Spinning Plates

I need to express how satisfying it is to be in my and my queen’s new house, sitting at our kitchen table and writing this…because at this time ten years ago, my life was flipped upside down.

I was in the process of filing bankruptcy and finalizing a contested divorce, ultimately resulting in the foreclosure of my home and repossession of my car.  Moreover, I was walking away from a career in retail sales management, and the cushy benefits and guaranteed income which came with it.

Music has been my passion since I was born, and I decided once and for all to make the creation and performance of my own music my number one priority in life.

So I took out $20k in student loans and relocated to Phoenix to attend a premier audio engineering school.  (I wanted to learn how to professionally record and mix my own music in order to save money.)  Graduating required the completion of 480 hours — 12 weeks — of an unpaid internship, and six months after arriving in Phoenix I moved to Nashville.  Once there, I bought a 1989 Mazda 929 for $400 and lived in it while interning at a newly-opened all-analog recording studio.

The car died halfway through the internship.

Without a vehicle, and with no money and nowhere to live, my parents drove the nine hours down and brought me back up to Detroit.  Just like that…poof!…I was essentially a teenager again: fresh out of school, with no car and no job, living in mom and dad’s basement on their dime.

I was utterly ashamed.  I felt like a total failure.  But I had a new skill set, and promised myself that I would work as hard as possible to get my own place within a year of moving back.  After a year of busting my butt securing occasional freelance work, I got a job as the house engineer at a venue.

I applied to get a place, but got denied a loan because I didn’t have enough history of income.  So, I built a makeshift recording studio in my parents’ basement, and toughed it out.  I had clients here and there over the following year, building my income history, and things were running smoothly until I was no longer needed at the venue I worked at.  My main source of income was now gone.  The only thing left was my band and our potential.  But due to perpetual discontent, the band dissolved within the ensuing two years.

There I was, back at square one again.  I was angry…with myself.  Because I believe you are where you are today because of the decisions you made yesterday.  Likewise, tomorrow is a result of today’s decisions.

Taking the time to reflect on everything, I ultimately realized that I wasn’t being my true self….I needed to make music which truly comes from my heart, and not just my head.  I needed to make music that speaks truth to power, and has depth and meaning.  I needed to be true to my positive habits and instincts — musical, professional, and personal — while allowing ample room for further enlightenment.

This realization led me to finally begin writing my own original music with the intent of performing it as a solo artist.  I’ve always written for bands I’ve formed with others, and I felt it was time to take the leap on my own.

Suddenly my creative juices were flowing at an unstoppable pace.  I began writing furiously, and before I knew it I had the makings of a full-length album on my hands.  I took my life savings at the time and spent it to have the songs mixed by a major label mixer, and began saving little by little to have the album professionally mastered.

And then…Koffin Kats called, offering a golden ticket to touring life.  I dropped my plans and accepted their offer wholeheartedly.  What followed was an amazing ride across the US, Canada, Europe, and the UK spanning two years.  I was excited for the future, and started making plans to finally get my own place.

Then five months ago, they told me their original guitarist was coming back to the group at the beginning of the new year, and my services would no longer be required.

Panic.  I was less than half a year away from being back at square one for the third time in six years.  I didn’t know what to do.  All I knew is I was going to make the best of the last couple of tours with the Kats, and figure it out.

On tour last November, I was chatting with a fan after one of our shows, and she asked to hear my solo material.  I explained to her that it wasn’t finished but she said she didn’t care, so I sent her a link to my Dropbox folder containing the tunes.  She got back to me a couple of days later, telling me that she loved the album, recommending I share it with others.  So I did; since first sharing with her, I’ve been in touch with over 400 people who have all listened to my tunes.

The responses have been positively overwhelming.  In my 25 years of making music, I have never received reactions such as these.  The ongoing communication with everyone has shown me that my music resonates with people, and I am honored by that.

Going back and forth with everyone has resulted in creating my website, where people can preorder my album (once I send it out for mastering) and join my new yearly fan club.  I feel incredibly humbled and grateful to say that several people have joined already, and we are all excited for what’s to come.  🙂

In the meantime, I’ve found a great way to earn viable income while growing my musical efforts: driving for Uber.

I bought a 2001 Ford Focus on its last legs back in July.  I submitted to drive for Uber in early December, thinking they’d turn me down because my car was too old, but they approved me within 48 hours.  I immediately began driving as much as possible in order to make money for…

Closing costs on a new house!  It turns out that based on the history of income from my two years with Koffin Kats, and the money in the bank from Ubering, I was able to get approved (with my dad as cosigner) for a mortgage.  We closed on New Year’s Eve, and my queen and I just moved in less than two weeks ago, after doing some remodeling and painting and whatnot.  And, the Focus died in mid-January, but based on my credit I was able to purchase a gently used 2012 Chevy Sonic!

So…I’m in my new house, sitting at the kitchen table, listening to sports radio on the sound system in the living room, and working on this letter.  And it feels so good because it feels earned.

I look at balance in life like the plate spinner.  You know, from sideshow acts, the guy or gal who takes long sticks and spins plates on top of them?  The goal is to get as many plates as possible spinning at once, so the performer can step back and say “Ta-da!”

That’s life: there’s a money plate, a job plate, a spouse plate, a family plate, friends, hobbies, spirit, health, etc.  The object is to get everything in your life in order so you can sit back and say “Ahhhhhhh…” and relax.  Just like the plate spinner, I can’t relax until I know all of my plates aren’t wobbling.  For a while, I had all of my plates on the verge of crashing to the ground.  Some did, and I had to get new plates.

It feels good to be able to step back and reflect on the journey of the last decade, to see how far I’ve come since my world was flipped upside down.  And now that the house and car and income plates are spinning again, I can get back to spinning the blog plate and the emails plate, and most importantly, the new music plate.  I’ve got another new single coming soon which reflects my newfound confidence at getting through this thing called life.

Get ready to dance.  😀

P.S. If you want to hear the album that is resonating with hundreds of people, email blog@therealjohnkay.com and I’ll share it with you personally.  🙂

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

Music: http://johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
InstaGram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /therealjohnkay

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4 thoughts on “Spinning Plates

  1. I’m so proud of you Johnny! I admire that you don’t blame the world for your problems and you grab the bull by its horns and take care of business…thats success! The choices we make dictate the life we lead.

  2. I can honestly say I did not know all of this about you! This is such an inspiring story, and your blog definitely needs to be shared more. If I had to describe this article in one word, it would be “Wow”. And just like the comment above me, not blaming others for what happens is a very admirable quality to have. Every dark cloud has a silver lining, am I right? 🙂

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