Leap of Faith: How Abby Anderson Walked Away From a Record Deal and Found Success Being Herself

Since Abby Anderson was just a kid, she wanted to be a performer.

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Now, at 24 years old, she’s making that dream a reality in the music mecca of Nashville, Tennessee. First hitting the scene in the 2010s with a wholesome style and sound, her 2018 single “Make Him Wait” became a small hit, garnering millions of streams on Spotify. After that, she released her debut EP I’m Good and went on a whirlwind media tour which included television appearances, opening slots on major tours, appearances on “Best Of” lists, and more. In short, it appeared as if she had “made it,” and her dreams were becoming a reality.

But, as time passed, Anderson realized that she wasn’t entirely satisfied with her situation—in fact, the cognitive dissonance began to build-up to the point where she knew she had to do something about it. While she was enjoying the success, she felt like she was being untruthful about who she was; she was suppressing her true self in order to fit the expectations of what others wanted her to be. 

Eventually, it became unbearable and Anderson did the unthinkable: she walked away from her “dream” record deal.

But that wasn’t the end of Anderson’s story—really, it was just the beginning. Once she freed herself from the binds of expectation, she found that she actually had quite a lot to say. Teaming up with a new crew of creative collaborators, she got busy writing and, ultimately, produced a whole new batch of songs. Now, those songs are coming out—just earlier this month, she debuted the empowering single, “Bad Posture.”

Sitting down with American Songwriter, Anderson dove into her story and explained her perspective along the way, illustrating how she was able to grow from one phase of life to the other, bringing her inimitable spirit with her along the way. Read the conversation below:

American Songwriter: When did you first move to Nashville? What was it like getting acclimated to the scene there?

Abby Anderson: When I was 15, I told my parents that music is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be an artist, I wanted to be a performer—because I was 15, I wanted to be famous. That has always been the dream. To my parent’s credit, they let me homeschool so I could travel and perform more. I graduated high school early and moved out to Nashville when I was 17. I lived with family friends for a couple of months before I could sign off on an apartment. Then, I did the ‘Nashville grind’ of playing every show I could. I played all the bars on Demonbreun, and The Listening Room, and the Bluebird. A couple of years after that, I signed my first record deal. So, I got pretty lucky.

AS: Your debut EP, I’m Good, came out in 2018—after that, you experienced a great deal of success, appearing on television and on stage alongside some of your heroes. Yet, there was a bit of a discrepancy between what you were experiencing and how you felt about it. What can you tell us about that time?

AA: It was so exciting. I was on tour with Brett Eldredge at the time—which, I don’t think an artist on my level had any business opening for him, but he took me out on the road anyway. I mean, here I was, 19, and all of my dreams were coming true, right? I had the record deal, I was putting out music, I made my Grand Ole Opry debut, I met all these artists who were supporting me. I don’t think I had time to think. It was just like, “Hey, this is the first single; now country radio tour; now Grand Ole Opry debut; now put the EP out and let’s hope it’s a big hit,” you know? I wasn’t thinking about my future. Honestly, it was so busy that I was just thinking about getting through the day and planning my schedule for the next day, making sure I could get at least four hours of sleep at night. 

But there was that discrepancy, which started rearing its head in 2019. I had all these expectations for myself and I was feeling a lot of that pressure. When “Make Him Wait” didn’t become the No. 1 hit that we thought it would, we all felt that it was time to pick the second single… and I felt pretty lost. I felt like I was recording music that other people wanted me to, and I didn’t really speak up about it. It was just kinda like, “Okay, whatever we think is gonna work, let’s do it.” Looking back now, I realize that I was functioning under survival mode, just wanting a radio hit and that success. 

I feel bad saying this because a lot of my fans like my old songs—and I still love them too. They represent a part of my life that I look back on and smile. But they also make me want to hug my younger self, and just tell the 20-year-old Abby, like, “Just record music you like! It’s going to save yourself a lot of heartbreak and it’s going to save a lot of people a lot of time.”

AS: What did you do once you started to realize you were feeling that way? What was it like when you started thinking about walking away from the record deal? 

