Sean called it the "I deserve to be famous, dammit" mix — a playlist of the most recent tunes that he had written and recorded. Sean was a musician, and in his own humble opinion a damned good one. Maybe not a famous musician yet, but a good one.
Though it was 6 a.m. Sean cranked the mix through his headphones as he jumped over the sleeping forms of his roommates.
He himself didn't need much sleep. He was 21 and was, in fact, so hyperactive and just naturally “wired” that many people assumed that he used cocaine even though he had never touched the stuff. At any rate, it was good that he didn’t need much sleep because with four guys living together in a studio apartment he would surely never be able to get any sleep anyway… And just how in the hell had he ended up with three roommates anyway?
The only thing that Sean didn’t like about the “I deserve to be famous, dammit” mix was that he hadn’t figured out how to alleviate the “hiss” sound. He agreed with the old-time musicians about being a fan of recording in analog — many of those famous musicians felt that analog tape was much warmer and gave a much richer tone than digital recording — and Sean took that to heart and recorded his songs analog using a cassette 4-track tape recorder that had been handed down to him from an uncle. How the hell did they get rid of all of that hissing in the old days? He loved recording that old-fashioned way, but it was a fact that there was an awful lot of hiss.
“Hissssssssssssssssss,” he hissed to the otherwise quiet room.
By the door sat his guitar: a black Squire Stratocaster that his mom had purchased for him at a garage sale when he was in high school. Neither his mom nor the guy selling the guitar to her had realized that it was a 1983 model with custom pickups and therefore worth a lot more than it had gone for at the garage sale. Sean grabbed the guitar as he stepped toward the apartment door. After his morning kickboxing class he would head directly to work and during the slow times at work nobody seemed to mind if he practiced his playing… as long as he didn’t use an amp.
He stepped out the door and quickly slipped down the stairs, jumping over the bottom railing while softly calling out, “Weeeeeeeeee!” If not for the fact that it was still dark and quiet in the courtyard of the apartment building, he would probably be singing along with the tunes on his headphones. He wouldn't be embarrassed by that sort of thing, after all he would be singing along with some of his favorite music: his own. So nothing to be ashamed of there. No siree.
As he quickly walked toward the apartment complex’s gate he noticed that the girl whose computer he always used — a tiny young woman, thin and frail-looking, who went by the name of Icon — was sitting in front of her apartment, there on the concrete, her head back against the closed door.
"Lock yourself out?" Sean asked as he jogged over to her.
"No," she replied.
"Then why are you outside your door at 6 in the morning?"
"Just thinking," she said.
Sean liked this girl, in fact she helped him with a lot of computer stuff that he had no clue how to do, such as transferring his 4-track cassettes to digital mp3s, but damn she was an odd one — always had a quiet, almost depressed kind of aura around her. She fancied herself a filmmaker but he had never seen anything that she'd done and he'd never been able to find anything by her on the web. He had once described the girl to one of his roommates thusly: "She's one of these people who you can tell is super smart, but you never know what's going through their super brains 'cause they almost never open their damned mouths. Maybe's she's thinking about how to cure cancer. Maybe she's planning a mass murder. Who knows?"
"Oh hey," Sean said to her, "the followers came through. All 150,000 of them. Can you friggin’ believe it? One Hundred Fifty Thousand followers. I feel like a major label artist already. I conquer all!"
"That's great Sean," she said softly. She had helped him get the followers thing set up. Some computer guy — obviously not a very ethical computer guy — had been contacting musicians like Sean and promising that for a hundred bucks he could hack in and deliver 150,000 new followers. And surprisingly, he actually had been able to deliver them.
"Dude, it was so cool," said Sean, "I watched 'em all come in — bing, bing, bing, one after the other. Now I've got 150,127 followers. How friggin' cool is that?"
"That's great Sean," she repeated.
"Yes, it is. And, hey, thanks for your help with that."
"Oh, say, I've got a gig on Wednesday night and I've gotta get that whole e-mail list thing figured out… Can you help me with that later?"
"Thanks. I'd invite you to the gig, but I know you're not 21 yet,” he said. Then paused. Then continued, “How old are you anyway?”
“Oh, cool. ‘Cause you look like you’re about 12.”
