Rising Star: Warren Zeiders on the bill at 2023 Headwaters Country Jam
Performance set for July 27
June 14, 2023
Plenty of aspiring musicians these days have learned that a good way to launch a music career, start building a fan base and eventually have a future in music is to start posting their songs and videos on social media.
Some musicians are getting quite strategic in attracting fans online and directing them to their videos or songs posted on streaming services. Generate enough streams and there's a reasonable chance music publishers, managers, booking agents, record labels and other professionals will notice and come calling.
That's what happened for country artist Warren Zeiders, who now has a major label deal with Warner Bros. Records, is touring nationwide with a band and is poised to take the next step with his Warner Bros. debut album, "Pretty Little Poison," planned for release in late August.
But Zeiders didn't get to this point by following some carefully crafted strategy. Go back a few years and music wasn't even on his radar as a career possibility. In fact, as 2019 was heading toward 2020 and the COVID pandemic, Zeiders' life was at an inflection point.
For the preceding dozen years, he had played lacrosse, a path that took him to playing the sport at Penn State University. But after sustaining seven concussions, Zeiders decided to quit the sport to which he had dedicated his blood and sweat and countless hours of practice to pursuing. Now he was at home with his parents with only vague ideas about what kind of career he might pursue.
"Being an extrovert, I was always thinking I was going into the field of sales one day," Zeiders said in a recent phone interview. "I just loved working with people and that was something I always had a knack for, just connecting with people."
Yes, Zeiders, 24, had been playing guitar since sixth grade, but at that point, he had never played a show, much less written a song. But one night before the pandemic shutdown, he and his parents were at a restaurant where a woman was singing and playing guitar. At one point, she asked the crowd if there were any song requests. Zeiders piped up.
"I think it was 'Beautiful Crazy' by Luke (Combs)," he said. "I love that song."
The singer knew the song, but not how to play it, so Zeiders offered to borrow her guitar and play it with her. The crowd responded.
"I always like to say about that story that I feel as if an angel put a hand on my shoulder," Zeiders said. "I had an out-of-body experience. I had never performed in front of people. And it was just something that took over me."
It wasn't long after this first taste of playing live that, with urging from some friends – and with time to kill during COVID – Zeiders began recording videos of him playing cover songs and posting those to TikTok and Instagram.
The videos caught on quickly, and soon Zeiders' streaming numbers grew well into the millions. Along the way, some of his followers started asking Zeiders to post original songs. There was only one problem with those requests.
"I'm like 'I've never written a song in my life. I don't even know where to start,'" Zeiders said.
Fortunately, around this time, Zeiders had started to run across the name Charly Salvatore, an artist manager based in Nashville.
"Charly had found me along the way during COVID," Zeiders said. "He had reached out to me for months and was in my inbox and was in my social media DMs and he had found my e-mail somehow. And I was not whatsoever looking at those messages because again, I wasn't thinking to be looking there or being like 'Oh, there are publishers and labels or whatever.' That wasn't, I didn't even think that was a thing."
Eventually, Salvatore got Zeiders' phone number and conversations ensued.
"He had already been under the assumption that I was being managed by somebody because of the way I was handling myself and the way I was portraying myself," Zeiders said. "He came into play and was just like 'Hey, you're not being managed. Would you like to have a gentlemen's agreement and just build a rapport and see how we work together and see what comes of it? And if you truly want to do this, I would love to help out and be a part of it.'"
Zeiders then traveled to Nashville to meet Salvatore, and after they decided to work together, Salvatore arranged a first songwriting session for Zeiders. That session produced the song "Ride the Lightning."
Zeiders recorded a solo acoustic performance of the song, posted it online and saw it become an internet hit. Over the ensuing months, Zeiders scheduled more songwriting sessions, and continued to post more original tunes, including "Wild Horse," "One Hell of an Angel" and "Up to No Good," all the way up to his current single, "Ride It Hard," a hard-rocking collaboration with hip-hop artist Sueco.
Along the way, Zeiders has compiled his original songs and some of his covers on several self-released collections, including the "717 Tapes" EP, the "717 Tapes, Vol. 2" and his "Acoustic Covers" album. Many of the songs remained in their original solo acoustic form, but even in that setting, Zeiders' influences from country and hard rock were apparent in the raw, edgy feel of the songs. What also came through was the authenticity in his lyrics, which offer a window into Zeiders' outgoing, somewhat rebellious personality.
Lately, Zeiders has been busy finishing "Pretty Little Poison" and readying the album for release.
"I think what's really exciting about this new music is it is who I am, it is what I fell in love with, but it's new," Zeiders said. "It's fresh. It's a different side of me that I'm really excited to share with fans that I think are really going to resonate and connect with, still paying tribute to what I do and what they fell in love with.
"I'm making sure I'm bringing my best foot forward and just making the music that really just puts a smile on my face when I press play, and I can listen to it and I'm like 'You know what, this is something I'm excited to show the world,'" he said.
While he awaits the release of that album, Zeiders is on tour and enjoying reinventing songs he recorded solo acoustic or with minimal additional instrumentation as he tours with his full plugged-in band.
"I think that it's cool because being with my band and being out on the road, we get to put our own spin and our own interpretation onto music I did record acoustically," Zeiders said. "I think that really, for me, that is the beauty behind live shows. And I think being in country music and having a love for rock and roll, too, and that authenticity behind it all, people are showing up to see a live performance. So in my interpretation and my reality, I like putting my own twists and spins, whether it's a longer chorus, whether it's just a completely different ensemble for the song."