Music is top-heavy. Popularity begets popularity and the blockbuster effect increasingly determining that the vast majority of us will mostly only hear the top 1% of artists.
Where does that leave everyone else? Fighting for that place near the top or at least their own slice of the pie. And turns out, there might be better music and more interesting stories beyond the top 40 hits.
Take Sheridan Gates. She’s pursuing her dream as a country artist in Nashville. Already, she’s surpassed many artists by having a debut EP recorded and ready for release soon.
Her first single from that EP, “Pick Up Line”, is a country pop tune she wrote herself from her own experience of meeting men in bars. In fact, each song reflects a different personal experience in the past couple of years she has spent getting established in the music industry and generally living in Nashville as a young artist. After all, when you first start out, music isn’t a full-time job. There’s performing, songwriting for others, nannying on the side, part-time Lyft driving.
And there’s more to come. After all, releasing your first song would be where many people would consider the starting line of a music career, which for Sheridan was a two year process. To even get to that point, many people couldn’t tell you exactly what it takes. What makes you decide to try out a career in music? What is your day to day life like as you’re establishing yourself in the music scene? In speaking with Sheridan, I tried to get at the heart of those questions. If nothing else, maybe this can be a blueprint to all the aspiring musicians out there who aren’t exactly sure how to pursue a career in music, only that they want to.
To start, can you walk me through your decision to pursue music? And your decision that Nashville was where you would do that?
I have been singing for as long as I can remember. In school, I pursued that passion for singing through musical theatre and a cappella groups. I think I always knew that music was going to be a part of me when I started learning and singing every word to Shania Twain’s album Come on Over. I connected so much with the music (even at six years old).
In college, as entering the “real world” became more of a reality, for lack of a better word, singing became clear to me as something I needed to pursue. I took a detour to NYC for two years and was training with a fabulous voice coach, then made the move to Nashville in October 2016.
Nashville first came on the map for me when I stopped there overnight on my way to Texas to perform in a few musical theatre shows for the summer. I told my dad who was with me that I don’t want to go to Texas anymore; I want to stay in Nashville. Of course, I had obligations so I did indeed go to Texas, but Nashville was forever imprinted on my mind.
The next summer, I ended up getting an internship at the TV show Headline Country in Nashville and got a behind-the-scenes look at the country music world which made me fall in love even more. The community of musicians and the support that everyone has for each other is unlike any city I’ve ever experienced.
It seems like your first passion was in theater, specifically musical theater. How did you make the jump from that into music?
I love musical theatre and will always have such an appreciation for live theatre. However, for me, musical theatre was the only outlet for me to sing and perform while I was in school other than a cappella groups. I think once I got to NYC I soon realized (after going to a few musical theatre auditions) that I wanted my fate to be in my own hands, not a casting director’s, and I wanted to create my own music.
What’s the toughest part of breaking into the Nashville scene?
It’s like trying to make new friends in school. You have to first make the introduction, then you have to get them to trust and respect you, and then you have a strong foundation for a friendship and (hopefully) that new friend will want to introduce you to other friends. In Nashville, the toughest part is first breaking into that circle of musicians/writers/industry folks, and proving to them that my music and I have a place here.
Can you walk me through your first thoughts upon arriving in Nashville? Was the path you took from then to now what you expected?
I was very fortunate to have met a producer, Matt Leigh, a few years ago when I was interning in Nashville who really believed in me and my music. So, over the year leading up to my actual move to Nashville, we worked together. I was coming to Nashville to write with other artists and taking meetings that Matt had set up for me.
When I arrived here, I had a solid set of songs I wanted to put on an EP. I immediately hit the studio and jumped right into recording. I think my post-recording thoughts have been the most trying for me. Asking myself, where do I go from here? Who do I trust to promote it correctly? How do I grow my fan base? It’s easy to make the music, but learning the business is definitely the hardest part.
What do you see as the biggest differences between the New York music scene and the Nashville scene?
Well, you know what they say about the South… southern hospitality. And it’s true. I will always have a soft spot for NYC, but it felt a lot more like I had to fend for myself whereas the scene in Nashville has true sense of community that supports one another. There is enough room for success for all.
Also, a major difference is that Nashville has live music EVERYWHERE you go. I had to hunt it down in New York, but every bar/restaurant/coffee shop [in Nashville] has music and not just covers. You’re hearing original music from so many talented musicians.
Can you give us an insight into what the songwriting process is like?
