At the age of 19, Matthew Fowler put out his first album, “Beginning.” This was a compilation of songs he wrote starting at the age of 14, when his parents bought him his first guitar.
“By the time I was 15, I was pretty sure [a career in music] is what I wanted to do,” says Fowler, who is now 24 years old.
Growing up in Orlando, he was raised by an entrepreneurial father, who had a fine dining establishment called “Journeys” in Orlando. When Matt was 13, he started working in the restaurant as bus boy. Being that it was a fine dining restaurant with high-end clientele, he had to carry himself with an air of legitimacy. He also learned how to present himself to people and how to talk to adults at a young age. He learned a hard work ethic, working Friday nights, Saturday, and Sunday brunches.
Matt’s dad was a chef who had converted a storage unit into a kitchen for catering. At night, Matthew would set up the kitchen as a recording studio and kept playing and recording until he liked the way it came out. That’s where he recorded his first album, where he sang, played guitar, and harmonica, while other friends sang back up and performed other instruments, including the bass. “It’s what makes it sound true. There were no frills on that. It was just a couple of us in the room playing instruments together.”
After high school, he completed about three-fifths of his A.A. degree at a community college. His parents weren’t very well off, so he didn’t have a lot of money to go to college.
“I wasn’t sure about college. It’s a big investment and I didn’t think I was at a point where I wanted to make that investment. And I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do necessarily,” said Fowler. “I always thought music was wonderful and I felt like I didn’t need a degree to do the things that I wanted to do with music.”
“I think a lot of people in college could be doing a lot more for themselves. I just see a lot of people going to college because it’s the “next step” – and that to me is a mistake. I think people should go to college if they know what they’re looking for because it’s expensive and it’s a time commitment,” said Fowler. “I see a lot of people not working as hard as they could sometimes.”
He learned a lot of his entrepreneurial skills from his dad, who told him if he was going to pursue music, not to simply do it as a hobby, but to “make it a career.” So, he created a plan.
“Like anything, being a musician is like owning a small business. You invest in it. You try to find the people that know what they’re doing the best in it – and hire them.”
While Matt had an album, he had very little experience in the music industry. The first thing he did was fin a manager, Steve Foxbury (of the 90s band, “My Friend Steve”). Steve was both a source of encouragement and challenged Matt to become better. They then worked together to find a PR company he could work with and afford. He then went on tour all over the country and opened for many acts, as a singer-songwriter, where he found receptive audiences.
“I think people like to see someone young going for something that they believe in,” said Fowler. “It got me step closer to being what I would call a legitimate touring musician and a legitimate songwriter.”
Early one, one of his biggest challenges was getting shows. He counted that as a musician, “you’re trying to expand but no one knows who you are outside of your circle. You’re taking a risk, but the person booking the show (the venue) is taking a risk too.”
“The booking process is very long and arduous – it’s like just a bunch of email all the time,” said Fowler. “That aspect of it is not my favorite part of it – but it’s like anything, the administrative part, it’s gotta be done. Every job has that part. Getting that initial booking – or meeting – is just the hardest part. You’re trying to convince somebody half way across the country that you’re a financially sound investment … You’ve never been there and they’ve never met you before or heard you play live – it’s a weird, weird thing … As time goes on, it gets better and better – you establish markets, you play at the same places over and over again.”
Matt reminded us that, “there’s an unrealistic pop culture view of a musician lifestyle. I don’t think people realize how much work [being a musician] is … I don’t party at all. I work a lot.”
Two years ago, he moved to Gainesville. Around the same time he moved there, a new venue was opening around the same time, Heartwood Sound Stage, which is a listening room with a 150-seat theater and the venue is often used to film shows. Matt became the de facto manager, where he learned to do video work, audio work, and camera work. He learned the skills of managing a music venue, including talking to bands, booking bands, ajd setting up shows.
“I wasn’t playing a lot, but I was learning a lot,” he says. These skills have now made him a lot more effective on the road with cameras, videos, photos. He knows the technical side of how things work, which has also helped him book shows as well as create great content that he is able to put online as he builds his fan base.
“When I was younger, I didn’t realize how long things took, how long it takes. I’ve grown a little bit since then and I’ve worked a lot since then,” says Fowler. “The common phrase is that it takes ten years to create an overnight success in the music industry and that’s true. There’s a lot of work that gotta be done. I’m not shying away from that. I’m excited about that.”
“It just takes time and persistence and you get better at your craft and you get better at everything. I think people throw the towel in a little bit early because it is difficult. Having a career in anything takes ten years … it takes time where you want to go and that’s a big investment and you have to be willing to put that investment in.”
Matt decided taking on a music career was more important than college. But he also feels fortunate that he learned what he wanted to do earlier than most people do. “I feel like I’m pretty lucky to know what I’m passionate about and what I want to work towards and I think a lot of people spend a lot of years searching for that,” says Fowler.
Since that first album he put out five years ago, he also has an EP and is working on a second full album. But he’s taking his time with the writing and production, as he’s working towards having this second album put him a little more on the map.
In the meantime, Matt is all over the map. With his friends, the Prado Sisters, he is currently on a national tour with 40+ shows from coast-to-coast. For those wanting to catch him on tour or simply download some of his music, you can visit MatthewFowlerMusic.com.
You can listen to our full interview with Matthew Fowler on Episode 47 of the Agents of Innovation podcast on Apple podcasts, Stitcher, or Soundcloud. You can also follow the podcast on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We welcome your comments below!