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  • Writer's pictureKevin Keller

The Path to Success

Updated: May 13, 2018

How do you take your passion, the one thing you were born to do, and turn it into a full time profession?

One word: persistence.

After all, talent is something you're born with, and skill is something you can acquire and improve - but without persistently going after opportunities to make money from your talent and skill, you won't have much of a career.

Back in July 2000, it really struck me that I wanted to be making my living as a composer. Even though I had quit my day job a few years earlier in order to pursue a career in music, I had ended up as a part time music teacher who occasionally wrote music for the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco. I also did occasional live performances. Between these three things, I was able to get by. The thing was, I knew that I could do better than just “getting by”.

In order to start heading in the direction of being a composer full time, the first question I needed to answer was “Who needs the kind of music that I compose?”, and with my keen interest in dance and film, the answer to my question was simple: “choreographers and filmmakers”.

The next question was "Where can I find choreographers and filmmakers who are looking for my style of music?" Even though I had lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for nine years, I didn't feel that there was really much of a “scene” for dance and film there. This feeling was further influenced by a recent trip to New York City (my first time visiting there), where I had felt a very vibrant arts and entertainment community. By October, I was obsessed with the idea of moving to New York. It felt to me like it was the one place where I truly belonged. Throughout the following year and a half, I talked a lot about New York, and thought about the idea of moving there, but I didn’t actually make any concrete plans or take any actions.

That all changed on May 9, 2002.

On that day, after finishing up a school day teaching music at a local elementary school, I took a hike to the top of Wildcat Peak in the hills of Berkeley. It was a gorgeous spring afternoon, with a strong breeze blowing up the hillside as I hiked towards the summit. At some point along the way, it occurred to me that there was nothing physically preventing me from moving to New York City, and a question popped into my head:

“Why am I still here?”

Unable to come up with any reason not to start the move, I drove home and began making real plans and taking real actions in order to actually move. I let the principal at the elementary school know that I would not be returning for the next school year, and I also shared my moving plans with my friends and family. I asked people I knew for leads and connections in New York. I started researching dance companies and filmmakers on the web, and sending emails introducing myself as a composer. I started getting rid of things I didn’t need, and packing up everything else. For 5 months, there was an incredible amount of energy in my daily life, all towards the goal of moving to New York by the end of October.

On October 31, after watching all of my belongings get loaded onto a moving van, I took a one-way flight to JFK and then took a taxi to the apartment of an old college friend who had an extra room. The next day, I started contacting choreographers and filmmakers, setting up meetings, and giving out demo CDs to everyone that I met. This continued for almost a year, until I was hired for my first dance commission. It paid me $500 – for what ended up being a year of work. Around the same time, I got my first film scoring job - $1,000 to score a 5-minute short documentary. Obviously, $1,500 wasn’t enough money to survive in New York City!

So, I chose to take a part time job that paid $15/hour, working 30 hours per week. I continued to pursue work every day as a composer for dance and film, while also continuing to release music commercially and doing occasional performances in the city. This was pretty much the routine for what ended up being 7 years.

By September 2010, I was making as much money from music as I was from my part time job, so I gave notice at my job and became a full time composer in October.

All told, the journey took me 10 years.

The most important part of that journey was staying focused on what I was trying to accomplish, and being persistent. I always kept my sights on the life and career that I wanted to have, even during the times when that life and career seemed far away.

Do you have a story from your life that shows the power of persistence?

Please share it in the comments section. Thanks for being a part of the conversation!

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