nicholas took everything he had learned from touring and applied it. He is currently still in this position and learning and improving every single day. He recently helped tour manage for a new artist from Louisiana, Alex Smith, as the Big Machine staff embarked on a radio tour for six months promoting Alex Smith’s single “Load It Up” and meeting with different radio markets.
Now, I didn’t do all that for Nicholas. Nicholas did all that. All I did was buy him a ticket to a conference and tell him to network. He showed me he was worth it and I trusted that he was a good investment. And then we took a little leap of faith and made a plan. Good things happened.
What I’m proudest about is not that Nicholas is such a rising young star on the music business scene. Instead, it is that Nicholas has already built a personal reputation as someone who is willing to help anyone else who has a real desire to work in the music business, since he well remembers that it wasn’t that long ago that he was in their shoes. He knows that all it took was for one person to give him a chance to prove myself. Now he knows he can be that person.
I asked Nicholas recently what had enabled all his success—barring him from simply telling the story of the ticket I bought for him and the belief I placed in him. This is what he told me:
“The main thing that I always kept in mind when starting this journey into the music business four years ago was to always work hard and not expect anything from the hard work,” he told me. “I feel like with that mentality and dedication, it has helped me gain trust and opportunities from people who have been in the music business for many years.
“A lot of people in today’s workforce, especially in my generation, get a bad rep for being a millennial and expecting things to come to them easily. There was never a time where things came easily to me without hard work and perseverance, especially with not having any background in music business.”
Charles “Tremendous” Jones said it best when creating change positive change for yourself. He said, “You will be the same person you are five years from now, except for these two things: the books you read and the people you meet.” To build on that idea I think it’s those things and the unique coaches and mentors you have in your life, the struggles you have that you learn from and the conferences you attend and the relationships you build from that. Nicholas read the books, he took the coaching, he attended the conference and he built the relationships. If you are looking for a place to start to make it big in any business – start with that.
As legions of fans made their annual trip to Nashville for the annual CMA Festival, one local millennial’s story of promise, perseverance and payback makes me feel like boot scootin’.