"Well, I'll be a famous musician playing arenas before you're 21, so that should work out. But for now… I guess I'll catch you later. Have fun thinking," he called to her as he jogged away and exited the gate of the apartment complex.
There were already a fair number of cars whipping down the busy street when he exited the complex. "Where are you Ramona?" he called aloud as he scanned the street for her (Ramona was his aging car, a vehicle held together more by rust than anything else). Quite a ways up the street he spotted her. He jogged over to where the car was parked, hopped in, and after struggling to get the engine going, Sean pulled out into traffic and headed for the kickboxing gym all the way over in Malibu. It was a hell of a long drive, but luckily he had to keep him company the best music in the world — his own.
*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sean.
There are those who want to be famous and then there are those who feel that they deserve it.
And perhaps it is that slight difference in perspective that can make all of the difference between pining after that music career and actually achieving those music dreams.
At least that's the theory that Sean is operating on. His firm belief is that you need to have a firm belief in what you are doing, and a firm belief in the worth of what you are doing if you are ever to succeed in a business as competitive as the music business.
Which is how he has come to have the mantra "I deserve to be famous, dammit."
And why it is that he is willing to work tirelessly on those dreams of becoming a rockstar. For that is the goal. Simply being a "working musician" would be enough for many, but not for Sean. His music dreams are all out. He wants to be a rockstar.
No, scratch that, he feels that he deserves to be a rockstar.
And hopefully that difference will make all the difference.
“Thanks to everybody for coming out tonight!” Sean shouted into the microphone. He strummed a great big chord on his guitar and shouted, “It is so really great to be here! Yeah!” He pumped his fist in the air and strummed another power chord on his electric guitar.
From the audience there was no response.
Earlier in the day Sean had managed to drag his roommates out of the apartment somehow. Well, not somehow: he had gotten them out of the apartment by promising them plenty of beer (though he wasn’t exactly sure how he could afford to actually make that happen since his Malibu kickboxing classes were leaving him pretty broke). Is this how to become a rock star? Sean didn’t know, but he did know that he needed the guys up and out of the apartment so that he could form them into a loose backing band for his gig tonight.
Step one had been accomplished: with the help of Icon, the tiny girl downstairs, he had sent email announcements to his list and posted the gig to his social media accounts. He momentarily dreamed of all 150,127 of his followers showing up for the show, then he remembered that 150,000 of those followers weren’t actually real, he had paid someone to hack in and create them. And actually 123 of the others were follow-for-follow, so they weren’t exactly what you would call “real” either. His mom and her friends were real — Thank you Mom! You’re the best! — but they were also in Wisconsin. Dammit Mom, why are you in Wisconsin? Still, the thought of 150,127 people all showing up had given him a momentary thrill.
Step two had been accomplished: he had made the long-assed round trip out to Orange County to retrieve Barry’s drum kit from Barry’s parents’ house. Luckily they did that during the afternoon hours when Barry’s dad was still at work. Barry and his dad were on such bad terms that Sean had seriously worried about getting shot if the man had been home. But this was worth the risk! Definitely worth the risk to become a rock star!
Step three was much more of a pain, but had also been accomplished: get the guys all awake and sober at the same time. Christ, that one was tricky. But he had done it!
The gig was at the club in Silverlake where Sean worked on Thursday nights. He wasn’t a regular employee there, but the club needed extra help on Thursday nights, as the place was known for doing a big thing on Thursdays featuring lots of bands. Thursdays at the club were something of an L.A. tradition. Thursdays were hugely popular. Thursdays had great bands. Thursdays drew lots of fans. Thursdays even had some celebrities showing up (and Sean had almost gotten fired for trying to touch the hat of a well-known guitarist). Thursdays were good times. Thursdays rocked!
Sean was playing on a Wednesday.
Wednesdays were dead.
But after bugging the manager for the close to three months that he had been working one night a week there, Sean had finally gotten the call — two bands had pulled out of Wednesday night and the manager needed someone, anyone, to come in and play (to the crickets). So the manager had called Sean. Sean had accepted. And Sean didn’t plan on blowing it.
