A room for every budget

Berry Hill's Write Off the Row gives songwriters an alternative setting to be creative

Patricia Patts is vice president and co-owner of Write Off the Row, a Berry Hill-based service business that caters to songwriters looking for flexible and inexpensive spaces conducive to both collaboration and individual work. Patts, who teams with President and Co-owner Liz Downing, sat down with Nashville Post Managing Editor William Williams to talk about this distinctive service business.

How did the idea come about for Write Off The Row?

As a way to solve a problem. My business partner Liz Downing and I are both songwriters.  There are only a handful of rooms in town unless you have a publishing deal. We both have had times where we couldn’t find a room to write and we felt uncomfortable inviting someone to our homes, especially a cowriter that we did not know well. Write Off the Row gives songwriters another place to come and be a professional writer. 

Did you take your cues more from traditional songwriting sessions or from the so-called collaborative co-working spaces such as E|Spaces and CoLab?

E|Spaces and CoLab are geared toward the business professional, and songwriting tends to need more inspiration. It’s been my experience that a traditional “conference room” setting can actually stifle creativity. The homey environment that we have created at Write Off the Row is designed to inspire. In crafting our business plan, places like E|Spaces or CoLab were definitely something that we researched but more from the business side — i.e. how much did they charge, who is their demographic, what is their business model?  Our goal was to design a comfortable, creative work environment with the great vibe of the old publishing houses. When you hear the stories about the Brill Building (located in New York and with a history of songwriter success) and how so many songwriters knew each other and ultimately collaborated with each other, we wanted a way to recreate that kind of energy and atmosphere.

What has been the most difficult part of getting things going?

Writing at Write Off the Row is an investment in a songwriter’s career, yet we have heard some people say, “I have a living room. Why would I pay for a place to write?” It’s important to give the craft of songwriting the respect and professionalism it deserves by having a dedicated place to work. I find that when I’m at home and a can’t find the exact line that I want for a song that I’ll tell myself that I’ll do something else for a while, fold laundry, walk the dogs, start cooking dinner… but then I never get back to the song. 

What are some of the tools that songwriters need that regular office tenants might not?

Well, pianos for one. We have two pianos and a keyboard. We also have a variety of other instruments at the studio for people to use: several acoustic guitars, a mandolin, violin, and assorted percussion instruments. You won’t find any of those in a typical office.  By far the greatest tools songwriters need — and we provide — are a creative space and a professional, discrete staff.

Why Berry Hill and not, say, the Music Row area?

Berry Hill has such a great entrepreneurial energy to it. It’s this charming, funky and creative community only 10 minutes from Music Row. There are a ton of music companies that have made Berry Hill their home:  Blackbird Studios, House of Blues Studios, and County Q, just to name a few. They call it Music Row South so we are in good company.

Your rates seem very reasonable. What is the thinking behind that?

Write Off the Row is accessible to everyone because Liz and I understand the challenges and uncertainties songwriters face: Will I ever have a hit? When will I have another one? How can I make the money I made off this hit last until I have another one?

We want to provide a space that makes a person’s dreams achievable without crushing the budget. We are always looking for different types of clients: college students cramming for mid-terms or finals, musicians needing a soundproof rehearsal space, offices or groups seeking a relaxing meeting space. A video crew was recently looking for a quiet, homey environment to interview country music legend Lynn Anderson. They loved our space, and so did Lynn. We have room rates from $35 to $75 for a three-hour time frame. There’s a room for every budget. 

One of your key marketing elements is the level of soundproofing of your rooms. Your thoughts?

As far as we are aware, no other writing rooms in town are soundproof, so this is a feature that really sets our business apart. Our studio used to be a part of one of the best studios in town. The room we call Lyric used to be the vocal booth.  When writers record a guitar/vocal demo of their new songs they write in our rooms, the demos sound professional — even when they are recorded on an iPhone.

Is there a similar type business in another city and from which you took cues?

Anybody can rent out a room and call it a writing room. We didn’t care whether there were other businesses that rented writing rooms because we focus on how our writing rooms are unique to the needs of songwriters and Nashville’s music industry.

How is the space beneficial to, for example, the small publishing company that can’t afford its own space?

Music publishers invest in their songwriters.  They sign them to a publishing deal and pay them a stipend until they have a hit. Large publishing companies provide writing rooms for their writers as a way to get the greatest return on their investment. Small publishing companies, on the other hand, usually can’t afford to maintain writing rooms. Part of our business model is to reach out to these small publishers, make our rooms available and affordable to them, and help them maximize their return on investment. Hopefully the money they save on overhead will enable them to sign more writers and grow their companies.

Belmont University is known for having a shortage of practice and rehearsal space for its music students. Are you targeting BU?

We are looking at ways Write Off the Row can serve Belmont students and further the investment on their education. Belmont is very dear to my heart as I was a 2012 graduate with a degree in songwriting. Belmont students are the future of Music Row. They are the future songwriters, the publishers, the label execs and the artists. When I was there, I experienced firsthand that there were far too few practice rooms on campus, and the student body has [increased significantly] since I left. 

Write Off the Row is almost more like a hotel selling rooms than a songwriting organization building a songwriters client base and, as such, members. Thoughts?

Yes, while several music industry organizations — NSAI, BMI, ASCAP — offer writing rooms, they don’t have to regularly fill those rooms to stay in business. Their rooms are offered as an incentive to encourage people to join their organizations. Our business is built around renting rooms, and we are constantly looking for new demographics we can market them to.

Related to the previous question, you offer classes. Some other entities do too, but you’re not in competition with NSAI because all the services it offers are done so as provide an incentive to join NSAI. Thoughts? 

NSAI is an amazing organization and provides a variety of vital service to songwriters, including giving them a voice in Washington, D.C. The online music marketplace has made NSAI’s role even more critical. We are not competing with NSAI. Write Off The Row is a place where writers can learn the craft of songwriting, in addition to NSAI, not instead of it.