Songwriting is so different every time. Most songwriting in Nashville takes place as a collaboration, so you never really know what you’re going to create or how it’s going to come together until you are in the moment. I’m always writing down ideas, phrases, and thoughts that I have in my phone or in a notebook and sometimes they will develop into a verse or a chorus. I take those ideas and bring them into writing sessions and see if the other writers can relate or if we can find some common ground with the topics. Sometimes a melody comes to my mind, and I’ll record it on my iPhone and bring that to the session and that could spark a mood or feel for the song. Before you know it, a song is born, or not, sometimes it just doesn’t flow!
Are there any songs out there that you’ve written or had a part in writing that you’re particularly proud of?
I wrote a song called “Keepin’ On” that isn’t out yet but will be on my debut EP that I wrote for my brother and sister-in-law’s wedding. My family is everything to me, and it made him cry. Enough said.
In terms of raising your own profile as an artist, what process have you been following?
Well, raising a profile doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s a lot of social media, getting out and playing live, interacting with the fans as much as possible, and practicing! An artist can’t build a following without being good at what they do, so it’s important that I continue to take voice lessons and practice piano and guitar to keep exploring my capabilities.
Who are inspirations for you musically?
Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood, Sara Bareilles.
Have you had any mentors or help along the way in Nashville?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier, my producer and friend Matt Leigh has been a huge mentor for me. He has introduced me to some of the most talented musicians and helped me create a really special first EP. He has put in so much time to this record and worked patiently teaching me the ropes of the studio.
Also, my voice coach, Ilana Martin, has been an unbelievable mentor. She is based in NYC and also has a studio in LA (The Vocal Workout Singing School). She has not only transformed my voice and made it so much stronger, but she has also coached me in all aspects of my career and has been a spiritual advisor to me. She has believed in me from the beginning and continues to help me throughout this journey even though we are in different cities.
Is there anyone who would be a dream to work with?
If I could sing/write with Shania Twain and Carrie Underwood I would be a kid in a candy shop.
How do you spend a typical day? Is there a routine to it or does every day evolve differently?
Every day is pretty different for me but that’s what I love. Right now, it’s a juggling act of working my odd jobs as a personal assistant, nanny, and Lyft driver, and writing, taking industry meetings, and practicing. I love having the flexibility to make my own schedule. I’m always interacting with different people which leads to new stories which lead to new songs!
Tell us about your new EP, what is the inspiration behind it? What part of it would you want to direct somebody’s attention to in particular?
This EP (available late summer) was inspired by my journey of self discovery. I graduated from college three years ago and have been trying to navigate the ‘real world’ which can be exciting, trying, and confusing at times.
I wrote four out of the five songs on this EP and the one I didn’t write, “Things I Swore I’d Never Do” written by Sarah Turner, is still a song I can very much relate to. It shows a glimpse into what was happening in my life as I try to discover who I am. From meeting men at bars in the song “Pick Up Line” (my debut single that is out now!) to looking deep into the marriage of my brother and sister-in-law in the song “Keepin On”, to a song that encourages me to keep moving forward and believing in myself in the song “Enough”, there is something for everyone to relate to.
What surprised you the most about the process to go from idea to full EP?
I think the most surprising part of this process, which is a good kind of surprise, was how quickly and beautifully the songs came together with the full band. These very talented musicians came into the studio having never heard my songs, were handed a chart, and immediately sat down at their respective instruments and took my stories and gave them life. It was truly inspiring and surprising to me as it opened my eyes to the incredible talent that is all around Nashville.
What advice would you give to those who are potentially looking to follow your career path? What lessons have you learned that you can pass on?
You’ve got to have a fire in your gut, so to speak, that tells you that this is the path you want to take. The music industry is more than just the music, and it’s so important to know in your heart and your gut that this is what you want to do otherwise you’ll get beat out very quickly. Keep practicing your craft, remember to have fun, and meet as many people as you possibly can! Networking is key!
What’s the biggest roadblock you’re currently facing in establishing yourself in Nashville?
The most challenging part of starting in Nashville is getting your name out there. Not just to fans but to my fellow songwriters and artists. It’s so important to me to songwriter with as many people in this town so I can grow my writing skills, explore what style of writing it’s uniquely me, and to be able to go out and support other artist’s shows. That’s how you grow as an artist and without the two-way support system, it’s hard to move forward.
Where do you envision your career going?
Well, I’m in this for the long haul. It isn’t going to be easy but I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life. I want to be touring around the world with my music. Reaching as many people as possible. I want longevity with my music career, to have a loyal fan base who I can exchange stories with as we navigate life together.