Step four had been accomplished: he had made up tabs for each of his songs so that the guys knew how the songs went. Then they had done a few quick run-throughs at the apartment. These were some good musicians so they caught on to the songs pretty quickly and should be able to pull off the semblance of being an actual band. If he could keep Barry from getting completely wasted before they actually got there, that is. No small task there.
Step five had been accomplished: keep the guys from wandering off during the afternoon and get them transported to the club. This step had actually proven to be quite difficult as they had lost Paul for about an hour. And while Sean was off searching for Paul (who had gone to the 7 11 for a burrito) the others had gone back inside the apartment and Barry had dozed off again. Then after they had all loaded up in the car and had gone about 15 miles, Paul announced that he had left his guitar at the apartment. Jeeeeeeezuz…
But eventually Sean had gotten them and all of their equipment to the club. They had managed to drag all of the equipment up on the stage. The stupid drum kit that they had driven all the way out to Orange County and risked gaping gunshot wounds to retrieve turned out to have a broken head on the kick drum. And of course, Barry didn’t have an extra one. Barry didn’t have anything (other than a keen desire to drink as much as possible). The problem with Barry was that he had grown up as a rich kid and therefore had no clue how to operate in the real world after his father had kicked him out and stopped putting money in his bank account.
Step six: get everything set up… well, without a kick drum, there would be no low end there and that would sound pretty odd. Oh well. Such was rock and roll. But he supposed that step six could be checked off as completed. He could still be a rock star without a kick drum.
Now it was time for step seven: the actual gig.
Sean looked out at the club and saw exactly three customers. One of them was Icon, the girl who lived downstairs from him and had helped him with his email list, which was odd as she was under 21 and must have snuck in. Besides Icon and the other two customers, there were a couple of bored-looking waitresses. And a bored-looking bouncer. And a bored-looking bartender. Oh, and the manager… who, truth be told, also looked pretty bored.
Sean looked out at the “crowd.” It was a far cry from 150,127. But hell, he thought, you have to start somewhere. Only Rome was built in a day. Right?
Sean muttered under his breath, “I deserve to be famous, dammit.” Then he stepped up to the mic, took a deep breath, and launched into his first song.
Here we go….
*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that orderif you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sean.
A rockstar music career: fame & fortune in 5,000 easy steps
It's a dream that a lot of people have had over the years. Yet it is a dream that only a handful of people will achieve.
That's because becoming a rockstar is hard.
Certainly Sean is not the first aspiring musician to learn this little truth. Because there is a difference between playing an instrument and being a rockstar. The former can be easy and fun, the latter requires a lot of effort.
And interestingly, the music business is one of the few industries that doesn't really have that much nepotism. Certainly, in pretty much any other business, if you are related to a big-shot then your chances of becoming a big-shot yourself are pretty good.
But in the music business it is different. It is very rare to see a "Jr." musician. Instead, pretty much all musicians start out as dirt-poor nobodies who are pursuing their music dreams from scratch.
Which gives Sean hope that perhaps the playing field is level enough that he too can make his mark. And be the next big rockstar of his generation.
“I deserve to be famous, dammit!” Sean shouted confidently. He was wearing his headphones, so likely anything he wanted to say would have been shouted, but "I deserve to be famous, dammit!" was something that he felt deserved shouting even without the music blasting into his ears. This was something that he believed. He was a musician. He was an effin’ great musician. And he deserved to be famous.
Sean was pretty hyper this morning — as he was pretty much every morning, every afternoon and every evening — and he bounced around on his toes like a prizefighter. Actually, in this instance his bouncing was completely appropriate given that he was wearing boxing gloves and doing his bouncing in the vicinity of an extra-tall punching bag.
He was glad that his hands were wrapped in those thick gloves as he wouldn't want to injure his guitar-playing fingers and disappoint his 150,127 followers. Well, actually, his 127 followers. Or his mom and her friends. Whatever. No matter.
This whole music business thing was complicated. Learning how to play the guitar, well that had been something which had happened naturally when he was in high school back in Wisconsin. Sean played pretty well and he sang pretty well. But the actual business part of the music business… that was turning out to be tricky.
