Written by Leah Turner, 2021 November/December Guest Editor
Videos by American Songwriter
Dreams: we all have them, but how many of us actually follow them—throwing caution to the wind? Are they simply something we subconsciously entertain overnight and wake up from, or are they the things we daydream about? At three years old, with curly, blonde hair and my token pair of Wranglers on, I sat at my grandmother’s piano, mesmerized by the pretty sounds my little hands made. I had no idea, at the time, that tickling those ivories would later help me write and sing my heart—and, down the line as a budding songwriter, inspire me to keep my eyes peeled for this very magazine to come in the mail.
Dreams don’t come with a ‘how to’ manual. They’re not a ‘one size fits all.’ But what is a one-size-fits-all is the “never give up” mentality—the sacrifices, the ups, and downs—that “dig deep in the saddle, and when you get bucked off, get right back on, never giving the dust of fear a chance to settle” mentality. The journey to achieving your dream can look a lot like sleeping on air mattresses, endlessly working day in and day out at a job you hate. At times, it’s yelling, screaming, punches thrown at the air, tears, and many, many four-letter words. None of this is included in the dream manual.
In 2014, after 10 years of putting in the work to get to Nashville, my career took off—starting with a record deal at Sony. A worldwide publishing deal, top-notch management, and my dream booking agency soon followed, along with a Top 40 single, “Take the Keys,” and opening spots for Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts, and Jake Owen, among others. This all happened in an 8-month span—and all to get a call after that 8 months from Sony’s president to let me know I was being dropped. Losing my label deal was just the start. A few weeks later, I was dropped by management, and a week after that, my boyfriend, at the time, ended our relationship. Devastated doesn’t begin to cover it. I dried my tears and got back to writing, releasing some new songs, and an EP. They went nowhere. I was no longer part of the industry machine—another tough pill to swallow. All the people that were once calling, the schedule that was once booked solid…all gone. It was like a ghost town.
But, just like the great Dave Grohl says, “when one chapter ends, you find another layer to who you are and reinvent yourself, digging deep in that saddle.” From Nirvana drummer to the Foo Fighters frontman— talk about fearless! That’s exactly where I have found myself: reinventing myself, loving my skin, embracing my Mexican heritage, and carrying that into my music. Turning the “no’s” to “on’s” (my dad’s saying) and taking the dream even further.
I’ve always said songwriters are the unsung heroes of the music business, just like pickup men are the unsung heroes of the rodeo. Songwriters rescue an emotion from the artist’s and listener’s hearts, just like the pickup man rescues the cowboy when they get hung up. Songwriters like Natalie Hemby, Aimee Mann, and artists like Trisha Yearwood have done exactly that for me. Being in rooms with the likes of these ladies has rescued my heart and helped my experiences dance on melodies. So, if you are ever feeling like it’s not going to happen, dig deep in that saddle and believe in yourself—don’t worry about what people think, throw caution to the wind, and go for it. Who knows–you may find yourself one day sharing your story in American Songwriter!
Leah Turner | 2021 November/December Guest Editor