Are you prepared to break through stereotypes and traditions to chase your dreams?
We welcome the second season of Chasing Dreams with two guests who can give us a new perspective on how we pursue our goals. In this episode, I get to chat with the duo from JAM & Philly, James, and Philly Mathew. We’re family, and I’ve seen the struggles, how they follow their passion, and their journey to becoming successful music artists and record label owners.
YOUNG JAM & PHILLY
Growing up in a typical Indian household, Philly mentioned that his dream was to become a doctor or an engineer. He was so obsessed with building Lego robotics and programming that he thought he would eventually go into this career field in the future.
While JAM is not sure whether he had a dream job or not, but one thing is certain, he always had a passion for making things and organizing people. He was a member of clubs. He and his friends made a treehouse together. JAM always knew that he loved gathering people around an idea.
Both of their parents have strong encouragement for the arts. They took the time to and made sure that JAM & Philly learned how to play the piano and their dad being a guitarist and singer also wanted his kids to do the same.
In their younger years, the brothers developed their love for music and the bonus is they had supportive parents who always wanted them to appreciate the art.
JAM & PHILLY’S JOURNEY TOWARDS THEIR MUSIC CAREER
JAM & Philly’s journey in their music careers is not what we usually label as typical for South Asian families who have migrated to the United States. India may be filled with beautiful music and sounds but pursuing music as a professional career is not considered normal for migrant families.
The reason why they were able to break these stereotypes is that their parents did what they had to do. They went to the United States and took the risk that they couldn't go back home.
Although their parents never thought that JAM & Philly are serious about pursuing music as their career, they were still very supportive of it. Ever since they were kids, their parents paved the way, so they developed a passion for music, they gave them what they couldn’t give to themselves.
Their love for music is not something that was recently developed, their parents opened doors, so they can learn and appreciate the art. JAM & Philly credit their parents for providing support and encouragement from the beginning. As they have heard, not all parents in their community are supportive of their kids' passion for music.
PERSPECTIVE AND MINDSET
We are often told that we can’t do two things at a time, we need to prioritize one thing over the other, and we consider this true in our career fields. We can’t be great at one thing if we don’t give 100% focus on it.
But Philly proves this otherwise, albeit being a college student, he knows to himself that he’s giving 100% to their record label, music, and his studies. He mentions “I always say that I’m a full-time artist, record label manager-executive and also a full-time student. I don’t like splitting the job. I think I’m doing it honestly, 100% of the time.”
Even if he’s not in class, Philly works on the label and the music. This comes from his personal perspective and mindset. He didn’t have to sacrifice one over the other. He knew that he could commit to doing both.
When JAM was in college, owning a music label or becoming a professional music artist was never in his future perspective until the viral video was published.
JAM knew that he was there because he was enjoying the impact of the work, but he didn’t find the creativity and the passion. He felt that he was good enough, but it wasn’t completely fulfilling.
HOW THE VIRAL VIDEO CHANGED THEIR LIVES
When JAM was in college, he had the desire to run for student body president. He’s always been engaged about diversity and inclusion on their campus, made a lot of friends, and figured he had a pulse on being the student body president.
JAM knew that he could be a great representative in leadership, so he contacted his friend “Iffy” and mentioned that they will run together. Part of the campaign is to showcase creativity which was never a problem because he and his friend are artists.
They thought of a way that would differentiate them from others, so they created a music video. It was like a rap video filled with friends dancing and lots of good vibes. The video was posted to their school’s Facebook group. But Iffy’s brother decided to post it on his Twitter account.
Afterward, they woke up to have a million hits on Twitter and as they say, the rest is history. The great blessing is that they not only won the elections, but they also had a couple of interviews from the press and their video landed on the desk of the Chief Marketing Officer of Converse.
Up until now, JAM doesn’t know what people saw in that video, but he is incredibly grateful that it changed their lives and opened opportunities for them to work with Converse as a brand. In addition to this, they are able to launch their own record label – Outer Voice Records.
