Matt Westin of MTS Records: “Your friends aren’t always your friends”

For a long time, I’ve had friends in various branches of law enforcement. Some of these people have become very close friends of mine, and they are the most loyal, selfless, brave, and reliable friends I think anyone could ever have. My respect for what they do has grown over the years, as I see […]

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For a long time, I’ve had friends in various branches of law enforcement. Some of these people have become very close friends of mine, and they are the most loyal, selfless, brave, and reliable friends I think anyone could ever have. My respect for what they do has grown over the years, as I see and hear stories of their sacrifices and struggles, of their scrapes with danger and death, of their heartaches and emotional scarring from the service they provide for the safety of everyone else. I couldn’t imagine going to work every day and seeing up close the darkness of this world, not knowing whether I’d even come home alive, and shutting it all off to be a father or husband. I don’t have to do that, because they chose to do it for me. They do it for all of us. In today’s society, being in law enforcement is more dangerous and thankless than ever, and it’s terrifying to think about. These brave individuals deserve better, and with my small platform I’m making a statement, I’m raising awareness, and I’m raising a tribute and an anthem for these brave men and women. I’ve shared my new song “Thin Blue Line” with a few of them, and the impact has been apparent immediately. The song and the message have invoked tears, hugs, and pride in each of them. If I can make a small bit of difference with my support, give them a little bit more strength to face their challenges, and open others’ eyes to the reality of what it means to be a part of the “thin blue line”, my heart will be full knowing my music has made a tangible difference in the world for people who desperately need our support.


As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Matt Westin.

Matt Westin is a multi-award-winning Pittsburgh-based singer, songwriter, actor, and country music recording artist. Matt’s music has received international airplay and charting, and he’s appeared in the October 2018 issue of Billboard Magazine as an Emerging Artist. Matt’s latest single “Thin Blue Line”, an inspirational tribute to the sacrifices of the brave men and women in blue, is garnering rave reviews around the world and making a much-needed and heartfelt impact on those who inspired the song. Find Matt at www.mattwestin.com


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

I was born and raised in a middle-class suburb of Pittsburgh called West Mifflin. My family was your typical blue-collar family, as my dad worked as a machinist in the steel mill and my mom stayed home to care for me and my two brothers until she became the school nurse years later. I’m the middle child. We lived in a modest house, but it was adjacent to a golf course, which became the biggest playground a kid could ask for. In Pittsburgh, we get all four seasons, so the golf course was perfect for everything from riding bicycles, playing tag or “ghosts in the graveyard”, and sneaking on to play golf, or sled riding during the long winters. I went to the same high school where my parents met, and I lived up the street from my grandparents. It was a great way to grow up. Very simple, fun, humble, and blessed. My mom still lives there, and my 96-year-old grandfather does too!

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

Well, I’ve always been involved with music in some way. As a child, I was in the school band and orchestra, but I couldn’t sing. It wasn’t until college that I discovered my love for singing, and I taught myself by emulating guys like Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Garth Brooks. Once I was old enough to hit the karaoke bars, that’s when my passion for singing really took off. I’d guest sing with a friend’s band, and I still sing in my cousins’ band from time to time. I eventually became a karaoke DJ as well. But music was just a hobby. I graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with two engineering degrees and worked in that field for a while, but I was not fulfilled at all and not happy. When I lost my job, I decided I was going to pursue what makes my heart happy, and I took the incredible risk of walking away from engineering. After running a small independent film company for a few years, I decided to make the move to LA and pursue acting more seriously, which was a long-time passion of mine. Unfortunately, it was at that time that my father became very ill with leukemia, and I spent a lot of time traveling back to Pittsburgh to be with him. After almost a year of living in LA, my father tragically passed away at the young age of 64. I cannot tell you how broken I was and how angry and lost I felt. I was destroyed to my core. Upon his death, I moved back to Pittsburgh to be with my mom and figure out how to survive this loss, but I was going down and down this downward spiral and I didn’t know what my life was going to be like anymore. One day, I can’t pinpoint how or when I just knew in my heart that I should pursue music more seriously. My father had absolutely loved my singing and encouraged it wholeheartedly. Being so lost, I needed a goal, a distraction, a purpose, and dedicating my debut album “Legacy” to my father was the lifeline I needed to get my health and life back on track. I had no idea at the time that it would turn into a new path for my life and become such a huge part of my healing process and restoration. Only a couple of years later, here I am with a budding music career and a fulfilling passion that has been inspiring others all over the world.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

For a few years now, I’ve made it a tradition to drive to Wilder, Kentucky for my birthday weekend and hang out at my favorite honkytonk Bobby Mackey’s Music World. It’s an old-school honky-tonk that’s been the same since it opened over 40 years ago. Bobby Mackey performs every weekend with his band, and I had the honor of being invited on stage to sing a tune with them. Well, this was near the end of the night, so as you could imagine, I had been drinking for a while at that point. But, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to perform with Bobby! So, I decided to attempt to sing Waylon Jennings’ song “Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way”, only having sung along to it while in my car. About halfway through the song, my inebriated mind went completely blank, and I didn’t have the lyrics pulled up on my phone. Instead of freezing, I had to kick it into improv mode, and I made up some funny lyrics on the spot that actually fit the melody and made Bobby Mackey laugh. I’ll never forget that feeling of being a deer in the headlights in front of the band and all the people in the joint! I don’t know how some performers get up there and perform drunk. I sure can’t. And I will definitely have the lyrics handy next time!

