Successful Musicians Podcast Episode 20
Interviewee: Derick Sebastian
Interviewer: Jason Tonioli
Hey, this is Jason Tonioli. I’m a piano player that grew up believing it wasn’t possible to earn a living and support a family with music. I’ve proven that idea was wrong, and I’ve met hundreds of other people who have found success with their music. This podcast features stories of musicians who have found their own personal version of success and fulfillment in both music and life. This podcast is meant to inspire musicians and help them believe in their abilities and motivate them to share their talents with others. This is the Successful Musicians Podcast.
Jason: Welcome to the podcast today I have Derick Sebastian with me, and we’ve had many paths crossed. We found out we work with similar producers and some other people. Kris Bradley, a friend of ours, introduced us to this podcast.
Derick is a ukulele player, singer/songwriter. He’s been teaching, I guess at a Hyatt resort. He lives in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. He’s done quite a bit with Sync licensing as well. You were telling me that Quicksilver and I guess the Roxy Quicksilver is something that’s just recently happened. So that’s amazing. So, Derick, welcome. I’m so glad to have you here, but maybe just introduce yourself, a little bit about yourself and how did you end up getting started in music to start out with?
Derick: Yeah, sounds great Jason. Thank you so much for having me. It’s definitely a pleasure and honor to be here. I’m born and raised here in Maui, and I have been playing the ukulele for close to 29 years I believe. Just picked up the ukulele, totally fell in love with it and it’s just been part of my life. But prior to the ukulele, it was all sports. So, the main story is I was always in baseball and football growing up as a child but I think when I was eleven years old or something like that, middle school, 6th grade or something, my asthma got really, really bad. So the doctors said no sports! So that really killed me. I said what am I gonna do? So that’s when I picked up the ukulele at eleven years old. I had a really close mentor of mine who helped me along the way. His name is Mrs. Sam Ellis. The late Sam Ellis now. And it’s been a beautiful journey, man, of playing the ukulele, sharing it around the world and just totally inspiring lives and being fulfilled by that really.
Jason: That’s awesome. You really were thinking about sports and you ended up in music. So, did you ever think that you’d be doing music as a career growing up?
Derick: To be honest, no. I always dreamt of being a professional athlete, especially in baseball and stuff. That’s something I love doing, watching, playing and all that stuff. Now my kids are playing it, but I don’t force them, but they just kind of stumbled upon it, so which is kind of cool. The great thing about it is the dream was to become a professional athlete. It didn’t happen. But at the same time to say that I’ve connected my musical career with the major sporting events, playing events for like it started like half time shows for NCAA, EA Sports, the More Invitational and then it’s kind of like snowballed into, Geez, MLB, Arizona Diamondbacks, performed the national anthem for them and then it broke into the NBA. The Lakers called me. The Clippers and a bunch of PGAs, so to connect a childhood dream to music is kind of surreal, to be quite honest.
Jason: That’s amazing. Right now, I know you’re working on a lot of licensing and sync opportunities, so I think that’s really interesting to a lot of people that have written music. I think people don’t know what that means. So maybe explain a little bit on some of the sync and the licensing of what you’ve been doing or if you were explaining to somebody who is new to that world, what does that mean?
Derick: You know, it’s basically writing music for pictures. It’s not writing music to release to the public for CD albums, streaming platforms and stuff. It’s a whole different approach, at least for myself. I can speak all my life, I’ve been on what is the next album, what is the next hit on the radio, trying to hit up the DJs and all that stuff, trying to get streaming. It worked, it worked well when I was a live performer, especially going international, when I had the opportunity to perform in Australia, Thailand, Philippines, Korea, China, Europe. I mean, the fans, it builds up and to have music for public streaming and selling CDs, that was a great thing but for music licensing, it’s a whole new world. It’s really not about the music, it’s about the picture and accommodating, writing music to accommodate the picture. So basically, that’s what it is and you’re not really working for yourself anymore as an artist, you’re working for production, really. So, you are trying to solve the problem, how can we enhance the picture, the commercial, the advertising, anything that’s what can. So fast forward a little bit, the ukulele is a very underrated instrument. It was used maybe 8 to10 years ago, a lot in commercials, but now the ukulele is kind of silent on sync licensing. So, my goal is to create different types of music in the ukulele genre, just different types of elements, some approach to arrangements and so, it’s going pretty well, man. So pretty stoked with that.
