In the summer of 2018 I took a leap of faith, and quit a great job to pursue a passion project — drive across America to find and interview a talented independent musician in every state about being independent in today’s music landscape. It was inspiring to say the least, to see almost all the corners of the country except for Hawaii and Alaska, but it was even more rewarding to meet these talented group of diverse individuals. Before I dive into the why, what, where and how, here are some quick relevant numbers and a map of my route at the bottom of the article incase anyone is considering taking their own cross-country journey.
- Trip duration: 3 months,
- Total Miles driven: 18,773
- Total Driving hours: 181 hours ( 10,870 minutes)
- Car Maintenance: $190
- Car Breakdowns: 0
- Where? 48 drivable states, except for Hawaii and Alaska
- Who? 49 artist interviews plus 2 special guest interviews
- Total Budget Spend: $11,071
- Total Lodging Spend: $4,051, ($55 daily average)
- Total Travel Spend: $3500 ($40 daily average, gas)
- Total Food Spend: $3220 ($38 daily average)
- 2010 Chevy HHR
- Canon DSLR T6 Rebel
- Rode Videomicro (Interview Microphone)
- I-phone 10 camera (for pics and videos)
- I-Pad (For recording audio)
- Garageband (Recording Software)
There’s nothing like finding your passion, and going all-in for it.
When you have passion for something, it’s easier to make that decision when you’re caught at a mental crossroad, like having to decide whether or not to sacrifice your current financial stability, or to follow your dreams. Well, I found myself in this position a few years ago and I chose passion, went all-in, saw the countryside, met several of talented diverse people, and never looked back.
With all the resources available online to enhance your craft, market and promote your content, and essentially turn your creativity into a profitable business and brand, challenges still remain that prevent artists from reaching their full potential, their audience, their dreams.
Some say it’s a numbers game, others say it’s a formula, maybe it’s the sum of many. The fact of the matter is, there’s so much great talent out here getting overlooked and I wanted to know why. Are all under-appreciated talent having similar challenges? Is it Gatekeepers? Is it something out of their control? Something that it’s in their control, but lack the missing piece of knowledge another artist may have?
Being around talented creatives since a young age, I became focused on this disconnect and in 2014 created Diversal.org, a content-discovery platform designed to syndicate and promote talented artists I would meet. With slow growth and no web coding background there was only so much I could do behind a computer screen. I wanted to create something that was a bit more engaging and impactful other than just sharing content online.
In the following years, I would end up developing a bootstrapped plan to travel around the country, use my skills in finding a talented independent artist, interview them and put the footage together to create a project that would not only shed light on the independent artist, but also embrace creative diversity within America.
There is beauty in all of it, I love the journey…that’s the beauty of being independent
— Case Bargé (8th Artist Interview, Cleveland, OH)
The Leap of Faith
This project was just an idea conceived in graduate school and I had estimated a budget needed to make this possible, over 10 grand. With what seemed like a million dollars of student debt already, what blocked me from moving forward on the project right away, was the money and the debt I was already in. Initially, there was a team planned for the project, but as time passed the more we all realized the commitment it would take.
Two years later, I’m 28 with money saved up, single with no kids, and a great position at a press agency. Although there were student loans, I had no other serious financial responsibilities that depended on me. It was May and my lease was ending, so I wasn’t about to be bound by another yearly rental contract in Brooklyn, NY. It felt as if things were aligned where it would be my last opportunity where I could really take a financial risk with nothing to lose, but my own money and still be young enough to bounce back fast. This mental crossroad was a daily thought, but as days went by, the passion behind the idea grew stronger and the decision became clearer and easier. By the end of May 2018, I would take that leap of faith and go for it.
I quit the job, took a month to reach out to brands for sponsorship opportunities and hit the road on what I called a State-2-State Artist Discovery road trip. It spanned over the entire summer, covering 48 drivable states plus Washington D.C, with 49 artist/band interviews in addition to two special guest interviews. The purpose here was to not only find and showcase a diverse group of up-and-coming independent talent to the world, but hear from them about the challenges they face and what they could change in the music industry given the chance.
Partnered With FL Studio To Award Each Artist
I was actively reaching out to brands I thought would be great sponsors for this project. I reached out to a lot brands, a lot, and while several responded expressing interest, none of the conversations led to any financial sponsorships. However there was one company that did get back, Image-line, makers of the music software, FL Studio, an industry-leading digital audio-workstation for the past two decades. They offered me to give every artist I interviewed their Signature Bundle Software for free. If the artist already had the software, then they would be able to get a plugin of their choice. While only a couple of the artists didn’t need the software, almost all the artists did and were very happy and appreciative with the team behind FL Studio.
