When Eric Fortaleza moved to Nashville from Australia in 2019 to join Lindsay Ell’s band something was missing. Surrounded by songwriters and a songwriter himself, Fortaleza was surprised there was no event that partnered the songwriter with a full band to showcase new music, so he created one. His initial concept to introduce musicians and songwriters evolved into The Pitch Meeting, a weekly event every Tuesday at Sonny’s Patio Pub and Refuge in Germantown that pairs both worlds together.
“I saw a void in the community where musicians weren’t getting served, people weren’t meeting the right people, at least how I viewed it,” Fortaleza tells me. “Coming from Australia and not really having a community here in Nashville because I’m rarely home touring the world, I [realized] this will mean more if I set a path for others to be able to do the same.”
After several months of brainstorming with his bandmates, Fortaleza hosted the inaugural The Pitch Meeting showcase Sept. 21, 2020. In the following months Fortaleza and the Pitch Meeting house band, made up of professional touring and session musicians, perfected the concept of the event where they invite songwriters to sign up each evening for a chance to perform onstage backed by a six-piece band. Guests have included Nashville-based songwriters testing out new material and tourists hoping for their shot to perform their original songs in Music City while visiting.
Fortaleza serves as band leader and music director while Mike Gannon, Fortaleza’s business partner and slide guitarist in the Pitch Meeting band, accompanies him alongside keyboardist David Crutcher, drummer Jon Truman and vocalists Makena Hartlin and Tabitha Meeks. When an artist’s name is called to join the band on stage Fortaleza asks for the song chart, chords and vibe of the song as the band rehearses on the spot before performing it for the first time together. A photographer and videographer also are on hand, so the artist essentially walks away with a demo recording to take to the studio or to a producer to record.
“Nashville’s cheapest band,” Fortaleza joked during a recent Tuesday show. That night local singer-songwriter Tess McKenna performed for the first time at Pitch Meeting. She told Fortaleza she had been the band’s server at Cerveza Jack’s several times.
“That’s what I love about Nashville,” Fortaleza said. “The person serving you coffee is probably a better songwriter than you are. The person who is serving you food is probably a better guitarist than you are. Let’s give it up for this beautiful city.”
Fortaleza’s vision for Pitch Meeting has broadened under the umbrella of Pitch Music, which includes a nonprofit organization that aids in artist development. The nonprofit embodies the same approach and philosophy the weekly concerts have adopted in preserving artistic integrity and high quality musicianship. In January the group of creatives opened Pitch Meeting Studios, a studio space that allows Pitch Meeting performers to record as well as film video content and perform private shows.
Pitch Music also has partnered with the newly opened venue Brooklyn Bowl Nashville to highlight the talent showcased throughout the month at The Pitch Meeting weekly shows. The first Brooklyn Bowl show debuts Thursday, July 22 and officially launches the Pitch Music brand.
“The idea is to put a spotlight on songwriting and to showcase artists that we believe in and want to support,” Gannon, a musician who moved to Nashville from New York two years ago, explains. “We want to grow this to be an organization that supports artists in the terms of their own music and their own artistic vision without commercial pressures.
“The idea of the nonprofit organization being the structure for that is really just to stay focused on the right aspects of making music. For artists who are coming up, [we want] to give them a chance to showcase themselves the way they want to be musically and artistically rather than what the record company is telling them to do.”
Pitch Music already has several investors and brand partnerships, including Fender and QSC, and aims to give artists a chance to develop and cultivate their sound without the pressures that come along with navigating a commercial industry. Gannon says he and Fortaleza see Pitch Music becoming a nonprofit record label model.
“The first steps that we’re taking towards that is what we’re doing now, which is basically every Tuesday we’re providing a free, full-band showcase for any artist that comes up. Normally in Nashville if a person wants to do a showcase they have to hire the band, they have to book rehearsals and that’s oftentimes $500-$2,000,” Gannon says. “Eventually, once we have the funding, we’ll grow it into more of a full-service artist development organization where we are providing those resources.
“We’re donating a lot of our own time and resources to this right now at this early stage, which is the nature of a startup endeavor. But eventually we want it to be a robustly funded enough organization where the people who are contributing their time and energy get compensated.”
The men aim for Thursday’s showcase at Brooklyn Bowl Nashville to turn into a monthly event that will help to further the Pitch Music movement. While The Pitch Meeting introduced Fortaleza and Gannon to each other as well as a community of musicians, the weekly showcase also allowed the pair to discover an entirely new Nashville that they had hoped existed.
“What we’re trying to build here is a lot of what I envisioned Nashville would be or could be — that I didn’t necessarily experience in the first couple of years I was here — but I think finding this group and building what we’re building, it is really getting to the heart of what I think Nashville can and should be,” Gannon says. “Our goal is to make the maximum impact that we can.”
Adds Fortaleza, “I was just trying to create something I thought Nashville would feel like. … I love that I’m meeting all these new people and it’s exciting. It’s surprising when you set a mission and it’s actually working.”