How music became our job (Part 1)

Over the years, Jenny and I have been asked this question, or something like it, more than a few times:
How did you go full time with music? 

We’ve answered bits and pieces of this question in person, emails, and over the phone, but I’m not sure if we’ve given an extensive answer in one place at one time.  So here we go, at least with part 1.  Storytelling time.  If you’re a bullet point person, you might want to go to the summary at the bottom.

When Jenny and I met a little over 7 years ago, in the Fall of 2004 at the University of Delaware, we started hanging out, a lot.  During those hang out times, we played and wrote a lot of songs.

Here we are that Fall. Taken at the BSM house at UD

Most of those songs weren’t good.  At the time we thought they were great, but that was because we didn’t have much experience with songwriting.  Wikipedia lists all known Beatles songs, 306 of them, mostly written by Lennon and McCartney.  In the early Beatles days, Lennon and McCartney would go over to each others’ houses to just write songs.  They got the bad songs out early on in their career.  Songwriting is a craft; so in general, the more you do it, the better you get.

In those days, Jenny and I would mainly play for friends, at apartments and houses at the University of Delaware, BSM (Baptist Student Ministry) concert events, in coffee shops like Starbucks, and at open mics.  Sure, the songs weren’t well written, but we had a decent sound and our friends would come out to support us nonetheless.  Sometimes those friends would bring some of their friends, which was nice.

Before meeting Jenny, I had some places around Wilmington and Newark, DE that I’d play once every 2 or 3 months.  After some time, I got enough of those gigs that I was playing about once or twice a week.   Many times, I’d go to the prospective venue, drop off a burned CD with homemade packaging, try to talk to the manager about other venues I’ve played and the type of sound I have, and then follow up about a week later.  I’d leave a short message and my email, phone, myspace and website on a note with the CD.  One time I walked up and down the streets of Newark, DE, with my high-school violinist-friend Scott Von Duyke and went into bars, cafes, restaurants, and coffee shops to ask if they’d listen to a song and maybe give us a night to play.  I did a similar thing in Avalon and Stone Harbor, NJ.

*Funny side note about Avalon and Stone Harbor.  On Friday nights, I’d play at a small coffee shop called Coffee Talk.  On Sunday nights a 12-year old girl played country music, which I despised at the time.  I found out later that 12-year old girl was Taylor Swift.

Moving on, there were some venues I really wanted to play that didn’t show any interest, some that flat out said no.  I came to believe God opens some doors and closes others; that’s one way He guides us.

When Jenny entered the scene, I asked her to join me at many of the shows.  We played a bunch of cover gigs so we could get paid.  Homegrown Cafe in Newark, DE gave us $150.  Deep Blue in Wilmington, DE paid $400.  $400 is good amount of money now, so you can only imagine how much it felt like to us back then.  During those shows, we’d throw in our original songs about half the time and because we were mainly background music, the venues didn’t mind.

During those days,  either Jenny or I would get invited to play a benefit, a church event, or a camp as a solo act. Our artist names were just our first and last names.  She went by Jenny Appel and I went by Tyler Somers.  I would play guitar and sing harmony for her and she’d sing harmony for me.  But we were always two separate artists then.  Either the gig was under her name or mine. “Jenny & Tyler” didn’t happen until much later.  That part of the story will come.

Check out this vintage poster:

Man, I thought this looked so good then.

I made Jenny a website and EP of a few of her songs too.  I learned about making websites when I was a sophomore in college while I worked at a computer lab on campus.  I picked up on css, html, a little php, Photoshop, and Illustrator.  At the Mac Lab, I had the freedom to work on our recordings and website, with the latest web design technology available right in front of me.  I learned about recording when I was a senior in high school at Tatnall in Wilmington, DE.  That year, Tatnall just so happened to install a recording studio.  I spent hours and hours each day in there, learning the programs.  A few months later, I purchased an Mbox with an audio program called Pro Tools, the industry standard, new for $250.  I’ve been using Pro Tools ever since.

During the summer of 2006, when Jenny and I had been together for about a year and a half, I trekked to Nashville to immerse myself in its music scene.  I’d been there for a month during January of that year to do an internship at Provident-Integrity Distribution in Franklin, TN, so I was somewhat familiar with the town.  That January, I slept in the closet of my friend Meredith Jones’ Berry Hill apartment for free and that summer I slept on the couch of my friend Matthew Carrier’s Green Hills apartment for $100/month.  Good times.  I wanted Jenny to come, but her dad was strongly opposed to sending his eldest daughter to a distant city to be near her boyfriend.  Completely understandable.  I didn’t like it, but I understood.

