The Day I Became An Artist
by on March 10, 2015 in Miscellaneous

I’ve written before how I’m just a Top 40 Musician who caught some breaks along the way… and if you want to read about that click here.

But I’ve been thinking about a lot of things lately and I just had to share them with you.

I’ve talked about how when I got to LA around 1980 the LAST thing I thought I was was an *artist*.  Artists that I saw were strange, aloof, kind of one trick ponies, (and there’s nothing wrong with that… some were incredible), but I just kept thinking about what I’d heard when I joined the musicians union in San Diego at 14 years old… “Show up on time, be professional, be versatile and get STEADY WORK!”

I had a gig with my mother playing Top 40 music, (which for all you youngsters out there means whatever was being played on the Pop stations in radio), and it seemed pretty easy. I had a natural ability to hear these songs and play them. It all felt very natural and comfortable. I had the *vision* of what steady work would be.
I also saw that is was *my game to lose* and I saw plenty of people lose their game, for whatever reasons and you know what? One of the biggest reasons was an insatiable appetite for being recognized as an *Artist*. I saw countless talented people commit career suicide, and some literally, because they wanted to be artists and not play other people’s stuff.

Now that I look back and start breaking it down I wonder how much of it is really them wanting to be a true artist or actually wanting the adulation, accolades, etc. Basically being a “Rockstar”, and what does that mean?

In the year 2015 as I write this it’s pretty much become common knowledge that we live in a culture where the media is selling people on the “Rockstar” mentality… Get Wealthy! Live like a King! Whatever it is… and one of the most damaging and irresponsible attitudes I see out there is to send a message that if you’re not reaching for dizzying heights, you’re an idiot. It’s out there… just look for it.

I think in time we’ll look back on this period as a tail end of what probably started in the 80’s and rolled into the 90’s.  The decades of decadence.

Many will point to the Baby Boomer generation and it’s an interesting study. Those decades became a very selfish period. It was all about accumulating, spending, showing off, ESPECIALLY in LA where I lived at the time and believe me, I bought it too.

But to not get too far off course, looking at it all and especially what we’ve handed down to the younger generations is this striving to be a “Rockstar”, or probably more aptly put, a “Bigshot”.

I’ve been studying a lot of sales and marketing over the last several years and all trainings point to that… what most people want it so be *bigger* than they are. They want respect… they want to be *treated* better than what they are and the marketing plays on that.

And hey, I love it… I think it’s fantastic when done well. When it’s honest and ultimately adding value to one’s life. That was something I couldn’t quite grasp what it meant at first… adding value but then I got it. For me, at least, it simply means making the world a better place.

It’s time for me to be very transparent here and tell you I got WAY off course for a few years here, but, I’m glad I did. I started learning things I knew would serve me, and those who wanted what I have, music in the future.

But I found myself not doing the thing that is not only my calling but what had created this life to begin with… the music.

And here’s why…

Again, circling back to getting to LA in the 80s, all I wanted to do was play great music, and I did. I was in Top 40 Bands and we played the best on the radio… learned from the best. And I started doing some session work as a bass player… and that’s what I wanted… wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps… but, that wasn’t meant to be.

Truth be told, I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t like my father, the natural who went into the studio and made great recordings… at least I didn’t start out like that. Sure, they were good, and had moments of greatness, I suppose, but the point is I wasn’t knocking the walls down in LA.

But, again, I didn’t really have the expectations on myself to “Do this by this time, or bust!” No, I was happy to be in a place where the opportunity was all around you and if you never really *made* it, what’s the difference playing Top 40 Music in LA or San Diego? Well, actually a big difference… you’d be playing in these bands with other up and comers who would go on to do great things like Robbie Nevil, Donna McDaniel, Guy Thomas, John Keane, Tom Keane… yes, your early day cohorts would go off into successes that you might be a part of someday.

I guess those are my college days… forming relationships you’d have throughout your life and when they saw and heard what you did, saw your work ethic, they’d remember… hopefully they’d have good stuff to remember!

