There’s a Good Chance That Were It Not for these Two Men, You Wouldn’t Be Reading This Blog Right Now
My mom, arguably as big of an Elton John fan as I am, took Aaron and me to the Billy Joel and Elton John Concert in Kansas City at the Sprint Center. (Thanks again mom!)
My life was incalculably changed because of both Billy Joel and Elton John, as most of you who know me realize, and seeing them live together at the Sprint Center in Kansas City tonight was awesome. I had never seen Billy Joel in concert, but this was my third time seeing Elton John (the first was at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 2001 for my birthday during college, the second was in 2005).
Anyway, as a kid, I had gotten in horrible fights with my parents, my dad in particular, about being forced into piano lessons. After a lot of struggle, and near throw-down fights, I won and quit entirely.
On January 1st, 1998, I watched a special with Billy Joel on VH1 Storytellers and I had never seen someone have so much fun playing and composing on a piano – I didn’t know it was possible. Within a few days, I signed back up for lessons (as you can imagine, my parents didn’t fight me!) and within a few years, was really, really good. Of course, shortly thereafter I discovered Elton John and I’ve been a super-fan ever since (we’re talking a collection of original LP’s that most people have never heard of including demo albums from when he was in his early twenties).
Later, when I left for college, a vocal scholarship paid roughly half of my $140,000 four-year university bill and I was able to test out of years worth of piano work, not to mention how much easier music theory was as a result. I got to experience things most people cannot even imagine. As part of my degree program, I was required to perform in the choir on some of the best stages in the world, including those in Lincoln Center – performing on stage with the Brahm’s Requiem with the Dresdan Philharmonic and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center in my early twenties is still one of my best memories. (I’ll find some photos from backstage and try and post them sometime.)
My Internship at Warner Music, the Record Label
At one point during my senior year of college, one of my two internships was at Warner Music Group, the record label. I asked to be in contracts department because I wanted to understand how the business side of the industry worked. One of my jobs, as a lowly intern, was shoving publishing royalty statements into envelopes after matching them to a list. One of the things that still makes me laugh is that everyone – even Madonna – was referenced either by their full name or their production company (e.g., Madonna Ciccone or Boy Toy Productions for Madonna or Sword in the Stone Publishing for Tori Amos), except for Cher. Her statements literally said “Cher”. That was it.
(The internship at Warner, actually, was one of the reasons I decided not to go into the music industry at all, although it had been made clear by most of the music faculty that I could have made a very good living in classical vocal performance; my heart wasn’t in it. I managed to make it through almost all four years at school without most of my classmates ever hearing me, or realizing that a huge part of my tab had been paid already by merit scholarships. We had a “secret” senior recital, on another campus, and ordered pizza and Coca-Cola for a very, very small group of friends and their parents. Jimmy, for instance, had never heard either Aaron or my voice despite being our friend for years at that point. Anyway, the tipping point, I think, was when a vice president at the record label said to me, “you won’t believe what we can get away with getting people to sign. Most of them are to high on blow to know what they’re signing.” Given that I was born in the 1980’s, I had no idea what blow was, so I had to look it up (it’s cocaine for those of us who weren’t around in the Studio 54 days and the Carter administration). That’s not how I want to do business. I want companies, like Buffett’s, where everyone makes money together, the shareholders grow richer, and only the competition gets crushed.)
What Would Have Happened Without That One VH1 Storytellers?
So, the fact that I was able to get such a fantastic undergraduate education, learning from some of the best business men and women on the East Coast, getting experience at $5+ billion property and casualty insurance company, running a student government association’s six-figure budget, performing on the world’s greatest stages with some of the world’s greatest musicians, etc., all before my 22nd birthday, came about because the tab was picked up by a music scholarship and degree.
What would have happened if I hadn’t seen that VH1 special? I wonder that sometimes. I would have still been successful, because I’ve been obsessed with building an empire since I was 10. It’s just that music wouldn’t have been the vehicle I used to pay my way into the education system, which means I wouldn’t have gone to college with Aaron, the current companies wouldn’t exist … the whole journey would have been drastically different, with different friends and experiences. All because of one television show.