We had the good fortune of connecting with Chris Brush and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Chris, how do you think about risk?
On the subject of risk taking, I can say that it is integral to forging any kind of lasting career in the music business. Session players, producers, engineers, really any vocational creative, regardless of how you feel toward the idea of “business”, are all entrepreneurs. I am not sure that this mentality comes naturally to many creatives. It definitely did not come naturally to me.
Looking back, I see that my “plan” was just to be as good as I could at playing the drums and creating music. I figured the rest would follow based on word of mouth, luck, or Providence. I failed to view myself as a session drummer or career musician. Instead, I kept waiting for some sort of external peer-based mile marker that would obviously signal when I could officially refer to myself as a successful musician — perhaps a calendar filled with recording dates, a big tour, being a recognized name around town, etc. Without this validation, I felt that any investment of time or finances — risk — was imprudent at best, foolish at worst.
I suffered a great deal from imposter syndrome, as many do. It felt to me that the only way to overcome it was to amass enough achievements to prove I was not an imposter. The issue was these turned out to be moving targets. What qualifies as a successful achievement? According to whom? In the end, no matter how many milestones I accumulated in my rearview, I never felt any closer to “proving” myself. As a result, I believe I kept myself from taking some risks that might have changed things early on. In my mind, risk always required something frighteningly larger than what I was doing naturally.
With time, experience, and some therapy, I realized that I made the best decisions about what step to take next when I could get in touch with my original passion. For me, it’s the joy of expression I experience playing drums and being able to use my skills to foster community among artists and facilitate their vision. The “risks” that come from listening to my deep passion are always simpler and more immediately doable than the lofty goals of the “shoulds” I carried around for so long. This began to redefine “risk” for me.
As an example, for the longest time, my idea to get noticed and start getting consistent music work just revolved around forcing myself to go places that musicians might congregate and try to make connections. How vague is that? Plus, if left to my own devices, I tend to be an introvert who favors smaller, quiet gatherings. The result is I would often have no energy to go out and meet folks. The “risk” suggested fighting against my nature and manufacturing the courage to “make” something happen. By contrast, once I started listening to my passion, it was so obvious why my previous nebulous “should” approach was so difficult. What excited me about music was individual expression, a person’s own voice, and a desire to compliment that with my talents and work. So, rather than “go out and get noticed”, I would feel that the next right step was to host small gathering of people I had met, or to visit someone’s studio and just ask them about what they were working on and LISTEN (as opposed to finding a way to shoehorn in my highlight reel so they might hire me). Because this latter way was in alignment with my personality and what I loved about my career choice, it was easy and enjoyable and my motivation to do it again and again was forthcoming. I began to naturally make connections and that led to the work I was longing for. My personal definition of risk began to shift.
I always assumed a definition of risk as something that is dangerous or unwise because a successful result is not guaranteed. I learned how to redefine risk in smaller terms — everyday actions that are more in line with my passions. The risk was no longer a wild financial investment or a monumental heart v. head choice. Risk became the casual spending of social energy, of making time to be curious, of listening to my excitement about what I was doing. Sure, the big overarching RISK of whether or not a career in music would work out was always there, but no one step in the process felt too dangerous to engage. When a time came for a bigger financial investment, or a choice to engage in a job at the expense of another, the decisions were a bit easier because they were built on a foundation of just taking what seemed like the right next step. I could take it confidently without having to prove that I earned it or prove that it would pay off.
In the end, I think those smaller risks lead us to where we need to be in a way that the big romantic sea change moments popularly identified with entrepreneurs cannot.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Basically, I get to play drums for a living. That means I work in various studios to record drums for people’s records. Here in Nashville, TN that’s not such an odd thing as plenty of people do that. The interesting thing is that I see a large percentage of work coming from remote clients all over the world.
Over a decade ago I decided I better hang a shingle out on the web to mark my digital territory. Since my other skillset was web development, I figured I could create something professional and eye-catching that would help me stand out above the crowd. I THOUGHT I was advertising my services to producers or artists in Nashville who either needed drums recorded but couldn’t get into a big, well-equipped studio or who were juggling multiple projects and needed someone they could trust to deliver quality results without being micro-managed. I figured it would be one more way people around town could get to know me. I didn’t know that I was reaching out to the wrong clientele.
Fast forward to now and, while I work at other studios around town, a lion’s share of my recording work is providing remote drums for people outside of Nashville from my own studio. My clients run the gamut from pro artists and producers making label recordings to amateur or even first-time hobby recordists. The variety is stunning. I never get bored. In one day I might be playing Amerciana in the morning, Indie-Rock before lunch, Country after, and Metal in the late afternoon.