Ok… so now I’ve officially gone WAY OFF THE RAILS into the rabbit holes I can jump down into, let me reel it back in.

Getting back to how I viewed myself as an artist, or shall I say, I didn’t.

Then… one day… I got the big break.  1985, I had just signed a publishing deal with Unicity Music and had 3 songs in my catalogue.  I won’t go into the details because again, they’re all right HERE.

But I joined the band Chicago as their new tenor lead vocalist replacing one of the greatest singers on the planet, Peter Cetera.

A true fairy tale experience. Imagine Adam Levine leaving Maroon 5 right now, as they’re dominating pop music… that’s the climate back then in 1985.  Chicago had just come off of Chicago 17 with hits such as “Hard Habit To Break” and “You’re The Inspiration”. You couldn’t get any bigger than that.

I don’t say this stuff to brag… it just is what it is and the truth is I was 23 years old and it’s one of those things where nobody knows where it’s going to go. Chances are, I’d blow it. I was a kid who was still getting high so the odds were that I’d probably be a statistic and truth be told, I didn’t think too much past 6 months from the moment I was thinking about the future… no, let me correct that, I was NEVER thinking about the future.

When I saw the first schedule for what was to come for Chicago once I joined I remember being MINDBLOWN to see dates into 1987… or at least projections… that was the weirdest thing I could imagine… thinking that far in advance.

But, as they say, fall in line… so I did, the best I could.

When we made Chicago 18 all I was trying to do was fit into a group that had its sound.  I wasn’t specifically trying to sound like anybody, (obviously I’m talking about Peter), but was just wanting to serve the music… plus, going back to the original San Diego Musicians Union credo… “Be professional and (hopefully) create steady work”.

Was the idea of being an *artist* on my radar?  Nothing further from the truth… just needed to get in to make a follow up record to their biggest selling album of new material, and I believe, to date.

And so we did.  Fortunately, I found my spot in the studio… remember how I was saying that following in my father’s footsteps was not to be?  Being a first call studio bass player?

Well, what a trip that it ended up not only happening as a singer but actually getting to be a LEAD singer as well. Gotta thank Bill Champlin for bringing me into the world of a first call studio background vocalist. We worked on records for Kenny Rogers, The Commodores, Gino Vanelli, and countless Japanese projects. And I realized why they called certain people like my father… we got it done.

So again, again, circling back to when the *artist* was born… you have to remember, at this point, I’d written a couple of hits for Chicago… “What Kind Of Man Would I Be” and “We Can Last Forever” so was I an artist yet?  Well, to some but again, I didn’t consider myself one.  I was a PART of a great artist, Chicago, but I didn’t really see myself as an artist in the sense of “Having something to say”.

And then all of a sudden the industry changed.  The 90s… we fell out of favor, for new releases at least.

But it was ok… we’d built up such an incredible catalog of great music the touring stayed strong, and still does.

And I didn’t really feel any big sadness we wouldn’t be making new records… actually, the “Stone Of Sisyphus” album was made in the 90s and was actually the last nail in our coffin. We made the record the band said it needed to make. I had come in during their peak of record sales and as you can imagine it was all very much dictated by the gatekeepers. And I don’t use that term in a derogatory way. It was the greatest opportunity on the planet. The highest level of success in the music business. What a lucky guy I was.

But for the guys who had paved the way… the kids who started this back in the late 60s… they were very upfront that things had really gotten away from them. There was NO environment to experiment, search… it was just to keep things going, and thankfully we did because that’s why we’re still here.

But the collective of the band felt frustrated enough where we went into the studio in the mid 90s to make the “Stone Of Sisyphus” record, and make it the one we needed to make.

