How is success defined and how do we know if we have truly become successful? It would seem that success is easier to determine from an outside perspective rather than from our own perspective. You have probably heard the commonly used term "made it" before, but what does it mean to have "made it"? What is required and more importantly, what is sacrificed to get there? In this article, I will tell the story of a young man, Kenton Bell, who has dealt with the harsh realities of trying to "make it" in the music industry. The truth is.....success doesn't happen quickly or easily, in fact, in most cases, it takes years of hard work to achieve the success you had been waiting for all along and Kenton Bell is certainly proof of that. A career spanning over twenty years that has taken him everywhere from touring as a drum tech, building drums, teaching drums and becoming a business owner. Even after all of this, Kenton is not quite at his end goal but he does know what he needs to do to get there and doesn't plan on stopping until he has reached his destination.
Now the beginning of Kenton's story is the stuff young teenage musicians could only dream about. As he was describing to me how it all began, I could hardly believe just how fortunate he was at such a young age and that it must have put the sparkle in his eye to pursue music as his career. Kenton tells the story like this, "I was fourteen years old and was working up at a camp in Bancroft and I ran into these guys from Peterborough and I would stay up there on the weekends and these were the guys from a band called Thousand Foot Krutch," Kenton explains, "I started selling merch and small drum tech with them and I even got to play with them here and there and I did that on and off for about seven years with them and I soaked up everything." Originally Kenton claims that it was the second drummer for Thousand Foot Krutch, Geoff Laforet, that originally fostered Kenton into the music scene and groomed him for what would be Kenton's future, "I give him all the credit for developing me," Kenton remarked, "I kind of had the golden ticket straight away" and I would certainly have to agree. I remember Thousand Foot Krutch as being one of the most popular Christian rock bands going in this part of the world for a long time. They are still prevalent to this day with their most recent release "Exhale" in 2016. I mean, have you ever heard of 180Drums? Well, the owner of 180Drums is Steve Augustine, the current drummer for Thousand Foot Krutch, so as you might imagine this relationship has provided opportunities for Kenton. So from the time he was fourteen years old until he was twenty-one, he had the chance to drum tech, sell merchandise and in general just hang out with bands like Thousand Foot Krutch, Switchfoot, Manic Drive, Rides Again, Hollowick and Hedley as well as a lot the bands in the Much Music scene. Taking good advantages of golden opportunities, Kenton was absorbing everything he could and he was making very good headway in the music industry.
I have to stop here just for a moment and explain something briefly before I continue with the story. I have to discuss how being the type of person that goes all in every time can catch up with you. Now, for some people going all in is the only way to live and throughout Kenton's career, it could be said that this mantra is the reason he had gone so far in the industry. However, at one point in his youth it did act as a detriment to him, as Kenton explained to me "I was drumming young and I was touring young and it got to me," said Kenton. It makes sense, especially at a young age, being involved in high profile gigs with all of that excitement and thrill could definitely lead to some bad decision-making. Fortunately for Kenton, he realized that changes had to be made in his personal life.
Continuing on....With that notion, Kenton left Ontario and decided to study theology in Saskatchewan for five years. In Saskatchewan Kenton really began to understand the faith and what it could do for him. He would often meditate, use prayer, self-reflect on his progress and consistently develop his spiritual being in order to keep himself in check and to this day Kenton still practices these methods. So after five years of schooling complete Kenton headed back to Ontario and became a pastor at a church in Toronto. Conveniently and not surprisingly, the church also had a music facility and in part of his pastoral duties was to teach music. At one point during his time as a pastor, Kenton was teaching fifty-two drum students per week! Teaching music became a bit of a handful along with writing sermons, so understandably, Kenton found it very difficult to balance this workload. He explained to me, "One day it all kind of came to an end. I couldn't handle it anymore and I walked out the door and by the end of that week I had a drum company." Which brings us to the formation of his company KentonDRUMS.