Being able to help enhance the music-making process for these artists was special to me for personal reasons. FL Studio played a large part in my creative journey as it was my first music-making software back in 2003. Had it not been for FL Studio, I’m not sure if I would’ve got into making music, which led to me meeting alot of creatives in High School and College, which is why I had the yearning to build Diversal, a precursor to coming up with this Artist Discovery project. So really, all of this would’ve never been possible without FL Studio to begin with and them coming on and partnering with me to make this experience for these artists even better, made this come full circle.
Two Special Guest Interviews
This trip began in New York interviewing the first artist, Latasha in Brooklyn on July 21st, 2018, and would end in New York on the weekend of October 19th, 2018, interviewing two industry professionals at the 145th Audio Engineering Society (AES) Convention at the Javits Center.
The plan was to originally end with the last artist interview, Lane Simkins in New Jersey, however it just so happened that this music convention was happening that week and I wasn’t too far. I figured it would be a great opportunity to connect with an individual or two who were actually in the Industry and get their take on being independent in todays Music.
The convention was setup like any other conference event with rows of several companies showcasing their products, with booths, stages and other rooms set for guest speakers. I didn’t want to just grab anyone I could find, I was looking for speakers who were touching on topics that were related to independent artists.
The first day of the event I came across a gentlemen giving a talk on using a certain feature in FL Studio, grammy award-winning music producer, Michael Ashby. I stopped to listen not only because there was a connection here with FL Studio, but Michael discussed how he’s worked with several of A-Listers, like Cardi B, Migos, Fetty Wap and more, and also hundreds of independent musicians. After his talk I introduced myself, told him about the project and he agreed to chat for a bit.
The greatest challenge is trying to find your lane that will set you apart from other artists…It’s like crabs in a bucket, if you’re going to try to climb over top of people, you need to find a way to stand out to Label Execs and Music Producers…that originality you have will start to shine amongst the others
— Michael Ashby
Before heading out that day, I saw there was a talk going on in one of the rooms titled “The Distribution of Independence: From Green Line to the Blockchain” by Rich Jensen, a Sub-President and Music Manager from the early 90’s who helped paved the way for bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and many more that would end up defining a sound in the 90’s. When I saw the title of the talk, I knew I had to include him in this project.
I got to the room unfortunately just as it was ending, but when most of the attendees left I took my opportunity to introduce myself and pitch the project. Interested, he agreed to meet the next day at the center and we were able to chat for bit as well. Both Michael and Rich were very cool and down to earth, and I’m grateful to had the chance to hear and document their take on being independent in today’s music industry.
Working with Independent Artists… is where the vibrations and textures of the future will emerge
— Rich Jensen
Embracing Creative Diversity: Hashtags, Criteria and Sofar Sounds
Source & Criteria:
About a handful of artists, I already knew from featuring them on the discovery platform, however for the majority, I scouted while on the way using hashtags on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook Events and also used the location tool in Bandcamp to find potential artists to interview. I could have easily just found any artist, however the criteria I used was my own intuition, where I asked myself, whether or not I felt their passion right away when I started playing their music.
I was in communication about this project with Sofar Sounds, a company that hosts live shows with up-and-coming artists in cities around world. Now in over 400 cities, you can find your nearest pop-up by just looking up #sofar(your city name). Not seeing your city? Host an event in your city and open your doors to a world of music. They recommended me a list of artists to interview, which helped me connect with three, Indie-Alternative rock-band Racoma from Seattle, Washington, R&B/Soul singer Sabriel from Las Vegas, Nevada, and Folk/American and Country duo Admiral Radio from Columbia, South Carolina.
Embracing Creative Diversity
Almost all of the artists interviewed were in different parts of their music journeys and ranged in age as well; with Brayden, singer from a Phoenix, Arizona, being one of the youngest at 17 at the time, to some artists who were over 30 like Yeah, Probably, Soul band from Mobile, Alabama, and STLNDRMS Lo-Fi music producer from Atlanta, Georgia. Most of the artists had been performing for years like Cullah, from Milwaukee, WI, who has released an album every year for the past 15 years straight; while others like Shabani singer from Kansas City, Missouri or Maria Naylon singer from Omaha, Nebraska who now is in L.A, had mostly home clips on Instagram.
Maria Naylon has actually opened up for rapper Logic in early 2018, however for the past few years has focused on short clips of her singing which have been going viral. During the interview, she mentioned how much she liked her new TikTok since her viral page on Vine was taken down with Vine’s departure (RIP Vine). 2 years later, and so far she’s broken over 2 million likes and over 150k followers — the woman can ‘sang’!