And, the record company hated it. We got dropped… but again, the landscape was changing so much the sentiment was that we didn’t really care. Radio wasn’t really in a hurry to play our new stuff. The combination of them still playing ALL the 80s stuff in pretty heavy rotation, the word was “There is no URGENCY to add a Chicago single to the playlist”. Urgency? Well, I thought about it for a little bit and got it. The holes were filled. “Hard To Say I’m Sorry”, “Hard Habit To Break”, “You’re The Inspiration”, “Will You Still Love Me”, “Look Away”, “I Don’t Want To Live Without Your Love”, all were still staples on the radio. There was no ROOM for anything new. It’s kind of like that when we’re putting set lists together! What do you want to bump off the set to add another one of the hits in the catalogue?! A great problem to have, but a problem.

Soooooooo, on we went… and kept touring… hearing from all the folks who were telling us how much we have helped…

And playing September 12th, 2001… the day after… looking out at that audience that was in shock but NEEDING this music… I experienced for the first time the power of delivering the message… administering the medicine.

I was singing “Feeling Stronger Every Day” and literally watching the audience putting smiles on their wounded faces and finding HOPE. That was the first time I’d ever sung the material I didn’t record originally and feeling like I have a place in the music now. I helped deliver a message.

But was I an artist yet, in my own mind? Nope… again, PART of a great artist but not thinking of myself as one.

And then the next year, I believe… might have been 2 years after… but I got the fateful letter from Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts telling me Chicago was what made him want to get into the music business and he had specifically followed my years with the band. (made sense since he was barely turning 30 years old when I got the letter)  And I got this vision of a generation who had come up listening to our music while I had been there.

As I’ve documented in the past, so I won’t go on about it again, that started my trips back to Nashville which ended up having me and my family relocating there.

I got back in the lane… just like it was in 1985, writing songs, feeling the universe expanding and I knew some things were on the horizon.

And they started to unfold… I hit my stride out there for the next couple of years writing around a hundred songs with all the great Nashville writers… a handful being the spark that lit the flame to become “Chicago 30”. Was I still an artist? Not quite but I was of the age where when I was sitting with these songwriters, and especially the great storytellers of Nashville, we were talking about life experiences and they started coming out in the songs.

After I’d gone through that massive growth spurt of writing in the first decade of the new millennium I was starting to feel like an artist… because of the intent. I wasn’t trying to be a professional musician…wasn’t trying to land a publishing deal… I was having fun, making new friends and feeling the universe expanding… my universe.

Once we recorded Chicago 30 there was SOOOOO much expectation and hope around that album. We had the traditional power machine behind it and everybody thought we had several smash singles on it… which didn’t happen. It was another one of those nails in the coffin… the sentiment was “Why even do this anymore? It’s deflating… certainly expensive and we’ve already told our stories, as a band”

But man, I was just getting started! I had all these other songs I’d written… but, I had the same attitude… remember, I started making records in the mid 80s as a major label artist. It’s all I ever knew… the stakes were high, and we delivered, and it was awesome. To pull it off… it was awesome.

So in this new world where things were changing, it almost seemed like it was the 11th inning of my career as a recording artist… why try? And when people would ask me for advice I found myself being pretty negative… “Get a real job and make music as a hobby” would be my stock response. Because again, I didn’t see the options…

And then… Lee and Robert were really pushing to make a new record over the last couple of years, put a great mobile recording rig together and we made one, out on the road…

Was it challenging? You bet… as anybody who used to think “I’m going to WRITE! and/or RECORD! during the day and do our Top 40 gigs at night…” it almost never happened… you’d be too burnt out during the day but picture this… we’re on tour and going into hotel ballrooms, hotel rooms, back of busses and recording our 36th album! And at our age?

I have to say I’m really proud of the fact we did it. It was that important… and again, there is no level of success we had back in the 80s and what they’d done before that in the 70s…

So we’re left, again, with a question? Are we going to again, and why? The good news is everybody is highly creative… Lamm is ALWAYS creating and stretching… he’s pretty much the benchmark and how cool is that? The guy on the first album, CTA, who has the pen in his hand and the notebook… that’s still his energy.

