Be Aware, Opportunity Knocks

Be Aware, Opportunity Knocks

https://youtu.be/sfmQvc6tB1o

I don’t cry often, but I have sensitive spots, and this commercial hits a spot.

A creature — an idea — is born, “scary and messy and fragile”.  It walks the streets, receiving looks of disgust from passersby, its fur and tail matted with filth.  An outcast everywhere it goes, it seems it doesn’t have a home.  The creature appears quite sad.

And then a person puts their arm around the creature and guides it into the GE building, smiling and talking and laughing, the creature’s fur and tail becoming cleaner and prettier with each passing moment.

In the final scene, the creature, now clean and colorful, walks alone onto a stage in front of a large audience — they are giving a standing ovation.  The scene fades out as the creature steps behind a microphone to address the audience.

The tagline is “Yes, ideas are scary, and messy, and fragile…but under the proper care, they become something beautiful.”

Gets me every time.

The point is, we’ve all got something to say, and even the scariest and messiest and most fragile of us need love in order to become our best, to bring our ideas to fruition.

Everything and everyone contains a unique opportunity.

Back in June 2016, I read my local paper and saw a bunch of errors, so I found out who the publisher was and scheduled a meeting to discuss how I could assist in making their paper better.  This meeting led to me being hired to do some editing and also to rewrite a political ad.

Rewriting that ad was the experience which led to working with a candidate for Wayne County Third Circuit Court Judge.  I crafted a 14,000-word story about her life and career, and used it as the centerpiece of a grassroots social media mobilization, which, according to her social media marketing manager, was the crucial ingredient in her being elected to a seat on the bench.

When the judge and I first met, she asked me how I came to write political ads for the Redford Connection.  I explained to her that I looked at the paper, saw the errors, and instead of seeing a problem, I saw…

She finished the sentence for me, “You saw opportunity.”

She nailed it.  I heard opportunity knocking, and I opened the door.

It was an opportunity to help my community by assisting the local newspaper, which is run by two gentlemen who place great value on engagement, growth, humility, integrity, and a servant mentality.  They love the community of Redford, and they love its citizens.  They want to be the best they can be.

But the opportunity to help these gentlemen would never have been discovered if I wasn’t already in the habit of cultivating awareness.  If I wasn’t so focused on details, the little things that most others dismiss as unimportant in the grand scheme of life, I wouldn’t have noticed any errors to begin with.

The judge’s social media marketing manager was impressed with my skill set, and has since introduced me to several business owners in the hopes of engaging my talents to help them write their stories and create content which will add value for their customers and (ultimately) profits to their business.

I had a meeting yesterday with one of these business owners.  We spoke for less than an hour, then he shook my hand and told me that, from here on out, I am his go-to premium content creator.  This was after he asked what he could do to help me get further along my path, how I preferred to work, what my schedule is like, and what my rates are.

After that meeting, I went to the office of the publisher of the newspaper which started this journey, and discussed working together to transition the paper into a formidable source of Redford news, information, journalism, and community outreach, with a strong online presence via a website and social media.  I’m now formulating an overall strategy, and coordinating the team which will implement it.

None of these things would be possible, I would not know any of these people, if when I picked up the paper from my porch seven months ago I didn’t notice any errors, or saw the errors and threw the paper away, dismissing it as an amateur rag.  None of these opportunities would have come to be if I didn’t recognize an opportunity in the first place.

Understand: a heightened sense of awareness helps in all areas of life.

You need to be aware of the opportunities around you, especially if you are already somehow at a disadvantage.  Take advantage of all opportunities that are available to you, and don’t let anyone make you feel bad for doing so.

There may already be an opportunity that you know is right for you, an opportunity that completely aligns with your value system and who you are, and what you really want to do.  But that opportunity may challenge the beliefs of people who are close to you, people who you love, or who you associate with regularly.  They may say it’s too risky, or too difficult, or too expensive, or too selfish, or too different, too radical, too scary.

I’m telling you now, go get that opportunity.  Go take that opportunity and make it the best opportunity for you.

Be warned, some opportunities will present themselves to you that may seem like good opportunities, but in fact are not, and rob you of precious time and resources which would otherwise be used for better opportunities.  The key is to be aware of the path that you’re on and what values you hold within yourself, and adhere to those values, letting them guide your decision-making.  Let your experience and your values be your map and compass.

Remember: you are where you are today because of the decisions you made yesterday.  Likewise, tomorrow is the result of the decisions you make today.  Hold yourself accountable to making better decisions today, and you’ll wake up with a better tomorrow.

If someone whose values align with yours is willing to offer their help, take it.  If there’s a tool that will help you become more effective at your job, get it and use it.  If there’s a person who supports your endeavors, love that person and champion them.

