Create your vision, and then work toward it: Even if it takes much longer than you imagine, continue going after your dream. Overnight success is extremely rare. Don’t expect it (though, you can hope for it). Expect to work hard for your success.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dilan Jay, a singer and songwriter with Sri Lankan descent. He was the first artist from Sri Lanka to place on the U.S. Billboard Charts, and get a #1 on MTV’s Most Popular Music Videos. Throughout his music career, he’s collaborated with various American songwriters, including Jacob Luttrell and Ty Dollar sign. Since COVID-19 hit, Dilan has used his voice to help bring positivity to his community. When the shelter in place began, Dilan’s neighbors came together to play music in their personal driveways, so people could still hear live music. This is where his band, Townhall, got its name. Even through these difficult times, they were able to rely on music to help make it through this pandemic.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/0d4a1a545773819a261d37a11b25ef6a
Thank you so much for doing this with us Dilan! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Pasadena, California. I was an elementary student at Stancliff in South Pasadena and attended the University of Southern California for college. My passion for music developed very early on, and I began DJing when I was only 12 years old. I then became a producer at 19, a rapper at 22, and a singer at 27. This all led to me where I am today, continuing to fuel my passion for music with my band, Townhall.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was a kid, my family moved from South Pasadena to San Marino, California. I quickly noticed that nobody there was playing hip hop music, which was always my favorite genre to dance and listen to. Without having anybody to share this passion with, I didn’t exactly know what to do or how to fit in there. So, instead, I decided to stand out. At 12 years old, I was able to identify a musical gap in the area and convinced my older brother to start up a business with me to fill that need. I remember coming home from a dance and asking him, “Why don’t we start DJing and only play hip hop to show these kids what they’re missing?!” I got two portable CD players, a video mixer, sermon base speakers and an amp from my room, and just like that ─ I was a working DJ. My friends were paying me 20 dollars to play their parties, and everything else scaled up from there. I was just built to do this.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
A true defining moment in my career happened when I chose to speak out against a rebel group in Sri Lanka. I was called a hero and given the opportunity to meet the President’s brother. The Sri Lankan government sent me a letter, stating that I was “an artist of peace.” I was even able to see the active war zone directly and decide for myself whether we were protecting the right side. While this was an amazing opportunity, it also had its drawbacks. I received a lot of death threats from kids who wanted to kill me, and all of my emails were hacked. That’s sometimes a part of working in this industry and standing up for what you believe in. All in all, it was an unforgettable experience that I am grateful for.
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?
In 2005, I performed my first show for the Black Student Union. I was nervous beforehand because, at that point, rap was still seen as an art that belonged to the Black community. Since I’m Sri Lankan, I wasn’t sure how I’d be received, but I wanted to show everyone that I could do it. I was rapping so hard that I lost my voice mid-show. To try to make up for it, I started yelling the words, which only aggravated my voice further. I was so happy when the show finally ended, because there was no way I could have said another word. (Pro tip: you don’t yell when you rap. You just rap). Overall, the show was a success and my promoter said I had done great. Turns out, I didn’t need to be so afraid of how they would receive me. Everyone was clapping, cheering on with their hands in the air and having a great time in the end — just sharing our love of music.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
My band, Townhall, recently recorded English versions of old songs that were top hits in Sri Lanka. This has been super exciting for me because I love to see how the general public in America responds to this kind of music. I also still just get excited by the reality of being part of a band. When I started off as a musician, I was a DJ. I could scratch a record and sing on the microphone, but I didn’t know any instruments. Now, I play both the piano and the guitar, I sing and I rap. My band released its EP, “91356” (the zip code for Tarzana, CA), and we have almost reached one million listens on “All I Need,” our R&B song. This will be my first million listens, and it’s all so exciting.
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?
This is the biggest reason I do what I do every day. Diversity is so important. When people like myself are born in America to immigrant parents from South Asia, we have often never seen a star that looks like us. We don’t see the same success stories and examples to help us believe we can make it in this industry and in this country. That is a huge part of being an ethnic leader in this industry ─ to show younger generations that success is possible here. Diversity also plays a major role in how people view themselves in relation to other people. For instance, when Barack Obama first became president, that changed the way the Black community could view and aspire to power in America. It’s hard to put into words how important this is.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Slow down and do the thing you absolutely want to do: When I first started as a musician, I thought I wanted to sing and rap like Craig David did. But I didn’t think I could sing, and I was so impatient. I just stuck to rapping. Then, ten years later, I became a singer anyway.
- Create your vision, and then work toward it: Even if it takes much longer than you imagine, continue going after your dream. Overnight success is extremely rare. Don’t expect it (though, you can hope for it). Expect to work hard for your success.
- If you’re not in it for the love of music, don’t be in it: I think a lot of people get into music and entertainment for fame and money. Those motivations will leave you empty. But if you’re in it for the love of music, you’ll have a place in it forever. Look at Leonardo DiCaprio, Denzel Washington or Tom Cruise. They are as iconic and sought-after today as they were twenty years ago, because it’s obvious they love their work and have dedicated their lives to mastering it.
- Hire an investor: Finding a good investor early-on is essential, because you want to make sure you spend money responsibly, scale out your resources and save as much of your profits as possible. Without the capital and accountability an investor provides, you risk losing your own personal money before you ever really start.
- Learn the business: The music business is more than just writing, recording and performing. Like any business, there are so many components and moving parts to it that you should know about (and know your part in). From who your publisher is to your distributor and everything in between, learn every single detail possible. This will protect you from being taken advantage of, and can also help build your relationships and reputation within the industry.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
If you do it for the love of music, you will never burn out ─ because it’s something you would do even if you couldn’t get paid for it. If you don’t love it, don’t do it. It’s that simple.
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. 🙂
Education is the movement I would want to spark. You can take a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink. However, for humans, if you can educate them on how good the water is for them, they’ll drink it. Right? Education is the most important movement we could ever have on Earth. If I could spread that movement to educate people in Africa, Sri Lanka, India and the other third world countries, I would. I’d love to put money in their hands to print books for kids and to help pay teachers properly so they stay around.
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?
My dad is probably the most important person to me in that way. While he didn’t necessarily support my music by coming to watch me play or even listening to the songs, he did support my music financially. I worked for him for seven years. He let me borrow money for my label. He let me borrow money to get my label off the ground. Without that, it would have been a hard road. My brothers helped a lot, too, but in supporting the music itself. They’d always come to my shows and cheer me on. My older brother, Adrian, was especially instrumental in supporting me in my early years. He made me feel like I could do it, and that made a big impact on me.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two favorites. The first one is a fresh take on an old adage, “Time tells all.” A lot of people don’t give things enough time. They rush in. If you meet someone and immediately decide that you want to do business with them, slow down. Give yourself a little more time before committing. Time will tell you exactly who that person is and whether or not they’re the right person to do business with. The second is actually pulled from my book, How To Be More Confident With Women: “Money doesn’t make a man, a man makes money.” The point is that money shouldn’t control you. You should control it.
How can our readers follow you online?
@dilanJay_ on Instagram
@DilanJayOfficial on Facebook
@Dilan Jay on Spotify, YouTube, and SoundCloud
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!