NASHVILLE — Lauren Lucas has lived here long enough to figure out exactly what works in Music City — and what doesn’t.
The Columbia native signed a major label contract and . . . watched her debut album sit on a shelf even as the lead single, “The Carolina Kind,” earned airplay on country radio stations.
Instead of giving up and coming home, Lucas has established a songwriting career in country music’s capital. It gives her more flexibility as a singer.
“Because when you’re an artist, especially on a major label, you’re the product so they’re expecting you to fit into whatever niche they signed you for,” Lucas said. “So you can’t really move. And that’s smart business. That’s branding, and I get that.
“But I didn’t particularly enjoy that, so as a songwriter I get to write all over the place. It’s much more exciting and freeing for me.”
Lucas will perform Saturday at Unitarian Universalist Coffeehouse. She will open for Chris Compton and the Ruby Brunettes in the UU’s final show of the season.
Lucas is one of dozens of South Carolinians writing and recording music in Nashville. In recent years, the pace of musicians relocating here has accelerated.
The list includes Lee Brice, Rob Crosby, Ricky Young, Hannah Miller, Haley Dreis, Patrick Davis, Phillip Lammonds, Trent Jeffcoat, John Wesley Satterfield and Jesse Isley, just to name a handful.
“It’s really cool to see musicians from South Carolina, the network that’s here in Nashville,” Lucas said. “There’s so many of us, and we all kind of know each other.”
Lucas’ last release was “On With the Show” in 2011. The record focused on her best asset: a powerful, mature voice. Since she ended her contract with Warner Bros. Records Nashville (now known as Warner Music Nashville) in 2006, Lucas, who has a naturally soulful tone, hasn’t had to worry about fitting a niche.
“They have generally found me to be too bluesy or too soulful or too Bonnie Raitt-ish for radio,” Lucas said of record companies. “I’ve never understood it.”
Unlike other popular genres, traditional radio is still an eminent resource for country musicians.
“In country music, it still is king,” Lucas said. “The country market is always a little slower to catch up with the trends of other popular music. Radio will shift as well, most likely.”
Lucas is a staff songwriter at Eleven Eleven Music Group, where she writes songs that might get placement on albums pushed by record companies. She’s also a facilitator at Kidbilly Music, a company that promotes team building through song.
“Every day is a little different, just depending on what has happened in life in the last 24 hours,” Lucas said of songwriting, which, in Nashville, is done primarily on a 9 to 5 schedule. “Maybe something will spark an idea. Often times during the day, whether it’s before my co-write or in the evenings when my day is done, it’s always nice to just sit and strum.”
While the music business at-large remains fiercely competitive, Nashville is a city where songwriters cheers for each other.
“Partly because, I think, this town is built on the co-writing relationship in the songwriting community,” Lucas began. “It’s so much more natural and helpful to work together than to compete against each other.
“It’s all about networking, so the more people you can bring into your own network, the more opportunities are potentially at your fingertips.”
A graduate of Belmont University in Nashville, Lucas fell in love with the city. It was a natural progression for her to stick around after college.
“I really need to be here for my job, obviously,” she said. “It’s a fairly easy way of life for a bigger city. It feels kind of like home. It’s the South and people are friendly. I don’t feel too far away from home.”
In front of a garnet-clad crowd, Lucas opened for Davis at The Rutledge on Aug. 31, the night after USC defeated Vanderbilt to open the 2012 football season. She was luminous on the stage playing to the intimate crowd of Gamecock fans. Lucas’ tours have thrived in comfy venues like The Rutledge and the UU.
And house concerts.
“It has been a huge help getting me from city to city for sure,” said Lucas, who lamented the closing of the White Mule’s, the former Main Street listening room. “That is really keeping independent touring artists alive right now. It’s such a huge part of a career right now, especially in markets that don’t have an Eddie’s Attic.”
If you go
Chris Compton and the Ruby Brunettes and Lauren Lucas
When: 7 p.m. Saturday for open mic, 8 p.m. for the concert
Where: Unitarian Universalist Coffeehouse, 2701 Heyward St.
Information: (803) 200-2824 or www.uucoffeehouse.org
Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.