But I really woke up after this last album… the fact I contributed 3 songs to it and the powers that be, the 4 original members, management and record label decided my song, “Now”, would be the title track of the album.

That song, Greg Barnhill and I wrote… if there ever was one, was the song I fought for since the day of its inception. I started the song writing the verse chord changes and melody and thought it was a ballad. I actually have the writing session recorded which I’ll be putting on my VIP All Access Pass part of my site… but Barnhill heard the groove more mid tempo, which is where we wrote it.

And that song, over the years, from when we first wrote it, I don’t know back in 2004 or so? Maybe a bit later than that… but somewhere around then… that song spoke in a way that told my story. Has the flavor and feel of what I’m ALL about… ironically Chicago and Earth Wind and Fire, which crazy enough we’re going to be touring with again here in 2015… but it is, at this point at least, what I consider my favorite art piece I’ve been a part of and it’s a complete statement of who I am. Musically and the lyric message, which was really 100% Barnhill.

And the fact the powers that be chose this song to be the title of the 36th Chicago album, there is no other way to look at it, but an artist was born. I’m one of those guys who’s resisting being called a “Rockstar” and certainly not an “Artist” but when I look at the credit and see that the title track of “Chicago 36 – Now” is produced by Jason Scheff and co-written by Jason Scheff I guess I have no choice!

But, I’m ready for it…

And here’s where it gets real interesting… I now know I’m an artist and what that means is that I have something to say and there are a lot of people wanting to hear that… they ask me all the time… but… am I creating? Not really because I’m still stuck with the Major Label Artist mentality… it’s gotta be big or why try? Well, what if you have 150 songs sitting around? And what if some of them are real good? Who wins if they’re not shared?

Then along comes a dude who LIT ME UP. I’ve been dabbling in all kinds of interesting worlds in the last decade and mainly because when we’d put our hearts and soul into making music/records and they didn’t do what we’d do the future of new music seemed real bleak.

I was seeing way too many friends and talented people getting OUT of the business because they couldn’t survive. So I was searching…

As some of you know I ended up pursuing alternate business ideas starting with Beachbody… (which is a whole other epic tale I’ll get to in another post), that was one of the greatest metamorphosis periods of my life. Got me to realize there is a future and hope for me… another life… by just choosing to have one.

And searching… ultimately, it all came down to what I was saying that if the music isn’t getting done, nobody wins.

So I find this dude who has an INCREDIBLE story of getting signed to a big deal in 1999 or so, to Interscope…was the toast of the town… made his record, went over to Warner Brothers… made another one and basically was dropped because it didn’t happen.

This is a VERY bright guy… he is faced with the reality that he had a shot, and it didn’t happen on the level he wanted so the question was whether he was going to actually go out and get a real job… and he started looking into what was going on on the internet… specifically marketing…

Funny thing is that’s where my association with Beachbody led me… to people who were running businesses online… I was studying, and still do, like crazy over the last 4 or 5 years with this stuff… didn’t really know how it would apply to me and being in music but it made perfect sense.

In my opinion, in the year 2015 that we’re in the greatest sales and marketing that’s going on is creating relationships FRONTLOADED with tons of value for the consumer. What does that mean in terms of me? When someone wants my music, to make sure there is a connection and I give them TONS of value… NOT the other way around… NOT the “BUY MY CD!” crap you see out there… no, it’s more… “Hey, check this out, for free…” “Sample” what I have… and if you like it I have more… and even more importantly, just like software creators… if you like what I have you can support me making more of it. If there is no support, this is no art.

Well, my buddy John cracked the code… by going off into other niches in the internet world he built very successful business but guess what? He’s an ARTIST! And a GREAT one…

He had the same epiphany… he has songs to sing… so he just thought, “Why not apply what I’ve learned in other niches to my music?” and set out to do just that.

I had gotten back from a great trip to Austin in December of 2014 to one of the best internet marketers out there Ryan Deiss and his team and came back VERY focused on what I wanted to do.

I created a study course that I haven’t really officially launched yet… several of you found out about it and purchased it… but I wasn’t 100% sure of what I wanted to do.