“That viral video got me in touch with Converse and that started this whole expansion of what a career could be.” #chasingdreams
FEAR OF FAILURE
Stepping into the music industry will have its costs and for JAM, he had this eminent fear of failure. As much as we want to say that failure is just a learning experience, not being successful is actually a big concern.
It’s one thing to take a leap on something you may not know the outcome to, but it’s also another thing to take a risk and eventually fail. Although there is substantial fear, for both JAM & Philly the courage and the curiosity to see how their risk will play out is bigger.
The logical argument is that this is a tough go for the two of them and also their family’s. However, just like what JAM has mentioned, “we won’t know if we don’t try.” Having this mindset did not mask the fear of failure, but it sure developed the faith to believe that maybe there is really something out there for them.
“You never know if you don't try.” #chasingdreams
“We see the accolades and the social media, and we’re impressed by it, but this is still a long game.”
WHAT’S THEIR DEFINITION OF SUCCESS?
Having their very own South Asian label is already considered a success but just as the two brothers stated, it’s still a long game ahead. They believe that they still need a few more years to become truly successful.
For them, it takes more than just owning a record label to be tagged as successful. JAM doesn’t want to be constricted within the walls of one-definition success, especially success measured by money.
Their biggest success as artists is having listeners send them messages that the lyrics of their song made an impact on various lives. But of course, they acknowledge that for them to grow and impact more people, they need to have resources.
Being in the industry with their songs streamed across multiple platforms might make one think that an artist is already successful. In reality, JAM mentioned that they’re only earning a fraction of a penny for every stream they get.
You need a lot of streams to get money and this is discouraging for a lot of artists. In spite of this, Philly mentioned that artists should know their measure of success, what is their goal, and what are they trying to do?
For JAM & Philly success is more about having people message them randomly and say that their music resonated with them. Also, it’s about building up their community and culture.
Despite the discouraging numbers, the reason why they keep going is for South Asian artists to develop confidence that they too can have access to giant streaming platforms.
JAM added that if everyone was logical and listening to the odds of failing in the music industry then no artist will ever take a risk. Artists should believe that their music is worth listening to despite not having the assurance of becoming successful.
“Success is more than just JAM & Philly, it's much bigger than what we're doing. It's a community success.” #chasingdreams
“The biggest success as an artist is to have people message and tell me that our music resonated with them.” #chasingdreams
“If everyone was logical in the music business, there would be no music business.” #chasingdreams
“Any dream you chase is a journey”. #chasingdreams
“The biggest success that I'll ever know is when I have friends or anyone who says, ‘hey your song really resonated with me, I really connected with those lyrics'.”
“If everyone was logical, listening to those numbers, and the odds of failure, no artist that we now adore and listen to would've tried.”
“You actually have to believe that you have something to give that others would be better to listen to.”
WEIGHING OUTSIDE PRESSURE AND ITS EFFECTS
As South Asians who have created their own record label and continue blazing the path for future artists who want to be in the same industry or do the same, JAM & Philly is no stranger to outside pressure.
They have mentioned that they don’t want to be labeled as unique because the brothers want to open more opportunities to their community. Whenever they would hear compliments from friends and families, it somehow builds internal pressure, and they don’t want to disappoint these people.
Another pressure is the goal that they are trying to create an institution, and they want to build a legacy. If they don’t succeed, they’d feel that they are not helping the community to progress.
Early on JAM & Philly knew that they would brand themselves as a South Asian label and for them to be true to their brand, they have to build relationships within the South Asian community. And because members of the community have invested their time, energy, and hope that both of them will be successful, it generates fear of failing.
The pressures of these expectations may weigh on them, but it also helps them keep grounded that they’re actually doing the right thing. They are also setting an example for new generations of South Asians in the States that professional careers are not only in the boundaries of being doctors and engineers.
“The pressures from others weigh on us.” #chasingdreams
“It’s not your responsibility to help every single person, but unknowingly, you are.” #chasingdreams
“You have to figure out what works for you and how you take care of yourself amongst all the pressures.” #chasingdreams
TAKING CARE OF MENTAL HEALTH IN THIS UNKNOWN JOURNEY
With all the pressures that JAM & Philly experiences, it’s easy to lose track of the goals and their mission. There are times when they make music because they had to and not because they wanted to.
