Ever wonder what it takes to be in a band? People think it’s easy just get up and play guitar or pound on the drums but there’s a difference between doing it for a half hour for fun and doing it every day as a career. There is no guarantee there won’t be more to the job than just playing a couple hours per night. Usually there’s quite a bit more to it than what the public sees!
Country fans are as different as those they go to see. While we might go see a solo artist those who see multiple shows get a unique chance to follow band members too. Fans know their names – Montgomery Gentry’s Wild Bunch, Darryl Worley’s the Crew…and while they might be the music and voice behind the voice of a lead singer they are just as talented to be up there on that stage doing what they do. For Stephen Cochran’s band the New Country Outlaws Ryan “Smitty” Byrne has handled bass duties on the road as well as closer to home.
“I’ve always known that I wanted to play music for a living. When I was a young boy I wanted to play music in a famous band.” From the 4th grade he played saxophone, then learned to play electric bass a couple years later. Graduating from high school he moved to Boston Massachusetts to attend Berklee College of Music. “As I got older I realized that there were all kinds of other ways to make your living in the music business besides just playing in a famous band. So I think going to college for music just helped me to realize all of the different ways in which I could be involved in the music business.”
What advice would he give other music hopefuls? “Well, for me personally, having a college degree in music helped me to feel and be more competitive when vying for work. It’s true that a college degree is not needed, but like everything else, the music business is changing and becoming increasingly more competitive. More and more young players are moving here with some sort of degree in music, whether it be performance or business or production/engineering etc., and I think they have a huge leg up over somebody without that degree.”
While it’s true you can’t learn creativity you can learn business and the music world is very much a business. “I would even go so far as to recommend a music school located in one of the major music-industry cities such as New York, Los Angeles, or Nashville, because often times the faculty is comprised of people that are extremely well-connected to the movers and shakers of the industry. But then again, I graduated from a regional state university in New Hampshire and I have managed to jam my proverbial foot, or at least a few toes, in the door.”
That initial toe in the door came with the formation of Nostalgic Distortion in Plymouth New Hampshire while attending Plymouth state University. The original lineup was Ryan on bass/vocals Eric Dussault on guitar and John Girouard on drums. Ryan comments memorable moments included “having our first album, a 5-song EP released on cassette tape entitled “H.I.C.K” (Heavily Intoxicated College Kids) get reviewed in a national college magazine called “Link: The College Magazine”; Hearing our songs on our local college radio station, performing live for the annual conference of the New Hampshire Associations of Broadcasters, and having later albums featured on a syndicated indie-music radio show called “The Studio” (which later became known as MoJo Live).” ND music is still active including representation on myspace, twitter and facebook.
In October 2004 Ryan moved to Nashville to find another level of music career. How did he come to find the opening? Much of any job (or business) is networking. “When I first moved to Nashville, I networked and played for a few artists around the local bar/club scene for a couple of years. In doing so I met (future NCO members) Mike Barnett and Mark Erhardt.”
Ryan continued “Mark became the band-leader for Stephen when he got his deal with Aria Records and set up auditions to put together a touring band. Mike was positioned to become the drummer for the band and tipped me off about the bass auditions that were going to be held. So I called up Mark, scheduled an audition time – and luckily, they liked me.”
Of course this can seem like a shortcut and there was years of experience before then. Some things you can only learn in the thick of things. “I played in ND for 10 years before moving to Nashville, so I just got a ton of practical experience out of it: Things like dealing with poor sound systems, still putting on a good show when there is barely anybody in the club, recording in the studio, promotion, it was all preparation on a smaller level for the kinds of things I ran into here in Nashville.”
Since joining with Stephen Cochran’s New Country Outlaws there has been some changes. Before show time Ryan disappears and like Superman “Smitty” appears, brightly colored Mohawk in place.
“With Stephen, my most memorable moments: The making of the “Friday Night Fireside” video and seeing it air on GAC; Hearing our songs play on various radio stations across the country as we’re touring; Playing for like 40,000 – 50,000 people at Jamboree In The Hills in 2007 and again just recently in 2009; Playing Times Square in NYC for New Year’s Eve 2008 on international television for Fox News Channel; The 17-day AFE tour to the Middle East to play for troops in Kuwait and Bahrain; the making of the “Wal-Mart Flowers” video.”
If he had to do it over is there anything he’d do differently? “I might have made the move to a major music-industry city a lot sooner. I didn’t move to Nashville until I was 29. But at the same time, I was a lot more mature when I moved out here and perhaps that helped me stay focused on why I came out here – instead of possibly moving out here at a younger age and getting distracted more easily by things like drinking and partying.”
“It’s pretty much exactly as I envisioned it. Stephen is an indie-label artist, so there aren’t as many “luxuries” as some of the major-label acts have. But we’re traveling the country playing music and that is a pretty cool job to have!”
Check for ND online and listen to Stephen Cochran’s cd to hear Ryan “Smitty” Byrne on bass. Look for a Stephen Cochran show near you and go see them!