The challenge has been learning how to adapt my offerings and change my messaging to suit this reality. I mentioned my first site iteration was aimed at people in Nashville who are in studios all day, make their living from creating music, and are deeply imbedded in the commercial music industry. When work coming through the website kept putting me in touch with clients outside of Nashville, New York, and LA, I began to realize a missed opportunity.
My content used terminology and assumed a familiarity with recording procedures and concepts that are just part of the background radiation in a commercial music town. Clients who were no less talented, but not part of that scene, didn’t always understand the concept of sessions (pre-defined blocks of time) or the difference between demo and master recordings (where the intended usage of the recorded performance has a bearing on the price of the session). What’s more, many clients had never worked with studio professionals before and so just did not know what you could expect of a session player. Do I have to tell them what to play ahead of time? Can I trust someone else with my musical vision? Will they send me individual drum tracks or a finished, mixed product?
It dawned on me that attracting and satisfying clients from all over required an educational component. Successful client relations required asking questions, a lack of ego, a willingness to meet clients where they are, and a fostering of trust via phone, email, or WhatsApp that eased their mind about allowing me creative input on their precious endeavors. I ditched the commercial session-based pricing scheme and started charging by the song. I created videos explaining what a session player does and what someone can expect. I changed my website content to be much more explanatory and added an extensive FAQ section. Realizing a lot of first time clients only had experience with programmed drums, I gave people the opportunity to download demo drum tracks to play with and hear the quality difference.
Over time, the changes I made resulted in clients feeling they got to know my personality through my content, and feeling more comfortable trusting someone who lives often thousands of miles away with their projects. Embracing the educational aspect of what I do gave me an advantage and revealed to me, in addition to drumming, that I love sharing what I’ve learned with people. It has allowed me not only to work consistently but to build relationships with people all over the globe all while doing what I love.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
If I had a friend visiting Nashville and they had never been before, I would try to balance our time between things representative of the city and things special to me. I loathe the touristy area of Broadway downtown or generally anywhere where pedal taverns abound and bridal bachelorette parties congregate. That said, you still have to drive downtown and see the madness so you can say you have.
If they had an interest in music, I might take them to the Country Music Hall of Fame or the new National Museum of African American Music. I would then drive them down historic music row or the city within a city of Berry Hill where many classic studios and publishers set up shop. I might try to get them in for a tour of RCA Studio B where early country and rock history was made, or a tour of somewhere currently recording hits like Blackbird Studios. If they were into vinyl I might swing by Grimey’s or The Groove.
For architecture and nature lovers, I might suggest a trip to the Parthenon (if you can believe it, Athens, Greece and Nashville are sister cities), a hike at Lake Radnor, our a tour of Cheekwood — the estate of the Cheek family who started what would become Maxwell House coffee turned botanical garden and art museum.
If my friend was a history buff, I might offer to take them around to some sites that have been preserved from the antebellum days like Belle Meade, or Civil War spots of interest like the Carnton Plantation, the Carter House, or Rippavilla. If they had a taste for the macabre, I might take them to the solitary plaque that commemorates the 1918 Dutchman’s Curve Railroad Crash — the single worst railway disaster US history.
For foodies, I have a long list. I would suggest a cocktail downtown at the Standard, hot chicken from Princes (the originators of hot chicken as I understand it), a burger and a brew at Burger Republic, BBQ from Edley’s in the trendy 12th South district, Bibimbap from Soy Teriyaki Bistro in Brentwood, Pho from Vui’s Kitchen, burritos or fish tacos from Baja Burrito, or any number of unique eateries in East Nashville. For someone with a sweet tooth and a love of baked goods, I think Five Daughters Bakery would be a must.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There have been so many that have encouraged, taught, and helped me along the way. First, my parents for encouraging me and enduring the hours of contextless banging as I practiced. Next, Dr. Ed George at Abilene Christian University for seeing promise in me enough to throw me into the deep end and fostering a love of theory and jazz.
Once I moved to Nashville, I met so many throughout the years that encouraged, supported or instructed me. Just a few of them that come to mind are individuals like ace session drummer Steve Brewster, guitarist Rico Thomas, mix engineer F. Reid Shippen, and the faculty at Nashville Jazz Workshop. They all helped me learn the lay of the land, hone my skills, and opened the world of recording to me.
A huge thank you is due to my longtime studio partner, Mark Lange for inviting me to participate in his dream for a top notch home studio and his excitement in seeing people come together to create good music. Without him I would not have gotten experience with all the tools I now regularly use to do what I do.
I could go on forever. I only hope that I can be as true a compass, mentor, friend, coach, and teacher to those who come after me.