April 13, 2021 News & Features » Cover Story

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Music from the Middle 

Tyler Meacham sets uncertainty to pop music.

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Scott Elmquist

Whether dance floors are open or closed, pop music retains its power to move us, distilling complex emotional experiences into art that resonates the moment it hits our ears. 

That immediacy is a hallmark of songs by indie-pop singer and songwriter Tyler Meacham, including her two newest, which arrive via your preferred streaming platform this Friday.

While neither “Unknowing” nor “Nothing Is Easy” mentions COVID-19 by name, you’re likely to see in them some part of your own journey through 2020.

“In a universal sense, it feels like we have been in a place of uncertainty and unknowing for the last year,” Meacham says.

Written prior to the pandemic, “Unknowing” hits extra-hard in light of the roller coaster we’ve all been on – one that’s forced us to come to terms with the fact that, as the song states so succinctly, “safety is no guarantee.” 

“Not knowing when things are going to go back to normal, or whether or not we might get sick one week. ... There’s been so much ambiguity,” she says. 

For musicians, that upheaval has been devastating. The need for social distancing put a halt to concerts, wiping out a vital line of income for an industry already in crisis over meager streaming royalties. Having released her “Property” EP shortly before the shutdown, Meacham felt the financial effects right away.  

“We kept living, essentially, unemployment check to unemployment check for a while until there were opportunities to play safely,” Meacham says. “Even in those opportunities, there was always this internal debate: ‘Is that the wrong thing to do, because it’s still encouraging gatherings, still encouraging people to potentially put themselves in situations where they aren’t adhering to the protocols?’”

Shows at the Broadberry and Brambly Park Winery stood out as high points – the former streamed online, the latter outdoors. Nevertheless, moral questioning around gigging contributed to the pandemic’s emotional toll. Especially taxing was the grief at setting aside a core part of who she is. “Definitely the economic, financial side of things has been a difficult part of it,” she says, “but I think just being prevented from doing what so many of us are here to do … it was so heartbreaking. I don’t think enough people talk about that.”

Seeking an outlet for that frustration, she opened up on social media, finding validation from fellow musicians and a sense of purpose in enlightening her other listeners. 

“There was this kind of confusion about how it was even possible that we were having to deal with this,” Meacham says. “A lot of those conversations became moments to educate people. … Our social media accounts can paint one picture of success and acclaim, or whatever the case may be, and then a pandemic hits and you can’t really run away or hide the truth. Struggle is real.”

The title and tone of “Nothing Is Easy” align closely with that struggle, but true to Meacham’s knack for bridging the personal and the prevalent, the song’s imagery is timeless. Waiting for a frozen landscape to thaw. Feeling stuck between where you’ve been and where you’re going. “I’m somewhere in the middle now,” she sings in one particularly powerful moment. As hard as that lyric hits, given the road to recovery ahead for the music industry, there’s hope in reading it as an invitation to consider the big picture.

“Ambiguity can create so much conflict and so much anxiety,” Meacham says, “and yet it is something that is part of our lives, forever. It’s just something that we have to go through.”

In the meantime, Meacham’s Patreon has emerged as a bright spot. The subscription-based crowdfunding platform may not have the follower count of her Instagram or TikTok, but it’s become a catalyst for community and productivity. “I’ve felt motivated by that really small group of people to share the best of me,” she says. 

In addition to rewards connected to contribution level, patrons can access exclusive studio updates and blog posts on songs’ origin stories. There’s also the opportunity to share feedback, something Meacham has embraced. 

“You’re essentially another member of my band. You’re helping me make decisions and determine how things are going to go in terms of my new music.”

Her next album hasn’t been announced yet, but knowing there’s more of Meacham’s indie-pop on the horizon certainly makes being “somewhere in the middle” more hopeful.

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