tim riehm band

The Learning Curve Is Steep

There’s so much I don’t know about this industry. Sometimes, I feel like it’s the first day of a foreign language class where the teacher only speaks in that exotic tongue, and you’re left to infer and imply – picking out words you understand and going with those for now. The learning curve is steep, but it’s definitely manageable, and how better to learn a language than to immerse yourself in it. Welcome to Nashville, I guess.

I feel like I know a lot about music. I can write a song that’s catchy. I can play guitar pretty well. But, music is half the battle – if not less – and the acronyms are staggering:  BMI, ASCAP, SESAC – all of which are technically the same thing, but different in so many ways. It’s easy to get caught up in the jargon and start just sort of nodding your head – like you’re seeing the words on a page, but not really understanding them. I guess what I’m saying is there’s a reason schools offer majors in music business: being an artist – especially a freshman in the field – is definitely not just sitting around writing songs and playing guitar all day.

Like I said, the learning curve is steep. Research, current events, and law are all part of the Nashville artist curriculum, and I promise you bioengineering does not correlate. It’s an entirely different field. Math – doesn’t matter. Physics – doesn’t matter. English – barely matters. With that being said, I wouldn’t trade my degree in engineering for a music business degree in the same way that I would rather learn Italian by living in Italy for a year than by learning it through a textbook.

The practical approach to learning skills is always so much better – and so much more applicable. I don’t know if it’s a generational thing, but I’d bet that few of us still read the manuals to any new thing – well, unless you’re building some IKEA furniture. We learn by doing. We learn by living. And, sure, you could make the argument that it’s a bad thing: we make mistakes. We live on a Bible of rules of thumb and heuristic principles that do the job most of the time – but maybe not all of the time.

Of course, I wouldn’t want to hire an engineer or a doctor who lives by that code of maybes – in a world where set laws of nature govern how, when, and why things will do what they do. But, music – and Nashville – isn’t that world. There’s no set path that people can point to and say, “This is what works. Do this, and you’ll make it.” All they can really say is, “Well, it worked in the past,” or “Well, this worked for me.” Sure, it helps to know the terms and have some schooling, so you’re not looking at a dictionary every two seconds, but you don’t get fluent by reading a book – you do it through immersion. So, here I am in Nashville – learning.

Like Old Songs

Old friends are a lot like old songs. They never really run out of steam. I mean, you can plug them in when you need a reliable pick-me-up, and for that reason, you can be sure they'll always have a spot on your playlist. You can forget about them for awhile, but you never doubt that foundation, knowing that the second you give them a call – or press play – you'll pick up right where you left off from however many years ago. I love old friends, and this weekend was full of them.

Step back a few weeks, and I'm getting a call from my old friend, Murray, from Camp Thunderbird about playing a show in Auburn. Basically, it wasn't set in stone yet, but I may or may not have the chance to open for Judah and the Lion in March. Well, for those of you who know Murray, you might be able to understand how little I invested into the prospect. Don't get me wrong: I was sure Murray would fight tooth and nail for me, but word of mouth can only get you so far – surely not to an opening gig like this. So, as much as I love the guy, I thought it was a long shot and that I'd soon get the call of rejection saying that, due to extenuating circumstances, they decided to go with someone else. Well, believe it or not, he came through, and though it took awhile to get from prospect to promise, we were able to start spreading the word about the show soon after.

A few steps forward to yesterday – through tacos at Durango's, a mostly successful sound check, and a wholly successful show – I found myself itching to catch up not only with Murray, but also with my other long lost friend from Alabama, Cammie. I just had to find them first – a task so much easier said than done, especially when one of those friends picks up the phone and greets you with surprisingly fluent Spanish. Well, after getting denied entry into the house after my, "I'm with the band," excuse didn't work, I snuck my way in and finally stumbled upon the two together in Murray's room eating pizza, which was really the only fitting way to find them.

The night was young, and Judah and the Lion were great. They put on a fantastic show, and if you ever get the chance to see them perform, I wholeheartedly encourage it. But, with that being said, I won't spend too many words on the show because it was really just a wonderful addition to the wonderful night that I knew was already in store. Loads of laughs, meaningful conversation, and an almost tangible friend-love – that comes around every once in a while – all made Saturday night unforgettable and no doubt the spark we needed to begin acting like friends again. 

Because the best friends are the ones you can ask questions. Not superficial ones like, “What are you doing?” or “How have you been?” but questions that matter – questions that make the asker and the answerer think, reflect, discuss and actually learn something about the other and maybe even themselves. It may sound like an obvious thing – that good conversation makes for good friends – but it’s actually much more rare than it seems. So, when you find friends like those, hold onto them. Nourish the relationship. Be the best of friends, even when the space between is hundreds of miles and the time until the next visit is indefinite. Because there’s a reason that you can pick up exactly where you left off, and that reason is meaning – meaning found in and through each other. Yes, people go their separate ways, and yes, people fade into and out of our lives, but time apart shouldn’t be a means for apathy. So, reach out. Call up that person you’ve been meaning to call for such a long time but just never got around to. It’s never too late to rekindle a friendship, especially when it’s so easy to begin again, and, in my experience, the best friendships are the ones that ripen with age.