A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of sitting down with my friend, Jessica Eppler of The Prairie Scholars. During our conversation we talked about the role music plays in her life, and her experiences as a full-time musician in Longmont, Colorado. The following pages capture our time together that afternoon:
Faith: So… my first question is, “How long have you been making music?”
Jess: My earliest memory IS making music. When I asked my mom about this memory I have, she told me I was about 3. She’s a piano teacher, so there’s a piano in the house. It’s about Christmas time, my mom is in the kitchen making food, and I am at the piano picking Christmas songs out by ear. I would finish one and she’d go, “Alright… ‘Silent Night,’” she’d, you know, throw one out there, and I’d pick it out by ear. Just one note at a time kinda thing. But yeah, my earliest memory is picking Christmas songs out by ear! [laughs]
Faith: Crazy. So, you must have an amazing ear to be able to pick that out at 3 years old.
Jess: I’m not sure how well I was doing, but… I was doing it. [laughs]
Faith [laughing]: It was well enough that your mom could recognize the song.
Jess: Yes, true. That’s something. So, yeah, music has been in my whole life.
Faith: Cool. So I guess because your mom is a piano teacher, I guess she was making music while you were in utero?
Jess: Oh, for sure. She was probably teaching before then too, and she and my dad would play together. He plays a little bit of piano and guitar, but mostly plays the drums. They both sing, and my mom does piano and guitar, and a little bit of cello. My brothers are both musical, too. One more than the other, but… [laughs] They’re both musically inclined.
When I was a kid, my mom had a home studio. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be in the house during teaching hours. My brothers are older than me so they’d keep an eye on me. We’d either go upstairs or go outside. We were never supposed to go inside to the main room. I would tell them, “Hey, I’m gonna go make us a snack…” And I’d sneak inside ‘cause I knew when the really talented students were coming. I’d go sit by the door and listen. I’d tell my mom later, “I want to learn that song that goes like this…” and I’d sing it to her. And she’d go, “Where’d you hear that?” [laughs]
But, yeah, I’ve always liked it. I’ve always wanted to do it. I didn’t necessarily think about doing it for a living, but… You know, it’s funny how the skills that you have are what you have to work with in life. So now I do music for a living. [laughs]
Faith: Nice. And how long have you been doing music for a living?
Jess: Oh… I guess full-time, this will be 3 years. but I’ve had my fair share of day jobs. I had 7 years at Starbucks. You know, just trying to get health insurance and pay the rent. [laughs]
Faith: The American Dream…
Jess: Yeah… my husband, of course as you know, Andy, we do music together. He’s been full-time for almost 3 years, too. Mostly, it’s been a lot of playing music, but accidentally learning skill sets like how to keep your books clean and fill out paperwork. Reporting all your income. Your miles that you drive. Receipts. We keep receipts when we spend money for the business, you know, like this. This coffee is a tax write-off because I’m being interviewed about music.
I actually wanted to go to college for psychology, and it was my parents that influenced me to go for music. Which is totally opposite of most people’s experience with their parents. They said, “Try it for a semester, and then if you don’t like it, go for psychology, that’s fine.”
But once I went, I loved it. I met Andy and things just kinda fell into place. I just kept moving forward with it. My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t be able to find a job because I knew I didn’t want to teach music and didn’t know what the options would be. But I’ve made my way. I’ve found a job. Made my job. [laughs]
Faith: There it is. You studied music, but was it for performance or…?
Jess: It was called “Commercial Music” And it was a program at South Plains College in Levelland, TX. You take classes like songwriting, music history, some theory classes, vocal lessons. My major was in voice because I already knew how to sing and read music, and I figured it would be the easiest thing to major in. [laughs]
There were classes like “Performances and Promotion.” I had one really amazing professor who I’ve never forgotten, and I still send him thank you notes. His name was Scott Faris, and he took the time to sit down with me one-on-one, and teach me how to do Turbo Tax, he taught me what kind of information you need to keep if you want to do music as a business. What you need to be thinking about. So I’m forever indebted to that man.
Andy went to school there too but he went more the recording route. We took all the same classes, but I kind of favored the promotion, booking, contracts, numbers side of things, and he kind of favored the Pro Tools, sound engineering side of things, and so together, things just clicked into place. We have some overlap: song-writing, playing and that, but it’s good that we have pretty different skill sets so we can cover a broader spectrum together.
Faith: ‘Cause to make it full-time as performing musicians you need to have both of those…
Jess: Yes, most definitely.
And, you have to find a lot of legs to stand on. You can’t just play shows. One, your body is going to give out eventually. Two, our business model is that we’re staying local, we don’t want to tour so we can’t just play the same show for years. We’ve put out at least 12 collections between the 2 of us. That was the last count from last year, and I just put out a piano album in December, so it’s more than that now.