Singer, songwriter and keyboardist Joe McGowan is a South Carolina based artist whose music draws from a variety of genres including country, pop, Americana, Indie Rock, and roots revival. Joe is a practicing Dermatologist and Mohs Micrographic Surgeon in South Carolina and he enjoys writing his music on his days off. Purchase McGowan’s single “Rainbow” on iTunes and stay tunes for his debut album, “Dirt Road Revival” which features original music about escape, overcoming adversity, and embracing one’s authentic self. Nectar News sat down with Joe to learn more about the roots of his passion for music and the challenges he has faced while participating in the industry thus far.
NN: What part of creating new music do you enjoy the most?
JM: I love songwriting the most. I love sitting at my piano and coming up with new songs, melodies, ideas, lyrics etc without any pressure or need to sound perfect…..it’s my favorite thing in the world. I also love singing my heart out in the recording studio. I also find great joy when I hear what my amazing producer, Michael Levey, comes up with when my initial demos transformed by his incredible, inspired, sophisticated productions for the first time.
NN: What are the most difficult challenges of being a singer songwriter in today’s industry?
JM: I think that for me, it was determining where I really fit in. How do you show the world your art? Where do you fit into the overall process? I think that doing my homework, reading articles, listening to other stories and joining certain organizations, namely the National Association or Recording Industry Professionals, has allowed me to find a home base and set goals for myself. NARIP hosts music supervisor sessions which allow for remote attendance, individualized feedback from top music supervisors and the chance for music placements in TV, Film and Trailers. Joining NARIP has been INVALUABLE in providing me with these connections, opportunities, and a crucial education in the business of the music industry. Tess Taylor (President, NARIP) has been one of the most influential people in my music career thus far. She has taken me under her wing and guided me, providing pearls of wisdom in this industry on how to present myself, how to market myself, how to pitch and place my music in a highly competitive industry.
Another great step and turning point for me was joining the “Connecting People” foundation after meeting Dan Schneider (Executive Director, I Can Still Do That Foundation). I had the privilege of teaming up with Fiona Bloom (The Bloom Effect) who has been instrumental in organizing a process, setting goals and defining a path for my music career. Fiona is so full of energy, so intelligent and so committed to her clients. She has been such an important person in my life, because she has taken the time to understand who I am and how I fit in to this very complex music industry! Because I am a recording artist, songwriter, composer and lyricist, but not a performing artist, I have a very unique set of needs. Fiona formulated a process, finite steps and specific goals that were instrumental in accelerating my momentum and growth as a songwriter, composer and lyricist. She has connected me with numerous contacts that keep growing in number like a domino effect. She made me see that there are so many opportunities for musicians like me. There are so many ways to connect. There are so many organizations, conferences and people that want to connect, and that want music like mine.
The other challenge that I have experienced is finding the right team of people to help me in producing my music. Many people in this industry seem to tote themselves as accomplished producers who have exactly what it takes to give you what YOU need. I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that homework is ESSENTIAL. LISTEN to the albums that they have produced; talk to previous clients; compare prices; start with 2-3 songs; never pay anything in full up front. And although the mistakes I have made have been extremely expensive, recovering or bouncing back, has proved to be the most empowering experience for me to date, because it has taught me how important the music is to me. These experiences have toughened me up, and strengthened my commitment to the music. And instead of becoming cynical, I have become deeply grateful to those that have supported me and proven to a team of extraordinary men (Oscar Zambrano, Michael Levey and Alex Venguar of Zampol Productions) who believe in my music and have brought so much art and mastery to the songs that we have created together.
NN: Has there been a time in your music career that you’ve struggled in finding the resources needed to be the artist that you want to be?
Fortunately for me, I have a day job that has allowed me to invest in the music that I create. However, the expense of full, sophisticated productions with a master producer, is significant. And I have had to cut corners, make sacrifices and save like crazy to pay for the full productions of the songs that I write. However, when you find the right person to work with, you realize that your hard work and investment are worth it. I am so grateful for my producer, Michael Levey, at Zampol Productions who is a true master of his trade. His fees are SO reasonable for the art that he creates. He has spent COUNTLESS hours on perfecting my songs beyond what I have paid for. He has taught me that you can’t pay someone to believe in your music, but when it happens it totally shows in the final product manifold.
The resource that seems to be the most limited for me as a full time surgeon is of course time. But learning how to balance these two aspects of my life allows me to truly appreciate and efficiently use the time that I do have for my music.
NN: When do you feel like you will have “made it” in the industry?
JM:I think that “making it” in the music industry is very subjective and arbitrary and it always seems to bring up a personal goal of receiving some sort of public recognition. But what I have learned is that may or may not happen, and I then realize that I still continue to spend countless hours on perfecting my songs, writing new songs and promoting my music. And why is this? Because I love music more than anything. Realizing this allows you to feel a certain freedom to create, to express yourself and to be who you are in a way that doesn’t need public attention, media, awards or honors. So “making it” is about believing in yourself and knowing that you are doing what you do because you love it. That being said, I would LOVE it if I ever got the opportunity to place one of my songs in a Film or TV show 🙂
NN: You graduated with honors from medical school and are currently practicing Dermatologic and Mohs Micrographic Surgery in Charleston,SC. As you were growing in your medical profession did you seek refuge in your music? Or did you find a special recipe for enjoying both endeavors?
JM: It’s all about finding balance. I love both jobs and they are very much interdependent, but realizing that I could do both and maintain balance in my life was the biggest challenge. I am a Mohs Micrographic and Facial Reconstructive Surgeon, and it is a very intense job. Some days are very stressful, and in the past, I allowed the stress to shut down my musical endeavors. Several years ago, I went through a sort of turning point in my life, when I moved to NYC and focused on connecting to my voice. I met an incredible teacher, Katie Agresta (vocal coach for Cyndi Lauper, Sting, Bon Jovi), who helped me use my voice and breathing exercises to melt away the stress and allow the music to flow effortlessly. I also found that surgery became so much more effortless when I vocalized daily. And while my surgery practice has never been busier, I feel like my music career is also growing rapidly but in a way that seems totally manageable and fun! I am so grateful to my boss and close friend, Dr. Marguerite Germain for believing in me and and my music and allowing me to grow both my surgery practice and musical career.
I also use my music as a form of healing therapy for my surgical patients. Sometimes I have to perform surgeries on large skin cancers on the head and neck, sometimes near the eye, or on the nose. This is an extremely anxiety-provoking experience for my patients. I truly believe that wound healing is an internally and externally driven process and fostering a deep, empathic relationship with my patients can allow them to feel comfortable and confident in the care they are receiving. I feel like sharing my music with my patients positively influences wound healing and surgical outcomes, and even more important, allows me to share who I really am with the patients I treat. It is what I love most about my job.
NN: Artists are constantly under pressure to achieve commercial goals concerning social media, followers, fans, etc. Do these things concern you? Explain why why or why they do not concern you?
JM: I think that this is something that is a little different for me, because I am not necessarily a performing artist, but more so, a recording artist, composer and songwriter. I actually feel like growing a fan base is something that I achieve by sharing my music with my friends, family and patients. It is a way for me to allow others to know who I really am. I share my music so others don’t think that I am purely a skin cancer surgeon, but that I also have a deeper side. I think that growing a fan base should be a natural, organic, effortless process, and that is what I hope to do. I have always found that putting pressure on myself always takes the joy out of the process. Music is something that brings me joy, so I have to embrace whatever comes my way as a gift.
Follow Joe McGowan by visiting his social media pages and website.