The music industry is one of the riskier fields in which to pursue a career. There are people who try and try to succeed in the business for years, but never get anywhere with it. On the other side, there are extremely successful musicians who one day fall off the radar and seem to disappear from the public eye. Basically, a career in any industry is never guaranteed, and the main reason for failure is unrealistic expectations. The only way to reach success is to set gradual goals for yourself, put the work in to achieve them, and never let the rejections bring you down. That’s true in any industry.
From the time I realized I could sing, I wanted to be in the music business. My parents, being the most supportive people in the world, helped my brother and I attempt to break into the entertainment industry at a young age by taking us to auditions, to sing at sporting events, and trying tirelessly to get us representation. At that age, I thought that because I was getting some attention, I would inevitably be a star. That was a completely unrealistic expectation, and when I started getting denied jobs for reasons that seemed to overlook my natural talent, it brought down my drive to succeed in the business. Sound familiar to any other creatives out there?
After a few years of just doing my art for fun, my brothers and I discovered our love for writing music. We would get together in the basement every day after school and write songs. When we were teenagers, we put out our first studio album on a small, local “record label” under our band name: A Fragile Tomorrow. The owner of the record label, who also took on the roles of manager, producer, travel agent, entrepreneur, and pizza maker, promised us fame and fortune. (When a guy with cool sunglasses and lots of “friends” in the business tells you you’ll be the next Beatles, you take it seriously.) He fed us with unrealistic expectations, and that was the biggest problem in the beginning. It may sound like he was preying on our youth, but false promises and blowing smoke—I’m sure you’ll agree—are not exclusive to the entertainment industry.
After about a year and a half of buying into the crap we were being fed, we came to realize that we were better off on our own. Our encounter with Mr. Sunglasses definitely was a learning experience. Our time with him got us a strong following locally, and even got us into the hands of a Grammy-winning producer, who actually went on to produce our second record. The initial disillusionment gave us a point to start from, and without it we would not be where we are today.
We now have three records out, have toured all over the country, and have a very strong and loyal fan base. We’ve established our own record label, publishing company, and full-on business that we release our own music through. We have a strategy in marketing ourselves, and by constantly setting small goals for ourselves, successes seem to happen often. By doing all of the footwork—and having moderate (but increasing) expectations for yourself—it is more than possible to build a successful career in any industry.
Start small, and then slowly work your way up and out. You know you probably won’t achieve success overnight—you set yourself up for failure when you expect to. You might need to take an unpaid internship, work in a less-than-ideal environment with less-than-ideal tools, or, most importantly, create your own opportunities.
After our first record, we evaluated the results and at that point came up with a strategy for a way forward. We started out building a really strong local fan base, eventually got out to the surrounding areas, and are now able to go to a number of big cities (and expect to see crowds at our shows). This strategic plan and hard work caught the eye of bigger names in the business, and we’ve since been able to tour with some great names. None of this could have happened for us if we hadn’t taken a risk and kept the faith. We collectively realized that we had this passion for playing music, and together we’ve been able to make a career out of it.
If you have a passion for something, you go for it—at any age. You won’t achieve the pinnacle overnight. But if you are willing to do the dirty work and create a strategy for a way forward, you can and ultimately will achieve success.
Dominic Kelly is the drummer for A Fragile Tomorrow. The group is composed of brothers Sean, Dominic, Brendan Kelly, and Shaun Rhoades. Throughout their career, AFT has shared the stage with the likes of Blues Traveler, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Danielle Howle, and more. They released their third album, Tripping Over Nothing, in 2010. In Feb 2011, they accompanied the Indigo Girls on the southeast leg of their national tour.
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