To carry on the theme of embracing creative diversity, I wanted to make sure I didn’t select artists from one genre, and included music talent from a range of genres. While there were a lot of hiphop musicians, I also interviewed various artists who identified with Folk, Americana, Pop, Electronic, R&B, Ambient and Experimental, Singer-songwriter and Country. There were also music producers and instrumentalists, such as Philly-based guitar player Henry Zhang, and Wasi, Saxophonist based out of Charlotte, North Carolina.
Regardless of these differences, age, location, and genre, what all artists had in common was PASSION, and that’s what this is all about.
Figuring that out, the puzzle of songwriting and live performance, and being creative…is what keeps me going
— Sam Robbins, 5th Artist Interview from New Hampshire
The only issue I ran into was the heat from the Sun cutting the iPad off mid-interview with Sabriel from Nevada and Farma Wes based out of Virginia. Aside from this, there weren't any dramatic interruptions and the interviews ranged from 10–30 mintues. I stuck to 10 questions for each artist. Depending on their answers, time and the flow of conversation I would ask more, however these 10 were the basis and themes of the interview:
- Name, where are you from, and how long have you been doing music for?
- What genre do you consider yourself in and what are your thoughts on the current state of this genre?
- What’s the greatest challenge you face as an Independent artist?
- What’s the best part of being independent?
- How do you go about feedback? From who?
- What sets you apart, what makes you diverse?
- What inspires you?
- If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be and why?
- If you could change anything in the music industry, what would it be and why?
- What should we be on the lookout for from you? Next project?
I figured these 10 questions would be enough to understand everything you would want to know with an independent artist; who the artist is, their view on genre and the industry at whole, challenges they face, what they wish they could change in the industry and what inspires them to keep going.
As some random stranger hitting them up online to do an interview, I imagined there would be some hesitation or concern, so I wanted to make sure they were as comfortable as possible. I recommended having the interview wherever they felt most comfortable or drew the most inspiration from.
We met at a range of locations; some artists had me meet them at their house, before/after a show, in their Music Studio, random places outdoors, and even at work.
For the most part, the artists didn’t have any issues with answering the questions, nor were really nervous. Never was there an awkward silence. If there were some nerves, the shakyness went away after the first few questions. The questions weren’t to difficult and pretty much straight-forward. The only question that some of the artists struggled with was “If there was anything you can change in the industry, what would it be?”.
Since most of the artists didn’t have much industry experience, I expected this one would be the hardest, however I still wanted to hear how creative they could get given an opportunity to create change. It was interesting to hear how similar and different the artists responded to all the questions, and will be even more interesting when we can look back in years to come, when change does happen, whether in the music industry or in their own careers.
Daily Process: How I Did It
With lodging, gas, and food, I was spending on average between $100–150 in total per day. While I wish I could’ve stayed and hung out longer with all the artists I met, financially I couldn’t spend more than 1–2 days per state if I didn’t have to. The sooner I got to the next state, the next interview, the better I would be off with maintaining the budget. In doing so, I broke down my daily process in 4 stages:
- Artist Search & Connect
- Conduct Interview (See performance if there was one)
- Starbucks, or other Cafe for content-transfer
- Lodging, Wake-up and repeat
Artist Search & Content
I used the time while driving to go through hashtag posts online and listen to independent artists to see who would be worth interviewing for the next city. I would search #(city name)Singer, #(city name)newartist, #(city name)livemusic, etc and so on. It was common for me to have an idea where to drive to, what city, and then find a dope artist who would be in another city, causing me to divert and change route.
Once I connected with who I wanted to interview, I would try to schedule the interview the day of, or the next. If it was for the next day, I would then book the interview and then book a nearby hotel, motel or Airbnb. If it was the day of I would coordinate lodging depending on where I needed to go to for the next state.
Starbucks / Content-transfer
After the interview, I would go to a nearby Starbucks to upload the content to the hard drive, putting them in a designated folder for that state so I can name, label and organize later. After the 10th state I realized I had hit a Starbucks in every state, so it became a goal to carry this on. While transferring content at Starbucks, I used that opportunity to relax a bit, call and update family and also do my part on social updates.
Rest and Repeat
Once content was transferred, posts on social were made, I usually used a little more time to scout more artists for the next states until it was time to clock out back to my hotel, unless the artist for that particular state had a show.
