“It’s sort of an awkward job sometimes,” Katie Garfield confessed as she drove from her home in Nashville to visit family in North Carolina for the week. You might have caught her on television during guest spots on Nashville, The Vampire Diaries, or One Tree Hill. Or, perhaps, sang along to her singing in a music mash-up of Adele's "Hello" and Justin Bieber's "Sorry" that's racked up over a half million views on YouTube. When she’s not performing in front of a camera for either of those two mediums, Garfield is diligently writing music for and with other singer-songwriters... but it's not all lights and magic 24/7. Inspiration can strike at any moment, like “on planes, in the car, in the grocery store." Side note: The beginning of your favorite song could have gotten its start in the dairy aisle.
“It’s definitely not always glamorous, that's for sure," she later continued. Though, sometimes, it is. Garfield had the opportunity to spend a chunk of 2016 doing promo for the divisive film Birth of a Nation, which tells the story of the rebellion of Nat Turner. The film gained critical praise after its Sundance premiere, garnering it the Grand Jury prize and sold to Fox Searchlight for a record-breaking $17.5 million. She's flown out to Australia to film the adventure movie Rough Stuff, set to premiere next year, and landed a role portraying Christine of Phantom of the Opera fame in comedy series Party Monsters. Most recently, she wrapped up a leading role in indie film Strings. Despite the beck and call of Hollywood, she calls Nashville home where she work as a songwriter at Young Guns Publishing, which produces original music and works with artists to land them film, television and commercial placements.
Ironically, she didn't grow up dreaming about working in music like some of her peers. According to her, she fell into it accidentally. Garfield turned to writing as a coping mechanism after the loss of a friend. It was a way for her to express herself and sort of talk out loud. She began performing at a local beach-themed coffee shop, which she credits as the place she learned to simultaneously sing and play guitar. “They had the best open mic in town once a week. It was [the] kind of open mic where people would actually sit there quietly and listen to songs,” Garfield recounted. Her early music was extremely personal, but as she grew and got to be involved within the community, her direction began to expand and take on a new direction. “I didn't really know anybody else in music so I wrote just in my bedroom about boys and what exactly it was I was going through during that time. As I got older and I started meeting more people and getting more actively involved in the local music scene, I started co-writing with other songwriters which opens you up to somebody else's experiences and someone else's point of view. It sort of loosens up the boundaries for you as far as what you can and want to write about.”
For the writer who grew as an artist by immersing herself in the culture around her, it’s difficult to imagine a place more fitting to continue that growth than the city often credited as the music capital of the world. “It's a really vibrant place," she said. "The cool thing about Nashville is you can go out any night of the week, Sunday through literally every single day, and there's great live music and people playing open mics and writers around at any bar in town. There's a bunch of listening rooms. There's always something to do in Nashville that is in support of local singers and songwriters and artists.” With so much activity around every corner of her home city, it seems like it would be difficult for her to juggle her music career with her acting ambition. Fortunately for Garfield, each city has their busy season. When she’s spending the summer filming projects, most artists are busy on tour performing as many shows as they can book. Once fall rolls back around and the season ends, they regroup into the studio to work on next year’s summer hits.
“It ends up being like a therapy session for everybody. We all get together and talk about what everyone's working on and going through and thinking about,” she explained of how a co-write works. Her first co-write, however, wasn’t anywhere near her norm. “When I first moved to L.A., I signed a pretty big music management deal and they sent me on a co-write with this gentleman to his writing studio in Malibu,” she recalled. “He welcomed me and said hello and then told me to have a seat in the lobby and then proceeded to walk through the hallway, closing the door behind him.” She sat there confused and texted her manager to figure out what was happening. “He comes out an hour and a half later with a finished song and was like, ‘Here's your song.’ And I was like, 'No, no, no. Sir, I think you're misunderstanding. I'm a songwriter. I'm here to write a song with you!' And he just wasn't having it.” Aside from the initial hiccup, she reassured the rest of her co-writes have been great experiences.
One that stands out in particular was a write where she, fellow Young Guns songwriter Micah Wilshire, and a singer they were working with took a two to three hour break and just talked. In an industry with people stretched in ten different directions, the ability to sit down and really get the chance to open up with one another can be rare. "We all get so busy and we forget that we're all human beings at the end of the day," Garfield admitted. "It was really nice and I lucked out. We wrote a great song and it was great to get to know them both a little bit better and connect because it's not always like that." It's this determination to bring the best job that she can to the table that has been instrumental to building the the career she has achieved so far and looks to continue.
"It's about networking and making a good reputation for yourself, which comes from showing up and working hard. Doing the best job that you can and being pleasant to work with. Every co-write you go into, you have to be present. You have to bring your A-game and work hard and take it seriously. It's the same thing in acting. You've got to do a good job and be fun to work with and show up on time and bring your best," Garfield disclosed the keys to her success with an earned self-assuredness. "Nothing's overnight. That's the bottom line and people who think it is are sadly mistaken. Nothing is overnight and everything takes years and years of hard work and smaller victories that come together and lead to bigger ones."