Mimi McCarley and Muziqueen Ewing photographed by Chad Crawford

Bridging the Gap: Making Black Music Matter in Nashville

We hear a lot of language about inclusion, equity, and representation right now. We hear it being chanted in the streets; we hear it being discussed in board rooms, in emails, in workplace guidelines; we see it all over social media. For some, this may feel new; for others, less so. For Mimi and Muziqueen, a pair of women in Nashville’s Urban music scene, this is the daily focus — and has been so for years. For these two industry mavens, this is a mission.

When Thalia “Muziqueen” Ewing and Jamila “Mimi” McCarley came together, they had accomplished a good deal in their respective careers. Muziqueen, a Nashville native, came from publishing, artist management, copyright clearance, and royalty processing. Mimi, originally from Dayton, Ohio, came from songwriting, producing, and networking. The two initially joined forces on a few publishing projects and quickly learned that they had a shared vision: a reality in which Nashville’s Urban music community had access to resources, information, opportunity, and economic stability — the same things that the Country Music machine provides for its artists and industry professionals. In 2014, they founded Nashville Is Not Just Country Music and set about creating space for the people they were working with.

The quarterly mixers were first. Without any initial partnerships or outside funding, Mimi and Muziqueen booked spaces, spread the word, and watched the community show up. There was such a need that people were coming in from other states, filling the rooms with eager conversation, spilling out into the parking lots, and hanging well past closing time. They knew they had tapped into something vital.

“There’s so much longing for community that they would gather in the parking lot. This is how much of a scene there is that’s not being represented at all,”
says Mimi.

Mimi McCarley and Muziqueen Ewing photographed by Chad Crawford

The Urban Writers Rounds were next. Started at The Local in 2018, the monthly events became a draw for artists writing in Hip-Hop, R&B, Pop, EDM, Rock, Gospel, Christian, and other genres. As the crowds grew, so did support for their efforts. The work has been sponsored and supported by Sheree´ Spoltore of Global Songwriters Connection and 2L’s On a Cloud, among others. The most recent round, in February of this year at Acme Feed & Seed, was standing room only. The rounds are meant to be as diverse as the community they represent, curated by a balance of genre, gender, and ethnicity. “The intention is to make whoever is in the audience feel like they can relate to somebody on that stage,” says Muziqueen.

In addition to creating spaces and platforms for the members of the Urban music scene, they have expanded their work to include music business education. It became clear to them that many of the artists and producers they were working with had little-to-no information about the systems music must pass through in order to be viable for sync placements, licensing, publishing, or any other professional avenues. As a way of distributing these resources, they started the “Monetizing Your Music Series” using Instagram live conversations; according to Mimi, this was “birthed out of seeing the communal need for education, resources,
and empowerment.”

“We’re building with the future in mind.We’re building with the present in mind.”

Though the scene that NINJCM champions and assists in cultivating is vast and varied, Mimi and Muziqueen say it is under-represented in the mainstream Nashville machine so far. They cite this as the next piece of their plan. As the city grows and changes, so must the visible representation change in the different tiers of the Nashville music industry, they say. If there are no executives who specialize in the genres that fall under the banner of Urban music, how will these artists, producers, and business community members find a way to thrive here? Why would anyone choose to stay here in lieu of locking-in with already existing opportunities in cities like Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta? These are the questions Mimi and Muziqueen are asking, and they’re not alone. Calls for representation and equality on Music Row as well as other parts of the Nashville music industry were on blast at a recent march for justice on the Row. The call is not just for representation, but for the industry to make real room for change, to make sure that these diverse voices feel heard and safe in the room.

“I know a lot of companies, with everything that’s going on, are having conversations about ‘what can we do,’ and I think open dialogue with the people in this city that are actually having an impact as relates to creatives, as it relates to the music business,” says Mimi. “I think opening up that conversation — because sometimes you’re assuming that you know what is needed — and I think you have to just open up the door for a conversation with the right people and include those people. Not just externally, but bring it in a little closer. Music Row is in a position to do that.”

While the coronavirus may have temporarily moved their efforts to online formats, Mimi and Muziqueen have no plans to slow down. The educational series, COVID-19 Creative Check-Ins, and an upcoming virtual writers round are all part of what they’re doing — in addition to working with artists and producers for sync and licensing opportunities via their new partnership with RipTide. The focus remains on amplifying the scene around them and providing the tools needed for achieving economic growth with one’s work.

“We’re building with the future in mind. We’re building with the present in mind.”

Nashville, like the rest of the world, is in a position to embrace change right now, and that includes the way the local music industry does business—and with whom. NINJCM has already done a fair amount of the footwork in building a network of creative people who are ready to walk through new doors, to be part of new dialogues.

“We’re woke, we’re ready, and we’re here for the work,” Mimi says.

Follow Mimi and Muziqueen on Instagram at @nashvilleisnotjustcountrymusic and at nashvilleisnotjustcountrymusic.com.