We had the good fortune of connecting with Matt Harlan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Matt, how do you think about risk?
For me, risk taking is one of the most important and agonizing things to consider in work and life. It’s a trade-off that businesspeople make every day, but I think in our own lives we have a harder time with it. Deciding whether to do something terrifying forces you to choose what’s important to you, which can be hard to confront. Early on I was risk averse and played things somewhat safe. I didn’t study music in college although I desperately wanted to. I played in bands growing up and even left a primo summer job at a head shop freshman year because I had a big gig. But when it came to really picking a career, I couldn’t take the music plunge. I quit the band, hunkered down, and ended up doing work that didn’t make me happy after graduation. One day I found myself in a new town with hardly any friends and just enough money socked away for 3 months’ worth of bills. Knowing it wasn’t much of a safety net, I gave up the idea of stability and started hustling gigs and started making a career in music. I had to. I figured if I was making money and still wasn’t happy, I had to take a chance. I quickly realized it takes more than 3 months to get a decent foothold in the industry. But if I hadn’t taken that first step, I wouldn’t have met the people that helped me understand what it might take. It didn’t make me any kind of overnight success, but it made all the difference in finding the measure of success I’ve had just by seeing what was possible. Once I learned more, I took more risks, but I felt like they were smarter ones. I got more confident in work and life. I got better gigs. I made albums I’m proud of and managed to tour around the world many times. Still, it took a long while to find a balance. I lost touch with friends, family, loved ones, and missed plenty of non-music opportunities. But after finding out how important it was for me to take a chance at this thing I loved, I justified the cost of that risk. Eventually, I toiled enough, learned enough, hurt enough, and received enough kindness, that I’ve gotten to a place where I can have a loving family, stability from work outside the industry, and still get paid to make music I cherish. The risks I take now are different ones and they support different goals. But the first ones helped me lay the framework for what my life is today. Now, being able to go to sleep at night without wondering, “what if?” is a priceless peace of mind that I would have never known if I hadn’t have taken that first leap.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I write and play songs. And I read and interpret regulations. I’m lucky use both of these things to make a living, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t be able to say that I also have a loving family these days and a greater understanding of people who live on both the art and the business side of the fence. I’ve played in living rooms and dark corners for 10 people and on enormous stages for crowds of 1,000’s. It has never been easy, but it has always been fulfilling and worth it. Songs and music are more important than I could possibly describe and I feel absolutely blessed each time I get to share them with people who feel the same way.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
These days, we’d just have to hang out in my backyard and talk about where we might go.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Brian Atkinson, Katy Anderson, Anthony Rathburn