KentonDRUMS was originally formed in 2007 and for Kenton to start a drum company seems to make a lot of sense as it is quite apparent that he loves gear. He loves working on drums whether it is repairing them, tuning them or building them. He is definitely a skilled young man with drums, as I have seen examples of his work and it is quite impressive to be modest. In a lot of ways for Kenton, he found his calling with the instrument and it probably felt natural for him to build drums for artists to play and tech for artists as well. Kenton's next step would be to attend Conestoga College to study woodworking for the next few years and it was during this time in school that Kenton would make snare drums for all of his projects. Kenton explains, "I would build these drums to hand in for projects and once they were marked and given back to me, I already had clients to buy them and I was shipping them all over the country." Kenton viewed the school as his drum workshop and considered this space as free overhead for himself. I would have to applaud this clever scheme and it really shows how Kenton could make his situations work for him and that he is truly resourceful. In addition to that, he actually paid for his education by selling these drums. Eventually, however, all great things must come to an end and once the college program ended it was time for Kenton to find his own workshop to continue building KentonDRUMS. So with that Kenton started scouting for a new workshop to continue operations and eventually located his shop in Tavistock, ON, and his office was in Stratford, ON. At the peak of his operation, Kenton had two builders full time and altogether consisted of five employees, including himself. While Kenton cannot recall specifically the number of drums produced, he can say with confidence that they indeed built A LOT of drums and that they were sent to Japan, Europe and all over North America. In this phase of KentonDRUMS, they were active between the years 2007-2013 and eventually Kenton put his business on hold for other prospects. Kenton did state to me that he hopes to be building in the next year once again but in Nashville, where he hopes to reside permanently one day soon.
As you can probably tell, Kenton has had to rebuild a few times after hitting the end of the road more than once. Whether it was the gig that dried up, the group of friends that he had to ditch, going to school or finding a new workplace to continue KentonDRUMS, it can be very difficult to not get beat down by this stuff, "It can be downright depressing sometimes. You come off of a great gig only to have nothing afterward. You feel like you are only as good as your last gig," Kenton exclaimed. Or in the case of KentonDRUMS, the countless nights turning drums and catching some shut-eye on his table saw. These are not really glamorous conditions but it is the reality of being in demand to produce drums. So to cope with these pitfalls Kenton flipped back to the time when he studied theology for answers. For Kenton, his life philosophy boils down to three components; Consistency, discipline, and meditation. He intentionally reflects on his progress in whatever he is involved in and makes sure that he has a plan at all times to follow. He is a spiritual man that uses prayer to cleanse himself and refresh his perspective on life. He believes that to be successful in life you must develop your confidence through action and completion of tasks while maintaining a modest attitude. All pretty useful stuff and it really seems to have helped Kenton get as far as he has and while this may not be the way for all people, I think it is fair to say that these principles certainly cannot hurt anyone who may find the ladder to success a tad bit steep.
So, what does it take to "make it"? Well for starters you need to have a humble, sensible, hard-working, and professional attitude. It is also paramount that you build valuable relationships and maintain those relationships, as they will connect the dots to create great opportunities. You also have to be realistic in what you are getting yourself into. If you are the type of person that enjoys the idea of going home every night to a family and having a reliable source of income, you may want to reconsider things. Sure there may be people who have found a regular gig and it pays well and doesn't require much long term traveling, but to find that gig is like finding a rainbow unicorn that defecates gold coins. I am clearly only scratching the surface of the trials one must face while trying to "make it" in the music industry but one point that I want to drive home is that you have to be able to think objectively in regards to your survival in the music industry and to keep your chin up when things go awry.
I want to close this article off with a quote from Kenton and how he interprets his own success. I think this pretty much sums up the journey to success and highlights the roadblocks we face while in the pursuit.
"I don't even know what success looks like, or if I am even successful. But I can tell you that the little success that I have had has been costly and achieving desired success might not turn out to be a success at all.....meaning that you don't wanna work so hard in one direction and find out it wasn't worth it. With all that being said, achieving one's dreams takes a lot of hard work and sacrifices." - Kenton Bell