Did you know I used to run a country music website?
It was called Country Music News Today, and in hindsight, had I stuck with it, it could have been something. But I started working in the music industry and priorities took me elsewhere, and the website simply faded away.
I spent hours working on that website. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I could write and I knew I loved country music. I googled everything and anything to teach myself how to do things like embed photos, make them link places when clicked, and even create a hyperlink within my text. It was roughly 2007, the days of uploading an image to a place like Photobucket to share it elsewhere, and the internet was a very different, relatively new, place.
How did this whole thing become a thing to begin with, you ask?
Well, that’s a fun story.
I went through a nasty breakup. It was crippling. Most breakups are in the beginning, but for some reason, this one lingered. I had trouble eating, burst into tears at the littlest things, and had progressively worse “attacks,” so much so that I turned up on my grandma’s doorstep one night when my mom and stepdad were gone and asked her to call my dad to take me to the hospital. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t stop crying, and couldn’t really even say for sure what was wrong. I was terrified.
In the days that followed, I was diagnosed with anxiety and put on antidepressants. I took a leave of absence from work and withdrew from classes at the local community college. I needed time, space to heal. Looking back, I’m almost embarrassed by how that particular breakup wrecked me, but it was my second nasty breakup within a year, and I suppose that takes its toll on a girl.
Without much to fill up my days, I started taking walks. I stuck to the same route, from my mom’s house to my great uncle’s shop and back again, over and over, but it got me out of the house. I would take my iPod with me, filled with whatever country songs were popular at the time. Music helped. I started finding inspiration in the lyrics, comfort in the melodies.
I also read The Secret during that time, but I’ll save you my more “woo woo” side for another day.
Slowly, the fog lifted. I went back to work, weened myself off of my daily Lexapro, and found myself recommending songs to my co-worker Mary, who also loved country music. One day, she said to me, with no real knowledge of my love of writing, “you should write about music.”
And so, I did.
Yep. Country Music News Today started on MySpace.
I started off by writing stories from press releases. I didn’t know that was the point of press releases back then, it just felt like the thing to do. Then came album reviews. Song reviews. Posts like “10 Songs I Wish I’d Written” and “5 Up and Coming Artists You Should Know.” I spent an insane amount of money on concert tickets, driving all over the state of Virginia to see an artist in the name of a few good photos and a concert review. I even took a notebook and wrote down the setlist and any observations from the show. I dragged my cousin Jessica to a lot of them. My mom to some of them. And at some point, I shrugged and started going alone.
MySpace took off. People started following, reading my blogs, messaging me with story ideas and their opinions on my pieces. I wanted – needed – more content. I sent emails, MySpace messages, even commented on posts of artists I wanted to interview. I started small, with artists I can’t even remember now, and taught myself how to interview – how to ask questions, how to listen – truly listen – to their answers, how to ask the right questions to get more out of them, how to record what they were telling me so I could use it later. I was flying entirely blind, and relying completely on instinct, but it was somehow working. And perhaps even more miraculous, I was managing all of this around a full-time job AND a full-time course load at the local community college.
I must have never slept back then.
The artists got bigger. I’ll never forget the day a publicist reached out with the opportunity to interview Jason Michael Carroll. He was a somewhat local guy my friends and I had heard play around Charlottesville several times and he had “made it” in Nashville. “Alyssa Lies” was on the radio and he was touring like crazy. I don’t remember a thing about the interview, just that it happened and it was good enough to make it onto his website. He was my first “big interview.” I finally told my parents about Country Music News Today then. My constant requests for better internet – we were still dealing with dial up back then – and all the time spent on my laptop made more sense to them then.
Then came Lance Smith. I was a CMT/GAC junkie at the time, switching between the two music channels all day, every day. I loved watching Lance Smith host CMT’s Top 20 Countdown. He was charismatic, good at his job, and I wanted to be him one day. His publicist reached out and set up an interview about his children’s book. For whatever reason, this was the interview that freaked me out. This guy was someone I looked up to, wanted to emulate, and I had been asked to interview him.
