The moments that stand out in his career
Franklin resident and Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Matthew West recently released All In, his latest album and most personal project to date. The theme of the album is centered on what it means to go “all in” – with our faith, our family and the world around us. It’s all driven by what Matthew has felt stirring inside of him over the past year — the voice that tells him to make sure he’s not coasting his way through life.
1. Auditioning for my record deal.
I had several auditions in Nashville where I was turned down. It took three years before I got the attention of a record label. I’ll never forget standing in Starstruck Studios on Music Row to sing for the staff of Universal South Records. What I didn’t expect was that I would meet a girl named Emily that day. Emily is now my wife, and this year we are celebrating 15 years married! So I like to say I got a record deal and a wife in the same day. I challenge anyone to top a day like that! Seriously, that memory is such a powerful reminder for me that many times we only see a small glimpse of the bigger story being written in our lives.
2. Writing my first songs in my college dorm room.
I have fond memories of studying music at Millikin University in Illinois. I bought a poster at Walmart that showed me how to play different chords on my guitar. I sat in my dorm room for hours between classes, and that was where I really developed a passion for songwriting. Some of my first shows were performed for the other college students at frat houses and coffee shops like Barnes & Noble bookstore. Those were some humble beginnings, but writing a song and then playing it for someone and seeing how it affected people even back then — that made me come alive. It still does.
3. Hearing my song on the radio for the first time.
I was on my first tour, opening for a big-time band in 2003. They had an awesome tour bus. My band and I followed behind them in a van for six weeks. That kind of trip can get you discouraged in a hurry! We had been driving all night, and that morning we were driving through downtown Denver. I turned on the radio and skipped right past my own song on the radio. One of my band guys shouted, “Turn it back!” Sure enough, my song “More” was playing. All the hard work, all the shows I booked myself, all posters I printed and songs I wrote — in that moment, it was all worth it. The first people I called were my parents because they had been with me and supporting me from the beginning. That song went on to be my first No. 1 song.
4. Discovering the power of a story.
A real turning point in my career and my creative journey was the idea to collect people’s stories and allow others to actually tell me what to write songs about. I’ve collected thousands of true stories from people all around the world, and it has impacted my life greatly. A story of a young man’s battle with drug recovery inspired my song “Hello My Name Is.” A teenager wrote to me about the day her dad walked out on their family and asked to write a song for every kid growing up with divorced parents. I wrote her a song called “Two Houses.” And the list goes on. I still write songs about people’s stories to this day, and I think I always will. In Nashville, we like to say “It all begins with a song.” I like to say, “Every song begins with a story.” This journey with my fans has taken our relationship to a deeper level. Instead of just making music for people, I feel like we’ve been able to do life together.
5. Writing for others.
Before I was offered a record deal of my own, I cut my teeth as a songwriter behind the scenes. Before moving to Nashville, I wasn’t really aware that people actually made a living doing that. I quickly fell in love with that side of Nashville. There is an awesome community of creative people who don’t step on stage every night, but they do step into a songwriting room on Music Row each day and do their best to write the songs that will help another artist make a connection with their audience. Even though I get to make my own records now, I’m still an active part of this community and have been so honored to be in the room writing songs with and for some of my favorite artists in Christian and country music. I get just as excited when I hear a song I wrote for another artist on the radio as I do a song from my own record.