Tyler Castleton communicates best through music.
He grew up one of seven boys in a musical family, learning classical piano when he was 5 years old. He wrote his first song for high school graduation but didn't get serious about songwriting until college.
"I think I probably started writing because I found, for me personally, it was the best way for me to express what I have to say, particularly things I feel very deeply about like spiritual things," Castleton said. "Songwriting is kind of an outlet for me; I've always felt that way about music, hearing and writing it. Music communicates in a way almost nothing else can. It also lets you feel things you can't feel any other way. It helps connect with certain emotions and feelings."
Castleton's first publishing opportunity came in 1993 when one of his songs was included in an album for BYU's Especially for Youth program, followed a few years later by a country song recorded by Martina McBride. Both opportunities opened doors for his career that are still beneficial to his work now. In particular, Castleton has written extensively for LDS musical artists, and he still has friends in Nashville.
While most of the songwriting and producing he's done have been for LDS audiences, Castleton continues to write for country and mainstream Christian listeners, too.
"Obviously, a lot of my songs are directed specifically to an LDS market, but I do still try to write a lot of music that's not specifically LDS," he said. "My music has been performed by churches of all denominations. It's kind of fun. It's an opportunity to spread my wings."
One of Castleton's core beliefs, aside from the one that music provides a unique kind of communication, is the idea that songwriting is a craft. Talent is important, but it's not everything.
"(At BYU) I was kind of introduced to the concept that writing is something that doesn't just happen by inspiration — but that there's a craft behind it, and the more you learn the better you can be," Castleton said. "I started on the path of trying to be a great writer, and I'm always trying to be better."
Among the artists Castleton has worked with are Hilary Weeks, Jenny Phillips, Kenneth Cope, Michael McLean, Jericho Road and Cherie Call. Most often, he writes collaboratively because he likes having someone to bounce ideas back and forth.
Until now, he's mostly stayed behind the scenes, writing songs for others to sing. Although he's been recording songs for 19 years, his first album, "When I Can't Speak: The Music of Tyler Castleton," was released May 14. Castleton selected each of the 17 songs, putting a lot of thought into it.
"I tried to pick songs that represented different time periods of my own experience, different time periods of my career. For sure I tried to find songs that were somewhat popular and had really connected with people, songs that had gotten a lot of requests over the years. It was tough — kind of like being asked to choose a favorite of all your kids because you love all of them — but I feel the end result is pretty good," he said.
The album features 17 tracks, sung by artists like Jessie Clark Funk, Mercy River and David Osmond. Castleton sings two of the songs, "When I Sing" and "Walk With Me." The best part of his job, he said, are the people he works with.
"When I look back on the experiences I've been able to have, my work just feels like this fabric that's made up of great people who've weaved their lives through mine. Learning and being able to associate with and benefit from really fantastic people in all areas of the business, whether singers or songwriters or on the business end of things, is the best."