Hand-picked by Paul Simon for a private songwriting session in Boston MA, Dylan Galvin is a melodic pop-folk songwriter who likes to add a touch of quirkiness and a dash of philosophy to his emotionally-based music. Earning a degree from Berklee College of Music, Dylan studied under some of the best musicians in the world including John Mayer’s guitar teacher, Tomo Fujita and James Taylor’s brother, Livingston.
Dylan’s racked up quite a few awards including “IMEA Adult Contemporary Artist of the Year,” “Phoenix Radio Best Guitarist,” “ISC Honorable Mention,” and “Berklee Songwriting Competition Winner.” Currently living in Los Angeles, Dylan plays corporate events and private parties. Also, he does voice-over work and scores films.
What are you currently working on?
I am working on a few things. Currently, I am running a small business as a for-hire cover artist for private events, weddings, and corporate events. I was in the same boat with a lot of others as dive bar gigs don’t pay well. You make $200-$300 per three-to-four-hour show and people are watching T.V. and they just don’t care. There’s not much built in audience interaction anymore. You have to fight tooth and nail to pull them in. Unless you are super charismatic, full of energy every time, and have a planned out set list, it is pretty much impossible. Maroon 5 could play and nobody would care because there’s a T.V. in front of them. It was very discouraging to me and I wanted to get out of it.
There is a guy who was on The Voice named Matt Santry and he has a course called Well Paid Musician. He teaches you how to get gigs where the pay is much better and the audience is more interactive. You move away from the bar gigs that are usually not particularly well paying or artistically satisfying. It has been going very well! If you’re a musician reading this, I highly recommend checking it out.
The other thing I am working on is film composing and production. At my church, we work on a lot of different Christian media projects. We work on a show called Ranger Joe. It is a light hearted show that teaches bible lessons to kids and I have been doing the music for it. I am working on a documentary which will be out in the summer. I am working with a composer named Kevin Manthei. He’s done Invader Zim, Justice League, and lots of video games. He is a professional Hollywood composer and he is fantastic. We are going to tag team the project and work on it together. I am very excited. It is going to be my first feature film.
What is the Los Angeles music scene like, and how do you like it?
The music scene in L.A. is honestly often exploitative. I think there are a lot of talented people who are playing their hearts out and grinding away to make other people rich. It is not going to change because we musicians tend to be very poor business people by nature and business people know that. They know the value of talent and they know how to exploit it and use it to create this system where the talent fuels the machine and the business people running the machine don’t have to do anything other than convince the talent it is just the way it is. As long as musicians believe that, they will forever break their backs.
Musicians completely forget that spending 10 years developing your craft has value. Your music has value. Your performance has value. If you just accept this idea that only your ability to bring in people to a venue has value, then you’ve been convinced “that’s the way it is.” And this to some degree is understandable because venue owners have to make money. It would be good if musicians really understood the value of everything expected from them and priced accordingly. Talent buyers, agencies, and especially Ticketmaster are making so much money off musicians. The musicians don’t know any better, so it is accepted that’s the way the industry is. As long as musicians are willing to provide their talent for cheap, it will continue. Rather than try and change the game, though, I decided to forego the music industry and focus on playing private events. It’s not always as exciting as the big shows, but definitely a good way to make a decent living playing music.
There is a certain excitement and joy in playing your own original music in front of a big crowd of people, but I think that is like the carrot on the treadmill that keeps you running forever and always chasing and never obtaining. You may hear a story about how someone became famous or got their big break, but you may as well plan your retirement on winning the lottery. There was an episode of American Idol where a younger slide Blues guitarist went onstage and was very talented. One of the judges said, “You’re 28. Why haven’t you made it yet?” What an arrogant and stupid thing to say as if making it in the industry is the equivalent of going and getting some eggs at the grocery store. There are people who have put their whole life into it, have the talent and drive and connections, and it just doesn’t happen. There really is no way to manufacture success. There are things you can do to put yourself in a greater likelihood of it, but you can’t just do it at will. It’s not like all the people who don’t make it are lazy and stupid and all the people that do make it are smart and have a good morning routine.
If you do what you do well, you can find an audience. It’s pretty much a science. You can create something and find the audience. All the tools are in place nowadays. To try and obtain fame and fortune, it is kind of like a pipe dream that I think a lot of people in the industry use to dangle in front of talented people who don’t know any better to keep them perpetually feeding the machine. I hate it. There is a tremendous amount of talent in the L.A. music scene but I don’t really get into the scene that much. I stay away from it because I don’t want to work that hard to make someone else rich. I just got married and I’m planning on having a family. Hopes and dreams don’t pay the rent.
How would you describe your music and songwriting style?
