Calvin Harris may be one of the biggest names in electronic dance music (EDM), but before he was a successful musician, he was Adam Richard Wiles, shelf stocker at a supermarket. Take a listen to his music here. His journey from those humble beginnings to numerous hit singles is a blueprint on how to become a successful musician. Let’s look at his past and find out how to get your music noticed, too.
The Early Years of Calvin Harris
Born on January 17, 1984 in Dumfries, Scotland, which is right across the border from England, Harris went to Dumfries High School, where he took music classes. His teachers remember that he was quiet and that music was the biggest focus of his life, although he was more into creating songs than performing them in front of people.
He used an Atari ST with a program called Notator to make his first songs. Although he was most into techno music, he also played a bit of bass guitar.
Working Odd Jobs
Dumfries didn’t have the best economy, and shops would open and close frequently. Because of this, Harris would end up working many different entry-level positions.
His resume includes the aforementioned job stacking shelves at a supermarket, time spent as an assistant at a bakery and even a stint as a fish gutter. Even though the jobs would change, how Harris used his wages did not. He would put his money towards improving the bedroom studio he had set up, and he would go to the record store with his DJ bag to buy cassettes and vinyl albums.
Small Successes and Failures
His bedroom studio work yielded two singles by the time Harris was 18, called “Brighter Days” and “Da Bongos.” Prima Facie, a small record label, released these singles in 2002, crediting Harris as “Stouffer.” Now that he had some tracks to his name, Harris made the move to London to better learn how to become a successful musician.
Unfortunately for him, the move didn’t result in the kind of opportunities he wanted. He had just one more song released while he was living there, a track called “Let Me Know.” Short on cash and with no work options, Harris had no choice but to move back to his parents’ home in Dumfries.
Marketing on Myspace
Although Harris didn’t have the results he wanted in London, he still believed that he could become a successful artist, and the move home didn’t slow down his song making. He kept creating songs in his bedroom, and then he began posting them on his Myspace. At the time, that social network was taking off among those in their teens and 20s.
Harris started to build up an online buzz, and this attracted the attention of Mark Gillespie. Gillespie booked talent for the Global Gathering dance festival and had recently decided he would create his own management group, which would be called Three Six Zero Group. He was so impressed with Harris that he made the DJ his first client in 2006. Harris also ended up signing a record deal with Sony BMG and a publishing deal with EMI that same year.
Building a Following
Harris now had a way to get his music to the masses, but he wasn’t a successful musician yet. He still needed to do something with his new platform.
He didn’t waste any time, dropping his first full-length album, I Created Disco, in 2007. Everything on the album was done by Harris, including the writing, signing and production work, and he used an Amiga computer to do it.
The album ended up receiving mixed reviews, but it was fairly popular in the United Kingdom and even had a bit of success in the United States. His songs got the attention of Kylie Minogue, leading to him working on her 2007 album X.
It was in 2009 when Harris’s career took off with the help of his sophomore album, Ready for the Weekend. The album spawned several popular singles, including “I’m Not Alone” and “You Used to Hold Me.”
Even though Harris had success singing on his tracks to that point, he decided in 2010 that he would transition to focusing entirely on the production. He began to have guest vocalists do the singing. He would tour with Rihanna the next year. They also dropped two singles together, “Where Have You Been” and the megahit “We Found Love”. These hits made Harris a household name.
The path Harris took to be a successful artist shows the importance of passion and commitment. He had setbacks that would have led many musicians to quit and move on. Even when he had to move back in with his parents, he continued recording and promoting himself. He wasn’t a natural performer. However, he made the most of his talents and worked hard to turn his dreams into reality.