When You Come to a Musical Risk, Take It

This post is the latest in our ongoing collaboration series with the fine artists and people involved with Muddy Paw PR. Enjoy!

I recently finished writing a song I had started, and it was unusual. It was unusual because I started it in one room of the house I was renting, and finished it in another room of the place where I was living….nearly 900 miles away.

No, I’m not talking about a summer beach house or a timeshare or something like that. Instead, this all came about because of a big career risk I took. That was to leave virtually everything I knew behind—my friends, family, backing band and collaborators—and quite literally packing up a moving truck and relocating from upstate NY to Nashville, TN.

At the beginning of recording my first full-length album, Take The Risk, I faced an epiphany that put me through the emotional gamut. Despite the fantastic musicians I was sharing the stage with, a circle of supportive family and friends, positive word-of-mouth about my songs and live show, and a steadily growing fan base, I needed to move. For a variety of reasons, the connections, opportunities, and avenues for my career to continue on a forward path just weren’t there.

This was an absolutely terrifying thought. I kept myself distracted with the recording and all that was going on with it. Because of schedules, gigs, and so on, we were often working at odd hours, and there were plenty of artistic choices to be considered, tracking to be arranged, and problems to be solved. Then, late one night, still buzzed off of the overdubs we’d added to a track and how great the final playback had sounded, I weighed my options. I could stay and play it safe, always saying “What If….?”. Or, I could gamble on my gut instinct and move somewhere else. At worst, I would fail, and at least I would know it wasn’t meant to be. The choice then was easy.

I wanted a city with a music scene that would be sympathetic to me: a high-energy rock and roll singer-songwriter whose music draws on a variety of genres. I wanted to balance my love and respect for these roots with a thirst for exploring new sounds in them. There were several shortlisted names, but Nashville stuck out as the clear winner. It was a city that felt honest, that would “get me” and where I was trying to go with my music, and crammed with studios, musicians and industry pros in town. And with its “big small town” feel, pride for its history, and positive vibe, I knew I could feel good living there too.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing from there on out. There was the matter of where to live.  Completing the album stretched out far beyond anything I had imagined, for reasons beyond any of my control (more on that some other time). Goodbyes had to be said to various people. Small details (like bank accounts), and big details (like how I would get my car there when I would need to drive a moving truck down) had to be ironed out. I pinched pennies and stuck to a tight budget. I had some very stressful days and coasted on little sleep for a lot of it, until I found myself a resident of Nashville, loving every adventure each new day brought.

Right now, as I write this, I’m working on finishing a song that I started writing….after I moved here. My album is about to come out, bringing new opportunities and possibilities. A friendly promoter in town gave me advice on venues where I can play out and who to contact. I have a meeting next week on Music Row. A song from the album was recently shortlisted for a sync spot in an independent film. I’ve only just gotten started, and there’s a lot more to do, and a lot more work that I’ll have to put in. I knew that when I made this decision, when I paid my first month’s rent, when I was doing the 16-hour drive in the moving truck, caught up in traffic jams, construction and unexpected lane closures that put me constantly off-schedule.

I know what I’ve done is not for everybody. You may not want to move far from home, play a final show with your current bandmates, or live in Nashville (on that at least, I would quickly ask “Why not?”). You may not need to do any of these things, because your life and musical career are going just great now. But what I hope you’ll take away from all this is that you and your music are not limited by any circumstances but those that you put yourself in. Advancing your career will require you to take chances and roll the dice to move forward, in all sorts of ways. So, like I named my forthcoming album: Take The Risk.

What’s a young rock-and-roll musician to do when he finds himself at an artistic crossroads? For Bryan Howell, the answer was simple, even if getting there turned out to be anything but: his first full-length album, ‘Take The Risk,’ which drops August 5th. The sheer amount of one-in-a-million happenings that brought it all together could very likely fill a book. Instead, they’ve been distilled into an album filled with energetic street-poet rock songs, with some achingly gorgeous change-ups lending the whole thing a fulfilling depth. Onstage, it somehow goes further. Tall and thin, with a shock of high-swept hair, he dances atop speakers, high-fives audience members, or Cheshire-cat-grins as his bandmates, affectionately refered to as The Standalones, play alongside him while cradling his trusty, beat-up Telecaster. The passion and energy is palpable—and you can bet that same energy comes through on ‘Take the Risk.’ You can keep up with Howell and listen to his brand of street-poet rock HERE.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.