This interview is the first in an ongoing series of conversations with young single adults and others who have great perspectives on using this time of life as an opportunity and a blessing.
Rob Landes is an award-winning violinist and YouTube artist who went from doing a sales job a year ago and playing occasionally on the side to pursuing music full time, producing a viral YouTube video, winning “Best Instrumental” at the Utah Music Awards, opening for artists such as T-Pain, and touring internationally. He also happens to be in my ward and an all-around fantastic person.
I had been thinking about interviewing Rob for some time, but when I saw a Facebook post he wrote telling a little bit of his incredible story, I knew I had to talk to him. He is a great example of seeing the single years as an opportunity to be a force for good and moving forward with faith in pursuing his dreams.
You can find Rob on YouTube here.
Below is a slightly abbreviated transcript of our conversation on January 7, 2016.
Ariel: What made you decide to go into music?
Rob: Well, I’ve been playing the violin since I was three-and-a-half years old. I got a little tiny violin for Christmas and started taking lessons because my mom said, “You only have to practice the days you want to eat.” I’ve got six siblings, we all play music, and that’s how my parents taught us to work—through practicing music. But I didn’t decide on music until I was actually a freshman at BYU. I had been accepted to the BYU music program, but I was really worried about whether I could support a family on it, and was looking around. I didn’t know what else I wanted to do.
I was thinking about taking classes for pre-med or pre-dental, but then I had an experience—probably the most spiritual experience of my life—where it was made known to me that music was what I was supposed to be doing the rest of my life. I got that revelation a couple days before the add-drop deadline for the semester, when I was going to drop some of my music classes, so the timing was just right. I had begun to enjoy music when I was about eleven or twelve years old, but it wasn’t until I was 18 that I made the decision to pursue music because of that experience I had.
So what happened with music after college?
I did a bachelors degree at BYU and then I did a masters at Rice, which has a fantastic music school. I was surrounded by incredible musicians, and some of them were able to get a job in the music industry, which is very difficult.
The two main paths for instrumentalists to go are to play in an orchestra or to teach at a university or conservatory. I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach, but for a long time I thought I wanted to play in an orchestra. But while I was at Rice, I saw a lot of my friends who I felt were better musicians than I was audition over and over and over again for jobs and either not even make it to the final round of auditions or make it to the final round several times and never win the job. So I saw that and kind of got discouraged with my playing ability because I was surrounded by so many great players and didn’t feel like I was very good.
So when I was faced with the prospect of maybe getting a job with a small or mid-sized orchestra in the middle of nowhere without any other LDS people (I was single), it just didn’t sound appealing to me. I had a job fall into my lap where I could work from home and live wherever I wanted, so after I finished school I did corporate sales for a software company for a little while and just wasn’t sure how music was going to fit into my life. It was a hobby and it was fun, but I had just never imagined that’s all it would be.
You’ve said before you almost quit music—
—Yeah, and that was about the time that I pretty much gave up on doing it professionally. I gave a few recitals here and there, but I didn’t know how it was going to work, because I didn’t want to go back to school and get a doctorate to be able to teach music. That was going to be several more years of school, and that just didn’t appeal to me. So that was the time for about three years where I was working for the software company and didn’t know what I was going to do with music…until I actually saw a YouTube video of somebody using a looper pedal for the violin.
With a looper pedal, there’s a pickup on the violin that is hooked up to the pedal, which makes the acoustic violin sound electric. What the pedal does is allow the musician to record what they’re playing live during concerts and repeat sections of those live recordings so it sounds like there’s four or five violins playing at the same time.
It blew my mind. I didn’t know it was possible or that a pedal like that existed. I could talk more about what happened after I saw that video, but that was one of the first things that kind of awakened me to a different direction I could take music in, and I got really excited about it.
So you were excited about this new direction, but did you have any concerns that were holding you back, especially as a young single adult?
Yeah, absolutely! One of the things I was concerned with is that I was very focused on making sure I could support a family, which is one of the reasons I took this sales job. I mean, it paid well, it was fine—I liked it some days. I don’t know that I loved it, but it was steady, and the industry was growing, there were good prospects for promotion, advancement, etc.
One of the fears I had with doing music and taking it this new direction that I wanted to was that I would be making hardly any money to start off with, and I wasn’t sure what a life would be like as a musician. It was so new and really unknown, because there wasn’t anyone close to me who did that. I mean, my parents were amateur musicians, but there was nobody I really knew who did either touring or these types of live shows. So I was afraid that if I didn’t have a “steady job,” that the women I dated would just write me off because they were worried about having to provide for the babies, which is legitimate. So I would say that was one of the big things holding me back from jumping into music sooner—the fact that it would be seen as kind of a risk.
What made the difference in you deciding to pursue your dream?
There were a couple of things. I had one video that ended up being really successful that a lot of people liked (because I started making YouTube music videos)—Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It got shared a lot, people enjoyed it, and that made me really start to consider seriously that there might be something to what I’m doing that would have an appeal to people and that I could be successful at it.
