JC Cassis is a singer/songwriter/producer of dance-pop music from New York City. www.JCCassis.com

I’ve been at this now for two full years. In late fall of 2006, I started writing songs with my friend Socrates Cruz. In January and February of 2007 we made the first terrible, awful, totally scratch recordings of some of those songs in Soc’s bedroom in Harlem with what he playfully called a “Mexican microphone” (he’s Mexican-American, so shut up), which was an old performance mic duct-taped to the long handle of a stand-up dustpan, which was perched on a rolling office swivel chair. Needless to say, those recordings didn’t come out too well. We didn’t spend any time on the production, and my voice just was absolutely not as strong as it is now. Plus, since the songs were new, I hadn’t had the time or opportunity to perform them and let them grow into what they needed to be. And I didn’t have a home studio or any production skills to fill out their arrangements. Anyway, in February of that year I appeared on an internet radio show which I booked myself on through Backstage magazine, where I met the sound engineer who became my sometime collaborator and the co-writer and producer of my songs “Lover” and “Lost/Found.” I was really excited about what we came up with together, but soon after we started working together he took a really serious job and was no longer able to devote any time to working with me. So I realized, if I wanted to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time, I was going to have to start being able to do things for myself. I started a full time day job (which I still have), which allowed me to save up enough money to buy an iMac that September. Over the next few months, I cobbled together the rest of the elements of my home studio and began to teach myself how to use it. I also researched how to get my music on iTunes and other digital retailers, and put the three finished songs I had together to form “The Lover EP,” which I put up for sale. In September and December I filmed my first music video for “Lover,” and put it on YouTube. In the beginning of 2008 I started teaching myself how to use the programs Reason and Garage Band to record and produce my music, and beginning in April, I finally started working on the recordings of the songs I had written a year before. It took me four months of daily work to fill out the arrangements on 11 of the songs on my first album (the other two had been on The Lover EP), and the full album went live on iTunes in September of 2008. In the spring of 2008 I bought a guitar, and in the summer I started taking lessons. By June 2008 I was able to write songs on the guitar by myself, and I wrote “Texas Boys” and “You Don’t Have To Worry.” Over the next few months I focused on finishing my album and practicing guitar. In October 2008 I got out to a couple of open mics, and now, in January, I’ve made a more serious commitment to that and have been doing it a lot more.

So, in two years, I’ve gone from being just a singer/songwriter who was totally dependent on others to being a virtually independent singer/songwriter, who can design her own website, write songs alone, perform them alone, make music videos, self-promote, have worldwide distribution, and on and on. I made a complete album and released it. I put together a live band and have started scheduling shows and will be performing regularly. I’ve gotten my music accepted by two music licensing companies. Now that I have all that under my belt, I can finally get out and really start pushing and promoting my music. It took me a while to realize what I needed to do to accomplish my goals, but now that I know what I need to know, there’s no stopping me.

So what’s my point? My point is that it takes a really long time to get where you want to go. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever to make this my full-time career, but really it only became my main pursuit two years ago, and I had to learn everything from scratch while keeping a full time job and maintaining friendships, a social life, and my health. They say that you become an expert at something after 10,000 hours of practice, which breaks down to four hours a day for about 7 years. So clearly I haven’t even put in half of my time yet.

So always remember, when you’re pursuing your dreams: be patient. And when you get impatient, get patient again. Because it takes a long time. But the longer you stay in the game, the more you’ll learn, the more people you’ll know, and the more competitors you’ll outlast, and eventually, you’ll be the last one standing, with the most knowledge and the most connections, and you’ll be in the position to do what you want. Opportunities don’t all come quickly, and they don’t all come at once. You’ve got to stay in the game so that when someone thinks of you for a project, not only are you still in the right line of work, but you’ve been in the right line of work for a long time, and you’ve built up your expertise and desirability as a player. Don’t quit before the game’s over. Stay long enough to be the MVP.

A couple things I’ve thought about in the last couple days of doing open mics and networking with new contacts/fans:

1. When networking with someone, ALWAYS be the one to reach out first, because the simple fact is, if you don’t, they won’t. It doesn’t matter how much they said they want to keep in touch etc. My experience has literally been 99 out of 100 people do NOT contact you first. You MUST contact them first, and then oftentimes they will get back to you and your exchange will develop, but for whatever reason, people just do not initiate contact with new friends/contacts. So if you want anything to come out of meeting people, you have GOT to be the one to send the follow up email or make the follow up phone call. You don’t have to believe me, but if you test this theory, you will notice you aren’t getting any follow up emails before you ask the person for a response yourself.