Because again, the thing that was always nagging at me was to get my music out there! But how?

And when I found John… the heavens literally opened up.

It’s not about swinging for the fences… it’s not about the BIG and the GRANDIOSE… it’s about the small… the little victories… what’s the end result I’m looking for? To finish my songs, get them out to who wants them and continue…

MANNNNNN, I had more clarity after going through John’s course and it finally helped me claim what is true… what all the other products I’ve studied, the people I’ve followed have all said… “Find out what your true calling is and everything falls into place…” and they’re so right.

I’M AN ARTIST… here to create… here to share it to help… to be a beacon of light for the next generations… NOT to discourage but to ENCOURAGE, starting with my own children. Encouraging them to create… to chase their dreams… because it’s NOT about being the bigshot… it’s about finding your few… and building on that.

So with that I know exactly what the rest of this year looks like… and that’s to finish my 1 album with Jay DeMarcus that’s probably about 3/4 of the way done… and so many of you have stepped forward telling me you want it.

And for those who have opted into get my 3 free songs, even if you already own the album of Chauncy… really, what you’re doing is telling me you want to hear from me… you’re on my LIST… and now I know… it’s about offering that. Not a billion other things that sidetrack me… but music. That’s what you’re opting in for… and if you’re on my list you will receive special messages and behind the scenes stuff because I’ve learning… it’s not for everybody but if it’s for you… we’re grooving now!

So there it is… it’s about making albums, or maybe even EPs of my music… I’m collecting it all, running it by my sources and I’ve finally figured out who I am.

I’m an Artist… a Recording Artist and most importantly an Independent Recording Artist which means if there are 500 people who want to hear from me, then so be it. If it’s 1,000, fine… if it’s 50, or 10 or 1, I’m fine with that… I’m getting it done because I’m not worried about if it reached the masses. Hey, if I have to put that hat back on with Chicago, I have no problem with that either but to tell the truth, I think even Chicago is finally settling into the Independent Artist skin. If we aren’t we should be! If the point is to get music out, right?

And then… from my albums, the folks who want to make music themselves, I’ll have something for them too… my training products and ways to show you what I’m doing… like the marketing stuff… in fact, if some of you are dying to know and see what it is, I’ll include a link here to go check out my buddy John.  Absolutely brilliant and VERY Indy Artist.


So there you have it… I’m SOOOOOO pumped about the future… heading out this summer with one of my favorite bands that made me want to do this music thing, Earth Wind and Fire, and putting my schedule together for my album releases…

Thank you SOOOOOOO much for being here… you are the lifeblood of it all. If you didn’t want to hear it there would be no purpose so I thank you!


11 Responses to The Day I Became An Artist

  1. Karissa says:

    I love you, Jason!! ♥

  2. dearest Jason. Thanks so much for telling this story.. I’m happy to finally could log in here and read this. I sincerely hope you and your family are doing fine. Just saw your photo with David Clark on his Twitter and I really hope you’re going to do a great ‘job’ creating, helping, mentoring other young musicians to “make it” being an artist they WANT to be themselves. So not only wanting being part of a so called “Super Group’. If there is anyone who can ‘teach’ younger musicians about this, it’s YOU! Well, maybe Arnel Pineda can have a say about it as well. Wishing you a lot of FUN doing this, creating this. You send the Universe your ‘all, I’m positive the Universe will send it ‘back to YOU’ and MORE! Love you, Jason, Ingrid Franke (Waimeafalls on Periscope) from Holland

  3. Bruce Fish says:

    That was amazing. So glad I got the chance to meet you in Coney Island just about 3 years ago,

  4. Tammy says:

    You great article! You will always be the heart of Chicago! Keep it coming. I can’t wait to see what is next for you.