A lot of people don’t answer when opportunity knocks.  A lot of people can’t recognize when opportunity knocks, or they’re not prepared when it does.  A lot of people are unaware of all of the opportunities available to them.  Knowing all of this puts you at an advantage.

So be prepared and be aware, because opportunity is always knocking.  You just have to know how to listen.

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

Music: johnkay.bandcamp.com
Twitter: @therealjohnkay
Instagram: @therealjohnkay
Facebook: /TheRealJohnKay

P.S. Episode 003 of my podcast Get After It!, with my guest Jim Doyon, is now live!  Jim is the founder and co-owner of InkAddict, a tattoo lifestyle apparel company, and he hates doing interviews, so I’m grateful to have the opportunity to share with you his insight and wisdom on life and business.  Click the link and get after it!  http://getafterit.libsyn.com/get-after-it-w-john-kay-003-jim-doyon

P.P.S.  I’m working on a new song, and plan to have the recording process wrapped up this week.  😀

P.P.P.S.  If you haven’t given me your feedback on my newest song, I’d love to hear it.  Feedback is the breakfast of champions, and based on what I’m being told, this may be my best song yet.  What do YOU think?  Check it out here, then let me know: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com/track/we-know-were-gonna-die

New Year, New Song, New Podcast

New Year, New Song, New Podcast

2016 is finally over.

For many, it was a particularly brutal year.  For me, it was one of the best years of my life.

Mind you, it still had its challenges, from being laid up with injuries to having my car in the shop nine times, and my laptop — the heart of my business! — dying in the summer.

But mostly, it was a great year.

I bought a nice house less than three miles from my mom and dad, got my hands dirty and did some pre-move construction and finishing with my best friend, and moved myself and my queen in in February.  We took out the above-ground pool, and installed a fire pit, around which we hosted two fun parties with many of the awesome people in our life.

I bought a great car and use it to drive for Uber and Lyft, which has proven to be both a viable source of income to cover my household overhead and a way to retain my agency as an entrepreneur.  I get to listen to podcasts — I like to learn while I earn — and meet cool people, some of whom have become fans of my music.  (Remember: Tip your Uber or Lyft driver!)

I’ve been reading anywhere from 20-80 pages of a book every day, and will include my recommended reading list below.

I got hired as a freelance writer and editor by my local newspaper, and conducted a 3-hour strategy session with them to help determine their core values as a business.

Because of the experience with my local paper, along with my blog, I ended up being hired by a candidate for Wayne County Circuit Court Judge to write a 14,000-word story of her life and career, which became the centerpiece for the grassroots social media movement I coordinated to maximize its impact.  She ultimately won the election, and the votes needed in order to secure her seat on the bench were a direct result of my efforts, according to her social media manager.

I also began training in Wing Chun Do, a self-defense-focused martial art developed by Grandmaster (“Sijo”, see-jo) James DeMile based on his years of practicing and learning with Bruce Lee in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  I had the opportunity to meet and learn directly from Sijo this past August, when he travelled from his home in Hawaii to bequeath the Wing Chun Do system and Grandmaster title to my personal instructor, Rocco Ambrose.  I’m excited and fortunate to be learning from the Grandmaster of a martial art!

There wasn’t really a single thing that I would consider to be the best thing that happened to or for me in 2016, but I think overall, I’d have to say that I learned a lot about myself and my capacity to get things done, to become my best self.  And I learned a lot about others, too.

Every day, I effort to learn something new.  Whether it’s through reading a book, or listening to a podcast, or talking with a rider when I’m out driving, I’m constantly learning and applying the knowledge gained.

I think that having a student-like mindset is a great way to approach life, and I encourage others to ask tough questions, to seek deeper knowledge in all things.

But I always keep in mind something Sijo said during his visit: “If it doesn’t work for you, it’s pure entertainment.”

So this year, I encourage you to find what works for you, and use it to help you become better at whatever you’re doing and get closer to whatever it is you’re working toward.  (I’d love to hear your story!)

What works for me is operating from a place of authenticity, and creating the best content I can.

I’m happy to announce that starting in 2017, I am now delivering content in three forms:

My blog, which, now that I have a new laptop (yay!), I will endeavor to publish on a weekly basis…

My music, of which a new song was released yesterday (the general consensus among the feedback I’m getting is that it may be my best song to date)…

Finally, my new podcastGet After It! w/ John Kay, the first installment of which was published today at 5:00 AM!  I’ve already interviewed five guests for Get After It!, respectable mavericks each of them, and plan to release a new installment on Monday of each week.

The first installment features my interview with Emily Schaller, the CEO of a Detroit-based non-profit organization called RockCF, which raises funds and awareness for the fight against cystic fibrosis.  Emily’s story and life are inspiring, and every time I talk to her I feel the need to kick my butt a little more in my own efforts.  She truly is a ray of brilliant light, and everyone can learn something from listening to her.

