‘Oh, what a life’

issue 01 | winter 2023
Parker Bailey ’23

As America celebrated its birthday, Parker Bailey ’23 sat alone on the balcony of his fourth-floor Nashville apartment, strumming a guitar and writing a song about gratitude.

There’s your mother
dressed in white
With your father
by her side 55 years
No shortage of tears
Still, they cherished every night

Fourth of July revelers were headed out for an evening of partying in a city built on that spirit. In the distance, fireworks illuminated the night sky, their percussive booms adding to the festive atmosphere.

Bailey, 21, wasn’t in town to chase good times, however. He came to Nashville for a summer internship at Round Hill Music, which satisfied a Global Commerce requirement and offered him access to an industry that’s had him in its spell since he first picked up a guitar at age 8.

Bailey, who’s published more than 50 songs, believes inspiration comes randomly and that an artist must surrender to it when it beckons. On this extended holiday weekend in 2022, he spent two days sequestered in his one-bedroom apartment along Music Row, taking his first crack at writing a country song.

’Cause you can’t
buy time
You can struggle
but you can’t fight it
Lesson learned,
a bridge unburned
Make a friend

Bailey’s summer in Nashville was an extension of his time at Denison. He wants a well-rounded education preparing him for a career in music on both the creative and business fronts. It was a three-month stretch of networking with musicians and producers, learning the fast pace of songwriting at his internship, and bartending at a local high-end club to earn a few extra bucks and operate in the orbit of the city’s movers and shakers.

And if it meant spilling mac and cheese on his pants while helping caterers set up for a lunch at Round Hill Music, he was all about proving his worth.

“I’m fortunate enough to be down here for the summer and to have this opportunity,” Bailey says. “It’s about saying ‘yes,’ working hard, and grinding through it. What scares me the most in life is standing in one spot and remaining there. So when I get a chance to put myself in a new position, I’m not afraid to get uncomfortable.”

A guitar in his hands

When a young Parker began pestering his parents for a guitar, Amy Bailey sought the counsel of his elementary school music teacher.

The instructor’s advice was concise: Buy a high-quality instrument and don’t let him quit for at least 18 months.

Bailey played his Little Martin acoustic guitar until his fingers bled.

“There were times when it was frustrating at first as he tried to play songs,” Amy Bailey recalls. “But he was just so happy with a guitar in his hands. We would be late to parties because he was in his room playing instead of getting ready to go.”

Both Bailey and his younger brother, Gavin, excelled at lacrosse at their suburban Chicago high school. But as Bailey grew older, his passion for music won out.

He fronted his first band, The Spins, in high school, entertaining classmates in neighborhood garages and basements. His second band, Runner and Bobby — a name he still records under — began producing songs that generated a following on audio streaming services such as Spotify.

Fall For Her (Nobody Else)” is Bailey’s most popular tune to date. The song “For Marcy” was turned into a music video that was filmed in England, earning him a trip to London to witness the production.

“Parker not only has the songwriting skills and talent, but he has a great work ethic,” says award-winning composer Ching-chu Hu, professor of music and director of music theater at Denison. “It pushes him to strive to never be satisfied with what he has and always pushes him forward to try to make it one step better. That’s something, in a way, you can’t really teach.”

Bailey visited several campuses before deciding on Denison. The appealing ingredients of an innovative music program and a highly adaptable global commerce major baked into a liberal arts education were too good to pass up.

“I talk with my friends about this all the time,” Bailey says. “I’m so glad I came to Denison. I wanted to be challenged in a variety of ways, and Denison does that for you.”

Making connections

On a humid afternoon, Bailey sat wedged on a stool in a walk-in closet converted into a recording booth. The space, with its padded walls for optimal sound, was so narrow that he barely had room to maneuver his acoustic guitar.

For more than an hour, Bailey made repeated trips into the booth — one located in a suburban Nashville house — to lay down vocal tracks.

For a student not afraid to put himself in uncomfortable situations, this was as literal as it gets. “It was a little cramped in there and pretty hot,” Bailey says. “But I’m lucky to find a place like this where I can record music with a professional quality and sound.”

When tourists descend on Nashville, they want to experience the Grand Ole Opry, visit the famous honky tonks along Broadway, and see the major recording houses on Music Row.

But for hundreds of musicians seeking a breakthrough, their route to success often starts in small independent studios like the one in the home of Wylie Withers. Bailey spent his free time searching out producers such as Withers and singer-songwriters such as Kelley Ann Williams, all of whom are climbing the ladder toward discovery.

“You can walk into a random bar and hear an unbelievable singer who’s trying to make it in the business,” says Williams, who met Bailey over the summer and employed him as a guitarist for gigs. “It’s very clear that Parker came to Nashville for a reason, and it wasn’t just to see what the city is all about. He came with a large sense of intentionality and purpose.”

Williams is a barista at the same country club where Withers tends bar. On this day, Withers worked a split shift so he could drive home to record Bailey in his studio.

As Bailey sang in the booth, Withers worked the soundboard and hummed along in the adjacent room.

Oh, what a life
There’s a sunset
every night
When push
comes to shove
You’ve got
someone to love
What a life

Bailey treasured the experience of his internship. He learned the business side of music and witnessed how quickly groups of Round Hill Music writers were expected to deliver lyrics to their bosses, who pitch them to agents.

That sense of urgency inspired Bailey to write 10 songs during his time in Nashville.

“Parker is one of the best interns we’ve ever had,” says Lindsay Will, a Round Hill Music director of artist and repertoire. “You can tell the ones who are going to make it from the ones who are just kind of here for fun, and it’s obvious that Parker has the drive.”

Finding inspiration

As much as he enjoyed working at an established record label in a downtown office tower, Bailey was most in his element creating music in Withers’ home studio.

“Dude, I love that line, ‘Oh, what a life,’” Withers tells Bailey. “It just feels like I’m sitting around a campfire with my boys during the best summer of my life.”

Bailey wants to make music his life’s work. It’s why in this playland of a city, where fun-loving distractions are at the end of every block, Bailey set his phone alarm for 6 p.m. each day for three months. That was when he dropped everything and tapped into his creative outlets, often composing music in his apartment.

He wrote five songs in Nashville for an EP entitled Maui Tapes and in January released “What A Life,” the country song he was strumming on his balcony.

“It’s some of the best music I’ve written,” he says, “It’s the work I’m most proud of.” Bailey packed up his gear from Withers’ studio and prepared for an hour-long drive to a gig with Williams at a Thai restaurant. It might not be the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, but it’s another opportunity to perform. Another chance to show he won’t stand in one spot and remain there.

“I know I’m going to be in the music industry, and I’m ready to give myself over to it completely,” the Denison senior says. “The end goal is to do whatever I want creatively with people who inspire me — and to do it forever.”

Published February 2023
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