Twenty-eight year-old Mike Hamel has just made a bold, if risky career move. In September he quit his day job, emptied his bank account and left his roots, all to live in Hoboken and pursue his dream of becoming a successful musician. Since then the singer-songwriter has been exploring the local music scene and plans to record an album of original songs.
"It's just a matter of taking the reins,” Hamel said about his new venture, one that has been a long time coming.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Hamel began to play music as a child. He comes from a musical family and credits his aunts and uncles, who have played gigs all over the northeast, with planting a seed.
“During the holidays and get-togethers everyone always gathers around the piano,” he said.
Hamel then started playing music in school and in bands with friends. He remembers recording music at home in the days of cassette tapes and analog equipment.
“It was a very do-it-yourself thing,” he said. “That kind of sparked my interest.”
Along the way he learned how to play the guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin, drums and other instruments. After finishing school Hamel sold instruments in local music stores and played in a series of serious though fledgling bands.
All of those bands eventually stalled, and Hamel found himself stuck nearing his 30's. He wanted to pursue his dream, but like generations of musicians before him knew he needed to make a bold move first.
In this case he needed to move closer to New York City. At the same time Hamel's longtime boyfriend Geoff had enrolled in law school at NYU, so together the two moved south and settled in Hoboken.
Hamel now spends his days looking for inspiration in Hoboken, especially around parks and the waterfront. He said that seeing something common as a mother pushing a stroller might spark a lyric, which he'll immediately write down in a notebook.
He's also been going into New York almost every night, trying to get gigs in clubs, or at least meet new people in the music scene. He's already had some success getting spots on open mic and other shows.
Hamel is also planning on recording an album of original material. He recently passed his goal on the arts fundraising site Kickstarter raising more than $4,000 which will enable him to pay for professional production costs.
“The response has been tremendous,” he said about the Kickstarter. “I've gotten a lot of support from family and old friends.”
While he records his album and expands his profile in New York, Hamel is also looking to explore the music scene in Hoboken. He's looked at legendary venue and has caught live shows at a few other bars. So far he's found the Mile Square's music scene to have some similarities to the one in the neighboring metropolis.
“It seems like it's a rich culture here, where people want to hear something,” he said.
Hamel wants to reach that type of audience. Though he refers to himself as a singer-songwriter, he said the label doesn't quite fit his style of music. He does sing and he does write his own songs, but rather than the usual serene or folksy nature of the genre Hamel considers his style to be more energetic.
Many of his songs address society. One of them, entitled “Where the Change Is,” tries to tell listeners that societal change begins within themselves.
“There's so much happening in the world right now that needs to be addressed,” he said.
A song like “Where the Change Is” also has an autobiographical meaning. Just as he wants to inspire others, Hamel took his own advice with his move to Hoboken.
Hamel said he knows he might never reach the level of success he's hoping for. Music is a tough business. Lots of people before him have tried surviving as a musician and failed. Hamel is nervous about his savings running out. But, he also believes he has to test himself.
“As long as I tried then it's not really failure,” he said.
Even if he never lands a record contract or plays to big halls, Hamel is optimistic he can always find work in music, even if it's another job selling instruments or landing gigs as a backup performer. He also knows he can always play for his own enjoyment. In the meantime though, Hamel is determined to see how far he gets.
“It's a 110% push, that's what I'm doing,” he said.