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The Pivot Point

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This is a follow-up to my previous article: The Price.

Living in Los Angeles, there are probably very few people who haven’t at some point in their lives dreamed of being famous.  You know… face plastered on billboards all over town or your contagious song on the radio.  I’ve been fortunate to experience many extraordinary things over the years… two albums (do NOT ask me the names, I will NOT tell you), movies (VH1, but hey it still counts ), and TV commercials (Coca-Cola, KFC, McDonalds… FYI jingles make a TON of money), among others.  For the most part, I’ve always been two steps shy of the spotlight. At any moment I could easily have stepped into the hot glaring lights of Who’s Whoville. Ran through the Hollywood scene with reckless abandon.  Schmooze at houses with bathrooms bigger than my backyard.  But with all of the things that I’ve seen, read or personally experienced, I’ve come to the conclusion that fame was the last thing I ever wanted.

I told this story a couple of years ago about a very well-known, highly respected (and still active) industry exec who told me, “Riis! I will make you a star!  We’ll make your album and feature it in all of the movies I work on and you’ll guest spot on every single TV show I supervise.  Just sign on the dotted line…

I never did.

I knew everything he said was probably true.  But as I mentioned, the cost for me was far more than I was willing to pay. I’ve seen what fame & celebrity has done to people.  People I know personally.  There’s absolutely no privacy.  Increased instability for my kids who already have enough to contend with just trying to be kids. The constant travelling and being pulled in several directions at once. I realized back then that in all of my pursuing, I wasn’t chasing a desire to be famous, but simply… a desire to be liked.  I wanted to feel special.  I wanted people to look at me with the awe that comes with seeing a child prodigy, getting a book signed by their favorite author or scoring backstage passes to a sold out show.  I wanted to feel wanted.

But you know what you often get with fame? You get a growing population who feels it is there right and obligation to criticize you… judge you… pick you apart for every little thing you do or don’t do… you become the subject of asinine headlines like “Riis addicted to Starbucks” or “Riis’ Marriage On The Brink Of Failure! Drinks Red Bull To Calm Frayed Nerves!”  And then you realize that the affirmation is fleeting.  This industry is fickle.  Jealousy overshadows your accomplishments.  People have unrealistic expectations of how you should act and who you should be.  Close relationships begin to fall apart because you just don’t have the time to invest in them like you should.

I’m not saying this is what fame looks like for everyone, but when he placed that contract in front of me and I looked at my future… this is what I saw.  And I was thankful that in a sense, at that moment I was at the pivot point… a chance to rewind.  I could choose now to trade that successful but empty future for a different one.  The one I have now.

When I take stock of all that I have, I recognize that it’s everything I ever truly wanted.  I’m not just liked, I am loved… by my wife, my kids, my family and close friends.  My children look at me with awe and think that I know the answer to everything.  I’m recognized for my skills and talents at work, with colleagues and fellow artists.  My wife wants and affirms me everyday.  And you know… if I never win a Grammy or an Oscar, I’ve acquired something more priceless… fulfillment.

The Price

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Someone complimented me on my music the other day. After saying thank you, they proceeded to ask me why I haven’t “tried to get a record deal??” and blah blah blah. I’ve heard that question so many times now that I’ve developed the pat answer of, “because my wife and kids are worth more than any fame or fortune I’d have sacrificed them to obtain”.

Okay, I’m not trying to sound all doomsday. So what does that mean exactly?

Well, Day 150 - 05-29-2012I’ve had many occasions to “get a record deal” (which doesn’t mean what it used to). That isn’t meant to sound boastful. I just want you to know that it hasn’t been due to lack of opportunity. But once I started a family, they became my priority. It was my choice to do so. And no amount of money or notoriety was worth the very real possibility of giving them up. Which is what I was being asked to do in nearly every single circumstance.

See, I already knew what it’s like to spend countless hours in the studio. I’d paid my dues as an artist performing multiple shows a day, multiple days a week. So while it’s true that I would have done anything for my wife and kids, I had to draw the line at depriving them of a husband and father who loves them.

My decision was based on my personal experience and firsthand knowledge that the music industry (and the entertainment industry as a whole) is not very nice. The industry machine and the people who operate it don’t really care about you. Labels, publishers and some producers only care about how you will benefit them first and yourself second, if at all. Most will be expected to act selfishly, and you could very well be asked at some point in your career to compromise everything you believe.

I’m not saying this is the case for everyone. And I would never discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams. It’s just that with my circumstances, for me it was very clear what the end of the road looked like had I chosen differently. I have acquaintances who are both lonely and full of regret. I have other friends who are very fulfilled in their industry careers. It wasn’t until years later that they become acutely aware of the cost of  the road they chose. I just implore you to make an informed decision about these kinds of things. Because the price you pay isn’t always obvious.

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