Since there’s a business side to this, they had to make sure that they are continuously making music, but the downside is that it feels more like a job rather than a creative outlet.
It’s been proven that the results are not always money-driven, the things we do in life should come from a place of passion. Whenever stress creeps in, they take a step back and relax their minds.
They take care of their mental health by feeding their minds with grateful thoughts. Making music and being able to earn from it is such a privilege, and they motivate themselves to enjoy every step of the journey.
Making sure that they are happy with what they are doing is more important than reaching a deadline. Ironically, whenever they feel the pressure of work, it’s music that helps them calm down. But they would engage with music in an enjoyable, entertaining way rather than creating music as a business deliverable.
For them, it’s about having a positive perspective that what they’re doing is what they want or are passionate about and not just a job.
“I’m never happier than when I’m making music.” #chasingdreams
“What works one time may not work every time.” #chasingdreams
“When you see making music more as a job and less than a creative outlet or a dream, that’s when you start suffering mentally.”
“There’s some stress that can be associated with the work we’re doing but at the same time the work we’re doing is the thing that helps.”
“We're so focused on the negative on what can be uncertain that we forget the positive of what is uncertain.”
Guest Recommendation: ONE action for a dream chaser to take –
When chasing your dreams, never be afraid to reach out for help. If you want to create change in the community, you need mentors that will guide and support you.
Never underestimate the power of making a plan. Oftentimes, people think that there is no strategic planning when it comes to pursuing the arts. But the truth of the matter is it takes meticulous planning to realize any dream.
OUTLINE OF THE EPISODE
- [01:15] Young JAM & Philly
- [03:35] The journey towards their music career
- [04:22] How their parents paved the way for their success
- [06:35] Perspective and Mindset
- [08:27] How the viral video change their lives
- [11:10] Unlocking the gates of potential possibilities
- [12:35] How the family accepted their career decisions
- [15:15] Serious conversations with parents about their music career
- [19:55] Fear of failure
- [23:00] What’s their definition of success?
- [26:25] How do they measure success?
- [33:53] Weighing outside pressure and its effects
- [38:20] Taking care of mental health in this unknown journey
- [45:23] Why you should never be afraid to ask for help
- [46:55] The significance of making plans
- “In our family, we're all very close, and we respect our parents. Their thoughts are important to us, and we never want to hurt them. But there should be a balance.”
- “Coming from a religious household, I think my parents saw this as God putting all the missing pieces together to form the bigger picture.”
- “There's something insulating about being a student, you're kind of an adult, but you're not really in the real world. You get to explore so many things.”
- “If everyone was logical, listening to those numbers, and the odds of failure, no artist that we now adore and listen to would've tried.”
- “By not focusing on the money, we're able to reach out to more kids and hear their stories, keep making music without having to worry where the next paycheck is going to come from.”
- “We're so focused on the negative on what can be uncertain that we forget the positive of what is uncertain.”
TWEETS YOU CAN USE
- “I can run because my parents started putting the path forward.” #chasingdreams
- “In any endeavor or start-up that you take, there is an opportunity cost.” #chasingdreams
- “There's always some concern when you're the odd one out when you're not doing what everybody else is doing.” #chasingdreams
- “Success is more than just JAM & Philly, it's much bigger than what we're doing. It's a community success.” #chasingdreams
- “Any dream you chase is a journey”. #chasingdreams
- “I’m never happier than when I’m making music.” #chasingdreams
- “Mentors are the greatest thing that you can have when you are pursuing your dreams.” #chasingdreams
James A. Mathew (JAM) and Philly Mathew are brothers from outside Chicago who grew up in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood. They were often looked at in the boundaries of South Asian stereotypes and breaking through these barriers became very significant. Music became their shared outlet, James is a lyricist while Philly is a producer and together, they make the perfect songwriting team.