Post-Trip: Content, Success and A Long-Term Vision
Among dealing with the box of chocolates life has to offer, since completing the trip I went through the following phases:
- Organize content: go through all the footage, label and organize
- Outreach to production companies to help develop the project
- Plan Round 2
From the interviews itself to b-roll of the artists, the cities, performances and everything in between, there was a lot of content to manage. It took a while to get all the content organized and labeled, which now can be sent to a team of editors or production company who can easily browse through and identify exactly what content to use.
Currently I’m in the third phase, Content-creation, working on what I’m calling the “Dream Collab Series”, a series of videos of the artists answering the question on who they would like to collab with if given the chance to. Not to confuse any hype that one day these artists have, or will collab together with their ‘dream collab’, but who knows, maybe… It was a fun question that excited the artists almost every time, and one day I do hope that these connections will come true. Stay tuned.
Aside from the Dream Collab Series, there is a good amount of content-rollout in the vault, including key moments from the interviews themselves, clips from the artist performances and a ton of b-roll.
Independent Growth and Success
The success and growth thus far for many of the artists I interviewed since the summer of 2018, confirms that my judgment in finding talent no matter the genre isn’t bad. Since the trip, several of the artists have been signed to labels, performed on national TV Shows such as The Voice and America’s Got Talent, performed the National Anthem at a Professional NBA game, several surpassing metrics in the millions on Spotify and other platforms, and many more are continuing to release great content and I’m sure will be continuing the success in years to come.
Interviewing these artists at the onset of their music careers was great, however there is a larger vision here. It’s been inspiring to see where these 49 artists were in the summer of 2018, watching how they’ve overcome their challenges following their PASSION, to where they are today and where they will be tomorrow. The goal of this project is to not only capture THAT growth and tell an outlook of being independent told straight from the artists themselves, but also help these artists further their voice and inspire other creatives to follow their passion no matter what obstacles life brings.
Below is a list of the 49 artists in the order in which I interviewed:
- New York, Brooklyn — Latasha
- Connecticut, New Haven — Shiwan
- Rhode Island, Providence — Feral G & Atto Pilot
- Massachusetts, Boston — L.S.C
- New Hampshire, Portsmouth — Sam Robbins
- Maine, Portland — B.Aull
- Vermont, Windsor — Ali T
- Ohio, Cleveland — Case Barge
- Indiana, Fort Wayne — Los Lemons
- Michigan, Detroit — TheLobby
- Illinois, Chicago — Keyz
- Wisconsin, Milwaukee — Cullah
- Iowa, Davenport — Xavy Rusan
- Nebraska, Omaha — Maria Naylon
- South Dakota, Sioux Falls — Rascal Martinez
- Minnesota, Minneapolis — Crispin Swank, Pinkie Promise, Eleanor Elektra
- North Dakota, Beulah — MoonCats
- Wyoming, Jackson — Canyon Kids
- Idaho, Boise — River Merrill
- Montana, Kalispell — Eddwords
- Washington, Seattle — Racoma
- Oregon, Portland — Craig Irby Jr
- California, Los Angeles — Dane Ferguson
- Nevada, Las Vegas — Sabriel
- Utah, Provo — Ben Day
- Arizona, Phoenix — Brayden
- New Mexico, Albuquerque — Citizens Of Tape City
- Colorado, Denver — Kid Astronaut
- Kansas, Wichita — Marrice Anthony
- Missouri, Kansas City — Shabani
- Oklahoma, Lawton — Fyu-Chur
- Texas, Dallas — Van Gammon
- Arkansas, Little Rock — Qiuntellii
- Mississippi, Oxford — And the Echo
- Louisiana, Baton Rouge — Kaycee Kersh
- Alabama, Mobile — Yeah, Probably
- Florida, Panama City Beach — Cline Street
- Georgia, Atlanta — STLNDRMS
- South Carolina, Columbia — Admiral Radio
- North Carolina, Charlotte — Wasi
- Tennessee, Nashville — Hannah Rae Beale
- Kentucky, Louisville — The Sleeping Bag
- West Virginia, Beckley — Verdeant
- DMV — Farma Wes
- Maryland, Oxon Hill — Don Anthony
- DMV — AnywhereButHome
- Delaware, Wilmington — Chloe Rae
- Pennsylvania, Philadelphia — Henry Zhang
- New Jersey, Laurel — Lane Simkins
- Special Guest — Michael Ashby
- Special Guest — Rich Jensen
Traveling Across America
Although costly and with at least 3 months off of work needed, I still recommend doing some type of cross-country trip, whether its for vacation, to see family and friends, or to see your favorite thing in every state (that idea you just thought of, you should definitely do it…).
