You know there’s a saying about overnight successes. They say that most overnight successes in the music industry took a decade to reach “success.” What they mean, of course, is that behind every seeming “overnight success” story is years of blood, sweat, and tears. Nobody truly made it in the music business overnight (well, very, very few at least!) without years of effort.
Well, if I’m ever to be considered an overnight success, it’s probably going to be more like 20+ years to get there! Which is perfectly fine with me – what’s that other saying? Life is about the journey, not the destination! Of course, it’s all about your definition of success. If recording and performing original music and (sometimes) even getting paid to do it, is success, then I’m there!
I didn’t always think I’d get there. And once I stopped performing original music nearly 20 years ago, I was pretty sure I’d never get back to it.
Well, it’s been an interesting journey for me, to be sure. My earliest musical aspirations were with my elementary school friend, Mark. We used to hang out and write songs at lunch time on the music room piano. I’m not sure if you’d consider those early songs ‘hit’ material, but I still sing some of those songs to this day (ok, alone, at home, when nobody else is listening!). Our duo was called Roger & The Deadbeans. All of our songs were about beans, believe it or not (“It’s Bean Too Long” was one of our favourites!). Of course, we didn’t know anyone named Roger who could sing or play an instrument, so that band was doomed to never break out!
When Mark and I were roommates at the University of Waterloo in the mid-nineties, we couldn’t stop writing songs. We wrote every day, every night, and probably during every lecture, when we should have been listening! We wanted to be rock stars, for sure, but we clearly didn’t think that was likely. We were once approached on campus by a guy walking by who asked if we played guitar and if we wanted to join his band. Our long hair and grunge look must have given us away as musicians, but we declined! We just didn’t think we were good enough to actually be in a band!
It wasn’t too long until we decided we did want to perform music, after all. We started jamming with a few guys from school (Sludge, Bass, and Steve “The Juice” – seriously!) and we started our band reson! We had fun, put out a couple of CDs, but after a couple of years, Mark quit, Steve moved to Texas, Bass got a job, and Sludge decided to backpack across the world! Should have known we’d never get far – yeah, it was right out of a Bryan Adams song!
After the band split up, I ended up getting a full time job and it seemed that “real life” had set in…
While I always had a yearning to get back into original music, as the years went by, it seemed less and less likely. I managed to keep on the stage, performing in a Tim McGraw tribute artist, but pretending to be Tim McGraw wasn’t quite the same as being myself and singing my own songs.
A few years back, that yearning was growing stronger. I dusted my guitar, which I hadn’t played in a couple of years, and started writing again. And I practiced (and practiced, and practiced!). I got in touch with my good friend and Producer Peter Boashart, and we went into the studio and started recording some new material. I wasn’t sure what I would do with it, but it felt good to be getting back into original music.
Then came The Shot, a vocal competition for students open only (at the time) to our local colleges and universities. I was studying part-time, and was eligible to enter, so I did. It was an incredible experience, and I was fortunate enough to win the competition. It was a huge catalyst, breaking down many of my self-perceived barriers to getting back into performing. The prize package included recording at famed Metalworks Studios, a professional photo shoot with local photographer Sylvia Pond, a music video with Esteemedia, and more.
As the winner of The Shot, I had an amazing opportunity to sing ‘O Canada’ at the Canada Day celebrations in Waterloo that year. I stepped on the stage in front of 40,000 people just as Canadian rock icon Kim Mitchell wrapped up his set, and was immediately followed by the fireworks. It was absolutely incredible.
Looking back, even just a short number of months before I hit that stage, there was no way I could have seen that coming or that it could be possible. But there I was. It reminds me of another saying about success, that it’s the crossroad where preparation meets opportunity. If The Shot was the opportunity, then all that practice, writing and recording was the preparation. I was exactly where I needed to be to make the most of the opportunity.
I had a CD that was almost finished, so finishing just took a few more weeks. And I quickly put together a super fantastic band… with who else, but my childhood friend Mark! We’d come a long way from that music room piano to get to Big Music Fest, Canadian Music Week, and Indie Week Canada. But somehow we got there. I guess it’s never too late, and you’re never too old to achieve your dreams. Even if it took 20+ years to get there!
If you’d like to hear the most recent milestone of that journey, click hear to listen to my debut EP, ‘James Downham’.
Thank you for being a listener and for making it all matter.