I’m grateful to anyone reading this right now, and to anyone who listens to my music and my podcast.  If you like my music, please buy it.  If you like what you hear on my podcast, please subscribe to it.

2016 is over.  The best is yet to come!  🙂

New song, “We Know We’re Gonna Die”: https://johnkay.bandcamp.com/track/we-know-were-gonna-die

New podcast, interview with Emily Schaller: http://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/id/4951467

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com

My 2016 recommended reading list:

Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman
I was raised on the Beatles, classical music, and country music.  Anyone who is a Beatles fan generally has a favorite Beatle, and mine was always Paul, although the songs that I loved the most and wanted to learn were usually George songs.  This 800+ page book, a birthday gift from my parents, grabbed me from page one and I read it voraciously, at one point over 125 pages in a day.  Paul was the meticulous one, the one who focused on the details, staying late into the night at the studio to get his bass parts just the way he wanted them, which is to say, perfect.  This book reached into my soul, and I found myself empathizing with Paul in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible if someone told me so.  The author had McCartney’s ‘tacit approval’ to interview anyone and everyone who knew Paul about anything and everything, so this truly is the definitive Paul McCartney biography.  A must-read for anyone interested in one of the biggest superstars in the world.

The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory by John Seabrook
I hear all the time about how new music is no good, the radio sucks these days, all the songs sound the same.  Well, this book explains why.  From ABBA to Ace of Base to Kelly Clarkson and Rhianna and more, the evolution of pop music’s dominance is thoroughly broken down.  You get the inside scoop on who really writes the music we hear everywhere — mostly white, middle-aged, Scandinavian men.  This book was fascinating from start to finish, and I recommend everyone reads it.  It’s full of delicious and salacious stories, from Ke$ha’s turbulent lawsuit against producer Dr. Luke, to the time Kelly Clarkson bawled her eyes out in Clive Davis’s office because he insisted on including “Since U Been Gone” on her sophomore record (it would go on to win the Grammy for Song Of The Year).  Treat yourself to this book.  You won’t regret it, even if it does disgust you.

Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday
I need to read this book again, this time with a highlighter.  That’s something I have been doing more of, highlighting books as I read them.  This year I’m going to transcribe the highlighted passages from my books onto index cards and create what’s known as a ‘commonplace book’ for myself.  A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations, and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits.  The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking, or whatever it is that you do.  Some of the greatest men and women in history have kept these books.  Marcus Aurelius kept one, which more or less became the Meditations.  Petrarch kept one.  Montaigne, who invented the essay kept a handwritten compilation of sayings, maxims and quotations from literature and history that he felt were important.  Thomas Jefferson kept one.  Napoleon kept one.  Bill Gates keeps one.  I first heard of the idea of a commonplace book from Holiday’s blog, and liked the idea so much I decided to apply it.  This book will be one of the first to get transcribed.  It’s relatively short, and one can likely read it in a day or over a weekend.  Beneficial to anyone.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age by Sherry Turkle
This one hits you where it hurts: your smartphone.  Everywhere we turn, most people seem to be looking down at a device.  It’s the reality of the culture in which we live.  But there are devastating side effects to our new habits that are only now being discovered.  This book sheds light on those side effects.  There’s a group of friends going out to dinner and mandating the creation of a ‘cell phone tower’ in the middle of the table, where everyone stacks their device on top of the others, and the first person to grab for theirs when it rings has to pay for the entire meal.  Or consider that many young professionals fresh out of college and beginning their careers would rather talk to their colleagues, bosses, and employees through text, email, or Gchat, than have an actual one-on-one, face-to-face conversation.  We are connecting with our devices more than we are with each other.  According to Turkle, based on her research, this is a growing epidemic, the results of which are a general lack of empathy toward others and an inability to tolerate natural lulls and awkwardness in conversation.  Sound like the world we live in?  Ever since reading this book, I have effort to ‘elevate the conversation’ whenever possible.  Instead of emailing, I’ll text.  Instead of texting, I’ll call.  Instead of calling, I’ll drop by.  By elevating our conversations, we can reclaim our empathy and our connection to one another.

The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time by Arianna Huffington
Believe me, no one was as shocked as I that I purchased something from Arianna Huffington.  Regardless of any opinion one may have about her, the information in the book is immediately applicable.  Since reading it, I do my best to get at least 7 hours of sleep every single night.  You should, too.

When I’m 64

When I was a little kid, the majority of my Sunday evenings were spent riding home from grandma and grandpa’s house in my dad’s tiny Ford Ranger.

