Music City: No Home for Music—An Excerpt from “Modern Davids”


May 15, 2024 9:26AM

In celebration of Beacon’s 20th Anniversary, Beacon President and CEO Justin Owen wrote a book called Modern Davids: Celebrating 20 Years with 20 Stories of Everyday Tennesseans Fighting Big Government. We will be sharing an excerpt from the book each month to tell you more about our heroes. The book is out now! You can secure your copy by clicking here.

Who would have thought it would be illegal to make music at home in Nashville? That’s right, the city’s longstanding restrictions on home-based businesses means that local musicians could not record music inside a home. Hairstylists, piano teachers, and other entrepreneurs, too, could face steep fines and even jail time if a single customer physically comes into their home to do business. Until recently, this was the most stringent home-business ban of any major city in America.

Nashville residents Lij Shaw and Pat Raynor both lived this nightmare. Lij operates a successful recording studio in his home, or at least he did until the city shut him down. Lij has recorded Grammy Award-winning performers such as John Oates, Jack White, Adele, and the Zac Brown Band. When his daughter Sarayah was born in 2005, he was inspired to take charge of his work life and find a better way to support his family. He invested thousands of dollars to convert his detached garage into The Toy Box Studio.

It was a perfect setup. True to its nature, his soundproofed studio couldn’t be seen or heard from the street, and his clients parked in his driveway. None of his neighbors ever complained to him about traffic or noise in the ten years he operated.

But in September 2015, Lij opened his mailbox and found a letter from the city ordering him to shut his studio down. A month later, an officer from the Nashville Codes Department called and reiterated the city’s order: close your business or be dragged into court.

Lij wasn’t the only one the city was going after for no good reason. Pat Raynor, a lifelong hairstylist, had become interested in working from home after her husband Harold passed away. His decade-long battle with a debilitating medical condition left Pat with extensive medical bills. Pat, who values hard work and cherishes her independence, resolved to do whatever it took to stay in the home she and Harold had bought together. She undertook an expensive renovation to her garage to open a hair salon that met all of Tennessee’s health and safety standards.

Pat knows most of her neighbors well and counts many of them among her clients. And because Pat only works by appointment and never put a sign out front, she wasn’t generating traffic from curious walk-ins the way a traditional salon or barbershop might. With no commercial rent and no commute, this arrangement was safe, comfortable, and affordable.

But like Lij’s recording studio, Pat’s home-based hair salon was not to be. On November 26, 2013, Nashville sent her a cease-and-desist letter, warning her never to cut hair in her home again, or the city would take her to court.

Beacon teamed up with the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm, and sued the city on behalf of Pat and Lij. Our case got national attention, including in Billboard Magazine. Then COVID hit, and Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s executive orders suddenly forced many people out of the office. It made no sense to require some people to work from home at the same time the city literally prohibited others from doing so.

Lij and Pat used the attention—and the hypocrisy—to rally support among other home business owners across Nashville. They showed up in droves to city council meetings to make their case for repealing the home business ban. Lij even wrote and played a song, “We Need to Work from Home,” at a council meeting.

Due to their grassroots activism, Lij and Pat convinced the city council to soften the home business ban. Now, they can both work from home, as can approximately 14,000 other home-based businesses across the city, as long as they only see a few clients per day and don’t produce any noise or parking issues for their neighbors.

Our lawsuit against the city continues because it still discriminates against certain types of businesses. But this victory and the continued push by Lij and Pat shows how powerful everyday citizens can be.