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Interview: Emily Fullerton on Balancing College & a Career in Music

TuneCore Artists come in all shapes and sizes: from hobbyists to full-time touring musicians, singer/songwriters and MCs to indie rockers and classical pianists. No matter how they differ, each is leading their own unique musical journey with ups and downs, struggles and opportunities. We do our best to offer a platform for different TuneCore Artists to share their stories, as we know without a doubt others in the community will relate!

Enter pop artist/songwriter Emily Fullerton. Balancing a music-focused college career and a budding music career, Emily attends Belmont University and lives in Nashville. Both the city and the school are destinations for aspiring artists, so she is not alone! Like other independent artists in her position, Emily must both complete a four-year education while building a network within a crowded music scene. She’s released her debut EP Daylight and her latest single “Take Off” via TuneCore. Emily has also been invited to be on a web series called Road To Nashville. We wanted to know how one works to use all of these experiences to complement each other, (while also maintaining some level of sanity), so we invited her to discuss it! Read more below.

Deciding to go to school for music requires commitment. When did you know for sure you wanted to pursue a career in songwriting?

Emily Fullerton: I took group guitar lessons after school when I was 10. The first songs I learned were by The Beatles. I loved it and knew I wanted to make music.

What kinds of efforts have you made during your schooling to better prepare yourself as a businessperson?

I’ve been networking like crazy. I go to Belmont University in Nashville and while you don’t have to do the academic thing to be in music, being here has really helped me make connections with people. The professors and mentors want to be there for you as a person, artist, and songwriter. They want to see you do well and they are always willing to help you out.

I’ve had some pretty cool opportunities come my way while living in Nashville and every single one was sparked by a connection from Belmont, whether it be a professor, classmate, or a friend. I don’t really like using the term ‘networking’ but that’s what it is. I believe that I’ll get to where I need to be in the business through the relationships I have with people.   

How would you compare those efforts to the experience of getting out there and gaining real life music business experience?

So far, I think it has been a balance between the classroom and ‘getting out there’. I have classes that teach me about publishers, PROs, and labels. There is a lot to learn about the business side and I want to learn as much as I can. But I also get out there and perform as much as I can. I do writers rounds at different venues in Nashville, and I have had a few opportunities to play in DC and some other events as well.

On that same note, what kind of network have you started to building in Nashville and on campus?

Like I said before, Belmont is a great school for making connections; the relationships I have made there with the professors, mentors and my friends have opened up a bunch of opportunities for me. When I was in high school, I hosted a benefit concert at the Hard Rock in DC for a school project. One of my mentors connected me with Richard On of O.A.R., and he has helped me a lot through encouragement and advice throughout this whole process. I guess I have been building the network since I really started getting serious, and Belmont and Nashville have been huge catalysts. But I got started on the right path with help from Richard and a few others.

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Emily & Richard On of O.A.R.

What were your expectations of a city like Nashville? Were there any misconceptions?

Coming from Washington, DC, my definition of a city is very different from Nashville. I didn’t quite understand how different life would be like without a major metro system or a lot of diversity, (whether that’s ethnically, economically, or politically). I knew that Nashville was going to be an amazing place for me to grow as an artist and songwriter. I wasn’t wrong about that. I was wrong about how different life in Nashville would be compared to DC. I’m a city girl at heart: I love walking everywhere, dealing with the crazies on the street, and that fast paced environment you feel when you’re in a city like DC.

Nashville is a great place, it’s the pace that’s different. I have to say I am still learning how to adjust to these things. There is something very magical about the “laid back-ness” of the south. People are so nice to you. That “southern hospitality” is real. They claim that DC is still the south but people aren’t as nice there as they are in Nashville. I’m glad that I have had the chance to make Nashville a part of my journey. It’s such a vibrant and cool place for an artist and songwriter to learn and grow.

Have you found mentors and resources for inspiration in a city buzzing with likeminded musicians? Or is there a competitive nature to the scene?

I think going after a career in music puts you in a lot of sink-or-swim situations. You’re either going to crumble under the pressure to be different and talented, or you’re going to hustle and be yourself throughout the entire process. Yes, there is a competitive nature in Nashville and at Belmont, but it’s nothing compared to what I’ve heard about L.A. or New York.

One of the most inspiring parts of my Nashville experience has been going to songwriting class at school. I’m not sure why, but there is something that seems so powerful to me about a group of young aspiring songwriters who are all committed to helping each other grow. It’s magical, heartbreaking, and encouraging all at the same time.

How did you discover TuneCore, and how has it played into your overall musical journey?

I discovered TuneCore during the summer of 2013. One of my favorite producers from the D.M.V. area, Mark Williams at Sucker Punch Recording Co., told me about TuneCore. A lot of artists and bands he had worked with used it, so I checked it out. It has been a great and easy way to get my music out there. As an independent artist, the process of creating and sharing one’s music can be very intimidating, but TuneCore helps simplify the process.

Tell us about Road To Nashville and your experience on the web series.

Road To Nashville is a reality web series on AwesomenessTV based on the lives of five singer/songwriters in Nashville. I was one of the five featured cast members and let me tell you, it was a blast. The entire process of being on a web show was incredible. From the audition to the last episode, I feel like I learned so much from the experience. I learned how to be comfortable in front of the camera, how I wanted to be perceived as an artist on camera (including how I did my makeup, hair, wardrobe etc.), and I also got to meet some pretty cool people along the way.

During the entire filming of the show, we had a vocal coach, live performances, studio time, and interview sessions. This is one of those opportunities that I came across through a connection with a former Belmont student. I didn’t even know exactly what I was auditioning for when I got there because it was such a last minute thing, but it ended up working out in a pretty cool way.

What advice would you offer to a high school or college aged songwriter considering enrolling in a program like the one you’re in?

I would say make sure that music is your ultimate passion. Music programs are competitive and the business is even more competitive. If you feel like this is what you’re meant to do, no one can stop you, but many will try to. Work hard, don’t get discouraged, and be ready for the challenges and rejection. This sounds pretty harsh but it’s true. College is an investment no matter what, it’s a student’s responsibility to get as much out of it personally, artistically, and socially as possible.

Take advantage of the programs your school has but also take advantage of the city that you’re living in. I still have to tell myself over and over again that every song I write will not be good. Every live performance will not be flawless. It’s okay. These opportunities are designed to build and nurture you. I’ve had an amazing experience so far; attending a music school is a great place to start if you’re looking to become an artist, songwriter, or any part of the music industry.