Entertainment

Andrew Belle: Never Give Up

Singer-songwriter's hustle and heart pays off

Let’s be honest: Everyone wonders what it would be like to be a rock star.

Even the most shy among us dreams of standing on stage in front of adoring fans, singing the original songs that built a successful career.

But how do the bands and artists that influence us today get access to the platforms where we can find and enjoy them? What does that journey look like? And what do they themselves think of the impact they can have on the lives of their fans?

One artist who has played an important role in this author’s life is the singer-songwriter Andrew Belle. His appealing sound, heartfelt lyrics and tenacious work ethic have combined to afford him the opportunity to live out his dream of making music for a living. His story is one worth knowing and is a helpful case study in how good can come from the pursuit of excellence in any endeavor we choose to undertake in life.

Q: How did you get your start in the independent music world? How did all of this begin?
A: I’m from the suburbs of Chicago, went to college in Indiana, and after graduating and moving back to the Chicagoland area, I began playing in coffee shops, bars and restaurants in and around the city. I knew I wasn’t a great musician or even singer at that time, but I knew I could write songs. I had been doing that since high school and was confident I could eventually figure it all out if I put the time and work into music. I realized early on that you had to be persistent and look for any opportunity to play in front of live audiences that you could find. I was lucky enough to find and grab a bunch of those smaller, consistent gigs. This is where I really started to hash out what my singing style would be and how I wanted to present myself to audiences.

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After a few years of the “starving artist” thing, and writing a handful of what I considered to be solid songs, I was fortunate enough to meet some talented folks who were plugged into the singer-songwriter community in Nashville, Tennessee. When people in that community responded positively to my work, I took a chance and moved (there) for a couple of years. It was in a friend’s basement in Nashville — surrounded by box springs and mattresses serving as our sound-proof studio — that I recorded my first album (“The Ladder”) in 2009. That came out in early 2010.

Q: Talk about those early days in Nashville and what it meant to you personally to see the beginnings of your dream take shape.
A: Those nights of recording in my friend’s basement were so much fun. The process of trying to figure out how to make an album and sleeping on peoples’ couches was a blast. They are now some of my favorite memories. Nashville is a great city, and there are so many wonderful, friendly people there. It really was all about the music and the relationships. Surrounding yourself with talented, decent people is a great way to become successful in any walk of life, but especially when you are the new kid in town and not yet sure of how the industry works.

Thankfully, fans and critics really responded to “The Ladder” and that opened doors for me. Seeing that happen, and building a fan base by touring constantly around the country, one step at a time, was satisfying. But it is a lot of hard work, and there are plenty of moments of doubt along the way.

Q: You mentioned the “doubts” that can creep in, even while you are having a certain degree of success as a young artist. What separates those who can make a living writing songs and singing in front of people from those who can’t? Is it just talent? Luck?
A: That’s almost impossible to answer with a 100 percent degree of certitude. But talent of some kind is required. Of course luck, and catching the right breaks at the right time, plays a big part. But there are a lot of talented people out there that no one will ever hear about. And luck is something out of your control. While I was recording my second album, (2013’s “Black Bear”), I looked around the studio at the musicians and producers I was blessed to work with and was reminded, yet again, that these folks did not get there by accident. They work their butts off.

“There are a lot of talented people out there that no one will ever hear about.”

You have to be willing to work hard, and you need to either be entrepreneurial yourself or find someone who is who can help you be creative and innovative in terms of how you market your music and present yourself. Especially, if like me, you aren’t on some big label.

I didn’t know how to get my music on shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” or build a brand behind in support of my work. Thankfully, I found the right people at the right time, and they did know that stuff. That allowed me to focus on the music.

Q: What impact does your career choice have on your personal life? What has being a popular recording artist taught you about life in general, but yourself in particular?
A: First off, I got married a few years ago, and having a wife who is your best friend and champion and travel companion is so cool and an invaluable gift. One thing that became apparent after getting married was that I was putting too much of my own self-worth and identity into my work at the expense of other relationships and my own emotional health.

One of my favorite authors is Pastor Tim Keller from New York City. He once said that the problem with finding your identity in your work is that all jobs and professions have their ups-and-downs. You don’t want to live your life chasing those ups and running from those downs — but you will if you allow yourself to believe that the best thing about you is how many downloads your new song has on iTunes.

You should take pride in your work ethic and pursue excellence in everything you do. But be grateful for, and focused on, the small gifts and moments in life.

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