Blood, Sweat and Tears: Listening Room Owner Chris Blair on ‘Chasing the Dream’ and Leaning on Brothers for Support
When Chris Blair first stepped foot in Nashville 15 years ago, he never thought he would be where he is now.
He had dreams of being the next big thing. So by day, he was a banker. And by night, he lit up the stage at Tootsies, a famed bar for up-and-comers hoping to break into the music industry.
“I would put on my suit and tie, go to the bank, get off at 5, fly down to Broadway, park in the alley, change clothes in my car and then play from 6-10 p.m.,” he recalled.
The next day, he would do it all over again.
Eventually, his focus shifted and his dreams changed.
Blair, an alumnus of Delta-Phi Zeta at Southeast Missouri State University, said his best piece of advice for undergrads is: allow your dreams to change.
Now, he is married with two kids. He is the President of his own business, and co-owner of several others.
His primary focus is The Listening Room Cafe, a 12,000-square-foot music venue where famed stars like Keith Urban and Clare Bowen from the TV show “Nashville” have performed, and where up-and-coming artists like Carly Pearce and Brett Young got their start with Blair’s mentorship and support.
“I guess, in a way, I imagined my life being like this when I was younger. But really, I never thought I would be this lucky,” he said. “I’ve got a beautiful, amazing wife and two beautiful kids. So it’s crazy to think how different my life was just 10 years ago — living the crazy night life and chasing that artist dream.”
He lived that life for a long time, until he realized it wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted a family. He wanted a grounded life. So he stopped “chasing the dream” and started chasing the lyrics and writing more songs.
“Then I found that missing link of needing a place that felt like you were sitting at home in a family room listening to music, a place where you could actually hear the music,” he said.
From there, The Listening Room was born.
“A lot of people have that dream of wanting to be the next big artist. But then they get here and they see the talent pool and they kind of realize all the different (routes) you can take and still be happy in the music industry,” he said. “It may not be what you had planned, but it ends up being better.”
Blair hasn’t always seen it that way.
When The Listening Room first opened its doors, he had to wear many hats — from booking manager to dishwasher. He did it all.
“I was in at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave until 2 a.m. the next morning,” he said. “There were nights I slept in my office because that was easier than driving home and sleeping for four hours … It’s amazing living the life that I have now. But it doesn’t come without years and years of hard work and dedication — blood, sweat and tears, literally — and borrowing money from your parents in your mid-30s.”
That was just five years ago, he said.
“Now my life is getting up in the morning and taking care of my kids,” Blair said Thursday sitting at a long wooden table inside The Listening Room. “I come in here and I manage a great team and then I leave when I want — some days at noon, some days at 6 p.m.”
Everybody who has a dream should chase it, he said, just be smart about it.
“It’s tough. Everybody calls Nashville a 10-year town, and it definitely is a 10-year town,” Blair said. “It doesn’t necessarily matter what kind of talent you have.You have to understand that the music business is that — it’s a business. I see so many musicians who have that creative side of their mind, but they don’t have the business side.”
Another piece of advice Blair shared is: team up with somebody who does understand the business side.
That is where Lambda Chi comes in.
A number of Blair’s brothers from his Southeast Missouri State days are also entrepreneurs. A lot of them work in corporate America, while some own their own businesses, too. They served as a sounding board for him as he drafted more than 25 business plans, he said.
“I wouldn’t be where I am now without them,” he said.
“It’s been an amazing journey. It’s not what I expected, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world … I now get to call people who walked across the ACM (Academy of Country Music Awards) stage last week dear friends of mine. I meet huge songwriters and artists — people who I looked up to even when I was in college.”
His last piece of advice is: be unique.
Wherever you decide to go and whatever you eventually decide to do, he said, just be yourself.
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