Writing a Legacy
From childhood, Shoals area native and serial entrepreneur Lillian Glanton knew she wanted to make an impact in the music industry.
When she was just 8 years old, Lillian began playing the guitar when her mother signed her up for lessons, along with her brother.
“I loved playing music; loved being able to listen to Miranda, and Taylor, and Sugarland on the radio and being able to play their songs,” Lillian said. “Those songs made me who I am.”
By the time Lillian was fifteen, her talent and dreams of making it in the music industry had continued to flourish, so she decided to audition for the hit TV show, American Idol. She killed it in her audition and left with the coveted golden ticket in hand- symbolizing her accomplishment of making it to the next round of the competition in Hollywood, California.
Unfortunately, Lillian’s American Idol dreams were short-lived as she was sent home shortly thereafter. However, she did not let this setback deter her!
“I took my fifteen minutes of fame and ran with it!” Lillian said. “Back home, I started a band- Lillian Glanton and the Elk River Boys.”
Her time performing with the band allowed her to realize that she hadn’t been focusing on her true passion in the industry- songwriting.
She began exploring that passion by attending various songwriting festivals in Nashville. Every time she would return home after a festival, she would catch herself wondering why there wasn’t something similar in The Shoals.
In 2018, Lillian was inspired to create a songwriters festival of her own right here in The Shoals. Just a broke college kid at the time, Lillian questioned how she could fund this ambitious idea of hers. She began working hard to fundraise, and one year later, Lillian was able to host the first Muscle Shoals Songwriters Festival in 2019. The first festival featured 100 songwriters and was made possible by a staff of 20 volunteers.
“Throughout this festival, I was able to shine a light on the songwriters,” Lillian said. “But, not only that, I was able to shine a light on The Shoals area and bring new people, new eyes, to The Shoals.”
Lillian had two major passions to cultivate throughout the festival, and those were to catalyze on the tourism industry in The Shoals area, and highlight the songwriters so they can hopefully elevate their careers in the music industry.
In the midst of planning the festival and working closely with other songwriters, the inspiration behind her second business venture was born.
While working with other artists, they quickly discovered that there wasn’t a place in The Shoals where they could gather and collaborate. Lillian set out to create a space where local artists could connect, so she decided to open the Muscle Shoals Song Rooms.
With this new idea also came the need for funding. Thankfully for Lillian, this time, she was not left to raise all of the money alone.
One day, while in a marketing class at the University of North Alabama, her professor, Dr. Byrd told the class about Shoals Idea Audition. Shoals Idea Audition, one of the Shoals Shift events, is an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to compete against one another by presenting their innovative ideas for the chance to win funding towards making their dream a reality. As soon as Lillian found out about this incredible opportunity, she knew this was exactly what she needed to help her get the Muscle Shoals Song Rooms up and running.
Lillian set the goal to win the Idea Audition competition no matter what it took. Just a few short months later, she accomplished that goal by finishing the competition in first place and winning a $5,000 prize to use towards opening Muscle Shoals Song Rooms.
She went on to compete in LiftOff Shoals, another Shoals Shift Event, and won an additional $5,000 to use towards opening her business!
In January 2020, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic put the world on “pause,” Muscle Shoals Song Rooms opened their doors for the first time- providing local songwriters with a venue to perform their music live and a facility to write music. These resources were made accessible to songwriters through a membership program.
Unfortunately, with the pandemic hitting soon after the Song Room’s grand opening, Lillian was forced to get creative and find a way to serve her members from a distance. She restructured her membership opportunities to a virtual format and then began hosting monthly Zoom meetings where she would connect her members with publicists out of Nashville to network and listen to her artists’ songs. Much to Lillian’s excitement, this innovative shift caught the attention of Forbes magazine in November of 2020.
After a year-long battle to survive throughout the pandemic, Lillian was sadly left to shut the Song Room’s doors in April of 2021. While this was the end of chapter one of the Muscle Shoals Song Room’s story, it will certainly not be the end of the legacy.
“I’m hoping to bring it back within the next couple of years, and find a new, bigger space,” Lillian said. “My vision is to kindle the flame of Muscle Shoals music, but also create a structure for new opportunities for the Muscle Shoals music industry.”
Lillian’s story is full of successes thanks to her incredible work ethic and dedication, and also thanks to her positive attitude.
“I get asked a lot what obstacles I’ve had to overcome as a woman in the industry, but you know, for me personally, I don’t look at it that way,” Lillian said. “I think whenever you’re starting something new, you have to prove yourself and gain respect from those around you. A lot of people didn’t take me seriously as an 18-year-old girl with these big ideas either, so do what you say you’re going to do, and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it. Obstacles and setbacks are going to come, but you just can’t give up.”
When reflecting on how she got to where she is today, Lillian credits it all to Shoals Idea Audition.
“Shoals Idea Audition was the start for me professionally, and I’m just so thankful for that opportunity.”
Lillian wants other entrepreneurs to also take advantage of the Shoals Shift events, and offers a word of advice to those competing in this year’s competition.
“My advice would be to let your personality shine through as much as possible because you are the brand, and the product or service you’re providing is the business, so make sure you showcase elements of yourself in your business,” Lillian said. “It takes a lot of blood sweat, and tears to start a business, and by competing in the competition, you’re already halfway there.”
Today, Lillian is staying busy planning her upcoming Muscle Shoals Songwriters Festival, but in her free time, she can be found managing social media and digital marketing for several local businesses.