Many Country fans and listeners think of the genre as what they hear on the radio and the few favorite artists they listen to daily. In reality, there is so much talent and music out there that you probably have no idea about. The sole reason I started UPstar. Music was to highlight amazing artists and songwriters that may not get mainstream attention yet, but deserve the love like they are. Some of these folks are working side jobs, playing on Broadway and living paycheck to paycheck in order to chase a dream that may never come to fruition in the way they had hoped when they first moved to Music City. Every person chasing this crazy music dream has a different story, has dealt with different experiences and has felt the highs and the lows of the industry. Some of these artists make the big stages and the spotlight while others don't and I promise it's not for the lack of talent.
I met Todd way back in the early days of UPstar. Music in 2019 and we instantly had a connection. Todd is one of the best guys I know in Country Music and has always kept it real, and has shown me and UPstar. Music tremendous respect. He has believed in my vision from the start. When I met Todd he was transitioning from being part of a duo to starting his solo career. He felt as though this was his opportunity to release songs that were authentic to him and tell his stories and experiences. That is exactly what he's done since. Todd Cameron is criminally underrated in Country Music, but in the last few years has gained traction on Spotify with over 224,000 monthly listeners and has crushed it on YouTube with 20.5K subscribers. I sat down with Todd and talked about his emotional and true single "Tennessee Ya Later", the shift in his musical journey from the college days until now and what songwriting should really be about.
Get To Know Todd
"I am from Princeton, West Virginia and spent the first 24 years of my life in West Virginia. I grew up on a farm with Christmas trees and black angus cattle and raised a couple horses in between. My whole life was centered around hunting, fishing and being outside riding 4 wheelers - things like that. Later it was going to the dirt track on the weekend, cruising the strip and the drive-in movie theater... there wasn't a whole lot to do. That was my life for years and I loved every second of it.
I took an interest in music at a young age. I started out taking piano lessons at my house and that evolved into watching music videos on CMT and MTV. Watching those music videos made me want to play guitar. I kept begging and begging for a guitar and finally one Christmas I got one. I was able to play it in the church band a little bit, stayed with it and took lessons all the way up until high school. I didn't start writing songs until college. I started thinking about what all my favorite songs have in common and it was the lyrics, the structures, the stories, the melodies... all that stuff and that led me to wanting to write my own songs. I became addicted to that. From there I started playing full band shows which was amazing. Going from playing in a church band to playing in front of some amazing crowds in the bar circuit.
In college I was writing songs, figuring out how to play in front of crowds and put on a good show. I was really into Rock, but could never get people to latch on to that side of me. So it bled into Country Music because that's where the lyrics started going. I grew up in a small town and have all the aspects of a country guy, but I love Rock so I fused the two together and that's really what my sound is. I went to Marshall University and met a couple guys and we formed a band. I eventually moved south to Nashville 6 months after graduating college. From touring all over West Virginia to Nashville.
Early on when we were touring West Virginia we sucked... but we loved playing. It wasn't about the money, we just always wanted to put on a good show and after everyone was drinking we sounded pretty good. Our focus wasn't so much on our own songs, it was about playing shows and finally we moved to Nashville. When I got here all I did was network. I didn't have my first co-write until a few months in when I met this guy at Loser's. He was a great artist and we started writing. Back then it was all about burning it up on the road and chasing songs like "we need a song that sounds like this" or "we got to write a song for this big artist". Fast forward to now, my songs now are all stories or experiences that have happened to me over the last 10 years. They are things that actually happened and I’m learning to craft and shape them. My whole perspective has changed; now it's now about finding the right fans and the fans that resonate with my music."
Raw, Real and Uncut
In Music City you will hear a lot of drinking songs, songs about love and heartbreak, and don't get me wrong... songs with these concepts can be very authentic to the person singing them. But it's a lot more rare to find an artist that will dig deep and put a song out that hits rather deep and is very personal. As many play it safe and put out what artists think their fans want to hear, Todd Cameron released "Tennessee Ya Later" which embodies the harsh realities of Music City and talks about the things that people don't tell you about Country Music. Todd pours his heart and soul out in each line and verse and uses this song as almost a swan song to his music career (don't worry he's not quitting and is still releasing music). This song acts as a turning point from chasing a dream to having the mature perspective of understanding even though he may not sell out stadiums and have #1 hits, he can still find success on his own and have those true fans that believe in his music. Todd has done a phenomenal job of finding his true sound as he infuses his love for Rock with the life he knows growing up as a good ole country boy. Raw, real and uncut is what you get with Todd Cameron's music. Even if you can't relate to this song from the side of the music industry I know we've all had a dream that took us on alternate routes and obstacles faced in order to get us to exactly where we want to be.