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

I always say three things that have been instrumental to helping start and build my career. First, you have to believe in yourself. Self-doubt will stop you dead in your tracks and no one else will believe in you either. Second, surround yourself with good people who you trust, people who support you and believe in you and your vision. They will be a huge help in getting you through the times of struggle and doubt that will inevitably happen. They’ll help push you to be better. And third, take some risks. If you’ve worked hard and you’ve made opportunities, then you have to take the risk and put yourself out there. Without some risk, you’ll be relegated to the box you are currently in and opportunities will start to disappear. Get out of that comfort zone!

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

Mine is undoubtedly “to thine own self be true.” If I wasn’t true to myself and who I am inside, I don’t know where I would be right now. This principle has guided me to the point I’m at right now, pursuing a passion of the heart and inspiring others. If I went along with the cookie-cutter plan, I’d still be in a cubicle doing paperwork, miserable on the inside. Being true to myself is the only way I can perform or write convincingly and powerfully. Being true to myself is such an important part of my fabric, my soul, and my mental and physical health. I’ve felt for a very long time that I was created to be me, and that’s not something I can waste.

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?

I honestly could write a book about how many people have helped me along the way. I’m grateful for each of them. The one who’s probably opened more doors for me than anyone is my producer and friend Bryan Cole. He took me on as an artist when I was nothing more than a heartbroken man with a desire to record an album, with zero recording experience and some talent that could be developed into something more. I was introduced to him by my friend and former karaoke boss Tammy Petty. After the introduction, Bryan took me and pushed me, he believed in my vision and my ability to grow as an artist. We created an award-winning debut album “Legacy”, and then created a few singles that have garnered me even more recognition in the industry and from fans. He introduced me to MTS Records as well, which made it all possible.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

For a long time, I’ve had friends in various branches of law enforcement. Some of these people have become very close friends of mine, and they are the most loyal, selfless, brave, and reliable friends I think anyone could ever have. My respect for what they do has grown over the years, as I see and hear stories of their sacrifices and struggles, of their scrapes with danger and death, of their heartaches and emotional scarring from the service they provide for the safety of everyone else. I couldn’t imagine going to work every day and seeing up close the darkness of this world, not knowing whether I’d even come home alive, and shutting it all off to be a father or husband. I don’t have to do that, because they chose to do it for me. They do it for all of us. In today’s society, being in law enforcement is more dangerous and thankless than ever, and it’s terrifying to think about. These brave individuals deserve better, and with my small platform I’m making a statement, I’m raising awareness, and I’m raising a tribute and an anthem for these brave men and women. I’ve shared my new song “Thin Blue Line” with a few of them, and the impact has been apparent immediately. The song and the message have invoked tears, hugs, and pride in each of them. If I can make a small bit of difference with my support, give them a little bit more strength to face their challenges, and open others’ eyes to the reality of what it means to be a part of the “thin blue line”, my heart will be full knowing my music has made a tangible difference in the world for people who desperately need our support.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

Originally, I felt inspired to write a song that was dedicated to a specific friend of mine. He’s a retired officer who I’ve known for almost 15 years. I just absolutely love the guy. His stories and his personal character were awe-inspiring to me and woke me up to the reality of what they go through every day and how strong they truly must be. The inspiration grew from there, as I saw the growing disdain and vitriol towards law enforcement in recent years. I saw the heartbreak in his eyes, knowing that he’d do it all again, even though much of the world has turned their backs on him and his sacrifices. Watching the news, seeing the chaos and the hatred, I knew I had to speak up for him and his brothers and sisters in blue. I wanted them to have a rallying cry, an anthem, a source of inspiration that will help them continue on in their sacred duty of protecting and serving their fellow man. I wanted to reveal to the world their selfless sacrifices, their pain and their pride, and do it with a healing, positive, and uplifting message from a place of love. The world needs it. They need it.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