And though he admired the folks who were going at it as indie, it seemed to him that the people on the radio, the people selling millions, the people with monster concerts and busloads of groupies: those people were still part of the major label system. And how do you get into that system? Seemed to Sean that it was the same way that people had always gotten into that system: connections.
With a huge grin on his face Sean brought his leg up and slammed the bag with a roundhouse kick. Whap! Feeling the satisfaction of this, he timed his kicks along with his exclamations. “I” Whap! “deserve” Whap! “to be” Whap! “famous” Whap! “dammit!” Whap! Whap!
No one disagreed with him.
Of course no one agreed with him either as he was all by himself in the kickboxing studio. This despite the fact that he travelled the farthest to get to this class — a long commute from The Valley to Malibu, whose canyon grades threatened to kill his ancient vehicle — he was inevitably always the first one here. In the short time that he had been working out at this place he had already discovered that the schedule didn’t seem to mean much to the rich folks of Malibu. They showed up just whenever the hell they felt like showing up.
And oh how he ached to be one of them.
So he always showed up early, never wanting to miss the opportunity to already be here when somebody who might help his career should come walking through the door. He so wanted to be one of them himself, the famous rock star who all the people like his current self clamored to meet. He even practiced his autograph signing on a regular basis.
Despite all that a musician could do online these days, Sean was convinced that the true path to fame was still in the old saying "It's all in who you know." And he knew it was only a matter of time before he met that one contact who would make his dreams a reality. Just have to stick with it.
He switched from kicking the bag to punching the bag. “I” Thump! “deserve” Thump! “to be” Thump! “famous” Thump! “dammit!” Thump! Thump!
He had joined this gym in Malibu — which cost much more than he could really afford and was located far too far away from the place he shared in Van Nuys — because he had read in one of those entertainment magazines that some of Hollywood’s biggest hot, young movie stars and rock stars worked out here. “Here” being a kickboxing studio run by a former Hollywood stuntman.
Sean was a bit confused though as he didn’t seem to have gotten into the Hot Young Stars class. Rather, he must instead be in the Trophy Wives class as all he had met so far were a bunch of rich guys’ wives: gorgeous women who didn’t work, who had housekeepers to clean their houses and who had nannies to raise their kids. So basically these women were left with all the time they needed to stay in incredibly fantastic shape.
He envied them.
Obviously, these women weren’t the people Sean was targeting, yet still it wasn’t as though there was no benefit in knowing the rich guys’ wives. After all, that might be a way for Sean to meet some of the rich guys themselves. He’d already met one woman whose husband was an executive at one of the major movie studios, so really, who knows?
“Who the hell knows?” he shouted at the room, then turned to find that he was no longer alone in the studio. The woman who had joined him was giving him the sort of look that implied that she questioned his sanity. He smiled even wider and said, “Hi Amanda” — Sean was excellent at remembering names — ”Didn’t see you there. Sorry if I sounded… you know, musicians. People usually think that we're all just brain-blown insane. But not me, dude. No Crazy Train here. Right? Yeah?”
Amanda, whose husband had that vague and slightly fishy-sounding job description of “investment banker,” replied in a disinterested sort of tone, “Well, you’re certainly chipper today.”
“Actually Amanda,” — Sean had read books on networking and he knew that repetition was key to remembering people’s names — ”I’m chipper pretty much every day. And I don’t,” he added conspiratorially, “eeeeeeeven drink coffee. Heh, heh!”
Amanda flashed Sean a very quick, and very fake, smile then turned her attention to the phone in her hand.
The instructor entered the room — not the former stuntman who owned the place and whose face was featured along with various celebrities in about a million photos scattered around the place: that guy wasn’t the one who actually taught the classes. The teaching was left to an assortment of former and current pro kick-boxers and a couple of movie fight choreographers. Since Sean was still fairly new he wasn’t sure which variety this particular instructor called his own. Probably the choreography crowd as he was merely in fantastic shape rather than the rock-hard shape of some of the other guys Sean had seen leading classes.
Sean glanced at Amanda and saw — at least he was pretty sure that he saw — Amanda checking out the instructor. Sean suddenly wondered if these instructor-types ever ended up hooking up with these Malibu wives. The women certainly had the time on their hands. Reeeeeeeeally makes you wonder.
“What was that?” asked the instructor.
