Beam was raised in Chapin, South Carolina, where his father worked in land management and his mother was a schoolteacher. When he was a child, his family took regular trips to the country, where his grandfather ran a farm. He attended Seven Oaks Elementary School and Chapin High School. While home from college, he was a waiter at California Dreaming restaurant in Columbia. Beam earned a bachelor’s degree in art from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. He specialized in painting before graduating from the Florida State University Film School with an MFA degree. Before the release of the first Iron & Wine album, Beam’s main source of income was as a professor of film and cinematography at the University of Miami and Miami International University of Art & Design. He had been writing songs for over seven years before a friend lent him a four-track recorder. He began making demos and gave one to his friend Michael Bridwell, brother of Band of Horses lead singer, Ben Bridwell. Michael handed it to Mike McGonigal, editor of Yeti magazine, who chose “Dead Man’s Will”, later released on In the Reins, for inclusion on one of his magazine’s compilation CDs. Beam later came to the attention of Sub Pop Records co-owner, Jonathan Poneman, who contacted Beam to propose a deal.