I think it’s rooted in nostalgia. It’s also a bit whimsical. I’m a very reflective, introspective songwriter. I tend to write a lot about childhood and bring elements of nostalgia into my writing. I can’t tell if the lack of nostalgia happens as a natural consequence of getting older, or if our culture no longer has anything to be nostalgic about. I mean think about it, is looking at your Facebook feed really equivalent to riding around with your friends on bikes in your old neighborhood? I’m an older millennial so we’re the only generation where we spent part of our childhood playing with sticks in the woods but also a part of it playing video games. But now it’s just video games. Everything has shifted to an electronic world.
There are certain things about those childhood years that are so sweet and wonderful to reflect on. The smell of asphalt after rain. Jumping into a pile of freshly raked leaves. Your bare feet on a grass field on the 4th of July. I like to go back there. I tend to be wordy as I put a lot of words in my songs. I always favor the lyric and I’m not a guy who writes a beat and writes a lyric around the beat. It’s always about the story. If the lyric doesn’t say something of importance or value, there is no point in writing a song. It would be like just throwing a bunch of paint on a canvas.
In the Top 40s world, there doesn’t seem to be as much care about what the lyrics are. People have mastered the art of the ear worm. Producers are the geniuses of the 2000s as they are doing all the heavy lifting. A great producer can take a turd and make it listenable. However, if you take the production away and just have an instrument and lyric, you can see the song for what it really is. And often, it’s objectively not good. No one will sing top 40s from the 2020s in five-hundred years. These songs will fade and die with the trends of the culture because they are style instead of substance. We will still study Bach, Debussy, and Mozart.
I think there is a cultural shift in the way people listen, which is not entirely good. We have auditory diabetes. We just want the sweetness and we don’t want the nutrition. We don’t want our asparagus or broccoli. We just want cookies and we have done that with the art that our culture goes towards. We don’t want music that challenges us or confronts us; we want something light, something simple, and we want to have someone sing to us things we already want to hear. There seems to be a shift and not to say there wasn’t anything bad from the ’60s and ’70s. Also, not to say there’s nothing good today. But now the light and fluffy, it’s just so ubiquitous and dominating. It’s a result of intense “Madison Avenue” style marketing campaigns and slowly being weaned onto what the industry wants us to listen to.
How do you approach playing weddings and corporate events versus a gig where you are playing your own music?
When you are playing at someone’s event, I set the expectation that they are there to hang out with each other. I am a decoration on the side. Because of that, it takes a lot of pressure off. I kind of do my own thing. I look around the audience to see how old they are and think about songs they may like. If they start to engage, then I will change accordingly. It is a vibe thing. Sometimes you are playing background the whole time and that is cool because it’s a paid practice. If I really engage them, they may ask for something I wrote. It may slightly transform into a performance where the people are actively engaged (much like a ticketed event where people come to see you).
If I’m playing a ticketed show, however, where people have come to a venue explicitly to see me, it’s a different vibe. You don’t want to let them down and you want them to enjoy it and they know what to expect because they have heard you before. So there’s a little bit more of this energy in those shows. You’re definitely not background music. There is something more gratifying when people are singing your music. You take something out of the ether, like an experience, and put it into a tangible medium. If something moves me and that same thing moves another person, and we’re singing about it together, we have bonded. I think it is a wonderful blessing and there is a crazy amount of gratification.
The paid private shows are also gratifying, they pay really well and you often have a connection with the people there. There’s satisfaction in it because I can pay my bills and I can save for more equipment and have more time to write my own stuff because I’m getting paid really well. I can use the money for my passion projects and I don’t have to worry about scraping by. The thing that stresses people out is when you’re playing a gig that is not satisfying and it also pays like crap. That is hard. 1 Tim 5:18 “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Which means: if you work hard and do something well, you shouldn’t have to get underpaid for it. You should get paid what your skill is worth.
When I am playing these gigs, my bills are paid and I don’t have to worry about paying rent. It is nice to have it taken care of. It is kind of cool because now the shows are fusing together. When you do the private shows, it fuses together. Someone else who is at the party may want to hire you for their party based on an original you play. The artistic world starts to filter into the cover world. It is usually taking place in a low-key setting and you are at someone’s house. Everyone is already at ease because they are there to hang out with each other. The pressure is not on you and you are still able to connect with them. It is a cool way to circumvent all the pomp and circumstance of the music scene. You don’t have to worry about working with a sound guy, promoter, or even ticket sales. You just show up, do your thing, and sometimes you make fans and it’s nice. And you get paid way better.
Have you ever tried getting your music to other artists?
I haven’t that much. I have thought about the idea of writing for other people. I am not opposed to it. I think it would be kind of cool. Once you have your song it is so hard to get your song out to where it is supposed to go. To give it to an artist and their team and get royalties would be cool. I see why people do that. I haven’t done it myself, but I am not necessarily opposed to it.