Not only is traveling in general just a good way to relieve stress, and a way to refresh from your daily routine, whatever it may be, doing it with some type of purpose makes the experience and relationships created more meaningful. Below I go in a bit more detail on the travel aspect of the trip, detailing a bit more on the finances, some travel highlights, recommendations & sights, how I decompressed being on the road for 3 months straight and what I’ll do differently the next time I do a cross-country trip.
Other then Kansas, Texas and Virginia, where I stayed with family, I estimated prior to the trip that I would spend around $5,754 dollars for lodging, using an old average hotel cost surveyed by Hotels.com in 2014, of $137 per night. By 2018 that number wasn’t that accurate and as of October 2020, the average rate for an hotel according to Statista, was actually $97.61. Nonetheless, along with using other lodging options and accounting for the nights I stayed at family members houses, which was 9 days, I averaged spending $55 per night, staying at:
- 9 Airbnb’s
- 1 hostel
- 10 Motel 6’s
- 39 Choice Hotels (Quality Inn, Econo Lodge, Rodeway Inn)
- a couple of family-owned Motels
My diet isn’t that big to begin with, so prior to the trip I had what I thought was a reasonable goal of $25 per day on food. Research says that the average American spend on food away from home is $8.64 per day, however I knew I would need to triple that amount at least 3 times per day for breakfast, lunch and dinner. While I tried to stick to the $25 daily budget, as days went by, I would end up needing to raise that a bit.
What helped keep my food budget at a more realistic number was stocking up on free breakfast food/drinks at the places I stayed at, and All-You-Can-Eat buffets (Golden Corral was a go-to only in select states), utilizing their dinner and lunch specials, which were between $9–15 dollars. Eating at the buffets allowed me to get as full as possible so that I could keep enough energy that would hold me over until the next destination.
Then there was snacking on the road, and also the required purchases I had to pay at all the Starbucks I went to before and after the interviews. With continuous snacking and staying hydrating while on the road, my actual daily food/drink budget rounded up to about $39 per day, upping my total spend on food/drinks to $3220.
Besides having my car run out of gas on a main highway in Wyoming in the middle of nowhere (luckily not too far from the nearest gas station where I had to go to pick up gas, twice to fill the tank up, the Chevy HHR surprisingly had no breakdowns, and no flat tires. The only maintenance that needed to be done, were 3 oil changes and a crack on the window that needed to be filled by the time I got to Colorado, which amounted only up to $190 altogether. I was averaging 300 miles driven every two days, and with gas my total in travel came up to $3,500, paying about $40 per day on gas.
Highlights, Favs and Sights
Whenever I saw a scenic overlook sign, or a historic sight sign, depending on if I was on a time crunch to an interview I would try to at least take that little detour and check it out. There were so many places I could list here that were cool to see, especially for someone from the city; driving through the thick-green mountainous northeast, the long-stretch roads in Idaho and Wyoming with Mountain ranges off in the far distance, or the desert in the southeast, but probably my favorite place I saw out of the 48 states I drove through, was Kalispell, Montana.
Favorite Location: Kalispell, Montana
Although driving through Buffalo fields and Mountain range you only see in Movies in Jackson, Wyoming made it a close second, Kalispell, Montana felt magical. I interviewed a very talented hiphop artist who goes by Eddwords, based out of Kalispell, MT, and on the way to his studio I was driving in complete awe. Kalispell is in the heart of the Flathead National Forest, just above Flathead lake, and it’s pure beauty. Everywhere you turn, looks like a scene straight out of a National Geographic image book; shiny green hills, grandiose Mountains that seemed to touch space, towering over a glimmering light-blue lake. I couldn’t believe how lucky people were who lived there. The entire time I was thinking, if at any point my car would breakdown, I was hoping it was at that moment.
While there were a lot of cool things and places I saw and other interesting observations, like how different the clouds were in different parts of the country, the World’s Largest Buffalo in N.D, or why there were an abnormal amount of white cars in Arizona, here are some notable places I stopped at I definitely recommend visiting:
Nevada’s Valley Of fire
After the interview with Dane Ferguson of Los Angeles, I made my way toward Las Vegas to meet with the Sofar Sounds recommended artist, Sabriel. On the way I saw signs for the Valley of Fire, and couldn’t ignore that detour. Although hot as hell (pun intended), Valley of Fire is located in the Mojave Desert and considered a geological wonderland, covered in these red sandstone massive formations with rock carvings that date back more than 2,000 years ago. I didn’t spend much time, but I did park the car a few times along the way, got out and walked a bit to take the surreal landscape in. You really do feel like you’re walking in a scene straight out of an old Star Trek movie.