Dad kept a box under the bench seat with several cassette tapes of various styles and artists; Beatles, Jethro Tull, Beethoven, Monty Python, Guess Who, Mozart, more Beatles, et al.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64..?”  Dad was 64.  Right up until a month ago.  No, he didn’t die; he turned 65, eligible now for all of those tremendous senior discounts, social security…

Once every year on those musical rides home, when the mood struck, he would pop in Emerson, Lake, and Palmer’s seminal “Karn Evil 9” (https://youtu.be/fLS0Med0s6E).  When the tune kicked in, he became pure energy, visibly passionate and animated, singing along, hitting the steering wheel perfectly in time with the drum fills, fingering the air organ (don’t be cheeky!).

The song lasted the whole drive home, and each time he played it he would point out all the different changes, extoll how “ELP” would occasionally cover classical music, and…

And now we have earworms.  The general public is aurally assaulted on a daily basis with calculated productions, formulated to be catchy, financed to be played everywhere, advertised incessantly; productions cached and controlled by the very rich, who manipulate, extort, exhort, and exhaust both the songs and the artists who perform them.

Until finally, they are discarded, another empty Starbucks cup.

Ask anyone under the age of 25 “Who sings that ‘867-5309’ song?”  They won’t be able to tell you…but they know those digits and can sing their melody.  They’ve heard it for years in their cars and at Speedway stations and Gaps and at 7-11 and in TV commercials and at Cold Stone and…

My dad worked in commercial radio from 1969-1994, mostly in downtown Detroit, and his first 15 years were spent as a disc jockey.  He loved exploring local record stores, always discovering new music to share.  Taking his findings home, he would scrounge intensely for the “deep cuts,” songs that may not necessarily be fed to the radio station or considered commercial enough, but he believed would resonate with his audience.

Because he knew his audience.  He encouraged his listeners to call and write to him.

And he would respond, both personally and through the music he would play during his time on-air.  He took his role within the universal music community seriously.

Taking time to set up the context of songs before the lyrics kicked in, breaking down some of the core elements of songs after they finished, knowing when to keep quiet and simply let the music play…he ran his show like a well-oiled machine, educating his listeners on how to listen to music actively.

He was infamous among his colleagues for refusing to play “Stairway to Heaven” in its heyday; every other DJ was doing it, so he didn’t need to.  A fresh impact each and every show was paramount, so if a song had grown stale among his fans, he stopped spinning it.

Early in his career, my dad unearthed a deep cut from a band featuring an albino multi-instrumentalist: a synthesizer-driven instrumental, with a working title of “Double Drum Solo”.

Upon first listen, he was blown away by the tune.  Even though the song was over nine minutes in length, and had no vocals at all, he knew for sure his fans would dig it.

Understand: my father’s authenticity and attention to detail — two traits which he still exemplifies to this day, I’ll add — made his fans quickly grow to respect him.  That respect, along with the subsequent growth in his audience, earned him the trust of his bosses and the freedom to work on his own terms.

But when it came to this particular song, the station’s program director called him crazy, shouting “It’s an instrumental!!!” and protesting “Nine minutes?!  You’ll lose half your listeners!”

Fortunately for my dad, it was a time when disc jockeys were regarded across the country as the real tastemakers, and they had a modicum of power within the music industry.  He had full creative control over his show, and despite the urgings of his boss, he broke that record that night.  (To “break” a record, in radio speak, means to be the first in the world to play a song or album on the air.)

He was true to the music first — if it sounds good, it is good.

The song he debuted that night was originally released as the B-side to another song.  The two were soon reversed by the band’s label when DJs across the US and Canada were flooded with phone calls and realized the song my dad played was the hit.

The name of the band was The Edgar Winter Group, and the song was “Frankenstein”.

Even if you don’t know the song by name, you’ll know it when you hear it.  Here’s the part we all know — ba-da bop bop ba-da bop baaaaaaa!! — in a Buick commercial with Tiger Woods: https://youtu.be/MEQMxdL9ohQ.

Is my dad the cause of Edgar Winter’s success?  Irrelevant in the bigger picture, though an argument can be made, I suppose.  The point is…he took a chance on an unknown because he had the authority to do so, and it paid off for both of them.

Corporations believe they are the only ones in America with any real authority now.  They have the money, so, therefore, they figure they have the power.

But they don’t take chances on unknowns anymore, only sure things and proven commodities.

In The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory, published in 2015, John Seabrook writes “Over the last two decades a new type of hit song has emerged, one that is almost inescapably catchy.  Pop songs have always had a ‘hook,’ but today’s songs bristle with them: a hook every seven seconds is the rule.  Painstakingly crafted to tweak the brain’s delight in melody, rhythm, and repetition, these songs are highly processed products.  Like snack-food engineers, modern songwriters have discovered the musical ‘bliss point.’  And just like junk food, the bliss point leaves you wanting more.”

Pop music is dominated by a few huge record companies that use data on past successes to replicate them again and again.  This has led directly to the present situation, wherein only a handful of people, a crazily high percentage of them middle-aged Scandinavian men, write most of America’s pop hits.  Popular songs, like most mass-productions, now get made via focus groups and formulas.