AA: I felt scared as hell!

AS: I’m sure it felt like a leap of faith?

AA: Yeah, I mean, it was almost like a leap out of necessity. It was something I knew I had to do. But it was hard on both sides. On one hand, here’s this label that’s put a lot of time and money into me, and I didn’t want to disappoint them. But at the same time, I felt like a disappointment to them every single day. I had to try to convince myself every day that I liked what I was doing… that’s not fair to them and it’s definitely not fair to me. I was just tired of pissing people off every day. I felt like I was too this or too that or too loud or too goofy. It just came to a point of bad business—I wasn’t what they were looking for anymore.

I mean, I signed my record deal when I was 19 and put out a song about frickin’ celibacy! A girl goes through a lot of changes from 19 to 24… thank God. What I realized was: so long as I was trying to make everyone around me feel peaceful, it makes me feel out of control and chaotic. That’s what it came down to—I was finally leaving the record deal. That was the first thing I finally did for myself and my inner peace.

AS: What was it like when you finally left? Did you feel a release of all that tension? 

AA: Absolutely. I mean, if I’m being really honest, the first couple months after I left that record deal, I think I cried every single day, just because it felt like I was releasing so many feelings and emotions that I had been suppressing for the last two or three years. There was a lot of healing to do, but, gosh… it was so scary. It’s like, “Okay, you got out of the record deal—now what?” Thankfully, I was at a songwriter’s round one night singing, and I met my now-producer Marshall Altman. He came up to me after the show and was like, “I don’t know why, but I feel like we need to work together. Want to come to my studio and we can just start writing and see what happens?” We got to know each other for a while and decided to make a record… then we wrote this album, top to bottom, in two weeks. It just felt so inspired. It was the most fun I’ve ever had creating, because I felt like, for the first time in my life, I had nothing to lose.

AS: During that time, you wrote your latest single, “Bad Posture”—what can you tell us about this tune?

AA: I wrote that song along with my good friend, Anna Voss, who’s a badass songwriter. We wrote it at the top of 2021—we hadn’t seen each other all year because of COVID, so we were just sitting at my place, catching up on everything. I told Anna, “You know, I just don’t understand why I felt the need to shrink myself in order to make everyone around me feel more comfortable. Why did I feel the need to be quieter, to be less goofy, to not draw so much attention to myself? It even got to the point where I was slouching over because of my body, feeling like men would look at me the wrong way or whatever.” Then, Anna said, “That’s funny—I have a song title in my phone drafts called ‘Bad Posture.’” As soon as she said that, I got chills all over my body, and I knew exactly what that song would be about. We wrote it in 20 minutes. It’s everything I’ve been feeling for the past couple of years, and honestly, my whole life.

AS: What can you tell us about “Insecure,” another one of your new singles?

AA: I love this song so much. It sounds like a breakup song (and it is), but really, it’s about the breakup I was having with my old self. Everything I learned, everything I had gone through… it’s a love song for who I am now. I went through so many moments of painful insecurity—you listen to people around you tell you that you’re too this or too that or that you need to do this or you need to do that, you shouldn’t talk this way or say those things… I mean, it was just debilitating. I felt for so long that any move I made would be wrong. Especially if I were to be my full self, I was so scared. I was afraid of making anybody mad. So, that’s what “Insecure” is about. 

AS: Well, you’ve got these singles out and even more music on the way—how do you feel now? What’s the future look like for you?

AA: Oh, I just feel so full of joy. I still have moments of sadness and disappointment and whatever, but I can still feel joy in those moments. It makes it this “whole.” If I didn’t feel sad, I couldn’t write songs about sadness. If I didn’t feel disappointment, I wouldn’t write songs about disappointment. The same goes for happiness, all those feelings are so necessary to enjoy life. I’ve also realized that I have so much more to learn. It’s kind of a comforting thought to know that you don’t know shit.

As for the future, I’ve got a whole record coming out next year, so that’s going to be released, we’re going to get back out on the road and I’m gonna just keep chasing the dream.

Abby Anderson’s new single “Bad Posture” is out now—watch the music video for it below:

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