Be open to criticism. I learned very quickly that you have to develop a thick skin if you want to make it within the music industry. From my time at Belmont to my time working with music professionals, I have had my fair share of constructive criticism.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing J4.
Born in Buffalo, New York, singer/songwriter J4 has always had a passion for music. He discovered his talent while singing in church as a child, before moving to Nashville, Tennessee for high school. In between classes, he began performing daily at Tootsie’s World Famous Orchid Lounge and started co-writing with established songwriters like Jan Buckingham (Lee Greenwood, Whitney Houston, Tim McGraw, Pam Tillis), John Goodwin (Michael McDonald, Brad Paisley, Steely Dan) and James Breedwell (Joey Evancho, Kechi, Jeffrey Li, Barry Darcy).
“Music has always been a way in which I express myself,” J4 explains. “I love telling stories we can all relate to so, for just a moment, we can all feel more connected and experience those stories together.”
J4 has already built quite the musical resume in his young career. In 2015, he opened for headlining artists Josh Turner, Gordon Mote and Lee Greenwood. In 2017, he lead worship with Christian music stars Michael W. Smith and Leeland as a member of the New River Fellowship Church of Nashville. That same year, J4 sang background vocals for the alternative pop band Cage the Elephant at the Ryman Auditorium. He made his debut radio performance in 2018 at WSM Radio on a tribute for country music legend George Strait and reached number one on the Nashville Reverbnation Songwriter and Pop charts in 2018 and 2019. In addition, he received his first major label song cut on pop artist Kechi’s (America’s Got Talent) debut album. J4 is now working on releasing his own music, with his new single “Better” out now on all streaming platforms.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Buffalo, New York. I lived with my parents and started my musical career with my dad teaching me to play the piano, and both him and my grandpa pushing me to sing at events! When I was in high school, my family and I moved down to Nashville initially for me to be in a boy band, but that sadly fell through. From there, I started playing on Broadway, getting into Belmont University, and now I’m here, making amazing music in the incredible up and coming local Nashville music scene.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
I first started writing music when I was 11, after my Grandpa passed away. He first supported my singing career by getting me my first gig — singing for the Boston, New York Fire Hall reopening ceremony. A small gig in comparison to where I perform now, however that tiny gig sparked a giant flame in me to write. Ever since my grandpa’s initial support of my music, support from my parents and others around me have lead me to the decision to attend professional vocal training mid-high school for my collegiate experience.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
One of the most interesting stories that I can remember is when I was on tour this past year with the Extreme Tour. The Everyday Dogs (a great rock band, check them out if you want some ear candy) pulled a prank on me overnight. They put a tiger cutout next to my bed (perhaps in reference to The Hangover), took my guitar and wrapped it in tin foil. Then they proceeded to write a note that outlined a treasure hunt map at the location we were staying at. To my surprise — I found several of my items on the roof, in a shed, and at one point I found my underwear frozen in a tub of jello. Bottom line: tour is a fun time!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I was first playing piano I was stubborn. So stubborn that I tried to push my 400 pound piano up a hill in my junior year of high school. Why? Don’t ask. As I pushed it, it began to drift to my right toward the abyss of a 20 foot drop by a concrete wall and the men’s soccer fields. Suddenly, the wheel popped and I realized — I didn’t check to see if I turned off the brakes. Because I left the brakes on, the cart with an Ipad, a piano, and a rack mount of expensive production gear went hurdling down that 20 foot hill to smash up against the concrete wall. I ran down, only to see my band director slowly walking toward me from a distance and I knew I messed up. Ever since then, I’ve taken much better care of my gear, thats for sure!