  5. Garcia Casey says:

    I want to hear your music so how do I get on your list? I have loved seeing and hearing you with Chicago but want to hear your albums too. I’m glad I read some of your blog we need more people like you in this world. thank you Jason

  6. LAST SUNDAY AUGUST 14 I presented a TRIBUTE to CHICAGO THE BAND for their 49 years I presented most of the world known classics and other SONGS in your voice. Now to post my experiences and the excitement of the audience in my radio show THE CUBAN BRIDGE @ WWPV 92.5 FM “The Mike” I’m still searching more about you and your life as a musician THIS observation of THE DFAY I BECAME AN ARTIST worths the reading.
    I’m NOT stucked to the old beautiful and energetic repertoire of CHICAGO and if I can help promoting the Volume CHICAGO 30, here I am with my heart and brain opened and letting the New Songs Breathe !
    THE CUBAN BRIDGE has been on air since FEBRUARY 2010, in our first year exactly in SEPETEMBER 20190, we rendered tribute to Terry Katz, Jimmy Hendrix and Steve Ray Vaughn in our cycle “FROM THE BURNING GUITARS”. To know more about our transmissions please feel welcomed to visit us and stream on SUNDAYS 12 – 3 pm thru
    BUT the show of SUNDAY AUGUST 14th was on air for more than 5 hours, from 11:40 am – 6:00 pm CHICAGO and the Chicago fans really deserve this effort.
    Toni Basanta you can find me on facebook

  7. ON SEPETEMBER 2010, we rendered tribute to Terry Katz, Jimmy Hendrix and Steve Ray Vaughn in our cycle “FROM THE BURNING GUITARS”. We read in the Compilation “THE BEST OF CHICAGO 40th Anniversary” (Rhino, Ent, 2007) that Jimmy Hendrix wanted to record w CHICAGO and was fascinated by the art of TERRY KATZ solos, and of course, by the HORNS, so we simply transmitted the idea and put it into action thru our radio waves.
    THE CUBAN BRIDGE @ WWPV 92.5 FM “The Mike” on air since FEBRUARY 2010 and feeling stronger every day

  8. THE CUBAN BRIDGE @ WWPV 92.5 FM “The Mike”
    In our show tribute to Chicago, last SUNDAY AUGUST 14th, we played all these SONGS
    25 or 6 to 4, Baby what a big surprise, Now that you’ve gone, South California Blues, State of the union, Look away, Lover will come back, Saturday in the park, Does anybody really know what time it is ? Another rainy day in NY City, You’re not alone, Here in my heart, Questions 67 and 68, Make me smile, I’ve been searching for so long, I’m a man, If you leave me now, Hard habit to break, You’re the inspiration, We can last forever, If she would have been so faithful, I don’t wanna live without your love, Hard to say I’m sorry / Get away, and What kind of man would I be.
    In the mix, some voices and instrumentals from Cuba, Jamaica, Uruguay, Venezuela, the US, Canada, Great Britain, France, the French Caribbean, Brazil, and of course, some of the finest HORN SECTIONS from CUBA who have also been influenced by the CHICAGO HORNS since 1969.
    To follow us please feel welcomed to stream thru

  9. Rich Jacobs says:

    Wow! I look forward to seeing where the future takes you. Best of luck, all happiness.

  10. Dennis Crowell says:

    Jason,you are very humble but I have to tell you that I saw Chicago in Wichita Kansas in 1970 and liked them but thought they were nowhere close to the love I felt for the music of Blood Sweat and Tears. Then years later I was watching Chicago on television and was blown away by how much better the band was.Chicago instantly became my favorite band.You,Bill Champlin,Tris Imboden and the new guitar player(sorry I forget his name,not that he is any less of an improvement to the band)have made that band the best it could EVER be.Your talents and skills put everything in Chicago that has been missing from the beginning in my opinion.I just saw Chicago and Earth Wind and Fire this week in Wichita and though it was still a good concert,they sound like the earlier version of the band which I am sure is great to many memory seakers but I can only say I am very thankful for the time you four made Chicago as good as it could possibly be.Your bass playing is something to behold.Again thanks for all you do.

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