John Arthur Martinez

Although he was one of the very first Nashville Stars, John Arthur Martinez takes more pride in the way his songwriting connects him to his fans. Photo by Phil Houseal

Oct 1, 2008–As a top finisher on the first season of Nashville Star, John Arthur Martinez impressed millions of viewers. But what makes him most proud is the effect he had on one fan.

Not long ago the country singer-songwriter received a note from a young man who wanted to tell him that Martinez had saved his life.

“He said he heard me 20 years ago at a bar in Tucson, singing a song called ’22’ – a simple song about the possibilities a 22-year-old has in front of him,” Martinez said. “That night he asked for a recording. I told him I hadn’t recorded it, so he had me write down the lyrics on a cocktail napkin. Two decades later, he told me he had contemplated suicide before coming to the club that night. Every time after that when he had dark thoughts, he took out that cocktail napkin.”

The fan had no idea Martinez had been on television. In the first year of the country talent show Nashville Star, Martinez finished second. That exposure led to a new connection with legions of fans, a record deal, and lots of interest in his career.

I asked the Austin native about the culture of “music as competition” that shows such as American Idol and Nashville Star promote.

“On a personal note, music should not be a competition,” Martinez said. “That is not necessarily the way music was intended to be discovered. But this is a free enterprise system, and Americans love to decide who is the ‘champion.’ That is part of who we are.”

He also recognizes the fact that music is very much a business. And Martinez is very much the entrepreneur – one of those rare musicians who has figured out how to make a living doing what he loves. He tours, records, sells CDs, and has a robust web presence.

And he has the ability to write songs, which he attributes to his double major in English and Broadcast Journalism.

“Journalism teaches you to be very concise,” he explained. “If you haven’t captured your audience in the first few sentences, you’ve lost them. It is the same with songwriting. If people are not excited about what you are singing in the first few seconds, they are going punch that button.”

It is Martinez who is punching his fans’ buttons.

“There are folks like the father of an autistic child, whose son watched me on Nashville Star,” he said. “I sang a ridiculous song with all kinds of poetic devices – alliteration, assonance, tongue-twisters.  His son tried to sing along – it was the first time he ever uttered any words at all. His dad bought my CD, and his child eventually started playing piano.”

Stories like that tell Martinez that whatever he is doing is worth doing – even if it affects only a few individuals.

“I don’t want to be just about creating a product that steers people to the bar,” said the man who knows a bit about being a TV product. “If my lyrics touch people, then I feel like I have been a successful singer-songwriter.”