Authors: Brad Paisley
When people ask me for advice about “making it” in music today, the first thing I usually tell them is that they should try to make itâmeaning musicâin their own backyard first, before
they start worrying about the big time. I could be wrong, but “deciding” to be a star and then rushing off to Nashville or Hollywood or New York seems just a little silly and potentially dangerous. It's the easiest way to get that horse-and-cart thing all askew.
There are lots of advantages to trying to be a hometown hero before you rush out and try to conquer the rest of a watching world. First of all, ask Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great: it's a lot easier to conquer a small town than a whole country. Okay, bad example. But starting out taking things a little smaller and slower gives you the time and space to actually get good
you get famous. Go rack up some of those first ten thousand hours you need in front of friends and family, before hitting the world stage. They will love you and protect you. That's a good thing too. In this day and age of YouTube and TMZ, if you aren't already great when you get everyone's attention, there will be plenty of proof out there. Especially if you're thinking about enjoying a life in music, as opposed to just grabbing your fifteen minutes of fame. Practice now, young pickers. You won't have time later. After all, it's a little like the dog that tries to catch the car. What do you do with it once you've actually caught it?
Then there is the fortune that accompanies the fame.
I've always said that I'm grossly overpaid for what I do. In this world there are people in professions that save lives, save countries, and even to some extent the planet, and yet they may never reach my income level. I'm by no means Bill Gates, but it is a strange feeling to have more than enough money at most times. It is something I struggle with, in that there can be a guilty feeling, especially when you meet people in need. It is probably obvious that I have a soft spot for Corvettes and fast cars, even more obvious that I like guitar gear . . . and, therefore, own more than my fair share of each.
My way of justifying this type of extravagance has always been to give back. I try my best to make sure I offset this opulence as best I can. Randy Owen from Alabama was a great example to me in this way. He was chiefly responsible for getting country radio involved with St. Jude Children's Hospital. One year at the Country Radio Seminar, he stood up, made a presentation, and dared everyone in the country music community to do something for this cause. It worked. All these years later, Country Cares has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for that children's hospital. Early on in my career I met Randy at a St. Jude event, and he approached me about that very subject. He said, “Brother Brad, when you look back on your career, I'm here to tell you what will matter. It won't be
gold records or awards. It will be this [
pointing at the kids assembled in the room
]. It'll be what you did with it to make lives better that matters.” I never forgot that. And so while I miss the mark sometimes in that area, I'm always happiest when I am making up for my spoils.
Today's world of reality shows and televised talent shows is certainly new. Everyone wants to be rich and famous. I understand the wealth side of these desires. On the other hand, I'm a little less clear on our culture's intense and slightly scary obsession with fame. I confess that I sometimes find it hard to relate to the young musicians I meet who have this overwhelming hunger and fire to move to Nashville just to get a record deal right away. It's always obvious to me when someone is making music for the fame, rather than achieving fame due to the music. I saw a great deal of that sort of raw ambition when I studied at Belmont University in Nashville.
From what I saw then and since, too many of these kids get overly aggressive and actually blow some chances by being too pushy. Some of these ambitious young people I've met in Nashville remind me a little of Rachel Berry on
the character played by Lea Micheleâyou know, the type who's always a little too willing to tell you absolutely
she knows. And in that way, you start to realize how little she actually
knows. Mark Twain said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Growing up where I did, around people like my family and Hank Goddard and the guys in the C-Notes, I learned a very different sort of show business reality. All of the influences I was lucky to meet along the way showed me that you could come at a life in music from a different approachâthat maybe it's better to start out being timid and sitting back a bit, waiting in the wings and learning a few things while you are there. In a nutshell, practice. Watch and learn for a while. I certainly don't like the feeling of looking like a fool any more than the next guy.
I remember competing in exactly one talent showâdefinitely
-televisedâand I didn't much like the experience (and not just because I didn't win). Somehow it just felt wrong to me, because as I've come to understand it, making music isn't about competition. It's about collaboration.
I am a player.
And I play
people, not against them. Guitar playing is not a race or a popularity contest by nature.
I also auditioned as a performer exactly once in my life, and it was for Opryland. While most of it went very wellâthey loved my guitar playing and really were interested in
me as a singerâthere was also a dance portion that was
optional. So yours truly had to perform some sort of dance routine for the judges, complete with freestyle section and everything. My college adviser Jim “Coach” Watson went with me that day and is the only person alive who witnessed this absolute disaster, other than the judges. The request was, “Show us you can dance.”
That's right. Yeah, baby. That was my freestyle dance routine. I moonwalked. In 1992. Ten years late, actually. And in full view of Nashville judges. Needless to say, I realized that day that the audition process was probably not for me.
Yeah, baby. That was my freestyle dance routine. I moonwalked.