If you’re a DJ in American commercial radio today, you don’t have the freedom to debut any “deep cuts” — there’s a playlist provided to the station by their parent company (likely, this one) with all of the songs the labels want played, scheduled at specific times throughout the day.

The widespread influence of Big Pop even extends to music journalists who, working online, have come to understand that championing little-known artists commands far less traffic — and therefore less job security — than their critical explanations of the new Adele video or (another) Beatles re-release.

Bottom line: if you’re not making hits, or spinning hits, or talking about hits, you’re fired.  Don’t look the part, or wanna play along?  You’re left on the outside.

What the labels refuse to admit, or are incapable of comprehending, is that while algorithms and playlists and clickbait thrive on confirming one’s loves and hates, the best critics — or museum curators, or record store clerks, or DJs, or friends — peddle not only their own insights but also ways to arrive at new insights about things.

In a culture ruled by corporations, profit is the ultimate goal.  Chances are uncertain, and cannot be taken.

Can you imagine a 9-minute instrumental featuring a double drum solo from a band fronted by an albino on today’s radio stations, in shopping malls…at Starbucks??  Fat chance.  Forget “Karn Evil 9”.  It’s nearly a half hour long, whose story, told in three parts, features a 15-minute instrumental section.

Admittedly, I dismissed Emerson’s passing as simply another of our great musicians moving into the next world.  (George Martin, Maurice White, Paul Kantner, Glenn Frey, and David Bowie all said goodbye this year, and we’re not even through March!)  He’d merely be showered with love for a weekend on social media, and then promptly forgotten, as so many others have been.

And frankly, Emerson, Lake, and Palmer never excited me in the same way as other artists.  That’s unfortunate, since Keith Emerson was a musician of the highest order.  Right up until the moment he killed himself at 71 years old.

According to his long-time partner, Mari, he was “tormented with worry” about an upcoming tour, and said he had suffered nerve damage to his right hand which affected his playing: “He didn’t want to let down his fans.  He was a perfectionist and the thought he wouldn’t play perfectly made him depressed, nervous, and anxious.”

Noting heart disease and depression brought about by alcohol in the full report, the coroner ruled his death a suicide — t appears Keith Emerson had so much respect for his audience that he ended his life in order to ensure that he would never let them down.

After I told this news to my queen, she paused for a moment, and her first words thereafter were “John…please don’t ever do that.”

Because she sees me as I really am: I’m a perfectionist, too.  On the occasions when I happen to screw up, it’s usually because I’m worrying too much about screwing up.  She knows how passionate I am, and how I put my heart and soul into everything I do, what I create, into my music, my performances.

But she also knows that I absolutely dread the inevitable loss of my skills.  There will come a day when I am physically or mentally unable to perform and operate at the level I regard as my standard.

The same goes for each and every person alive — we all erode in time.

“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”

Need me?  Feed me?  Don’t care.  Will I still be able to create and perform music at the level I do now???

That’s why I believe no matter who we are, what our circumstances happen to be, or what passion we choose to embrace, it is crucial for each of us to engage in life with intensity, to make an impact during our brief time…

“In the face of our inevitable mortality we can do one of two things.  We can attempt to avoid the thought at all costs, clinging to the illusion that we have all the time in the world.  Or we can confront this reality, accept and even embrace it, converting our consciousness of death into something positive and active.  In adopting such a fearless philosophy, we gain a sense of proportion, become able to separate what is petty from what is truly important.  Knowing our days to be numbered, we have a sense of urgency and mission.  We can appreciate life all the more for its impermanence.  If we can overcome the fear of death, then there is nothing left to fear.” – Robert Greene, The 50th Law

https://youtu.be/4OkrYf4qlLM

The legends don’t really go on forever…

But what they create does!

When I heard last week that Keith Emerson died, I immediately thought of those trips home from grandma’s with my dad, over 25 years ago, when we bonded over the music he and Greg Lake and Carl Palmer made.

We can travel through time, if only in our minds.

P.S. Full disclosure: I borrowed a few phrases from a couple of Atlantic articles relevant to the content.  Check them out if you’d like: Article 1Article 2

P.P.S. There are numerous videos showcasing Keith Emerson’s talent.  Here are two examples: https://youtu.be/yg2KjxNtAiM and https://youtu.be/KjkD39dCvBI.

John Kay
blog@therealjohnkay.com
TheRealJohnKay.com

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

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

It’s All About the Songs: New Year, New Journey, pt. 3

It’s all about these songs . . .

Outside of being temporarily distracted by an 8-year career in retail sales management, my life’s entire focus has been on creating and performing original music.

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Someday, Mom . . .