New Mexico, it’s Night Sky and Breaking Bad
Being from NYC, I rarely get the chance to see a night sky full of stars due to light pollution, so wherever I went I always made it a goal to take a look up at night when the sky was clear and take in the stars I never see. I did this often, however never have I ever seen as many stars as I did while driving through the desert at night on I-25, leaving Albuquerque, New Mexico towards Colorado.
At one point, no cars were coming in front of me nor behind me, and with my headlights being the only lights around, I figured I pull off the road and turn them off. It was beautiful and intimate to experience the sky like that, and made me feel like the stars were closer than they actually were. I started to become aware that I was in the middle of the desert with no light, and had no idea what type of life was out there. The pitch blackness definitely got to me and it took me a matter of minutes to snap back to reality, turn the lights back on and continue my way towards the next stop, Denver, where I would interview Kid Astronaut.
Albuquerque was colorful and rich in Native American culture, dotted with many shops selling handcrafts and other cultural items, however other than that, if you’re a Breaking Bad fan like myself, hitting up Albuquerque is a must. Prior to the trip I wanted to remind myself to go to the famous Breaking Bad car wash, however there was no need because on my way to the Econolodge to check-in, I found myself behind a Breaking Bad Tour RV, so I decided to follow it a bit and got my chance to see the car wash.
The “Eye” in Dallas, Texas
Besides seeing an abnormal amount of people on scooters throughout the city (extremely convenient for getting from A to B in the city by the way), there was also a giant realistic glass eyeball right outside the five-star Joule Hotel. Some people I’ve talked to who have been to the city never knew this was there, so definitely try to not miss this sculpture next time you’re in Dallas.
Arkansas, and the 8th Largest Diamond Reserve
After the interview in Mississippi and on the way to Conway, Arkansas to meet up with the 33rd artist, R&B Singer Qiuntellii, a contestant from NBC’s The Four, I saw a sign for Crater of Diamonds. I was curious, looked it up, and saw that it was open to the public for anyone to dig and find diamonds…yes we definitely was making a quick stop for that.
Long story short, super hot and buckets of sweat later, I found no diamonds. Nonetheless, it was still a cool experience, but not cooler than seeing Qiuntellii do an amazing rendition of Jackson 5’s Who’s Lovin You, which he did right after our interview.
Idaho, Craters of the Moon
After the the interview and performance from Bo Elledge and the Canyon Kids in Jackson, Wyoming the next stop was Boise, Idaho. When I think of Idaho, I think of potatoes and the blue field for the Boise College football team. I have other reasons now. On the way to Boise, off of route 26, the terrain changed from a vast flat land with an enormous mountain range off in the distance, to what seemed like terrain from an alien planet. It looked like the land was full of meteorites, large dark rocks covered the area and at one point it went on as far as you can see. My phone service went out for the majority of time I was in Idaho, so I couldn’t research where exactly I was at and what this was I was driving through. I eventually found a sign, “Craters of the Moon”, which is basically dried lava that over time spewed to earths surface. Definitely recommend checking this surreal place out, no terrain quite like it in America.
How I Decompressed
Traveling the country was definitely an awakening experience, and something I plan on doing again, however doing this trip solo is not for everyone and bringing someone or a team will be a must the next go-around.
While I needed to stay busy at all times, even while driving, whether it was posting on social, or going through posts online searching for talent, I could see how the solidarity could drive someone stir crazy.
Finding ways to decompress was important in keeping me sane, and linking up, connecting and meeting with the artists definitely helped, especially if the artist had me join in on a recording session like STLNDRMS in Atlanta, or invited me to a performance like B.Aull in Portland and several others. However there was a lot of time in between each state, each interview, so I had to come up with ways to keep my energy and focus up. Here are some of things I did, or things I recommend that helped me decompress.
Whether you’re reconnecting with an old friend, or just having a night out, taking a night off and doing something fun was definitely needed to blow off steam and reset the brain after a continuous amount of driving day after day. My girlfriend at the time, now wifey, came to visit me in Boston, MA and Las Vegas, NV. She helped me record the 4th artist interview with Boston-based band, L.S.C. That weekend we would end up taking some time together, grabbing a beer at the famous Fenway Park, riding bikes through Harvard, going on a self-guided canoe tour, and having some lobster right outside of a concert venue where Sylvan Esso was performing, who I’m a fan of. The venue was so close it felt as if we were getting a free show.
