Sunday, November 8, 2009

Former media sales rep offers advice to would-be musicians

The following was first published in The Record.

Some of us spend our entire career in the media.

Some pass through this profession on their way to something else professionally.

And a few juggle between two jobs; one in the media and a second in teaching or the arts, for instance. The media gig might be the one that pays the bills and the second may be aspirational, or vice-a-versa. Usually the candle burning at both ends flickers out on one career and grows brighter with the other.

Stephen Kellogg fell into the latter category for a brief time. A salesman by day for a periodical, he labored in his free time to record his first album. He sold ads for about six months for a publication called "Notes" that focused on promoting concerts in western Massachusetts.

As is the case with most media salesmen, singer-songwriter Kellogg could never have anticipated being in the job until it found him, or he found it. “I think one (as an artist) is always looking for work that allows you some time to keep your own hours, do gigs, etcetera.”

The sales “gig” didn’t come naturally to him – “I'd get so nervous for phone calls it would make me sick to my stomach” – but he says he did learn some life lessons from it. “It was a great lesson in the impossibility of doing something well that you aren't into.”

What he has “been doing well” at, has been nurturing a career that includes three solo albums, four studio albums as Stephen Kellogg & the Sixers, and roughly 1,000 live shows, including an April 2008 appearance at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, opening for Hanson, and an Oct. 30 show headlining at The Egg in Albany. Described frequently as a “roots rock” act, the band is building an audience that appreciates the sound of artists such as the BoDeans, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, and John Mellencamp.

I suspect Kellogg isn’t the first musician to work his way up to the big time who also worked in media sales; I remember meeting lots of musicians throughout my career who were selling ads by day and strumming, drumming or singing by night. But I don’t think as much is made of it as the many journalists who have crossed-over to success in the artistic or literary world, such as novelist Samuel Clemens and Civil War photographer Mathew Brady, to name two.

The Record in fact, has its own working musician. Jason Constantine, a sales rep of three years, is the singer in the modern rock cover band called Off the Hook.

What advice does Kellogg have for Constantines of the world who are still burning the candle at both ends?

“Take care of the music that it might take care of you,” he advises. “It is important to build your business savvy, etcetera, but way more important to get good at the art.”

“I would also say that if it’s his love, make sure that’s how he always represents it,” he adds. “I meet a lot of musicians who tell the world that they want to do it for a living because it seems like a ‘tough living’ or whatever. You have to really need to play to play, and if that’s the case don’t get derailed by self-doubt. Just take the love you feel and make it happen.”

Kellogg’s band may be one of the best you have never heard. But that could change as they keep relentlessly touring and recording. Their last album, “Glassjaw Boxer”, deservedly made USA Today critic’s Brian Mansfield’s list of top 5 albums of the year in 2007, with company as prestigious as Bruce Springsteen and Alison Krauss and Robert Plant. “Heart’s In Pain” from “Boxer” and “Born in the Spring” from this year’s “The Bear” album earned the band some significant exposure with spins on episode of TV’s “One Tree Hill” over the last two seasons. And I suspect a live album that will be recorded later this month at The Bowery in New York City on Kellogg’s 34th birthday may be the effort that puts the band over the top in terms of visibility; this band is amassing a impressive catalogue of songs to showcase together, and the group’s energy is something that is more easily captured on stage than in a studio.

But don’t take my word for it: Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers can be heard locally on WEXT-FM (97.7), as well as on Internet and satellite radio. Also, check out Constantine’s band Off the Hook in local clubs or at

No comments:

Post a Comment