Cal Poly alumna Carolyn Mescher is making her mark in country music as a Nashville recording artist.
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Carolyn Mescher was just another statistic adding to the large percentage of college students who change their major. Halfway through her educational career at Cal Poly, Mescher switched her major from music to business administration.
She had every intention of becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) — but that changed when she saw a performance by country musician Miranda Lambert.
A 2010 Cal Poly graduate, Mescher moved to Nashville to pursue her dreams of becoming a country music artist a few years after graduation. Her first album, Rockin’ M, was released at the end of this past month.
Singing in the barn
As a shy young girl, Mescher was most comfortable singing in the privacy of the barn in the back of her parent’s property. Eventually, she started singing in choirs for musicals and was cast as Sandy from “Grease” in her senior year of high school.
“As I grew up and became more comfortable with who I was and more accepting of myself, I cared less about what other people thought and I became less nervous,” Mescher said.
Though she didn’t always crave the spotlight, she loved expressing herself through music. Mescher wrote poems and songs, took voice lessons in high school and came to Cal Poly as a music major. Her musical aspirations were put on hold halfway through college when she realized she also loved business.
After completing her degree at Cal Poly, Mescher simultaneously worked a publicity job at the Ventura County Fairgrounds and studied for her upcoming Certified Public Exam. One performance changed those plans forever.
“When I saw Miranda Lambert perform, that night, I couldn’t sleep all night,” she said. “It wasn’t until 5 a.m. that I realized I wasn’t done with music — I have to move to Nashville because I cannot sleep, because I am so excited about this.”
Ventura County Fairgrounds Publicity Director James Lockwood heard her talking about the performance and how she wanted to be a singer and songwriter.
“I told her the best way to do that is to move to Nashville and immerse herself in the business and get to know the right people,” Lockwood said. “I had heard her sing for the first time at the rodeo. She sang the national anthem, and I was blown away by her voice. As a musician, I think she’s fabulous.”
With that encouragement, Mescher packed her bags and moved to Tennessee to pursue her dream. She started working as an accountant for Caterpillar Financial Services during the day and sang at night, at the many writer’s nights held around Nashville for aspiring musicians.
One month ago, just before her new album came out, Mescher quit her job at Caterpillar and started pursuing music full-time, which she said was the proudest moment in her career so far.
“Quitting my job, I took all the stability out from beneath myself,” she said. “It is scary, and I think for me that took the most courage, to just 110 percent go for it and make this happen. I don’t want to wait around for anyone to hand me opportunity.”
Her new album
The story of her move to Nashville and the many nights of performing at Writer’s Nights and other venues can be heard in “When the Lights Read My Name,” the third track on her album.
“Everything in that song is completely true, when I have been traveling, having this good education and working for a great company and leaving that to pursue music full-time because it wasn’t fulfilling enough for me; it’s not my path,” she said.
That song is one of Mescher’s favorites because it’s older; she found buried in her computer. It didn’t have any music to match the lyrics, but she liked its message so much that she edited and added to it, and started recording it the next day to round out her album.
Songwriting has always been a part of Mescher’s talents as a musician, but her skill is constantly developing.
“It’s putting the deepest part of you into three minutes and then letting the world hear it,” Mescher said. “To make that transition was more an emotional thing for me and how I am, or how I am becoming okay with showing that part of myself to the world.”
Her inspiration comes from her surrounding environment, her four older sisters and listening to strangers.
“A lot of (the) time, it’s things I hear people saying around me, whether it’s my friends or my roommate or people standing beside me in line,” she said. “You hear a story being told or even just a single line, it sparks something in your mind and then you create a story around that, which pushes the song forward.”
Some of the songs on her album are about heavier subjects inspired by stories she has heard from the people around her.
“There is a song about child abuse, one about having a kid when you are not quite ready, and those were based on people around me, people that I have heard their stories,” she said. “I hope that people can relate or get some sort of peace and strength from hearing those and connecting with them.”
Recording in Nashville
Mescher chose a studio on Music Row in Nashville to record these songs and the rest of Rockin’ M.
“To be able to record here, you are working with the best musicians in the world, the best songwriters in the world,” Mescher said. “And I know that the quality of anything recorded here is going to be pretty fantastic.”
The musicians playing on Mescher’s album have also collaborated with country artists Lady Antebellum, Hunter Hayes, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill.
Working with these professionals and learning how much is involved in recording an album has been quite an experience for Mescher.
“It is very exciting hearing what you heard in your head build into tracks that other people can hear,” she said. “Being able to share that with people is amazing. When people do react and get really excited about it and dance along, then you know that you have done something right in writing that song. That’s what music is all about — connecting with someone and moving them emotionally or physically if they want to dance.”
The business and music connect
Mescher’s background in business, including her networking skills, has helped her market herself as an independent country musician.
“More than anything, my business major is helping a lot in music,” she said. “Ultimately, the music industry is a business to make money. I think a lot of musicians and artists are focused on the art part of it, which is really important, but they kind of miss the business side.”
Mescher will start touring at the beginning of April in the southwestern United States.
“I really want to be at the forefront of (the independent country music movement), and that is also why I am choosing to go after these shows and tour when a lot of artists wouldn’t necessarily jump in at that level,” she said. “I think getting a fan base in a larger area will help spring my career to the next level.”