20 interviews and 20 states later, my wife flew out and met me after the interview in Las Vegas. We took the weekend off, met up with some friends and did the Vegas usual, Casinos, etc…and nope, didn’t win big like we all think we do when we walk into a casino.
I took a few days to spend time with family in Kansas, Texas, Virginia, and also met a 1st cousin for the first time in Phoenix, AZ, who recently connected with my Uncle after they both were searching for each other for over 30 years. The Passion of music definitely runs in the blood as he’s also involved in music as a lead singer in his band called Mixtape.
Madden? Yes, Madden
After The Lobby’s performance (10th artist interview of the trip) at The Original Hip Hop Shop, a legendary music venue made famous by Eminem as shown in film 8 Mile, which has since closed, I crashed at a Motel in Battle Creek, MI. While checking in, I could see the Clerk had Madden 19 on pause on the TV behind him. I don’t have much time these days for gaming consoles, however there is only one game I do play, and that is Madden. On impulse, I asked if we could play a match, he respectfully said he needed to finish his current game and that we could play after (the nerve…but I understand I saw the score and it was close).
Excited, I went to my room, unpacked, came back and watched him finish his game standing by the counter like I was waiting for someone to print out a receipt. He invited me behind the counter and we literally played an entire game. It lasted like 40–45 minutes, and I destroyed him. Only one couple came in to check-in while we were playing, and I kept my back to them the entire time, waiting for the transaction to finish. I couldn’t show face because it just didn’t feel right, but so funny at the same time.
Studio Session With The Artists
I am honored and forever appreciative for every artist who took the time out to link up with me, especially those that invited me in their homes and in their creative spaces. For me the creative space is super sacred and for them to invite me, a total stranger in their sacred space was special, and something I will forever cherish. Not only did I get the opportunity to see many of the artists perform at shows, but also see their creative process in action; like the producers, Feral G and Atto Pilot who are cultivating creative culture in Rhode Island, the hiphop artist Eddwords making waves in the Northwest, the award-winning Oklahoma-based music producer, Fyu-chur, a well-known Atlanta-based Lo-Fi music producer, STLNDRMS, and more.
Radio Interview — Tables Turned
Fyu-chur, was the 31st artist I interviewed, based out of Lawton, Oklahoma. His friend who works at 107.3 Popcrush, OK’s #1 Hit Music Radio Station, also came by his studio and sat in on the interview. Very down to earth and extremely passionate when it comes to music, I also got a chance to see him work as he cooked up a track straight from scratch after the interview. Clients of his came by shortly after and we had to cut our session short, however his friend invited me to the radio station where she interviewed me on this project. After 31 interviews and 31 states, it was definitely refreshing to have the tables turned, making it my first time really talking about myself, my background and why I was doing this project.
Toes In The Sand
By the time I got to Florida, I scheduled an interview with a dope Panama City Beach (PCB) duo who go by Cline Street, Anne Cline, who was on American Idol and an extremely talented drummer, Jarrett Street. The interview was right before their performance that night at Buster Hangar 67, so since it was still early in the day I decided to take a much needed break and spent an hour with my toes in the sand on PCB. After a few speeding tickets, the situation in New Orleans which I will only briefly get to in a bit, and the realization that I would be completely broke after all of this, this beach time definitely rejuvenated my energy.
Food, Food and More Food
I tried to maintain a tight budget for food, however every now and then I would change it up and try something new, something different and relevant to the culture of whatever city I was in. I wish I did more of this, but I only had so much money to work with. Portland, Maine not only won me over with the chill vibes and the dope artist I met up with, B.Aull, but also the food!
The best blueberry pancake that may ever grace my stomach was at Becky’s Diner, and don’t even get me started on the Lobster Roll I had at Maine Lobster Shack, both in Portland, Maine.
Here are some other notable mentions that was satisfyingly delicious:
- Get the life-changing Jerk Ribs at Ja’ Grill in Chicago, IL. After the 11th artist interview with R&B singer Keyz, he recommended we grab a bite here, and damn what a good choice!
- Move over Shack Shack, rated as one of the best burger joints in New Hampshire, I could eat at Lexie’s Joint everyday.
- I’ve had some good sushi, but the sushi Maria Naylon, her friend and myself had at Blue Sushi Saki Grill after our interview, was probably some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. There’s more to Omaha than just steaks and undiscovered talent.