On the other hand, I recognize that there can be some beautiful exceptions to this rule. For instance, Carrie Underwood is clearly one of the best things
to happen to our country music world. She's also been the best singer and CMA cohost that any guy could ever ask for. Country music clearly lucked out when she came our way after winning
. That's because it's become clear that Carrie is making music for the right reasons, and she just keeps getting better and better. She is living proof of the potential
of some of these shows to enhance our lives in ways we don't expect. By virtue of her talent and hard work, she's gradually become an American idol the old-fashioned way too.
I was lucky enough to go on tour with Brad a few years ago. Through that and through our adventures in co-hosting the CMA Awards, he has become like a big brother to me. You know, like that pesky big brother who does nothing but pick on you and pick on his guitar! At least one of those pays off real well. Of course, if I had a real big brother, I would want him to be just like Brad. And, let's face it, there's no better player I know.
My friend Carrie has handled getting famous on camera on a weekly basis with amazing grace, just like everything else she does. On the other hand, I don't think I would have ever won
or even made it through those auditions. Instead, I was granted the time and space to build my success
story slow and steady over the course of years. Instead of facing judges on TV right away, I faced live audiences of all shapes and sizes from a very young age. In my experience, the people in those hometown crowds teach you much of what you ultimately need to know as a performer and an entertainer. And they don't hit a gong or a buzzer when you fail. Or vote you out of town.
o steal a phrase from a Miranda Lambert song, I was famous in a small town. Growing up as a local player in Glen Dale, I had plenty of time to get ready for the big time. For the record, Glen Dale does have a few interesting claims to fameâfor example, Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett was born there, and I recently found out Lady Gaga's mother went to John Marshall High School. I'm sure they're repainting the WELCOME to GLEN DALE sign as we speak.
WELCOME TO GLEN DALE
HOME OF LADY GAGA'S MOTHER
and Brad Paisley
I feel very fortunate that what little fame I could muster up in my small town came without my having to chase it too hard. As far as I can remember, I never had to beg to play anywhere. People just kept asking me, and I actually had to turn a lot of work down. On my path, every opportunity that came my way basically came from doing the work. Work begat workâwhich is an excellent way to learn your trade.
Work begat workâwhich is an excellent way to learn your trade.
I had a healthy little look at show business. It also helped that I didn't have parents or anyone else in my circle looking at me like I was their big meal ticket or some way to live out some vicarious dream. After all, a C-Note only goes so farâeven in a place like Glen Dale.
Every single crowd at every single gigâgood, bad, and uglyâtaught me something, even when there really wasn't much of a crowd.
when there wasn't much of a crowd. Now, that doesn't mean that I wouldn't be a little pain and complain sometimes. My mother reminded me recently about a time when I was booked to play guitar at Oglebay Park in nearby Wheeling, West Virginia, around Christmas for the bus tours that would come by. I would have to leave
school a little early for these gigs, and yet sometimes there would only be one or two people out there listening. That's just about the only time my mom remembers me asking why I was doing this anyway. My father rightly pointed out that I would have gladly traded that specific hundred-dollar bill for another hundred audience members. Thinking back on it now, those were important shows because even at an early age, they taught me the important lesson of living up to your deals.
Ironicallyâconsidering that I was technically a child myself at the timeâone of the worst gigs that I remember doing was at the public library for a bunch of little kids during story hour. I recall leaving school one day a little early to play there for a bunch of preschoolers who were not much older than my kids are now. For the first time ever, I totally and obviously
I can remember desperately pulling out “Jingle Bells” (in the summertime), the theme from
the “Hokey Pokey,” and anything else I thought might work with this tough crowd, but I could do absolutely nothing right that afternoon. To older audiences, my relative youth and old-school style might have been charming, but to these tykes I
guess I just looked like some old hack. I was eleven or twelve at the time, and I remember my mom driving me home afterward and knowing I'd missed the mark. My mom got in the car and said, “Well, umm, that didn't go too well.”
And she was right, but at least I learned how to keep playing through the painâa necessary lesson as a guitarist and performer.
I am proudest of the times I spent playing for people in need, even at that early age. There was always a benefit somewhere, thrown by a guy like County Commissioner Biggie Byard, where they were raising money for a family or two, and they needed guitarists. Hank and I would always go back people up for those events or for nursing home performances or children's charities. I was always getting requests like that. And my parents saw to it that I never turned down these chances to help people. Mom and Dad made sure of that. It was their way of helping me keep some perspective in this crazy dream of mine. Once a month I would go play for the respite care floor of the local hospital. I remember a woman who was one of the residents there; she had suffered a stroke. I was only eleven or so, and seeing this sort of reality was life-changing. This woman could no longer speak a word, but she
could sing along perfectly with “You Are My Sunshine” or “In the Garden.” I would sit by her hospital bed and strum the chords on my guitar while she belted out the words clearly and effortlessly. Otherwise she would just stare. It was very heavy stuff. My visits to perform were some of the highlights of her life at that point. I knew that. And somehow I've never looked at music the same.