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Other than working on producing for some other amazing musicians in Nashville, I am working on releasing some other songs I have for y’all! One of them being my staple song “Iridescent”. Whenever I play out in Nashville, this song is usually my closer just because it is a very beautiful song about love in the form of different colors, and I am very excited for my fans to hear the fully produced version of it!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
One big reason about why I think it’s important to have diversity represented in the entertainment industry is that everyone’s voice deserves to be heard! It does not matter what you look like, where you come from, what you believe in, and more — your voice matters and deserves to be heard by others! Another reason I think of is how we can inspire and learn from one another. There are a lot of brilliant ideas out in the world, and it is important to be listening to one another and seeing how we can all better the world around us. Finally, I think we can eliminate a lot of the negativity that still is seen in our culture by focusing on inclusion and diversity. History can be very ugly, but we are in a world today that is wanting to strive towards a better life for everyone. By really focusing on how we can better implement diversity into our culture and entertainment industry, we can get closer to that ideal future where everyone can feel heard and represented!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
This is a really cool question! Ok, here we go:
Rejection isn’t always permanent. There is a lot of rejection in this industry, but if you want to make it you still have to keep trying despite the rejection! After enough tries, you’ll have an opportunity arise! I know this first hand because after auditioning and being rejected from multiple of Belmont University’s showcases, I was eventually accepted to be part of their Commercial Showcase my senior year, and I am so thankful for that!
Make friends within the industry. I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the great connections I have made in Nashville’s music industry. I could make a giant list of all the people who have helped me and inspired me to get to where I am, but if I were to do that I’d be giving y’all a whole book series! I remember being invited to my first ever songwriters round by Norm McDonald, and I have been going since then!
Be open to criticism. I learned very quickly that you have to develop a thick skin if you want to make it within the music industry. From my time at Belmont to my time working with music professionals, I have had my fair share of constructive criticism. I think the most beneficial piece of constructive criticism I have received was from Jan Buckingham. During our song editing process, she would get on my back for using too many constructive and filler words that take away from the true meaning of the song. Just like a parent gets on your back for saying “like” too much!
Be true to yourself. I have found that the key to getting noticed is being true to yourself. There are so many musicians out there who have the same dream of getting noticed and making it big, and the only way to set yourself apart from other musicians is being yourself because you are unique and different from the rest of the world! I know that may sound a little cheesy, but it is the truth!
Don’t take everything so seriously all the time. If you want to stay happy in music, you have to have a sense of humor and some lightheartedness! That can mean taking rejection not too seriously or being comfortable playing a silly song for people! Just have fun with the music making process and trust that the process!
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I would definitely say that balancing out work and life is the biggest tip. Finding time to do activities that bring you joy and/or help you destress are essential. For me personally, I really enjoy decompressing by doing yoga, playing video games, and visiting with friends! It is easy to get lost in my work because it’s my passion and I enjoy doing it, but I try to remember that I cannot be doing it 24/7!
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would use my position to inspire others to create music, and I believe everybody should have access and the ability to learn and create music. Music can be very therapeutic as well as a critical activity contributing to better math scores and other useful skills that are beneficial in life. I personally believe, at least in my own life, that music equals happiness and I hope that we get to a point where music can be more easily accessible to others!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
When asked this question, my dad is the first person I thought of. Throughout my entire musical career my dad has always been there. He was the person to teach me piano, to get me into the production side of music, and has been by my side in my musical career ever since the beginning. I am so thankful for him, and I can definitely say I would not be the musician I am today without him.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have a lot of those that I love, but I would probably have to say that my favorite piece of wisdom that pertains to music comes from one of my professors Henry Smiley. During rehearsals, he would simply say, “Listen 90% and sing 10%”. He would usually say this when the band members sounded disconnected from one another and needed a reminder that the beauty of live music comes from the connection that musicians make with one another in the moment. That quote also rings true for the importance of stepping back from your music to see the whole picture you are trying to paint. I like to think that the message I am trying to portray to my listeners is the most important factor to me as I make my music, and sometimes I just need to be reminded to just listen!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Hmm, I would probably say JP Saxe! I take huge inspiration from his music, and I think he is an awesome guy all around! If I had the opportunity to have a breakfast or lunch with him, I most likely would be asking him a billion questions about his songwriting and arranging process! I will never forget first listening to his “Hold It Together” EP — it was absolutely AMAZING!
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on facebook and instagram at @j4sings or go to my website at j4official.com!
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!