Richmond singer-songwriter Tyler Meacham’s focused approach to her music is bringing career opportunities to her and great songs to the world.
If anyone ever told Tyler Meacham not to quit her day job, they’ve had to eat those words by now. The 25 year-old Richmond native ditched corporate America to pursue a music career and has quickly started making waves in the Mid-Atlantic indie scene.
Whether on stage or on the record, Meacham’s performances pack a powerful punch. She has a melodic, soulful voice and a natural stage presence – raw talent that’s hard to come by. And she’s much more than just a vocalist. On one song, she’ll be strumming a guitar riff and on the next she’s tickling the ivories, all while singing the lyrics that she wrote.
I was struck by her sound while attending a recent show at The Camel, and just had to know more. Luckily, I was able to talk with her before she and her band head off on a summer tour across the Eastern Seaboard to promote the upcoming release of her debut album.
Hailing from the West End, Meacham has music in her roots – her dad performs in cover bands. But while he may have helped harvest her love of music, he didn’t teach her to play guitar. “I was really stubborn as a kid,” says Meacham. “If you wanted me to learn an instrument, I was going to have to do it on my own.”
So that’s what she did. Meacham taught herself to play guitar in middle school, mainly using YouTube videos for instruction, and then started writing songs. She did a cappella in college and was also in a band while there. “It was just for fun though,” Meacham says. She studied film at Elon University and was dead set on a career in visual arts.
After graduating, Meacham landed her ostensible dream job at Walt Disney Imagineering. “To everyone from an outside perspective, I would be set for life with this job,” says Meacham. “But I found that I was incredibly unhappy.”
While living in Florida and working for Disney, she had almost given up on music. There was even a time when someone had asked her to join a band, but she said, “No, I don’t do that anymore. I have a real job now.”
Eventually, Meacham acknowledged that working behind a desk wasn’t working out for her. “I wasn’t thriving,” she says. “And I just really missed making music.” So, she moved back to Richmond and said, “All right, let’s try this again.”
Upon her return to Richmond, Meacham didn’t immediately start pursuing music as a career. She was still set on making the film industry work for her, so she applied for a video position with a record label in North Carolina. But her passion for making music was getting harder to ignore.
She recalled a conversation with the interviewer in which she was told it would be a really cool position because she’d have artists coming in and she’d get to work directly with them. But Meacham told me, “The whole time, all I could think of was that I’d much rather be the artist.”
Meacham got all the way through the interview process and thought she was a shoo-in for the position, but ended up not getting it. She didn’t feel disappointed or rejected though – the news actually came as a relief. “OK, now I have permission to completely change careers,” she recalls saying. “Maybe this is a sign.”
“For a minute, I felt a sense of failure,” says Meacham. “I felt like I had failed to maintain a ‘real person’ job, but in reality, I just had the opportunity to figure out what I really wanted to do way earlier in life than a lot of people do – that’s a huge gift.”
Support from friends and family made the jump a bit easier for her. While living in Florida, she would talk on the phone with her friends from college. They all told her she should be pursuing music and encouraged her to do an open mic or record something, but she was always looking for an excuse not to. “I was the last person to figure it out,” she says.
As for her parents, they’ve always been supportive of their daughter’s endeavors. “They still come to every show,” she says with a laugh. “Even the late ones that go until 2 in the morning! Plus, they let me go to film school, which is supportive in and of itself.”
Meacham spent 2018 writing a new song every month, posting the demos online and playing three or four open mic nights a week. She started meeting other musicians, who knew even more musicians, and now a handful of those people play in her band.
Now, she’s well past the open mic life and headlines local shows regularly with her band. She has over 1700 followers on her YouTube channel. A live version of her single “Moving On”, which was released in May 2019, has over 9300 views as of today. “Moving On” is available for streaming on Spotify, along with “Rumble” and “No Words”, two other singles from 2017.
She credits the tight-knit atmosphere of the River City’s music scene for the accelerated rate at which the project is moving. “That’s why I love Richmond,” says Meacham. “You spend enough time doing it, and eventually you know everyone else who’s doing it too.”