Jason: Very cool. We may have to do a collaboration of Ukulele and piano together down the road.
Derick: I was just going to say that! That’s so cool.
Jason: That’s so cool. So, the podcast is a Successful Musician podcast. I find it really interesting to ask guests that come on, what does success in music mean to you? Because I found it different for everybody. So, for you, what would you kind of define as success in music?
Derick: You know, I try to keep it simple. I’m very blessed and fortunate to speak to the younger generations of schools and stuff and that’s the same question they ask is the money or whatever, the fame is the success. And I kind of got to break down the walls a little bit and tell them, hey, we got to reverse a little bit because being successful is what you put your mind to and what you think success is all about. To me, success is putting your mind to something and accomplishing it. You have to be successful every day, whether it’s a phone call, whether it’s an email, whether it’s trying to connect and reach out to some kind of executive or whatever it may be. Maybe find out more information, practice guitar, Ukulele, your notes on the piano or whatever. To me, that is success. It’s not an overnight thing. It’s that journey, that grind, that you keep showing up every day and the big things eventually happen and that’s unfortunate that’s what a lot of people see. Oh my God, you performed at the Staples Center, and you made history with the Lakers. You played the national anthem. First Ukulele player ever to be in the Staples Center for a home game for the Lakers. Last game between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant and blah, blah, blah but nobody knows that it was like a six or seven year in the making just to get in contact with the Lakers. To be quite honest, it took a long time to get connected and build trust for a working relationship and that’s just one of those stories where success comes in all different shapes and sizes, but to be quite honest, it really all matters within you, just small little reachable goals. And that’s a success right there really.
Jason: Absolutely. I think showing up every day, people all the time, like you said, they think, oh, it’s an overnight success and seven years is probably a short overnight. A lot of times you’ve been doing this for 20 years. Yeah, it’s not something that just happens overnight. I don’t know who made up that term, but I don’t think it happens in the music industry very often.
Derick: Yeah, you got to put in the work. To me, I think that’s where success comes from. I think it begins with that mindset. You have to have a strong mindset. You have to do what you want and what you’re going after and keep saying yes and even though there’s a lot of detours in this music industry, you’ve got to keep going, find a way. That’s really it. I try to keep it simple, and so far, so good.
Jason: Well, you’re telling me that in addition to all the other stuff you’re doing, you’ve also had a relationship with the Hyatt Resort there in Maui and you do teach ukulele to the people there. So, I’m curious, as you’ve taught for a number of years, almost a decade now there, as people are learning a new instrument or trying to learn to do that better, what have you learned about teaching others to do an instrument?
Derick: Well, number one thing is you cannot approach it as an artist, especially I can probably speak for you, too. We’ve done it so long and it’s kind of so second nature, DA DA DA DA, or whatever it may be.
Jason: It’s easy, right? You just do this. Yeah, do this.
Derick: And before, I used to approach it like that, and I used to see so many puzzled faces and I was like, oh, you know what? I got to back up a little bit. What I had to do is know the fact that any interest, especially the ukulele, it’s a fun instrument. 27:19 We don’t have to read music, we don’t have to be very detailed, just pick up and have fun.
So, my approach now, and it has been really working, where, you know, I just teach a couple of patterns, strumming patterns, and, you know, I separate the right hand and left hand, and my goal is to get them playing ukulele and so far, I have been very grateful to connect with these guests, not just playing ukulele, but the relationship, because the ukulele was an instrument that helped make them fulfilled, you know, they feel that fulfillment and the happiness and to me, that’s what it’s all about. So, I’m just basically a tool, putting the ukulele in their hand and having them experience a great time. It’s just been a great moment man at the Andos Resort at Maui. Lovin it!
Jason: Awesome! So, you got three boys you said, and I’ve got kids as well and I think one of the things I’ve seen is it’s always interesting to get a musician’s take on, is if you could go back in time and give yourself advice or let’s put yourself in your shoes as the dad now for your sons, and let’s say they’re thinking, I want to do music, Dad. What advice would you have for them today that you wish somebody maybe would have shared with you back in the day?
Derick: Well, this was spoken to me from the very beginning, but really not recently, but it’s starting to really make sense for the past five, six, maybe seven, eight, I don’t know, years.The relationships to me, is the absolute key to your success. You have to have great relationships. You have to be workable. I don’t care how talented you are, how great you look, how straight you walk, whatever it may be. To me, I found out that having great relationships is a success or the key just because that’s going to be your support, your foundation, when times get rough and when times are great. The relationships, in all walks of life. I’ve met people who connected with, oh, I know so and so and all of a sudden, I got this major opportunity just because I was cool with this guy and he’s his friend, and it’s just great.
