Tyler James: ‘Rejection’ spurs music success
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Tyler James: ‘Rejection’ spurs music success

In 2000, Belmont’s campus was decorated with posters, and the caf was home to stacks of fliers promoting then freshman Tyler James.  He didn’t have a MySpace, Facebook or a blog.  He didn’t yet have a fan base.  He didn’t even get accepted to the School of Music.

Ten years later, singer/songwriter James promotes his music through social media, his own producer and manager and a recently released album, “It Took the Fire.”  He also plays as a keyboardist with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and will be with them on a tour that includes dates in Australia, as well as at Coachella and Bonnaroo.
“Hopefully I’ll be done with that tour by the end of June and then I’ll be doing my own stuff again,” James said.

It took him four years as a music business major at Belmont, performing at small venues and in the university’s showcases, two or three years working as a banquet server at Opryland Hotel after graduation and months at a time of optimistic touring along the east and west coasts to get to this point of success.

After he was “rejected,” as he called it, by Belmont’s School of Music, he decided he would continue to strive for a career in music and expand his knowledge of the field with a degree in music business.  He played at the Commons Clubhouse several times and performed in the Best of the Best showcase at the Ryman before the Curb Event Center opened.

“I think I produced the first event ever at the [Curb] Event Center, which was the 2003 pop/rock showcase,” James said.

When James came to Belmont, social media was not really popular or necessary for artists to promote their music.  Many students aiming for music careers did not know how to get started, James said.

“I feel like I was the only kid in my class that was actually playing gigs off campus,” he said.  “When I was there all anyone did was do showcase things and then they’d get out of college and have no idea of how to get a gig or even get started in Nashville.”

James knew he had to start early.  He played at venues like The End and Guido’s Pizza. In playing small shows, he discovered that in order to get more of an audience, he should keep his education information to himself.  That way he could avoid the misconception that all Belmont students play music similar to Dave Matthews or Radiohead.

“Belmont kind of gives this vibe in the Nashville scene like people assume that Belmont bands all kind of sound the same and don’t bring people out,” James said.  “In order to make it in Nashville I had to not let people know I was a Belmont kid so that it was easy to get gigs.”

Using his education of music business, he played a show at the Belcourt Theater with his three favorite bands.

“I finagled this thing with a friend where we booked the Belcourt Theater and we made up this company name then we invited my three favorite bands, the three biggest bands in Nashville at the time to play this showcase,” James said.  “Basically we fooled the three biggest bands in town to play a show with me.”

This idea led James to his first manager and producer.

After graduation, he got jobs at a retirement home and at Opryland Hotel to make money he needed to tour.

“I decided I could get a good job, or I could get a crappy job that allowed me make some money and get off when I needed to tour,” James said.

He worked in his secure jobs for a period of time, he then booked shows across the country. Then he’d return to his jobs in Nashville to continue the cycle.  He toured by himself for the most part, which made it easier to get started as a musician. By touring alone, he made more money for himself and did not humiliate the rest of his band if the show was not prosperous.

“If you get the feeling that not a lot of people are going to come and you’ve never played there before, you should do it by yourself,” James said.  “That way if it doesn’t go well you’re only hurting yourself and not five other people.”

Years of balancing working in Nashville and touring got his name out, and now some current Belmont students know his music from his MySpace page.

“You can really feel the emotion through his music,” said sophomore Lisa Bennett.

“His music works for any scenario, whether you’re working out or listening to it in the car or in a coffee restaurant,” said sophomore Michelle Rogers.  “It applies to a wide range audience.”

In 2009, a TV producer making a pilot asked James to be a cast member, which in the end led James to join Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

One of the other cast members dated the band’s lead singer. The group needed a keyboardist, and James was chosen to be a replacement.

“They sent me the songs the day before the first show, and they put me up there and the next day I’m playing in front of thousands of people,” said James.

James plans on continuing touring his own music when he’s not busy performing for Edward Sharpe.  In future shows, he might open for the band.

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