She and her band have a unique and robust live sound. Meacham plays either guitar or keyboard, depending on the song, and is backed by two additional guitarists, Joel Worford and Nate Hubbard, plus bassist Chip Hale and drummer Brandon O’Neill. One would think they’ve been playing together for years because of the expert cohesion you can hear, but the current band was formed when she was in the studio this past January recording her first EP.
Meacham hopes to release the album this October, but she’s still about $3500 short of the pricetag for all of the necessary expenses, including mixing, mastering, CD production, marketing, and promotion. She’s currently running a Kickstarter campaign that has already raised over $1000 from about 30 backers, but it ends on September 11, and there’s still quite a ways to go.
“It’s a really tough gamble doing a Kickstarter – it’s all or nothing,” says Meacham, referring to the fact that Kickstarter returns the money to the backers if the campaign doesn’t reach its goal. “But we’re going to get it done regardless. I’m not going to let the album sit for another five to six months.” Her determination is palpable and enviable.
The big single off of the EP, “Say Yes”, will be released soon, so keep an eye out for that on her YouTube channel or social medias. You can find her on FaceBook and Instagram. She wishes she could give an exact date, but laments that, “nothing is certain in the mixing and mastering process” — especially when funding is the main factor. The summer tour she’s embarking on will help with that though, especially through merchandise sales.
“Streaming doesn’t really provide anything to artists unless it’s by the millions. The money in music comes from touring and selling merchandise,” Meacham explains. Plus, physical copies of music like CD’s appeal to the consumer as much as they do the producer. “I’ve found that at shows, if you have a CD to offer, people will buy it and ask you to sign it because there’s still something special about having that physical product.” she says. “If you’re on Spotify, you can’t listen to an album and then read the credits. If you’re a musician and a music nerd like me, you want to know who did what.”
Amidst the whirlwind of her sudden success, Meacham still deals with sexism being a female in an industry that’s long been a “boys’ club.” “I’ve developed a thick skin,” she says. There’s been a lot of experiences she’s had that her male bandmates haven’t, such as inappropriate behavior from unruly patrons at gigs, sexist comments, and unsolicited mansplaining about how to play the guitar just after she’s played guitar extensively for a live audience.
She recalls a time when, after she’d taken the stage at an open mic, a guy cornered her at the bar. “He was talking my ear off like, ‘You were great, but you could’ve done this, this and this thing better.’ The feminist aspect of my song ‘You Know Nothing About Me Yet’ spawned from a lot of interactions at bars after gigs, like that one,” Meacham says.
It was impossible not to notice that she was the only female artist to grace the stage at her recent show at The Camel, which featured three bands. That’s the norm for Meacham. It has been ever since she started out by doing open mics in Richmond.
“It’s a little scary,” she says. “It’s something that I take notice of often, but I don’t let it prevent me from doing what I do. People have a tendency to view female-fronted music as a genre, but I just want to make good music and I happen to be a girl. It doesn’t have to be a boys’ club, and I mean that for the industry as a whole – there’s room for everybody at the table.”
Despite the emotional, physical and financial demands of making independent music, Meacham is committed to seeing this through. “Fewer people are going with labels,” she tells me. “There’s been a lot in the news lately about how major labels are really difficult to work with. Artists are losing the rights to their songs. Who knows what’s going to come down the line, if anything, but while independent music is difficult, time-consuming, and exhausting, it gives me so much freedom to navigate this the way that I want to.”
Meacham has big plans for not only herself, but the entirety of Richmond’s music scene. “Independent music is really hard to make, but there’s a lot of people here doing it right now,” she points out. Her hot take is that if we keep going out and supporting live shows, buying merch and promoting artists online, that’s how we take this city from the fringes of the industry to the mainstream. “I’d love to see that happen,” she says, “because there’s a lot of talent here.” And there’s certainly no doubt about that.
Top Photo by Williams Photography
Music Sponsored By Graduate Richmond