There really wasn’t an “aha moment” for me regarding this project. It was a slow burn. There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle that were put together over the years through relationships and the beautiful inspiring people I’ve been blessed to call friends. If anything, I guess you could say that the current climate in America towards law enforcement was the final trigger, but this message has been on my heart for quite a while. This song was actually written in August of 2019, nine months before the tragic death of George Floyd that sparked nationwide protests. I suppose I felt the tide rising, and it’s honestly quite surprising to me how timely this song ended up being.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I can say that I’ve seen the impact in the eyes of the friends I’ve shared the song with and the words of those who’ve responded on social media. They’ve told me about the tears and the emotions of their colleagues who have had a chance to hear it as well. At the time of this interview, “Thin Blue Line” has been available worldwide for about 3 days. I can’t believe the love and support people have already poured out to me and this song. They want to share it with the world as much as I do, or probably even more so. A local officer, whose partner was tragically killed on the job recently, sent me a message of love and support after he heard the song. How powerful! As an artist with a message, this is absolutely humbling, fulfilling, and encouraging to know I’m making an impact for good in this world.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Simply be good to one another, respect the law and law enforcement, and take the message of this song to heart and live accordingly. That would be transformational for society as a whole. But there are levels of support that are more tangible as well. Supporting local law enforcement and their families through different charities, like the Good Guys Foundation, is one example. I know there will be somewhat of a grassroots movement of officers who will share this with their colleagues and friends, and that is the most humbling. But I’m hoping to get support from media personalities and politicians locally and nationally to spread the song and its message as wide as possible to do the most good. As an independent artist, I have a limited platform, so I am grateful for each and every single share online and for interviews like this one.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

1. There are no guarantees of success, even with hard work, and failure will happen. Failure is a big part of success. I spent four years studying to be an engineer and earning two separate degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, only to fail in a job that I wasn’t even happy with in the first place. I had a developmental contract to host my own television show on the Science Channel, but a change in management caused all new projects to be scrapped instantly. I made it to the end of an “incubator program” for new startup companies with a good friend of mine from college, but they decided to pass on our idea in the final round. I won a state karaoke tournament and went to the Chicago House of Blues to compete on a karaoke television show, but never even made it on TV. These “failures” were part of my journey, and they shaped who I have become and built character and tenacity I otherwise wouldn’t have.

2. Your friends aren’t always your friends. I learned this the hard way while producing independent films years ago. My partners were friends I’d met at the gym, and we all had the desire to be actors/filmmakers. So, we formed a small LLC to make those dreams a reality. I didn’t realize at the time, but because I was an engineer making decent money, they expected me to foot most of the bill for our projects. It started with the small stuff, but it ended up costing me close to 60 grand over the course of a few years, as our ambitions and our certainty of success grew. Well, after some letdowns, broken promises, and deceit, I suddenly lost my engineering job and my “friends” instantly disappeared. The gravy train had derailed, and their true intentions became clear. That was a painful lesson in trust. They knew I was a generous, trusting, and somewhat naïve young man full of dreams, and I was taken advantage of.

3. Perception is reality. I learned that as an engineer when my outgoing and colorful personality didn’t sit well with a certain few uptight self-righteous higher-ups, and they resented the fact that I had outside interests in acting and music. I was labeled by them as a bad employee, even though everyone loved to work with me and my work always got approval. My immediate manager, who liked me and stood up for me, told me that “perception was reality” in that company, and there was nothing much that he could do to help me. That was so disheartening, but it was the reality. With my music career, I’m building a brand, and what I put out there needs to be in line with my vision and between certain guide rails. Luckily, I am an adamant believer in being true to myself, so people’s perceptions are going to be pretty close to reality. It has been incredible for me to observe how the public’s belief of who I am is really just a perception, based on limited information, but it’s their reality nonetheless. It’s something I need to keep in mind all the time as a public figure.

4. Celebrate the small victories. I tend to be a perfectionist and my own worst critic. So, when I accomplish something, I usually don’t get as excited as one might expect, because I’m always thinking about either what I’ve done wrong or what the next step is. I’m learning to celebrate small victories because it’s a much healthier way to live and it makes the journey so much more enjoyable and rewarding. It’s really not all about the destination, and I need to actively practice this.

5. Don’t underestimate your influence, because more people are watching than you know. When I look at the number of views or streams on my music and begin to realize what I’ve done, it blows my mind. Coming from a regular family in a regular town, it’s hard to comprehend that there are people all over the planet Earth who have heard my voice and seen my face. It’s quite humbling and a little bit surreal. Every time I hear someone say that I’ve inspired them or that they enjoy my music, it’s a reality check for me. I try to be a positive force, and I think I’m doing it, in however small of a way, all over the world. It’s truly incredible to me.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start 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. 🙂

With the current health restrictions, it might be difficult, but I think a law enforcement/first responder music festival and charity event would be a great way to literally bring people together, amplify a great message, and show support for those people who sacrifice so much for everyone else.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. 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 if we tag them 🙂

There are dozens of people who I am fascinated by and respect, so picking just one is difficult! So, I’ll just have a little fun with it. I’d love to meet with the Italian Stallion himself, Sylvester Stallone. He was a positive childhood influence on me and continues to be to this day, in multiple ways. Of course, his character and story of Rocky impacted my life enormously, but also his drive to be successful when he was just a struggling young actor and writer is an incredibly moving story. Sly’s an actor, writer, director, painter, athlete, father, entrepreneur, and he’s Italian like me. I think we’d have more than a few things to talk about over some good food.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


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