Brief background: Natural inclinations drew me toward the drums before the age of 2.  In 5th grade I formed my first rock band, while also playing in every school band from elementary through high school which featured drums of any kind; orchestra, marching, jazz, musicals, etc.  My various bands over the years have been performing publicly since I was 13, and have recorded and released several full-length albums and EPs over the last 20 years, including many of my original songs.

In 2005, I built a makeshift recording studio in my basement in an attempt to record my original music.  I was able to record several demos of my songs, and subsequently discovered a passion for producing and audio engineering over the course of a few years.  I decided to leave my cushy and safe retail management job, move to Arizona and attend The Conservatory of Recording Arts & Sciences to truly learn the craft of audio engineering and music production.  After graduating from CRAS and returning home to Detroit, I set up my studio and began my career as a freelance producer/engineer.

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Welcome to Stu Stu Studio. Would you like a fresh pot of coffee??

In Fall 2011, when browsing in the Music section of a bookstore, I discovered a book called Zen and the Art of Mixing; the author — a major-label record producer and mixing engineer — uses the psuedonym “Mixerman.”  Upon reading the first few pages of the book, I felt as though it was written specifically for me.  Regarding music production and studio clientele, not only did it reinforce and validate several beliefs of mine which I had previously doubted, it answered my burning questions about the mixing process and how to achieve the best possible production.  I affectionately refer to the book for guidance and to refresh my mind when mixing for myself or my clients — I even answer some of my clients’ questions by going over to the shelf, grabbing the book and reading a passage!

The overall message of the book: it’s all about the songs.

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The book that changed my music — and my clients’ music — for the better.

Recently, Mixerman posted on his Facebook page, saying he had time to mix a project, and that someone should definitely contact him.  For the past 7 months I’ve been writing, recording, and making rough mixes of the songs that will comprise my first album as a solo artist.  (Click these links to read about the earlier parts of this journey: Part I, Part II.)  Since I happen to have an album to mix, I sent him a message, not knowing what to expect.  We began corresponding online and then via text the next day, resulting in his request for two rough mixes of my songs.  I sent him a medium-tempo softer indie/pop tune, and a flowing track which builds into driving rock.  Forty minutes later, while in a recording session with a client, I received a text from him:

“I love them.  The rocking track is fucking awesome.  Very cool.  Also, it’s obviously well recorded.  So, I’m certainly interested in talking to you about mixing the project.  Call me when you’re done tonight.”

Upon discussing the scope of the songs to be mixed — and my non-existing budget — Mixerman asked me to send him the roughs of every song to be included on the album.  I did so that night and woke up to receive an email from him which included the following:

“Dude. This album is fucking great. I mean, like I love it. You’re a talented motherfucker and on all fronts. I mean, your drum tones are killer. Well done on the recordings on the whole . . .

I was floored and freaked out; simultaneously elated.  Suddenly, I found myself blessed with an amazing opportunity: a major-label mixing engineer is willing to mix my project at an excellent rate — NOW — and assist me in seeing the project through the mastering process and ultimately onto the vinyl I plan to release!!  YIPPIE!!

I’m just — gulp —  thousands of dollars short of the budget.

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Gotta start somewhere!

Over the past few days, I’ve sought counsel from family and friends, clients and colleagues, asking their feelings on the subject and how I should proceed.  The response has been unanimous: have him mix my album, whatever it takes.  And, get a Kickstarter.com fund-raising campaign up and running ASAP because . . .

It’s all about the songs.

The lyrics and messages in the songs on this album are those anyone can relate to: dealing with people; loving (and leaving) the city you grew up in; liberation from a cheating lover; acceptance of loss; personal growth; new and rekindled loves; pursuing goals in spite of fear and ridicule; sexy bartenders; enlightenment.

After hosting several private preview sessions in my studio over the past few months (in order to gain critical feedback), listeners have been hard-pressed to choose their least favorite song on my album.  One after another, these songs elicit an emotional response.  Texts and Facebook messages with remarks such as “I can’t get your songs out of my head,” “When can I hear those songs again?” and “Make sure you let me know when you start your Kickstarter campaign!” have been sent to me with regular consistency since the beginning of the year.

I am pleased to announce that my Kickstarter campaign is finally up and running!  Click here to check it out and watch the video!!

I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity to present these songs to everyone in the best possible production.  I believe that the messages contained in these songs are important in our current culture, and need to be heard right now.  With Mixerman’s help, these songs are going to be delivered at the highest possible quality.

Thank you for reading this.  I appreciate you.

:-J

The Fat Kid ALWAYS Wins: Overcoming Adversity

For almost two decades, I was a fat kid.  Hell, I was THE Fat Kid.

The weight gain started in elementary school when I was around 8 or 9 years old, but the psychological seeds were sown years prior.

At 3 years old, my mom had my brain tested.  It turned out I had an I.Q. of 136, so I was now the smart kid that got placed a grade ahead of the other students my age…

…and everyone knew it.