2. Follow ups must be made in a timely manner–preferably as soon as you get to a computer after you’ve met the person. What I’m doing now is, performing at an open mic, going home after it, and, before I go to bed, even if I’m really tired, I make sure to take 10 minutes and reach out personally to each new contact via email before I go to bed and forget about it forever. People’s memories are only so good, especially when trying to remember someone they only met briefly once when they had a drink or two in them. So send that follow up IMMEDIATELY, and put their name in the subject line, and explain who you are. Example subject line: “Hey Dave, this is JC Cassis, the girl who met you last night at the open mic.” In the body of the email, remind the person who you are, what you performed, and what you and they talked about when you met. Thank them for their interest in you and ask whatever you need to ask them, and offer to help them with something you can help them with if possible, or offer them a free gift, like a free mp3 if you’re a musician. They’re a new contact and you’ve got to make a great first impression to get in their good graces. And a good first impression goes a long way. You never know where getting someone’s favor might lead…

3. When someone helps you in a networky way, pay them back equally. You TOTALLY owe them and you want to show them your appreciation by doing something equally nice for them. For example, last night at the open mic, a guy named Collin who’s in the band Victor Bravo saw me perform. I friended him on myspace and wrote him a personal email thanking him for giving me his email address. He wrote me back a personal message alerting me that he had mentioned me in his band’s blog. Look at what he wrote: victorbravo.blogspot.com. Now that is amazing networking on his part. He gave me an amazing endorsement to all of his fans, complete with a link to my website and a notice of when my next show will be. That is so fucking smart it blew my mind! What a brilliant guy. Because now I’m talking about how awesome he is in my blog. Because how could I not? Not only is it true, but it really meant a lot to me, and I TOTALLY owe him! So, by him taking the time to write a few sentences about the acts at the mic and letting them know he did it, he is earning blog mentions/endorsements from all of them (if they are smart, they will pay him back. Either way, he gets major musician karma points). If you want to help out this sweet and intelligent man, check out his awesome band, Victor Bravo, here.

So be smart, nice and prompt with your networking. Think about it from the other person’s perspective. It’ll go a long way!

So, I’ve started doing open mics, with the goal to do one every night. Every night! In the last four nights, I’ve done two open mics and went out for two others that turned out not to exist. 🙂 But the two that I did were totally awesome. I am realizing the power of live performance. Even one open mic that gets me 3 new email addresses on my email list feels SO much more productive and helpful than myspacing for a few hours, and I think fan connections made in person are way stronger than those made online. I always find that when people meet me, they’re interested in hearing my music, so I believe all I have to do is just meet everyone in the whole world, and then my music will be really successful! 🙂

I’ve been practicing guitar a lot, but still the only two songs that are ready to perform so far are Texas Boys and You Don’t Have To Worry, so I’ve been doing those, and about 5 others should be ready to perform soon. But Texas Boys delights audiences wherever I play it, and it’s been so awesome to hear everyone laughing REALLY hard at the jokes in the song. It really draws the audience in and makes them remember me. One person who saw me perform on Tuesday night even bought the song on iTunes with no prompting from me!

After I play at a mic, I gather people’s email addresses for my list, and reach out with a personal email to each person before adding them to the list, reminding them who I am and thanking them for letting me stay in touch and offering them a free mp3 as a thank you. People have been responding really positively and seem really interested in keeping up with what I’m doing. I think if I keep playing an open mic every day all month, I could have a really good number of people at the show on January 30th!

I also have my first rehearsal with my backing band tomorrow, which will be really great to see how the songs are coming along. I have been really blessed to find some excellent people for this band, so I hope they like working together!

Oh man, I wanted to blog about Tuesday’s open mic, because it was amazing. It’s called Penny’s Open Mic and it’s on the Lower East Side. You go down into this narrow, pitch dark little entranceway, down a bunch of stairs, into the Below St. Mark’s Theater, which is a lovely little black box space, you pay three bucks admission, and then you put your name in the bucket, the names get called, and the weirdest, most awesome, friendly open mic in the world starts. Every single act except for like 3 out of 34 acts was at least really interesting, if not totally great. It was fascinating to see what other people are working on and thinking about, because some of it was totally off the wall. The feature act was a man who played Satan and stripped naked and masturbated live on stage with a wooden box draped over his head while discussing the difference between art and craft and revealing that he had been a virgin until he was 31. I mean, you just cannot make this shit up. It was amazing. It was shocking and moving and so well done and so fearless and vulnerable and hilarious. I really commend that guy for his bravery.

And anyone who thinks things have changed in the East Village and that it’s lost its edge has not been to the East Village recently. I think everything I saw that night, I also could have seen in 1988, had I not been five years old at the time.

So I had to wait till 2am to perform there after arriving at 9pm, and the room was freezing for the whole 5 hours, but my set went over great and everyone was so cool. I think I’ll definitely be going back there soon.

I can’t believe I was dragging my feet about the idea of really committing to getting out to open mics. They are so amazing and fun! I think they’re gonna be my new obsession!