I had also just turned 30, and I saw a quote somewhere that said, “If you only had one year left to live, what would you do with your life?” And I thought, “Well, I sure as heck would not be making cold calls on my couch in my living room!” I guess there was just a point where I realized that we only have one life. You’re only going to be 24 for one year, you’re only going to be 30 for one year of your life and then it’s gone forever. So I figured, you know what, I’m just going to put my whole heart into it, and then if it doesn’t work out, I can at least know, but I don’t want to live with the “what if,” looking back and wondering what would have happened if I had taken that chance.
Where are you now from where you were a year ago?
A year ago, I gave my first live performance with my looper pedal at my friend’s Christmas party. He and his wife were making waffles for a few friends and he asked me to bring my amp and my pedal. I did, and I played “Radioactive,” and people just absolutely loved it. I was shocked. People went crazy for it, and when I saw that reaction, it made me want to move faster on making my first music video.
I was still working for my job a year ago, and still planning on working there for awhile. But in the past year, with all the developments, I quit my job at the end of July and I’ve been doing music full-time the last six months. I’ve been able to do a lot of things. I won an award at the Utah Music Awards for “Hallelujah” for Best Instrumental. I opened for T-Pain, a huge rapper that some people may know. I’ve got a concert tour in Thailand that I’m leaving for on Tuesday, and I’ll be there for two and a half weeks to give some concerts and shoot some videos with the pianist. I’ve made 11 music videos, and I’ve got a manager who I work with to get gigs booked. I’ve played for corporate gigs and I’ve opened for some shows and I’ve met some amazing musicians. It’s all happened a lot faster than I thought it would. It’s been really exciting.
What’s your goal going forward?
My goal is to headline my own tour, probably in about three years or so. I’d like to open for somebody really big in the next couple years and tour with them. I also want to release an EP, which is a short album, in June of probably five or six original songs. So there’s the short-term plans—booking more festivals and gigs and shows around here, and I’ve got a buddy that I’ll be doing some shows with in LA pretty soon so I can start to branch out, get my name out there, and get a lot of performing experience.
I have a lot of classical musical performing experience, and it’s similar to the kind of shows I do now, but it’s also very different. In some ways, technically, what I do now is a lot easier. The requirements for my concerts are a lot lower, but it’s different because I get to interact with the audience and talk between songs, whereas in classical performances that’s not done a whole lot. Music is the show, and with the type of music that’s popular now, people go to concerts to get to know the performer. They want to hear you talk and get to know you.
How has choosing faith over fear blessed your life?
If I had let fear dictate what I was doing, I would still be working at a job that I didn’t like, always looking forward to holidays and weekends. Now, compared to that, every day feels like a vacation day. It’s incredible. I love what I do every day.
One of the things I live by is that I’ll make a decision and move forward on my own. I’ll pray about it, but a lot of times I don’t get a “yes” answer to go ahead and do it, and I just figure, “Okay, if it’s the wrong thing, the Lord’s going to let me know.” I know that He wants us to study things out and make decisions on our own and just go for it.
Working with other people has helped a lot. You can do a lot on your own, but we all have our limitations, so collaborating with other people has been a huge help. I’d say choosing faith has been a huge blessing to me and I am where I am today, which is amazing and much further than I thought I would be.
How do you think the lessons you’ve learned over this past year will impact your future family?
I want my kids to think big. I want them to know that they can do anything and that one of the most important things to achieving that is really just taking action. It’s so easy to be afraid of failure and be afraid of what people are going to say or think, but the thing is, if you are out doing things, you’re going to fail, but it’s fine. Don’t look at failure as a negative thing. I want to teach my family that and let them know that that’s part of the learning process, because when you fail, you learn. I think it would’ve been easy for me to worry about how I was going to make music work or how I was going to produce the song or how I was going to get a manager, but if you just take it step by step and do something, things will work out.
What advice would you give other young single adults who have a dream but are afraid to move forward because it might “jeopardize their chances” in some way?
I think the biggest thing is that you can never get time back, and just know that people who maybe criticize or don’t like what you’re doing generally aren’t creators themselves, because other creators, doers, and entrepreneurs know what it takes and how much guts it takes to go out and do scary things and get out of your comfort zone. I would just say take that chance, because I think the regret of looking back and wondering what would have happened if you had chased your dream is a lot worse—much worse than going for it and perhaps losing any type of “chances” that you may or may not have had.
Yes, and I think that you attract people that are operating on the same level that you are.
Oh, absolutely. I actually had a couple of women I had taken out previously, before I quit my job, who I was still friends with afterward. They pulled me aside after I quit my job and did music full time and said, “I want you to know I really admire what you’re doing, I think that’s really brave. That’s awesome, and it’s really attractive.” That was not what I was expecting! You know, I thought it would be like, “You’re probably poor, and you’re done.” But it was exactly the opposite of what I thought would happen.
So don’t let all those fears that are spinning in your head rule you. Go ahead and do it anyway. You’re going to be scared, but just acknowledge it and move forward.
Thanks so much, Rob! Check out his YouTube channel and look for more interviews about living the single life abundantly coming soon!
Do you know someone who would be great to interview about living an abundant single life? Message me on Facebook and let me know!