I noticed that, I mean, I’ve got friends and connections all over the world, and I’m very grateful for that because they all specialize in different things and I call them Ohana, friends now, family. So, you work on your craft, work hard on your craft, believe in what you do, never give up. Don’t care about what people think, just be you but at the same time, focus on establishing great relationships. Don’t take it for granted. It’s not about what you do, it’s how you do it.
I’ve noticed that to keep it super simple, people don’t realize, well, people don’t really remember all your accolades – the trophy, where you went, which times you toured, wherever. People don’t really care about that. They care about how you make them feel, and that’s what they remember and to me, that lands back into establishing great relationships.
Jason: I know earlier in your career you said you were out in LA at an SLS conference. Tell me a little bit, how did you get there? I think one of the interesting things is that a lot of the musicians that we talk to on this podcast, they’ve spent a lot of time educating themselves, whether that’s going to conferences, or everybody seems to be selling a course these days. But talk a little bit about the education factor early on in your career and maybe how that helps you.
Derick: Yeah. Back then, like how you said, it wasn’t as accessible, there weren’t many camps. I mean, now when I think about it, it’s very important to continue to educate yourself. Now it’s very accessible – online courses, all this stuff but back then I went to a couple of conferences and stuff like that.
One of the main ones that I really remember is the speech level singing one by Seth Riggs and my vocal coach was affiliated with speech level Singing at that time. Her name is Joy Fields, and she told me about it, and I was like, I’m not really a singer. I’m just kind of using singing to kind of kind of enhance the ukulele. She said, no, but you don’t know. Like, it’s not about singing. You know, you got to go out there and just expand and explore and make friends. And I was like, okay, whatever.
So I went, knowing the fact that I’m not a singer, and, lo and behold, it was life changing. I met Chuck Myers that we were just talking about, Joe Steven, and he was playing on stage anyways, when I got to the camp, I was just encouraged, just be you, if you are carrying a ukulele, and that’s what you perform. When it’s time for you to perform in front of these hundreds of students, play the ukulele as your main focus, your strength and then you add a second song, which is a singing song, a simple one. That’s what I did. And to be quite honest, that approach really opened up the mindset of, you know what? This is my strength and from then on, that camp, going to this kind of educational stuff. I met so many great people, and up until today. That was back in 2004, but up until today, man, we keep in touch with I keep in touch with them, and there’s a handful of them, man. It’s great.
Jason: Yes. I think when you get a chance to meet some of those people that really, truly when you talk about relationships, I think of Chuck. I’ve known Chuck for 20 plus years as well and he’s just one of these people that he brings out the best in others. I’m sure he made you feel like you were capable. I would not be here today if it were not for Chuck Myers either.
I can still remember going down when I was at his house. In the studio, he had that piano there. John Schmidt, the Piano Guys, he was doing production for them, and we were working together on a project with the three of us to do John shows and Chuck had me sit down at piano play, and he’s like, hey, you’re good. This is good. And I’m like, oh it’s nothing. And he’s like, no, you need to do this. He just made me believe in myself and on many other occasions I think the greatest musicians that I’ve run across in my career, they’re ones that they build others up. They find that superpower that musicians maybe didn’t know they had, and they allow it to just kind of become, you know, grow. It’s almost like you get out on stage and you don’t feel confident, but they give you that confidence to shine, and when you really didn’t know you could.
Derick: That’s so on point Jason, and that’s exactly what it is. My mind was so enclosed that I had to be a vocalist to get to this camp, and that wasn’t even it. I got encouragement, I got, liked, I got loved, I got support, I got encouragement, and same thing. That’s exactly what Chuck did for you. That’s what he did for me back at camp and it was just not about vocals, to be quite honest. It was about establishing a relationship and the support and all that good stuff, man. That to me, that goes a lot, especially in your career, as far as what we’re talking about in the music career. So, yeah, support is very important in relationships as well.
Jason: Right. It’s very rare that you find successful musicians who haven’t been very giving of their time. I think we all have been. We all started out with a piano teacher; a ukulele teacher that taught us a little bit. I think at some level, we all feel like, okay, I need to give back and do something to pay somebody else, pay it forward. I need to pay back and help others. That’s something that’s really cool with the music community. So, it’s a very giving group.