What was it like working with Paul Simon at Berklee College of Music?
It was completely by surprise. I got a message from Jack Perricone, the head of the songwriting department at Berklee. He sent me an email and told me fifty students had been chosen by teachers to work in a small workshop with Paul Simon. At the time, I was literally like, who is Paul Simon? That’s how stupid I was and I told my parents and they told me he’s a big deal and I might want to look into it. I started researching him and I realized he was good. A few weeks later, they sent me another email saying they eliminated half the students and I was still in. There was another email saying twelve were left and Paul Simon would choose six. I didn’t want to get my hopes up because I had no control of the outcome and had no expectations.
They sent me a final email, and Paul Simon chose me. They told me I would meet him at a certain time, play one of my original songs for him, and he would give me feedback. I wished I didn’t do any research on him because it was a little stressful. When we saw him, he reminded me of Yoda. He’s super calm, somber, and wise in that he chooses his words very carefully before he ever speaks. He is not a person that over talks like me. I say a lot of words. He is poignant and to the point.
I played him the first song I ever wrote at Berklee called “History.” It’s a standard early 2000s John Mayer pop song in 4/4 and the bridge goes to half time. It’s like a Fray song and a technique from the early 2000s. It had a good melody, and there was a flat seventh chord in it. I was using all my fancy Berklee harmony knowledge. When I played it for him, he liked it but said, “What if we try this on the bridge?” He gave me this 7/8 rhythmic chant polyrhythm thing to mix it up from the 4/4 of the verse. It was a very cool idea, but I already recorded the song and I didn’t want to record it again. I took what he told me and I wrote another song based on the feedback.
I did my own version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” It sounds nothing like it. It is like Foo Fighters meets John Mayer with altered time signatures. It’s called “Keystone.” I played the new song for him and he loved it. He told me he liked everything about it. I was really excited. He is very smart, knows what he is doing, and he doesn’t do anything by accident. He is very intentional when he is writing, which I love and is a sign of a great artist.
How did you get into acting and voice-over work?
When I came to L.A., I was having trouble getting gigs. I was wanting to get into Hotel Café and the singer/songwriter circuit. I played a few shows at Howl at The Moon Universal Studios, Viper Room, and I was trying to get plugged into the scene. I realized there wasn’t any money there as I didn’t have “pull” and I’m not a particular trendy guy. I don’t have enough desire to try and become something the culture wants. I am just going to do my own thing. I needed to find another way to make money.
I started acting where you make less money than music. I did an inventory of my skills and literally started on Craigslist. I started looking up acting jobs and I started doing student projects for free. It’s like roulette and you will get weird stuff. I found there were websites with directories where people cast you and you go to auditions. It wasn’t too long after I started that I was getting cast lead roles for student films without having an acting background. I found once I started getting into the paid stuff, you have to be on standby 24/7 for agents and be willing to drop everything. They don’t guarantee you work, but you have to guarantee you will be there and ready. I really didn’t like that. If you are not immediately available for a call, they are frustrated.
I didn’t want to spend my life hovering over the phone, and the acting world is very political and biased. If two people are auditioning and the person who is not as good has more social media followers, they will take that person because they want to promote their project. It’s another popularity contest. If you are not willing to abandon all morale and do what the director says, you are going to run into a lot of limitations. I was once cast as a teacher. When I was sitting in the meeting for the movie, they told me I had a sex scene with a student who was going to be sixteen. I told them I wasn’t going to do that. It was awkward that it wasn’t mentioned beforehand. If you want to maintain integrity, it is very hard to do in the acting world.
Voiceover stuff is a little bit easier. I have done commercials and audiobooks. It is more fun and I’m able to do it from my home office. I built a vocal booth out of PVC pipe and those U-Haul moving blankets. It’s very effective at getting rid of the room reflections. It has been good and I do some voiceover work for my church. It’s fun because I have a weird voice and it lends itself to character stuff. I’ve made a little bit of money doing voiceover work. It is hard before it becomes a legitimate source of income. You have to have lots of different reels. It’s creative and fun and trains the same part of the brain used for music.
What else do you want to accomplish?
I have about fifteen or so songs that I have been sitting on. Some I even wrote at Berklee. The songs are finished but I have never recorded, produced, and released them. I tend to get stuck into thinking I need to release an album, but releasing singles is entirely common now. I would like to release more of my original music online and I want to keep playing shows where I am playing my music.
Now that money is not a super crushing thing anymore, it might be possible in the future. I want to keep getting better at production, composing, and work on short films/documentaries and see where it goes and honor God in my work. 1 Cor 10 says: So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.