Tyler Rich

“The Difference” has made all the difference in Tyler Rich’s life.

Since he was kid growing up in a small town outside of Sacramento, Calif., Rich has wanted to be a country singer. But it took him until the age of 32 to have his first chart-topping song. “The Difference” is in the top 20 on country radio and still moving up the charts. He’s toured with the likes of Brett Young and Dustin Lynch, has an EP out now and will begin work on his first full-length album at the beginning of next year.

But it all could have taken a different turn and Rich might have been working on spread sheets rather than performing.

When he was 21, Rich took his first real stab at making it in the music business, moving downstate to Orange County, Calif. He played in a few bands and met another hopeful young singer named Brett Young while they were “working the same lounge-singing circuits on the beach,” he recalled.

He wasn’t immediately successful so he went back home to attend college and got an economics degree.

Tyler Rich

Tyler Rich  Amanda Jones/WWD

With his degree in hand — and “an awesome” job offer on the table — Rich was at a crossroads: take the job and give up the dream or try one more time to make it in the music business. For him, the decision was a no-brainer.

After another couple of years in the L.A. area as a solo artist, Rich attracted the attention of the Nashville music community and moved to Tennessee where he signed with The Valory Music Co., a division of Big Machine Records.

He also wound up making some good friends really quickly. He met Jon Pardi on his first day in town — Pardi is from Dixon, Calif., another little farm town near where Rich grew up — and also met Lynch early on.

“Nashville is a big small city, it’s a tight-knit family, and I was welcomed into some amazing groups pretty early,” he said. “They took me under their wing and taught me what to do and what not to do in Nashville and helped open some doors for me and got me in the right rooms. Dustin took me on tour pretty early, and it started snowballing.”

Most recently, Rich opened for Brett Young on the “CMT on Tour: Here Tonight” tour, which wrapped up in early December.

But what really put him on the map was “The Difference,” a catchy tune that has seen more than 28 million streams.

“It’s about the playfulness when you’re falling in love with somebody and how your verbiage changes,” he said. “The things you do, the way you act, the things you say: everything kind of transitions when you go from temporary and casual to permanent.”

Tyler Rich

Tyler Rich  Amanda Jones/WWD

The song, which was written by Rhett Akins, Ben Burgess, Devin Dawson and Jacob Durrett, actually came to him during a marathon song-pitch meeting. The lyrics — “There’s a difference between miss ya and I miss your face…there’s a difference between love ya and I love you, and I wanna be the difference” — were actually the same as those used by his fiancée Sabina Gadecki, an actress and model who has appeared in “Entourage,” “Law & Order” and other shows.

Gadecki, whom he met at the Stagecoach country music festival, also stars in the video for “The Difference” along with the couple’s dogs, a Siberian Husky and a Maltese Poodle.

“I would text Sabina and say, ‘Love you.’ And she would always say: ‘(I) love you — there’s a difference.’ That song couldn’t be more perfect for our situation and anybody who’s falling in love or already in love.”

When he first heard the song, he said his head “tilted like a puppy and I said, ‘What is this?’ When I got to the end of the chorus, I said, ‘Put that on hold. We’re recording this song.’”

But then he had to break it to Gadecki.

“I called her and said, ‘Babe, I’ve got good news and bad news: the good news is I’m pretty sure I just found a hit and the bad news is that you’ve been feeding me these lines for a year and I didn’t take the bait.’ But I’ve written plenty of songs for Sabina that will be getting recorded soon.”

Rich still seems slightly amazed that the song is as successful as it is. “It keeps climbing the charts and every night, more and more people are singing it. It went number one on Sirius XM The Highway pretty quick, so that sparked this movement of the song and now it’s on regular country radio.”

Also getting airplay is “11:11,” another song from his EP. Not an actual single, the song was released as an exclusive for Sirius XM and now it’s also becoming a hit. “It’s almost like we have two real singles out,” he said.

After the holidays, Rich expects to get back into the studio and finish his first album. He guesstimates that he’s written “a pile of 150 to 200 songs” since signing with Valory and he’s now narrowed down that list to around 18. It’ll be whittled down even further for the final cut.

In addition to his music, Rich is honing his fashion sense. He wears a Rolex watch that he bought from Crown & Caliber, a reseller of preowned luxury watches, is partial to straight skinny jeans from All Saints, Joe’s Jeans, Levi’s and Rag & Bone, and always wears a leather jacket on stage when performing to complement his Thursday Boots. For dressier occasions, he likes John Varvatos or Kenneth Cole.

He’s also become known for his body art, notably the tattoo on the inside of his lower lip. “It says, ‘hella,’ it’s a Northern California thing,” he said. “I got it when I first moved to L.A., because they don’t like when people says hella.” So to spite his roommate at the time, he got the tattoo, which he said was quite painful. “It sucks.”

What doesn’t suck is his plans for 2019. Not only will the album be released, but he’s also planning his nuptials with Gadecki. They’d like to get married in Nashville in the fall although juggling their commitments and calendars isn’t easy. “She lives in L.A., so we’re hardly in Nashville together to look for places,” he said. “But we make it work.”

As Rich looks to the future, he’s got some big dreams, not the least of which is to headline a show at Madison Square Garden. “Then the bucket list will be checked.”

But whether or not that happens anytime soon, Rich is committed to continuing his country music journey. “I’ve been doing this my whole life, there’s no backup plan,” he said. “I have a degree I’m never going to use. It was just that I promised my family that I would finish and they had been funding my dream. My grandparents and my mom made sure my car payment was paid, and they’ve all been so supportive financially when I was out making no money playing music. I promised that if they invested in me that I would invest in myself, get my degree, take a break and reevaluate what I wanted to do with music. But now that that’s done, I want all of it.”