Television shows such as American Idol, The Voice and The X Factor have made being a professional musician what some may call “the American dream.” Viewers have seen down-home country girls like Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood shoot to superstardom by simply being recognized for their voice. Millions of hopefuls are playing bars and restaurants across America, waiting for their break.
One Florida Southern College student got that chance.
Stephen Ellrod, a senior at FSC, has been writing and recording music in Nashville, Tenn. with professionals in the industry for over a year and has since released two singles, Little Things and Country on the Coast, on iTunes. If you wish to learn professional music, the first step is to check this
Ellrod found his start in music when he was 14 years old, after his father bought him his first drum set.
“I started learning it on my own and I got involved in the jazz band and whatever other school organizations that I could,” Ellrod said. “As it became more prominent in my life, we went on a two month tour [with the band he started with] around the U.S.”
Ellrod took up guitar only two years ago for the purpose of writing his own music.
Entering the industry with the intention of performing rock music, he quickly found that there might not be a future in that genre. He was willing to make the sacrifice for what he loved and is now performing country music.
“I’ve had two people ask me why I sold out to go to a different genre and the thing is I want to continue to play music,” Ellrod said. “If you want to continue doing it, you have to at least have some kind of income and I am willing to switch styles because I love to play music and write music. It’s not a sellout for me, it’s ‘if I want to play music, it needs to be in some genre that’s popular right now so I can at least continue to do it.”
Although Ellrod is finding success in his music and playing gigs around Florida, in Tampa, Orlando and Lakeland, as well as continuing shows in Nashville, he still maintains a day job at Neighborhood Ministries.
“Music is my main source of income. It [Neighborhood Ministries] is not for the income, it’s to help the kids. We have underprivileged kids and it’s a good program to kind of teach them. That’s what I do in my 2 to 5 everyday,” Ellrod said.
While Ellrod may seem like the one in a million to break out of his small hometown, he recognizes that there are many in Lakeland who could do the same, given the opportunity, but it takes more than just a voice to break into the industry.
“If you go to Nashville, you need to be a writer or you need to be something because everyone out there has amazing voices and everyone can play their hearts out,” Ellrod said.
He has very simple advice for those who want to follow in his footsteps.
“This is going to sound so cliché, but it really is all about who you know,” Ellrod said.
As he began writing music, he found himself at a studio called Starlight Studios in Orlando, Fla. While working at Starlight, country band Lonestar heard one of Ellrod’s first songs he had written through a mutual friend. They were working on a comeback album and were interested in using his skills to craft their comeback single. Although that opportunity didn’t pan out, it has opened doors for Ellrod and given him his start in the music industry.
“The producers gave me a publishing deal and we started writing. We’ve been recording ever since and we’re working on an E.P.,” Ellrod said. “It’s the complete buddy system in Nashville. So they know you and they’re willing to write for you and send you out to their friends to write with.”
Ultimately he encourages musicians to break out and take a risk. Do not be afraid to leave home or go somewhere new to play a show, because one moment could change your life forever.