Inspiration Behind "Tennessee Ya Later"
Written By: Todd Cameron & Sam Grow
"I started to use this title in another co-write and we got nowhere with it... not even a word. It was a 5 hour venture between 4 other guys and nothing happened and it lost the authenticity of what I wanted it to be. I was going through a tough season last fall, and I questioned my life in music... I was so burnt out on this industry and just tired of how everything was playing out. So those guys gave me the blessing to take the title elsewhere to write it. I actually took it into a write with Sam Grow who has been instrumental in my music career in a short amount of time. I told him I had the title and that it encompasses everything I feel and that if I ever gave up music, this would be my going away song. The way I envisioned it was, "if this doesn't work out... then Tennessee ya later". We wrote about how there's so much I love about Tennessee, but there are things in Tennessee that broke me by being here in the music industry. And that's a true statement for me. I know there are artists out there that have been chewed up and spit out by Nashville and can really relate to this. This isn't going to be a song that a lot of people can relate to specifically on the music side. However, if there is anyone who’s had a big dream or something they chased and never felt like they were given the same opportunity as those who have "bro'd" their way to the top, took advantage of the hookup culture or stepped on someone else's back to get there, they may relate. That's just me being honest. I'm not going to say it any other way."
Q & A With Todd Cameron
Q: As a songwriter, how has your writing and perspective changed from when you first arrived in Nashville until now?
A: "I think early on I was chasing a sound and chasing what's popular. Instead of writing for the future and writing what's authentic to me I was trying to write the next hit song. I feel like a lot of artists do this. I think there are a lot of songs I wrote that are okay, some songs I wrote that are good. The songs I wrote that are great are limited and I’ve got a few in the storage shed that I'm holding on to. As far as crafting songs, I was writing just to write and was writing everyday. Now, it's not the quantity, it's the quality. Before I even play a snippet on my social media, I will listen to it over and over and see if I can beat any of the lyrics and live with it for a few days. Before it was "we need this type of song" and of course you don't want all the same type of songs. Writing these songs all come from an experience or something I've witnessed someone else go through. I take these personal experiences and learn to craft them and dig deep to make them relatable to everyone. Songwriting isn't low hanging fruit, it's something that's well thought out and you have to work at every day. For me it's sharpening my pencil and saying whatever I need to say. I don't listen to what others are doing or putting out in Country Music. I actually listen to other genres to get ideas for melodies and how I can infuse other genres into my sound and into Country Music. I know my sound now. It took me a long time to figure it out, but I know who I am and the songs I want to put out to the world."
Q: What's been your biggest failure/lesson in your musical career to this point?
A: "My biggest failure stemmed from a couple different things. Definitely the comparison avenue to allowing alcohol to consume live shows. It really affected not only me, but my band as well. What I learned from those experiences was how you carry yourself in person is very very important. Who you present yourself to be online shouldn't be different from who you present yourself to be in person. I try to be a genuine person who writes songs that people can relate to. I try to focus on the important things. Those past experiences of drinking too much at shows, losing important gigs and things of that nature have really shaped me. Also, keeping your circle tight of people who truly support you is crucial. There are so many cliches in Nashville and one of my biggest mistakes was confiding in people who ended up not being who I thought they were. I think a lot of people in general feel this way. You realize this when you step out of groups and they don't ask where you've been. You know for a fact that those people who didn't support you when nothing big was going on will be the first ones knocking when you do hit your stride and things start to happen."
Q: What does music mean to you?
A: "I think for me it's a self reflection tool. Music is healing for a lot of people and can be storytelling as well. Music is soul fulfilling for everyone and every person has those songs that can really have an effect on them. For me, a lot of it is a reminder of the things I've overcome and the blessing God has put upon me to be able to play music and be a voice for others. I'm thankful that I can turn any situation... positive, negative, whatever it is and the inspiration behind it and turn it into a song that anyone can listen to and relate to. It's a blessing to have something (a song) that puts you on the same wavelength as so many and to be able to connect and be a small part of people's life. I will say this a million times... and a million times more, all credit to anything I've done, where I'm at, even for all the times I may have cussed him or been upset with him and not understood the reason and feeling frustrated, I thank God for those experiences. It has all played a part in getting me to every stepping stone, big or small, depending on where I'm at. If this journey ends tomorrow, I'm thankful for it."
Q: Why do you do music? And what do you want fans and listeners to take away from the songs you put out and your musical journey?
A: "I want people to feel a part of events that have inspired me as though they were standing right next to me. I want the fans to be friends. I want them to feel like I can take them through the musical journey of my life with each song. But I also want them to say "wow... that takes me back" to a certain memory or moment in time and also "wow... someone else gets what I'm feeling". I want my fans to realize that I'm writing songs that people can relate to and not putting out music just to put it out. More than anything I want people to feel like they know me through my music."