In today’s technologically advanced world, many people get the impression that the only way to make it big is by being tech savvy. While having this skill is surely an advantage, the successful musicians discussed in this article show us that it is not the only way to become a star. These musicians went back to basics by taking it to the streets to have their talent noticed. Some might argue that the life of a busker is harder than the lives of internet sensations. Street performers are exposed to the elements as well as the not always so friendly people passing by. But for many artists, this hard work pays off, and for these 5 musicians, it absolutely did.
1. Ed Sheeran
The success story of Ed Sheeran is living proof that hard work really does pay off in the end. Being the extremely motivated person he is, Sheeran knew that he needed to take risks and put in the hours to make his musical dream come true. In the hopes of being recognized by influential people, Sheeran bought a one-way plane ticket to Los Angeles and started performing for cash on the streets and played at every open mic night he could find. His dream of being discovered became a reality when Jaime Foxx saw him playing at an open mic show one night. Foxx was so impressed by the young talented musician up on stage that he invited him over to record in his personal recording studio. With talent like his, someone was surely bound to notice eventually, as long as he put himself out there to be heard. And he is undoubtedly glad he did.
2. Tracy Chapman
When Chapman got her big break as a musician, she had two things going for her. She was willing to perform anywhere and everywhere and she had connections in high places. As a student in Boston at Tufts University, Chapman made use of her college days by performing on street corners, subway steps, and in coffee shops with a coalition of Boston’s street musicians. She was always excited to find another bar or club that would let her perform for anyone willing to listen. The money wasn’t important, she knew that getting her name around and being heard by as many people as possible was the only way to become successful.
As it turns out, having a friend with a recording executive father also helps when trying to make way into the music industry. One night, the father of Chapman’s friend came to hear her play and loved what he heard so much that he started sharing her demo with other important people in the music business. This connection turned out to be a pivotal point in her music career. Chapman quickly went from being a struggling artist in college to a musician with a diploma and a deal with Elektra Records.
3. BB King
When thinking of blues and jazz music, a name that often comes to mind is B.B. King. While one may assume that King was always recognized for his immense musical talent and ingenious artistic mind, he actually had a very modest beginning. Before he acquired the name “B.B. King”, Riley King was just a young boy with a guitar and a dream to be a famous musician one day. He would perform throughout the streets of Mississippi for change and frequently hopped from city to city in search of new audiences and fresh ears to hear him play.
As he continued to pursue his music career, he ended up traveling to Memphis where many musical greats had already been established. While in Memphis, King performed amongst many other demagogues of the blues movement and snagged a job as a radio DJ. With his new gig as a DJ, King decided he needed a new name that would catch the attention of his listeners. He originally went with “Beale Street Blues Boy” in honor of the music filled street in Memphis that became a second home to him. The new name ended up getting shortened to “Blues Boy” and eventually people shortened it even further to B.B. While his name grew shorter, his legacy continued to grow and still does to this day.
4. Rod Stewart
Growing up, Rod Stewart knew that his biggest strengths lie in two different areas; soccer and singing. When he failed to make it onto any professional soccer teams, he decided to pursue his next best option, music. Stewart dropped out of school at 15 and began to embrace the beatnik way of life. He became enthused by British American folk music and joined several bands that only ever lasted for short stints until it was onto the next.
After becoming acquainted with folk singer Wizz Jones, the two began busking at Leicester Square among other popular spots in London. With harmonica in tow, Stewart and Jones decided to take their talents on the road and traveled to Brighton, Paris, and eventually Barcelona playing on the streets and sleeping under bridges.
After joining several smaller bands, Stewart eventually joined the blues-influenced Jeff Beck group where his musical luck started to look up. He toured with that band throughout the United States and UK and even helped to create two successful records during his time with them. In 1969, he joined another band known as Faces alongside Ron Wood who would later become one of the members of the Rolling Stones. After experiencing the band life for many years, Stewart decided to do some solo work which ended up being a successful part of his music career as well. His first album landed in the top spot of U.S. charts and eventually he went on a country wide tour. I think we can all agree that it’s a good thing he got rejected from those soccer teams.
Looking at Jewel, one would not necessarily think that such an edgy and outspoken artist could come from a small town like Homer, Alaska. But Jewel Klitcher is not one to fit into societal norms anyway. After completing just one semester at a fine arts school in Michigan, Jewel decided it was time to follow her creative compass. She took a break from school and began traveling around the country as a street performer. When she started out on her journey, all she had was her beat up guitar and the four chords she almost knew by heart. By the time she made it to Mexico, she had picked up many new experiences, and a few more chords to add to her repertoire.
She finally returned to Michigan to finish her degree and then soon after graduation, returned to her beatnik lifestyle, living out of her car and performing wherever she could. After playing in just about every coffee shop in San Diego, she was able to catch the eye of someone from Atlantic Records who eventually ended up signing her. Soon after getting signed, Jewel created her first Album “Pieces of You” which went on to sell over 12 million copies just in the U.S. In Jewel’s case, following her creative compass led her to a long and successful career where she was able to share her immense talent with all her fans who are still listening to this day.
The inspiring stories of these hard-working musicians prove that there is still a glimmer of hope for the underdogs of the music industry. Performing in public for free is hard and the payoff may not come immediately. But the important thing to keep in mind is that often in life, the energy you put out into the universe is the energy you will receive in return. Keep your head up and keep pushing onward, just as these famous musicians did many years ago. If, however, braving the elements and playing for strangers isn’t your cup of tea, check out our article “5 Famous Musicians Who Were Discovered Online” to learn how to make a career for yourself from behind a computer screen.