Tyler Barham: Working on a Nashville Dream


Dreams without application are barren hallucinations. Dreaming is the easy part, living the aspiration thoroughly is the challenge. Exhausting your energy, playing your harp until your lips bleed, picking strings until your fingers are sore, now that’s the hard, gutsy part of living the dream.

Tyler Barham is fully invested in his dream – a fantastic trip with a trajectory that could one day get a whole lot more unbelievable. He may yet hit pay dirt in a mainstream-superstar-household-name, Billboard-topping, sort of way. Barham is fresh off a two month recording session in Nashville, Tennessee. When his new EP “Don’t Cage This Heart” debuted on iTunes recently, it zipped to No. 10 on their country album charts.

“I taught myself how to sing,” says Barham. “I started singing when I was nine. I never really had lessons. At 18, I taught myself how to play the guitar. Just singing Karaoke tracks was getting old. There was more I could do.”
YouTube and Facebook have helped Barham forge a path in the wilderness, to reach a global audience in the UK and Germany and beyond, and to attract fans across the United States. As testament to the power of social media, Barham tells the story of how he played a show at a coffee shop in Greensville, North Carolina, well-attended thanks to a simple Facebook post. “That feeling I get knowing that people have come to watch me play is amazing,” says Barham. “I did a show in Nashville and I know of two people who drove 14 hours, roundtrip, to see me. That’s a cool feeling.”

Barham spent four months in Nashville, without a vehicle, living with independent music producer John Griffin, who helped him acclimate to the city’s epic club and country scenes. Barham saw quickly that every bar, coffee shop, and restaurant in the city revealed a talented musician struggling or aspiring to fulfill their dreams. Nashville’s notoriously competitive nature is no tall legend.

“It’s getting harder,” says Barham, born in Bozeman, raised in Florence, now living in Missoula. “Way back when, you could walk into a record company and, if they liked your sound, they would sign you right then and there. Now, the whole business end and aspect of music is much more intense. Passing other artists on ITunes, is how you get a record company’s attention these days.”

Barham found mentorship in the person of Griffin, who contacted Barham after happening upon one of singer’s YouTube videos. “John believes that you never know how great you can be unless you try things out,” says Barham. “He has shown me that Nashville is a great place. The hard thing about Nashville is that that there is always someone on the next block who is better than you. That gives you more inspiration to do better.”

Barham’s has gone from experimenting with posting covers on You Tube to writing and selling original music and having his own songs downloaded and covered. He understands that audiences find original music more meaningful, personable, and a sure sign of creativity. “I’ve learned that a three minute song can take days to write,” says Barham.

He has racked up a solid following of country music fans who are sharing in his journey.  Along the way Barham has come to realize that, as a self-reliant, small-town kid of modest means from Florence, Montana, he is often looked at as an inspirer. This role he never planned for, but he accepts earnestly.

“I’ve had people tell me that after finding out about what I’ve been doing, that they put up their own videos on You Tube, started singing, or even learned an instrument.”

At 22, Barham has ample time to chase and secure his dream. Nonetheless, he is not immune to feeling the time crunch and pressure of his highly competitive surroundings. “The realistic window, at least the way I’ve heard it works in music, is that sometime after 25 or 26, it starts getting really tough to build a career and image. Music gets younger and younger with each generation. It’s a lot like sports.”

But Barham’s optimism dwarfs his self-doubts.

“I have lots of momentum right now,” says Barham. “My ultimate goal is to take the steps needed to get signed. Hopefully, I can land a record deal and make a full-time career out of my music.” Exactly where Barham – an unpretentious kid who works at HuHot Mongolian Grill – is heading is uncertain.

But if the ride comes to an abrupt halt tomorrow, he can state with unequivocal pride that at least he embarked. “If it all ends tomorrow, I’d be happy with where I’ve gotten already.”


Check out this YouTube video of “Meet Me In Montana” by Tyler Barham and Cassey Walker. Photos by Make it Missoula’s good friend, Mark Mesenko.


Read more of Brian’s stories about the fascinating places and personalities that shape Western Montana in his blog archive.


Brian D’Ambrosio is a Missoula writer, editor, instructor, and media consultant. D’Ambrosio’s recent articles have been published in local, regional, and national publications, including High Country NewsUSA TodayWisconsin TrailsBark MagazineMontana Magazine, and Backpacker Magazine.

His latest book about legendary vigilante screen actor Charles Bronson, Menacing Face Worth Millions, A Life of Charles Bronson, is available for purchase on Kindle. He is also the author of Montana Summer: 101 Great Adventures in Big Sky Country. D’Ambrosio’s next book, Desert Horse: A Life of Marvin Camel, a biography of the Montana boxing legend, will be published by Riverbend Publishing in 2013.