After building a massive following on his own, Tyler Ward is ready to move up the majors
One such endeavor found Ward working with Jono, a then-unknown singer from Aurora, on a cover of the Animals' version of "House of the Rising Sun," a performance that naturally turned up on YouTube. The collaboration led to national exposure for Jono: The video attracted the attention of producers from E!'s Opening Act, who devoted an entire episode to the singer and his efforts to open for Jason Mraz in Hawaii.
But Jono's not the only protégé of Ward's to benefit from having worked with him. A stroll down the 16th Street Mall last year inspired an unorthodox partnership between Ward and Dred Scott, a homeless busker cranking out R&B covers on an acoustic guitar. "I literally walked down the mall at night after dinner," Ward remembers. "It was like 11 p.m. I walked outside and I heard this guy singing. I was like, 'This is great!' I gave him a few bucks and gave him my info." Ward found the busker again a few days later and ended up helping him produce an EP, fittingly titled Live From the 16th Street Mall.
Those are the kind of collaborations that Ward says he couldn't see easily budding from a major-label deal. And those connections have persisted as much as they've proven to pay off. As Ward's learned the ins and outs of carving a niche as an independent artist, he's built up a loyal cadre of musical colleagues and collaborators.
To that end, Ward is currently touring with a troupe of Denver musicians that includes former Tickle Me Pink guitarist Joey Barba, drummer Joel Burns and bassist Josh Corbett. Jordan Howard, Ward's manager of seven years, started out his duties as a buddy who agreed to send out e-mails. Vocalist and musician Alex G is Ward's neighbor. Such connections come from years spent making music at a grassroots level, Ward insists. "It's all been this family, this organic thing," declares Ward. "Earlier, we didn't know exactly what we were doing, but we knew we were going to make it work."
It was improvisation at its purest. Learning the music trade through trial and error has prepared him for the next level, Ward insists. It's given him the freedom to make important demands and keep his integrity intact as he's discussing deals with major-label reps. Ward is quick to point out that this freedom has stemmed directly from a perfect blend of circumstances, a mix of technology, access and the 21st-century tool of social media.
"Without Facebook," he concludes, "it probably would have taken me ten years to get where I am right now. It expedited the process 1,000 percent. Without that platform, without the Internet, I would probably still be in my dad's basement, trying to figure out what the next move would be."