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John Hamilton: “Leadership, to me, is defining a mission and then working with your team to ensure you get there”

Leadership, to me, is defining a mission and then working with your team to ensure you get there. To me, the people in an organization are by far the most important piece. They are everything; as a leader, your job is to support them and collectively move together towards your common goal. Aspart of my series […]

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Leadership, to me, is defining a mission and then working with your team to ensure you get there. To me, the people in an organization are by far the most important piece. They are everything; as a leader, your job is to support them and collectively move together towards your common goal.


Aspart of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Hamilton.

Since 2004, John Hamilton has toured internationally and throughout the United States, he’s opened for artists including Gwen Stefani, Tiesto, Q-Tip, Macklemore, and Steve Aoki. As of 2016, Hamilton joined the Sacramento Kings NBA Team as an Official Resident DJ.

As a producer, Hamilton apprenticed under the Grammy-nominated artist j.views, touring with him in India, and helping him launch & produce j.views’ The DNA Project, a real-time online concept album, which has garnered over a million views as well as the Cannes Silver Lion Award, the Site of the Day Award from FWA, and the Awwwards & Internet Explorer Site of the Year Nominee.

He’s worked under the three-time Grammy-award-winning artist Gotye, sourcing rare instruments from across the globe, and served as music director of Laurel Dewitt’s SS ’17 and SS ’18 Collection Premieres at New York Fashion Week.

In 2019 he co-founded the Dept. Of Sound, and serves as the director of the non-profit, which works to empower Sacramento youth through music education and after school programming.

Hamilton grew up in Sacramento, CA and currently lives in New York City.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always loved music. I have been working as a DJ and Producer for the past 14 years in the dance music space. I grew up in Sacramento and moved to NYC when I was 18, in part because there weren’t a lot of opportunities in the music industry from where I came from.

When I started coming back to Sacramento to work for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings as their official Arena DJ, I wondered why Sacramento didn’t have much of a music industry in the area. I started to consider how that could all be changed. Alongside one of my best friends Tyler Garnett, we came up with the idea that if we could create an initiative that provides opportunities for the local youth through music, the local music industry could flourish alongside the rest of the city. Music has the power to affect the health, social, and economic impact on a community. Dept. of Sound was then born, with the intent to provide community access to music and audio as a utility, rather than a luxury.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In Spring 2019, we held one of the first iterations of our Music Producer Academy Workshop Series at La Familia Counseling Center in South Sacramento. We had a very young student there, Sy, who went through the program with his older sister. Sy was initially pretty shy, but as the weeks went on, he opened up and became very engaged, excited to share his trippy, orchestral-infused beats with the instructors and his fellow classmates.

On our final day — Showcase Day — Sy showed off his work proudly to the class and the parents who attended, including his mother. She then came up to me after class and thanked us for providing a free music program, because she’d been looking for a music program for her children but couldn’t afford one, even with the two jobs she’d been working. She also very emotionally told me that her husband and Sy’s father passed away about 2 years ago and that for the last 2 years, Sy didn’t speak to anyone at his school, not his teachers or fellow students. She said she had never seen him this happy and engaged since his father had passed away.

It’s easy to get caught up in grant deadlines, admin duties, etc. and that story really checked me and reminded me of why we’re doing this whole organization; Experiencing music is extremely powerful.

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?

I had an interview in front of over 17,000 people at the Sacramento Kings’ arena when I first started the organization, and I definitely over thought the whole thing way too much. I prepared all these points to say and stressed about it so much. When the interview started, I forgot about my rigid points and spoke from how I felt, which came off so much more genuine than my pre-rehearsed script. After the experience I laughed at my pre-interview self and the pressure I put myself under; I definitely learned a lot from that.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Since its foundation, Dept of Sound has worked to empower Sacramento youth through music education and after school programming. Our music producer workshops focus on areas of Sacramento that have been neglected in the past when it comes to arts programming. Our programs allow students to benefit both personally and professionally. Our goal is to share the experience of audio and music with anyone in our community, whether they want it to be a hobby, creative outlet, collaborative activity or even a career. It is our duty to make sure these children have a chance to experience the multifaceted benefits of music and Department Of Sound is committed to that mission. We hold the belief that everyone should have access to music education and its benefits.

Most recently, we had our in-person workshops scheduled for Spring and Summer 2020, and when the Stay-At-Home orders were put in place due to COVID-19, we had two weeks to change the whole program to an online class model. We did this and have now created something fun, creative & therapeutic to do in a time that is going to be very disruptive to their lives. We hope that by bringing these classes online, music education will continue long into the future, even as schools cut dollars and resources for it nationwide.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Be open to trying new, non-traditional solutions
  2. Be open to collaborating across many different groups
  3. Invest the proper resources

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership, to me, is defining a mission and then working with your team to ensure you get there. To me, the people in an organization are by far the most important piece. They are everything; as a leader, your job is to support them and collectively move together towards your common goal.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why.

  1. Be extremely organized with everything, and if that’s not your forte, find someone to help you out that is.
  2. In the nonprofit world, there is a whole lot of bureaucracy and hurdles. Be patient while you move through them.
  3. Find those you look up to who have accomplished something similar to what you’re trying to do, and reach out to them for advice/mentorship. I luckily learned this pretty early on and it has been an invaluable lesson.
  4. Always keep the big picture in mind. Starting and running an organization, it is easy to get lost in the details, but make sure you are always coming back to your mission and ensuring your time is directly serving that mission.
  5. Don’t be afraid to abandon ideas that aren’t working. Try different methods and if things aren’t working, focus on the next possible solution. Don’t waste resources to try to prove that you or someone else’s idea was right.

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. 🙂

Instilling access to music and audio in communities as a utility, rather than a luxury, on a global scale.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift. — Steve Prefontaine

Once we came up with the idea for Dept. of Sound and realized how feasible it was and how many people we could impact, there was no way we couldn’t start on it, even though my co-founder Tyler and myself were already so busy with other projects. If you can make a lasting impact on others, you have a responsibility to. We’ve all been given gifts. We must use them!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Elon Musk, because this man is so singularly-focused on his vision, and does not let others sway him. I very much admire the laser focus he has.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Connect with Dept. Of Sound:

https://deptofsound.org
https://www.instagram.com/deptofsound_org/
https://www.facebook.com/deptofsound.org/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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