When you want to accomplish anything, in any industry or pursuit, you should tell everyone you know/meet about it. You’ll never believe how many people can help you out that you already know or that you will meet in your life. Sometimes the person you’re talking to has the power to help you him/herself, sometimes they know someone who can help you, or sometimes they just know something that can help you get where you’re going faster. But nine times out of ten, they’ll have something worthwhile to share with you. When I tell people I’m pursuing a career as a music artist, I never, ever get a blank stare. I always get one of the following responses (or something close to it):

“That’s awesome! It’s so admirable that you’re pursuing your dreams and not just settling for some lame job.” (This makes me feel good about myself and my decisions about my life, which gives me confidence to keep going.)

“Oh wow, I want to hear your music/come to a show!” (This also makes me feel good, and as though people give a shit about what I’m doing and are actually willing to support it or at least give it some of their attention.)

“Cool, you know, I know a music blogger/singer-songwriter/record label employee/manager/agent/booker/guitarist you should talk to–here’s his info…” (This helps me make a connection that is helpful no matter what–whether I just get a bit of advice out of it or a record deal.)

“Oh great, you know, I’m putting on a show and I’d love you to come play…” (That person just booked a show for me. Great!)

That’s why, when someone gives you an opportunity to tell them about yourself, you should tell them what you most want them to know, what you want to be true. You talk about what’s important to you, so they make a response that’s relevant to that part of your life. You’re basically telling them, “This is who I am. This is how I want to be known/seen.” So if you’re an aspiring screenwriter, don’t say, “Well, I’ve been noodling around with this movie script in my spare time, but it’s nothing special.” Say, “I’m working on a movie script I’m really excited about, and trying to figure out how to get it to the right people so it gets read.” Showing that you’re serious and are doing the legwork is what impresses people and makes them want to help you. When people ask what I do, I say I’m a singer songwriter who’s hitting a lot of open mics, doing shows with my band, making my own music videos, learning to accompany myself on guitar, and basically working towards a high-flying pop career. Now, do I also have a day job? Yes. But is that my ultimate goal and dream in life, with which I want help moving forward? No. I want help making progress in music, so I talk about how much work I’m doing on my music, and people are impressed and interested and offer to help.

Also, it’s important to know that people want to help you. People love helping other people. Personally, one of my favorite things to do is connect my friends with other friends and contacts who can help them do what they want to do. It gets them excited, it gets me excited for them, and it makes everyone happy. But, they have to let me know what they want so I know who to put them in contact with. If they don’t say anything, I don’t know how to help them. So don’t be shy about talking about your passions and goals, and ask people for the help that they’re just dying to give. They’ll give it, you’ll get it, and it will be awesome!

In our society, there’s a pretty clear idea of what constitutes a happy life: a hot partner, a beautiful home, a red-hot career, and lots of money. So why are so many people who have these things still so sad? My guess is that it’s because they think negatively and don’t monitor and control their own thoughts before they are incapacitated by them.

I used to get frustrated when I’d hear celebrities say “Follow your dreams. Believe in yourself. That’s how you achieve all your goals in life.” “BUT HOW?!” I’d shout at the TV. “WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY HAVE TO DO TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS?!” I always thought that saying “Believe in yourself,” was a quick, mindless answer to that question until I realized what it really means. Believing in yourself and thinking positively are not passive activities. To believe in yourself, you must actively think positively and monitor your thoughts so you realize when you are being negative and putting roadblocks in your own way that don’t really exist outside of your mind. Think about all the negative things you’ve thought about yourself. “I’m too fat.” “I’m not smart enough to do that.” “I should have done that, but I was too lazy.” And on and on and on. What if you took notice of every time you thought something like that, and actively stopped yourself and thought a positive thought instead? What if every time you thought “I’m too fat,” you stopped yourself, and said to yourself, “I work out and try to eat the right foods. There are parts of my body that I love and find beautiful. No one is perfect. My body is an incredible instrument that performs incredible feats every day to keep me alive and let me do the things I love, and I appreciate it.” You may notice that “I’m too fat,” is just an opinion, whereas the positive thoughts I suggested are all facts. I don’t know about you, but I find that really, really powerful.

When it comes to music and pursuing my dreams, it’s incredibly important that I monitor my thoughts constantly. If I let myself think “I’m never going to make it,” for too long, eventually there’ll be no motivation to keep going. So whenever a thought like that pops into my head, I am sure to counter it with thoughts such as, “Careers can take a long time to build. I’ve accomplished a LOT since I started out. I believe in my music. I believe in myself. Hard work pays off, so I should keep working and not worry.” Again, the negative thought is impossible to prove, whereas the countering thoughts are pretty much facts. So the positive thoughts are always far stronger than the negative thoughts.

If you can get in control of your thoughts, you’ll get faster and faster at stopping your negative thoughts in their tracks and replacing them with positive thoughts that disprove the negative ones and make you feel better. The faster you feel better, the less time you will have wasted being sad. The less time you waste, the more time you have to use productively. Using time productively leads to accomplishing goals. And there you have it! Believe in yourself, have more productive time, accomplish your goals! It really does work!