If you were to kind of think back, what has been the most impactful one or two things in your career or in your life that’s helped you end up in doing music? If you can kind of like pinpoint, is it a book you read? Is it a course you did? Is there anything specifically that somebody that’s listening out there could be like, okay, Derick said this is what made all the difference to him. What’s that one or two things, maybe?
Derick: Well, there wasn’t any particular event that happened that transformed me to point to music. Like I said, the ukulele kind of stumbled upon me because my school security was playing the ukulele and I thought it was such a cool instrument, and then I’m talking about this is years back when I first started and my brother came home, he was taking ukulele lessons at the local high school. So, his job was to take the ukulele home and practice. So, they were like ukuleles being shown to me from different angles and simultaneously so that’s how I really picked up the instrument.
I think the ukulele is just a tool. Just looking back at this whole grand scheme of things. I think, in my opinion, the ukulele was used to help bring out what I was feeling or what I was trying to emote on. It gave me light and hope just because back then sports got taken away. My dad passed away when I was three years old, so I kind of grew up without having a father. So that kind of filled the void a little bit and it gave me a little bit of encouragement.
So, back to your question about how artists can be fulfilled in some kind of way of music. My thing is you just have to believe in yourself, and you have to trust and believe that you have a gift. Whether it’s music, whether it’s sports or anything, everybody has a gift and it’s up to us to say yes to it.
Sometimes, for the most part, it’s very uncomfortable. It’s very like, oh, I don’t want to do that, I’m not good enough! Or you know, no, that’s not for me, that’s for them and you kind of push it off a little bit. It’s such a miracle when you do say yes and you kind of stick through it and then you find out, wow, this is actually kind of cool. And you work at it, and then you meet great people, you get the support, and then you start to feel fulfilled, like, oh, wow, this is super cool. And all of a sudden, it’s a career. Whoever thought Ukulele could be a full-time thing for me? I didn’t! So you just have to believe that there’s something that every human being on this earth is called to do and it’s up to us to say yes kind of deal. Everything leads to something. That’s what I believe, whether it’s good or bad. So, if you do great things, at least do even greater things. I don’t know if that makes sense Jason I’m sorry!
Jason:Oh Mic drop! You just left so many value bombs right there.
Derick: I just kind of felt that that’s what I had to say but I think I went totally off your question.
Jason: No, that was fantastic. So, we’re about out of time. Derick, so if people want to listen to some of your music or they want to check out a little bit more about you, I know they can go visit you at the resort in Hawaii, the Hyatt Resort in Maui. Where else can they find out about you if they don’t have money to jump on an airplane and come see you tomorrow?
Derick: Ahw go to Jason Tonioli’s house! I’m just kidding.
Hey, let’s keep it super simple. My website, DerickSebastian.com, and you can find out all the information there – social media to my licensing, to my weddings to whatever I’m doing. Private events, I’m there.
Jason: Awesome. Derick, this has been fun. Thanks so much. And we’re going to have to definitely catch up some more on the next one. Thanks so much.
Derick: Thank you, Jason. I appreciate it.
Finding success and fulfillment in the music industry is possible. Looking forward to seeing you in our next episode.
How to Connect with the Featured Guest:
Our guest for today, Derick Sebastian, is an accomplished international ukulele virtuoso. Derick’s critically acclaimed instrumental album, “From His Heart”, earned a Na Hoku Hanohano 2010 nomination.
Derick has shared the stage with singer/songwriter pop star Jason Mraz, the melodic Raining Jane, powerhouse Trombone Shorty, country star icons Thompson Square and Sara Evans, fellow ukulele ace Jake Shimabukuro and R&B sensations, Boyz II Men and Brian McKnight, and a highlighted private performance and ukulele lesson with Oprah Winfrey.
Along with his star-studded musical collaborations, Derick is a cultural practitioner teaching private ukulele LESSONS at a major island resort, Andaz Maui at Wailea.
What You’ll Learn
In this episode, Derick shares his goal to create different types of music in the ukulele genre – different types of elements and some approach to arrangements.
Things We Discussed
Sync licensing – A license granting permission to synchronize a song with moving images on a screen – generally in television, film, or advertisements.
Connect with Derick Sebastian
Connect with Jason Tonioli