Sean must have been mumbling aloud. “Oh, nothing. Just lost in thought. Thinking. You know. Yeah.”
Returning to those thoughts Sean wondered if maybe he had a shot with any of these women? Oh, but wait. That would probably be a bad idea. The rich guys probably wouldn’t be inclined to help him out if they found out that he was the one making sneaky sneaky with their wives.
Also, was it true that rich guys knew who to hire when they wanted someone killed?
Damn. He didn’t want that.
As a few more women entered the room the instructor said, “You guys can go ahead and start getting warmed up if you want.”
Though he wasn’t the one being spoken to Sean replied, “Warm and ready! Ready to go, go, go!” And at that he began singing the word “go” repeatedly to the tune of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, “Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go. Go-o-o-o-o. Go. Go-o-o-o-o.”
The women kind of blinked at him. One said, “Man, somebody’s had some coffee.”
“He doesn’t drink coffee,” said Amanda.
“Cocaine?” asked another of the women.
“Neither one. But I like coffee shops,” said Sean. “But people do look at you kinda weird when you go into a coffee shop and don’t get coffee. But dude, what I like is hot chocolate. Screw coffee. Hot chocolate rocks!”
The instructor called the class together and they started some warm-up stretches. As they stretched, more people came filtering in, as they would up until practically the end of the class. At a quarter after, the only other male of the group strolled in. This was Bob, who had some kind of empire based on strawberries from nearby Ventura County. Not exactly the type that Sean was looking to meet, but definitely not one to be ruled out. After all, successful guys hang out with other successful guys, right?
Sean remembered seeing an interview with the late-great producer/director Stanley Kramer — who did The Caine Mutiny, Judgment at Nuremberg, Inherit the Wind and several other of the greatest films ever — who said that he raised funding for those films by going out to orange farmers and convincing them to invest. So hey, a strawberry King? Don’t rule him out. Maybe a dude like that could do something for an up-and-coming musician. Who knows?
“Hey Bob,” Sean called out, “are you ready to smack the hell out of something?”
Bob merely gave Sean a polite smile and a nod, then he headed off for a punching bag at the opposite side of the room from Sean. Had Sean been a little more self-aware he might have noticed that people tended to do that sort of thing a lot when he was around.
And so the workout went on and each time that a new person appeared in the doorway Sean would crane his neck to see the identity. But just as with the prior classes the promised big, famous celebrities failed to appear. It was a bit disappointing to see that his substantial monetary investment in this place was failing to produce hot young celebrities — or even anyone halfway famous for that matter. Hell, he would have settled for a sitcom actor from the 80s. Still, he wouldn’t let it get him down. This was an investment and investments need time to mature.
As class was breaking up, Sean called out to the group, “Anybody up for the coffee shop? Group activity?”
Bob replied, “I don’t know about everybody else but I personally think that after that workout we all smell a little too intense to be congregating somewhere that people are trying to drink and eat.”
“I second that,” said Amanda.
And one by one they all turned Sean down. In the end he just got back into his aging car, Ramona, and started the long drive back to The Valley. He wasn’t the least bit dejected though. He knew it was only a matter of meeting the right person — that one right contact and he was in there hanging with the big boys.
After all, he deserved to be famous.
*The printed version of non-Hollywood follows a different character in its next chapter. You can read the book in that order if you prefer, or scroll down to see the next chapters starring Sean.
Extend your professional network through kickboxing
It may not be the most obvious networking strategy, but perhaps that might make it work.
Try to meet the people that you need to meet, not at industry events or in offices, but find them where they work out.
It's one approach to achieving your music dreams.
And it is Sean's hope that this will be the approach for him. And his choice of where to find them is a bit of a hardship for him. It is quite a distance from his home and cost a lot more than a worker of multiple part-time jobs should be spending. But his hope is that this is a good investment of both money and time.
After all, if he meets that right person then he is on his way to making his dreams a reality. And if he meets that right person in the right environment, then maybe they will actually become friends. And then dreams will really move forward.
Though given Sean's lack of experience with fighting, his choice of a kickboxing studio might not be his best choice for networking opportunity. But this is the path he has chosen in his pursuit of how to be a rockstar.