I was in my first semester of my first year at Tennessee at that point, and I knew I needed a little help. I nervously walked up to Lisa Gary who taught my intro comm class – a class of hundreds – after lecture one day and asked if she could give me advice on how to interview. She set up time for me to come to her office, and I think, was a bit surprised at what I had concocted with no idea as to what I was doing. She told me I needed to meet with Jim Stovall, a professor who was leading the charge on the transition into a more digital-based approach to journalism (I was a journalism major right at the cusp of the transition from print to digital). I met with him and he told me about this thing called Twitter that was going to change the social media landscape.
So hey, I’ve been on Twitter since basically the beginning.
He encouraged me to move off of MySpace and so, I did. I figured out how to buy and domain and build a website, how to use social media to grow my following and even how to address things like others “stealing” my material. I certainly didn’t learn graphic design skills, thinking back, but you can only be good at so much, I suppose, and that’s a skill I’m still not going to claim on my resume.
Country Music News Today proved to be a cornerstone and a launching point. It’s something even now, with virtually no trace of its existence, that I’m proud of. It got me my internship at GAC, which led me to a lot of incredible opportunities. I’ve interviewed some of country’s biggest stars, including Rascal Flatts and Keith Urban at their Grand Ole Opry inductions. I cried like a baby during Keith’s, and got to be backstage for Loretta Lynn’s 80th birthday celebration at the Opry. It was days after I got back to Nashville following my grandpa’s funeral, and Loretta was one of his favorites. I was emotional then, too, trading texts with my aunt Crissy about how badly I wanted to tell Papa: “I got to ask Loretta a question!” She assured me he already knew.
When I look back at that version of me, the one not afraid to throw her hand up in a press conference with a country music legend alongside journalists with a lot more time and credibility in the industry than myself, I can’t help but wonder: what happened to that Sarah?
That Sarah hustled. She spent every waking hour available to her working on her website. She missed a lot of nights out with friends because she had a deadline. She boldly sent blind emails to publicists and record labels, asking for interviews even though she knew most of them would go unanswered. She found ways to get the photo, the meet-and-greet, the chance to be in the room for round robins. She stayed up until 1 AM or later every single night of CMA Music Festival, and was back in action by 9 AM the next morning, “too damn cheerful” and completely excited to be there.
This version Sarah gets a lot done too. I work hard. I keep a lot of plates in the air and most of the time, I manage not to drop any of them.
But you know what? I’ve gotten lazy. This isn’t some profound insight into “work less, not harder” or anything trendy like that. This is an honest reckoning with myself. Sure, I get a lot done. I teach a barre class, I go to work, I train. Sometimes I meet up with friends or deviate from the plan in another way, but when I get home, I get lazy. I sit on my couch for a few hours, thinking about all the things I want to do and not doing them. I’ll reply to emails, do marketing stuff for the studio, and program from my personal training clients, but that’s not every night, and more and more, I find myself going to bed annoyed at myself for wasting time.
I have a big vision for this space. A BIG vision. I’ve spent a lot of time talking myself out of that vision. There’s been a lot of imposter syndrome going on, a lot of fears talking, and a lot of convincing myself that I’ll “do it tomorrow.” Country Music News Today Sarah would have done it already, whether she knew how to do it or not. I don’t know when I lost the ability to make like Nike and just do it, I’m annoyed enough with myself now to try and channel that old version of Sarah. She threw spaghetti at the wall and hoped it stuck. I’ve been waiting around on the perfectly plated presentation. Spaghetti? It’s messy. There’s no such thing as a perfect plate.
Beside, I have a few ideas on how that love of country music and this fitness passion of mine can come together. Maybe Country Music News Today isn’t all that dead and buried after all.
I’ve just got to send a few blind emails first.