From my earliest days in school, I was picked on and ridiculed relentlessly.  I was never gifted athletically, and was always the last one picked for any team events, but the first one picked when working on an assignment in a group, or when we’d play the school version of Jeopardy.  I liked country and pop music; the other students liked rap and hard rock.  Boys picked fights with me; girls did not talk to me.  Most teachers were encouraging and supportive; some teachers resented me, and made a priority of balancing out the praise they perhaps felt was unearned by a 5-year old.  So, I buried myself into my schoolwork, and at home, my first love, playing the drums.

I got straight As; no minuses.  In both 5th and 6th grade I was pulled out of class for half a day once or twice a week, and taken to another school to study computer programming and other advanced subjects along with a handful of smart kids from other schools in the area.

I didn’t really hang out with many people from school.    When attending school, those with whom I would hang out from time to time would either join in on the insults or pretend I didn’t exist.  They were embarrassed to be friends with me.

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“They can’t make fun of the way my farts smell…if I inhale all of the gas first!!”

When I was 5, I began taking Karate lessons at my local dojo because I was afraid of getting beat up at school.  After 3 years of lessons and earning some colorful belts — the Karate belt system is used in martial arts training to mark the progress a student has made in their study — my instructor closed his business; I didn’t join another dojo afterward.

At that point in my life, I had been playing drums for 6 years.  A friend of mine played guitar, met another kid at his school who also played guitar and introduced us.  BAM!  First band formed!  (NOTE: I would go on to play with these two musicians on-again, off-again, for the next 16 years.  More on that journey in future blogs!)

So at 8 years old, instead of playing outside, climbing trees, riding bikes all day and taking Karate lessons throughout the week, I was being driven to and from my new buddy’s house to go play songs as a band with another 8-year old and a 7-year old.

I’d load my Noble & Cooley drum set (settle down, pro drummers; it was a toy store version of a legitimate N&C kit) into my dad’s truck, get dropped off, set up and play.  At his house was a professional Premier drum set, and we’d secretly play on it when his folks weren’t home…mostly because I had all but destroyed my toy set, and my cymbal stand kept falling over.

When we’d get hungry, we’d bike to any of the fast food restaurants and convenience stores in the area and stuff our faces.

Around this time, an older kid moved into the neighborhood.  He was a skateboarder, and me and my bandmates thought he was just the coolest dude ever.  So, we started skateboarding, too.  We learned about the secret skate spots in our area, and we’d carry our boards while riding our bikes to go skate at these places.

When we’d get hungry, we’d bike or skate to any of the fast food restaurants and convenience stores in the area and stuff our faces.

My brother and I joined a Saturday morning youth bowling league, and remained in the league for years to come (until I could drive my own car and my teammates started playing “real” sports).  My dad would take my brother and me to Hardees for breakfast in the morning on the way to bowling.  During bowling matches, Dad would buy us snacks and sodas out of the vending machines.

After we finished our games we’d usually go to my grandma’s house for dinner, and on the way, stop at the local book store.  We’d each get a new book to read…and candy, even though Grandma always had candy.  I’d drink anywhere from 4-8 cans of Coca-Cola Classic while we hung out at her house, and would spend most of my time trying to eat as many M&Ms, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and Hershey Kisses from her candy dishes as possible without anyone noticing; it was my little secret.

In order to bring extra money into the household, my mom began doing day care out of our house for family and friends.  Each summer, there would usually be anywhere from 5-10 kids in the house Monday through Friday, and she was responsible for feeding everyone lunch.  I mostly remember eating soft tacos and “cinnamon crispas” from Taco Bell and mini fried chicken sandwiches with mayo from Kentucky Fried Chicken.  And drinking lots of Dr. Pepper.

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Clockwise L-R: Me, best friend, friend from school, brother, best friend’s brother, cousin, and friend from school’s sister mowing down chicken sandwiches like it’s something to do.  circa 1991

My family moved to a new city when I was 10 years old.  At the new house, what would normally be the rear fence of the backyard was actually a high concrete wall to separate our yard from a mall parking lot.  Our house was 3 houses from the corner, and at that corner was a dead end through which you could walk to get to the mall.  Almost every day after school for two years, my mother would give me and my brother five dollars each to go the mall, eat at the food court, play arcade games and hang out until our dad got home.  We’d usually get Taco Bell, since it was cheapest and that meant we could play more games.

A kid in school began making fun of me for my “rolls” at around that time.  I thought he was talking about the bottoms of my blue jeans.

When I changed schools after completing 6th grade, I had a choice that summer: I could go into regular 7th grade at the local middle school and end up graduating high school a year early; or go to a gifted school a little further away, repeat 6th grade with more advanced teaching and be with kids my own age.  I got a legal pad, went into my bedroom, drew a line down the center and labeled one side “Regular 7th”, the other side “Gifted 6th”.  I wrote down all the pros and cons I could think of for each situation, and ultimately decided to go to the gifted school.

