Brad Paisley Talks About the Road to Stardom at Belmont
The movie screen image of “making it in Nashville” usually involves years of playing in a bar and a chance meeting with a record executive. But on Tuesday, Brad Paisley—speaking to a crowd of students at his alma mater, Belmont University—made it clear that the Hollywood route isn’t the realistic way to stardom.
For Paisley, the process took internships, connections, and a lot of help from his former classmates. In addition to reflecting on the early days of his career, Paisley also offered up advice to students and addressed the current state of the music business.
The Road to Stardom
Paisley hated the guitar when he first picked it up at eight years old. The neck was too big for his hands, and “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” was the best he could muster. His grandfather encouraged him to learn Chet-Atkins style and at age 12, things finally clicked.
Paisley played locally in West Virginia and often opened for popular Nashville acts. When he spoke with the musicians in nationally-touring bands, they told him that the best way to get to Nashville without “being a bum” was to go to Belmont. Paisley took their advice.
At age 20, Paisley arrived on Belmont’s campus as a junior. “I did a lot more right than I knew I did right,” Paisley said. He was careful about labeling himself and first made a reputation on-campus as a guitar player. In his second year, he made Belmont’s Country Showcase and finally made it known that he was a singer, songwriter, and guitarist.
During this time, he interned all over town in all aspects of the business. He had wonderful working experiences at ASCAP—where he met future co-writer Chris Dubois—and at Atlantic Records. He also interned at his current management company, Fitzgerald-Hartley, which, ironically, Paisley said “sucked.”
Paisley also established a relationship with fellow Belmont student Frank Rogers. Rogers and Paisley would break the rules and sneak into the on-campus studio and record songs all night long. The connections were established—and four years after graduating Belmont, Paisley released his first record.
Times Sure Have Changed
When Paisley was at Belmont, he heard great lectures and advice from artists like Vince Gill, Amy Grant, and Stephen Curtis Chapman, so he knew the pressure would be on for some words of wisdom.
“The first thing I want to stress is that no one in this town knows what they are doing,” Paisley said. Record labels are scrambling: they have to distribute online to iTunes, but they also have to sell a product in stores, but those CD’s aren’t selling near as many as they used to, Paisley illustrated.
He encouraged students to think outside of the box and throw things up against the wall to see what works. “However this is going to shake out, it’s going to be because of you,” he said to the group.
Regardless of which way the business actually turns, Paisley said that the foundation of everything will still be the music: continue to write and make good music, and the business will come.
Another one of Paisley’s bits of advice: “One of my philosophies is if you’re gonna laugh about it later, why not just start now?”
After 12 consecutive No. 1’s, it seems like that mantra has served him well.
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