A couple weeks later Jenny’s dad was driving home from his work at Andrews AFB near D.C. and he felt like the Lord put it on his heart to let Jenny go to Nashville.  If you knew Jenny’s dad, you’d know how difficult this was.  Nevertheless, a day or two later, he put Jenny on a flight from Baltimore to Nashville and I picked her up from the airport.  We went to the Pancake Pantry to celebrate, then walked next door to see about getting Jenny a job. Sure enough, A Thousand Faces, the first place we tried, was hiring.  A day prior, an employee named Jenny had left.  God had just started opening doors in Nashville. Oh, and Jenny lived in the very same closet that I did back in January for the whole summer.

It was a good sized closet. Note the air mattress.

happy to be in nashville!

During that summer, we were also able to record at a real studio for the first time in our lives, for free.   Jenny had a friend from high school named Brett McLaughlin who went to Belmont University in Nashville and had worked with another Belmont student who happened to be an intern at a studio called Dark Horse.  This intern, Daniel Mixer, graciously gave us some studio time to do vocals at Dark Horse.  We went into the studio with some scratch guitar tracks I had recorded in my living room. Many of the lead vocals on “A Prelude” were recorded that day.

Vocal booth.

Over the next year, musical friends from Nashville and Delaware lent their time, talents, and studio equipment for either free or almost nothing.  I was a senior in college, taking 17 credit hours and working three jobs, so it took quite a while to finish the record (plus I didn’t really know what I was doing).  The intern at Dark Horse, Daniel Mixer, hooked us up with a guy named Brian Miku from Shelby, TN.  He agreed to stem-mix and master the record for an incredibly low price.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

After that summer, we drove back to Delaware for our senior year of college.  A month later, I put a ring on Jenny’s finger (yes, while kneeling down in a puddle like the song says) at the BSM House.

After kneeling in the puddle. And yes, I'm wearing men's capris.

That year and the next, we played more coffeehouses, churches, house shows, apartments, campus events, etc.  We started offering free music to those who signed up for our email list at shows.  The email list became a pretty important tool for us.

That summer we were married.

On the beach in Avalon, NJ

On December 7th, 2007, we held a CD release concert for “A Prelude” at our church, Ogletown Baptist, to crowd of about 350 people.  Jenny’s grandparents came down from Western, NY, that was pretty special.

After playing what seemed like every possible venue in Delaware, from coffee shops like Brew Ha Ha to bars like Deer Park and the Logan House to proper venues like the Grand Opera House, we decided that if we wanted to pursue music as a career, we had to leave town.  In Delaware, you can do pretty well as a cover band and make $2000-$3000 a night, but there’s not much of an original music scene at all.  Because of that, unlike Nashville, there’s very little artist community or support in general.  Also Delaware is not centrally located like Nashville is.  From Nashville, we can get to Florida or New York or Canada or Colorado or Texas or Iowa (80% of major US cities so I hear) in a day’s drive.  That’s why FedEx is located in Memphis.  This makes touring much easier.

I almost forgot to mention that for all this time (during college and for the first year and a half of our marriage), three and a half years to be somewhat precise, Jenny or I had some sort of job, so there was money coming in which we could spend on recording equipment, musical equipment, food, rent, etc.  The last job I had before going full time with music was Starbucks.  Starbucks was good to us.  I think we played every Starbucks in DE while we lived there.  Similarly, when I transferred to a Starbucks in Nashville, they hosted shows.  They also essentially paid for the removal of our wisdom teeth.

Thus concludes part 1. Stay tuned for part 2, to be posted next week.

Here’s a summary of what happened:
1. Wrote songs when inspired.  Eventually some of them we’re pretty good.
2. Made recordings.  Learned how to record when a studio was put in my high school during my senior year.  Asked musical friends for help.
3. Made websites.   Learned how and had time to work on it when I was given a job at UD’s Mac Lab.
4. Booked shows.  Used the recordings and websites to help with this.  Wrote a personalized note to the venues.  Played live for some venues.  Followed up.  Some doors opened and some didn’t.
5. Had other jobs (retail/coffee shops) and did music on the side for three and a half years before we went full time with it. Starbucks helped book a tour for us and allowed for an easy move to Nashville.
6. Moved to Nashville.  Recorded.  Wrote with other songwriters.  Central location makes touring easy.

Here’s part 2 – written about a week later:


18 responses

  1. Great post buddy… I got a bit nostalgic there with the old school poster. I forgot what a baby face you were before you were man enough to group facial hair haha.

  2. Pingback: truth in a song « The Beginning of Belonging

  3. Pingback: Friday Five: Jenny and Tyler | Daniel Darling, Author, Pastor, Speaker

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