I thought that no one at this new school would make fun of me for being smart; they were all smart.

And I was right.  Not once did anyone ever make fun of me for being smart.

Instead, they made fun of me for being fat and poor.

I was now a poor fat kid, ridiculed in a whole new way, and I became incredibly depressed.  I was furious at myself for choosing to attend this school, effectively adding a year to my seemingly never-ending sentence of ridicule.

Even at 11 years old, I knew I owned my decision.  I’m the one who weighed the pros against the cons and did what I thought was best given the circumstances.  I thought I was going to a school filled with people just like me, and that things would be so much better.  I knew that making new friends could be difficult and awkward, but I was excited to be with kids my own age and whom shared some of my skill set and abilities.

And now here I was, in a new school with people I’ve never met, most of whom grew up together in their upper-middle class neighborhoods, enlightening me to my family’s financial woes and my own obesity.

I could not endure the pain any longer.  I had to make some sort of stand.

So, I told my bandmates to start calling me “The Fat Kid”, and created a kind of alter ego where I was totally comfortable with being overweight.  I made jokes about myself before others could have the chance.  Whenever something would go well for me, I’d pick up an object, hold it in my hand like Groucho Marx with a cigar and say “The Fat Kid always wins!”  It got so many laughs that I went to the custom t-shirt shop in the backyard mall and had it ironed on a extra-large cream-colored t-shirt in big blue letters…

The Fat Kid ALWAYS Wins.

That shirt became my “security blanket”.  I wore it to school.  I wore it when my bandmates and I rode bikes and skateboarded.  I wore it when I played drums at shows.  I embraced the whole character of the overweight kid in the group that tries really hard to get everyone to laugh, and continued to portray that character for over a decade.

And I effectively eliminated all ridicule about my weight.

Today, I’m in the best shape of my life.  I’ve lost 70 pounds from my highest weight ever, bike almost every day and go to the gym 3-4 times a week.  I eat a well-balanced diet of food throughout the day, and only binge or cheat on festive occasions.  As a result, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  I also have more stamina where it really counts…behind the drum set, ladies!

Book Cover

The late Stephen Covey wrote in his best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “It’s not what happens to us, but our response to what happens to us that hurts us.”  I knew back then I couldn’t change my weight problem overnight.  (In fact, it has taken the past six years of consistent — and inconsistent — effort and decision-making to finally get to a point where I can stand naked and sober in front of a mirror and smile).  What I did know was this: just as the decision to attend the gifted school was mine to make, so was my decision to choose my response to my bullies.  I decided to use the exact same smarts the kids used to make fun of me about, and turn the tables on my adversaries.

And the only person stopping you from doing the same thing in your life is you.

Turn the tables on your haters.  Use their own tactics against them.  Sharpen your mind and create a better life for yourself.  Feel free to start with Covey’s book above.  I’ve bought it 3 times and given it away to people to help them, leaving me with no copy.  One of my best friends recently gave me his extra hardcopy.  (Call it karma, right?)

My birthday is coming up this Saturday, and I always get myself a gift.

This year’s gift: six-pack abs.

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The fat kid always wins.

Thanks for reading.

:-J

P.S. Speaking of Saturday, I’ll be posting a big announcement on here!  Those who follow this blog will get it emailed directly to them so they don’t miss it.  I have a no-limit policy on how many people can follow, and it’s FREE!!

P.P.S. Here’s a moment from the fat years that stuck with me…

Once, on the way home from bowling, I remember going through the drive-thru at McDonald’s and this exchange happening as we were waiting to pull up to order:

Dad: “Okay boys, what do you want to eat?”

Me: “A double quarter pounder with cheese extra value meal, super-sized with a —”

Dad: “Doggone it, John! Do you always have to get the biggest thing on the menu??”

I fell silent and shrunk into the passenger seat.

“Why does he care what I order, anyway??”, I wondered at first.  “Is it because it’s the most expensive thing on the menu and my family is struggling with money??”  (Maybe.)

Then, I began to get really pissed off.  “So what,” I reasoned, “I’m hungry, and you’re just jealous that I can eat more than you.” (What??)

My brain brewed with thoughts and my body shook inside for at least an hour.  Bottom line, I was really upset with my food lifestyle being challenged.  I had settled into the role of “The Fat Kid” and what he would order when he went to fast food restaurants: whatever the biggest value meal was, super/biggie/fatfuck-sized.  But I knew in my heart that he was right to ask the question, albeit angrily.

So, why did I always have to order the biggest thing??

It was the habit I unconsciously created over the course of almost 10 years due to my daily decisions.

Make better decisions on a daily basis — even the decisions you think are small — and you’ll eventually create new habits and get the results you want.  I know from experience, dude.