Bourbon Street, Not so much…
Only experiencing New Orleans and Bourbon Street in the movies, when I got to the Louisiana, I figured this would be a good time to take a night, go out and experience the culture. This unfortunately was a mistake. My thoughts now could be biased, however the first thing I noticed with Bourbon Street was the smell, a collection of bodily fluids and Alcohol, this is the only way I can describe this. Other than that, it started out fun I guess, what you would imagine, bar hoping, meeting locals and having a good time. This all changed, and without going into too many details, I ended up getting pick-pocketed of my wallet which included my credit/debits cards, my drivers license and ID card. Maybe for another medium post, however long-story short, I had to reschedule the interview that day, go back to Texas to a family members home to regroup for a few days and then picked up where I left off.
Challenges On The Trip?
Besides this hiccup in New Orleans, this entire trip was an amazing, inspiring and positive experience. Even though I literally spent every single dime I had, I have no regrets. However just like one of the themes and questions of the interview, I too experienced challenges along the way, and just like several of the answers by the artists, the challenges we faced were fairly similar; lack of a team, time and money.
It was always an exciting moment meeting the artist for the first time, going through the spiel of the project and doing the interview, but as much as I wanted to I couldn’t stay long unless that artist had a performance. Reason being, is if I didn’t have an interview in the next state already scheduled, I had to take into consideration that each day I’d be deducting anywhere from $100–150 dollars from my budget, as this was my daily average spend. To compare to real life, many of us want to do many things sometimes all at once, however if you take a methodical approach, prioritize and stay consistent, time doesn’t necessarily become an issue.
Looking back its hard to believe that I hit all 48 states, drove over 18,000 miles, met and interviewed 49 very talented diverse artists, saw some places I may never see again and more, in just 3 months. If someone had told me prior to planning this project that I would do this, the first thing I would think is that I wouldn’t have enough time.
I was comfortable with the reality of my bank account being at 0 once this trip was over, because the connections, the experience and opportunities created was far greater of value to me. A continual decrease of your finances however, definitely effected my mentality, as I became more frugal and less spontaneous as time went on. But regardless of what was spent, you can’t put a price tag on memories and friendships which were created.
Lack of Team
As mentioned earlier, this trip was a commitment I underestimated when pitching to the potentials who were interested in being apart of this. I wasn’t going to expect others to quit their jobs and invest all of their money like I did, so I had to do my best, having to wear many hats. Not having someone help out on social made it difficult to grow a following fast, using 1 camera I was only able to film one angle at a time, and being a one-man show slowed my content output, and there is a lot of content…a lot.
“ The most important thing you can do, is have a team around you”
— Don Anthony, 45th artist interview from Maryland
What’s Next?…Round 2?
Aside from working on content of the artists from this trip, the long-term plan is to follow their growth as a creative following their passion. From this project, we’ll see where they were in 2018, their outlook on the industry, their challenges and influence at that time, but where will they be in 5 years from now? 10 years? How will they evolve as an artist? How will their music evolve? What new music will they have created? What challenges will they have? Will they still be doing music? The list can go on.
A team will be needed for the next cross-country trip, a minimum of at least three; the interviewer, a person handling social media and an extra eye/hand behind a camera. Having done this trip solo now, I can say that these two extra personnel, the second handling social and the third handleing film content, will create a dramatic difference with content output.
For now, there is a lot of content to repurpose for these artists, with the first series of content rolling out titled “Dream Collab Series”.
In the meantime, you can find their music pages in the list above and follow them to stay up to date with their upcoming projects — there is much in the works.
You can also check this Spotify playlist I put together of the artists involved who have music on the platform.
Tips For Your Cross-Country Trip
- Prepare and plan prior to trip, but leave room for spontaneous detours and unexpected adventures
- Create a budget and stick to it
- Recommend starting in June/July going through October, beginning in the northeast and going counter clockwise. In doing so, you’ll skip the winter seasons up north and have less wear & tear on the car
- Stock up on food from the complimentary breakfasts at hotels/motels you stay at
- Take advantage of low prices for newly Sponsored Hosts on Airbnb
- Hotel chains are the best places for restroom breaks, clean and safe
- Fill up at All-You-Can-Eat Buffets to minimize the need of having to snack
- When you get to the Midwest, especially Wyoming, Idaho, North and South Dakota, make sure you check your gas tank frequently. Several of long stretch roads without any gas stations nearby
- Don’t skip a sign that looks interesting. When’s the next time you’ll see it again? (Scenic Overlook, Historic site, etc.)
- IF you go to Bourbon Street, don’t go alone
- Take photos, videos and document your journey
- Create a blog and update it consistently as you go along
- Save all receipts, so that you can see how you compared to what you estimated
- Bring a friend or two
- If you stop by any of the cities I visited, check to see if the corresponding artist I interviewed is performing!