Some artists are born with a gift that just needs to be developed and nurtured. They are naturals and create and perform with ease. Tyler Thigpen is one of those artists. I interviewed this remarkable 16-year-old this past weekend about his music, his life, his hopes and dreams, and his no-nonsense straight up approach to becoming one of the best musicians out there. His doesn’t mince words or hesitate when asked for his opinion. With a relentless work ethic and exceptional talent, there is no limit to what he can achieve. He’s got his priorities straight, putting family first, and makes no excuses when it comes to getting the work done. What follows is Tyler’s bio and my interview with him. He is already playing legendary national venues like The Cat’s Cradle in Chapel Hill sharing the stage with the likes of Squirrel Nut Zippers member, Stuart Cole .
Sixteen year old Tyler Thigpen lives in Chapel Hill, NC but commutes to Durham to attend an arts school there, the Durham School of the Arts. Tyler composes his music and lyrics. Then, he sings the vocals and performs all the instrumentation, which includes electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, synthesizer/keyboards, and drums. The multiple tracks are recorded and mixed with Pro Tools. For live performances, Tyler is joined by a bassist and a drummer.
When did you first pick up a guitar and what inspired you to focus on music?
I wanted to be a musician since I was around three or four years old. My parents had hundreds of CDs in the house and I wanted to listen to all of them. When I first heard bands and artists like Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, The Who, and Santana, I knew that I wanted to be a musician. I started classical piano when I was seven and first played an acoustic guitar when I was eight. I would play a lot on my acoustic until I got an electric guitar at age eleven.
How do you feel about the direction of the music industry today?Do you think you have more opportunities as a young independent artist than other musicians your age did 20 years ago?
I think the music industry is pickier than it was in the 1960s and 1970s. The sound has to be very polished and produced instead of the loose, laid-back records like Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland or the Allman Bros’ Eat A Peach, which have more improvisation and spontaneity than the albums that come out now. I think that I have more opportunities today than I would 20 years ago because of Youtube, iTunes, Reverbnation, and other websites like that. However, it is difficult to be noticed when there are millions of other musicians trying to get noticed. Nevertheless, I think that it is much easier for an independent artist to build a fan base than it was for independent artists 20 years ago.
Do you buy CD’s, Vinyl ,or digital singles, or do you mostly listen to streaming platforms like Spotify and Pandora?I do all of them. I like to go to a record store when I can and browse through CDs and vinyl to find an album that looks interesting. However, it is hard to compete with a program like Spotify when all you need to do is click on a song and it’s there and you don’t need to pay anything.
Who are some of your musical heroes and influences?
Led Zeppelin, The Who, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Frank Zappa, Radiohead, The Beatles, James Brown, Howlin’ Wolf, Bob Dylan, Foo Fighters, Elvis Costello, and Miles Davis are a few of my influences.
Who are your top 10 greatest guitarists of all time?
From number one to ten: Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Alex Lifeson, Jeff Beck, Randy Rhoads, Buddy Guy, Frank Zappa, Eric Clapton, Tom Morello.
You are a serious musician, even at a very young age. How do you find time to balance school, music, family and friends?
I don’t usually hang out with my friends after school or on weekends or anything. I usually talk to my friends at lunch or in between classes. I spend some of my time after school playing guitar and on weekends I record songs in my music studio at home. I spend a lot of time with my family at dinner and on weekends.
How many hours a day/week do you practice and write music?
I usually spend about 45 minutes to an hour daily practicing guitar after school. Most of the ideas for my songs happen during that time. Also in two of my classes at the Durham School of the Arts, I play guitar in jazz band and (classical) guitar ensemble and some of my song ideas happen in those classes. So, I probably play music for about 15-16 hours per week.
Any interesting projects gigs or events coming up for you in 2014?
I am currently finishing up my 2nd album, which will be entitled Crepe Myrtle. It will probably be out in about 2-3 months. I play all the instruments, sing, and write all of the music and lyrics.
What is your end goal as an artist?
I want to be a professional musician. I’m in eleventh grade and I’m currently preparing to apply to the country’s top schools for contemporary music. So, my end goal is to be playing music for a living for the rest of my life.
What do you see as your biggest obstacle in music, when looking to the future?
Figuring out how I can become a part of the very small number of artists that make a living by playing music professionally.
As a sixteen year old, Tyler represents one of the most important demographics in the music Industry. Top promoters, agents and yes, Labels, look for insane talent coupled with YOUTH when scouting for musicians. When Industry professionals want to know what is selling and why, what sites are most important, and who is reigning supreme on You Tube, Spotify and in the clubs, they look to Tyler’s age group for that info as well. You can have a great career as a professional musician at any age, but super-stardom is reserved for the young. So if you are thirty should you throw in the towel and never play another note? Of course not! Just be realistic about what is possible as a more seasoned musician in today’s Industry. You can make a great living and shake things up at any age. It takes years to develop as an artist; it’s not a quick fix. It also takes a relentless work ethic and creativity with the music and with the business itself. YOU are responsible for your success, no one else.
I have been lucky enough to hear Tyler play many times in very intimate settings and my jaw dropped. With his dedication and talent, he can really have a fabulous career. Time will tell. Remember the name, Tyler Thigpen…you will surely be hearing it for years to come!