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Meet Christopher Jones of SoCal LoTal (Southern California Local Talent)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christopher Jones.

Christopher, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
Well, I’ve always enjoyed singing, even before I learned how to talk, I was humming and always seemed to have an ear for music. I’ve always enjoyed performing; it had always been my dream to be on stage. I thought that would be my career, didn’t see myself doing anything else. Ever since I heard Bryan McKnight on the radio, saw Josh Groban on TV, I wanted to be like them. I did plays and choir in middle school and drama and choir all through high school. I started voice lessons in 2002 during my sophomore year at South Pasadena High School, because, my voice teacher Judy Townsend, used to help the high school drama department with singing. She liked my voice and felt that I should be in lessons; she called my mom and told her. After I started lessons with her, found out she had an opera company in the area, The Celestial Opera Company, and I started singing in the opera choruses, as well as lead roles like Sarastro in Mozart’s Magic Flute. I went on to Pasadena City College for my associates and transferred to Cal State Fullerton, where I got my Bachelor’s in music and was in the Opera Theatre Program for four years, while also singing in various choirs like Jazz Choir, Men’s Chorus, and Concert Choir. I’ve never been the person to do just one thing when it came to anything artistic or creative; I always had to have my hand in multiple groups, multiple projects, it was no different when it came to school. I would juggle it alongside my school work cause I loved it so much. It was always recommended that students only do one performance group, and I would three, plus sing in a student recital on occasion. I found a way to make it work because I knew that I had to.

After I graduated, I landed my first job at the First Friends Church in Whittier as the bass section leader in the choir, which was great for a while, but with the distance and needing to make more money, I had to leave to find something else. It was difficult for a while because the four years I spent at Fullerton with no job, made it hard when I was looking for work. I was doing gigs on the side and pick up another church gig here and there, but I knew I had together. While I was struggling with looking for jobs one day on craigslist, I remembered a conversation I had with friends, where someone mentioned performing opera in someone’s home. It was like the Lord was reminding me about this idea and told me to put it out on social media because he knew that it would put me on the entrepreneurial path and I would never be able to stray from it ever again. That was how Black Tie Opera was born with my friends Christina and John Harrell, which is currently based in San Bernardino.

As a kid, I was more a follower than a leader, struggling with stuttering, I still struggle. If you were to tell me back then that I would try and start two a cappella groups, an opera company, open mic/music salon business, and caroling company, I would say you were crazy. But I enjoy collaborating and working with my friends, so I think that added to my desire to start my own businesses. Plus, the fact that I was struggling to job opportunities, so I thought that I would make my own. It hasn’t been easy, they are definitely not get rich quick type of things by any means, but I have learned a lot about the aspects of being a self-starter, having a small business and learning more every day about being a leader and working with others, as well as marketing, promotion, and networking.

There is a moment for me that sticks out in my mind. I was in Newport Beach for one of my music events, in a lovely house in a gated community. We were outside having dinner that the homeowner had provided and we were near the pool eating right when the sun was going down. Being there felt very surreal because I had never been in that kind of setting for something of my own; usually, it would be for a caroling gig for someone else’s company. To know that this was something I was able to put together with my friends and share it with them was cool. Life is crazy sometimes because you think you are supposed to be on one path, as a performer, but sometimes you can take a turn that you didn’t expect and end up on a completely different path, as an entrepreneur. The plans I have always had for myself have changed because of the plans that life has had. That is why I try to stay open to whatever opportunities present themselves to me because I never know where they will take me.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
They have not, at times wish they were, especially when I see other people that are farther along in their lives, achieving stability and so much financially and in their careers. But you can’t fall into that trap of comparing lives, wishing you could have what they have. Sometimes I can feel like everything I’ve done up to this point has not amounted to anything when you have this ideal picture in your head of what happiness looks like, and you won’t be happy until you’ve achieved that. But then I remind myself that life is never perfect and a lot of time, that picture in our heads can change, so we have to be able to be flexible, stay strong and roll with the punches.

I have a conversation with myself quite often, where I wonder if I should keep doing work in music or if I should do something else entirely. I went to school for music, started a couple of side projects in music, my mom has paid for my voice lessons, done a lot of music gigs, so it should all count for something right? I don’t want to look back on my life and wonder “what if?”. “What if I had just stuck it out for a little while longer?” That question is something that has helped to keep me going when I’ve struggled with wondering if this is the right path for me to take. I also remind myself of my goals throughout all of this, supporting myself, family, friends, and fellow artists.

I continue to trust in the timing of events and believe that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. I also know that I have a big support system people who have brought me all this way and continue to push me, I would not be here if it wasn’t for them. Whatever challenge or failure that is ahead of me, will always give me experience and propel me forwards towards the end goal, whatever that turns out to be.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the SoCal LoTal (Southern California Local Talent) story. Tell us more about the business.
Well, the idea for one of my businesses, SoCal LoTal (Southern California Local Talent), initially started as something completely different. I was chatting with my friend Gillian on FB msg on May 22nd, 2017, about getting our artist friends together to put on a concert and perform our favorite pieces. I’ve always loved finding opportunities to collaborate and jam with my friends, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. I then made a post on Facebook about the idea, talked about a finding a potential date and a venue, and started tagging my friends to see if there would be anyone who’d be interested. In a matter of minutes, I was getting person after person commenting that they wanted to be a part of it, others had ideas for venues too. I also had friends that felt that this could become an outlet for artists to perform pieces for fun, pieces that they’ve always wanted to try but never got the opportunity. It morphed from a one night concert to a whole series of events that we ended up having once a month on a Sunday for almost two years, all over Southern California (in cities like Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, San Fernando Valley, Altadena, Whittier, La Habra, and other places).

One of the main reason why I love collaborating with others so much is that you can create something you could’ve never thought on your own, which can be ten times better then what you could come up with alone. This company is known for allowing artists of all kinds, to come together under one roof and share their art with each other in safe, non-judgemental spaces, where everyone is free to express themselves for the fun of it. These events, called music slams, allow for a variety of eclectic styles, which provides guests with something that each one of them can enjoy.

I am most proud of the impact these events have had on people, where they keep showing up to perform because they enjoy it and want to support what I’m doing. The positive feedback that I receive all the time, especially from people who don’t know anything and come in brand new to it, that reaffirms and tells me that what I’m doing means something, what I’m doing matters. I feel that SoCal LoTal has found it’s unique space, within the saturated socal area wherever everyone wants to have music-related company. I think the fact there we stress the concept of sharing your art for the joy of it, in whatever form that takes, rather than sharing your art in a professional concert type form, is what sets this apart from others.

I always try to see what I can do to make my ideas; my projects stand out and are seen as unique and different. Also, I want to be able to provide opportunities to fellow artists, specific opportunities that there may not be enough of or ones that no one has ever thought of before. With regards to a caroling company I started with my friend Michelle last year, The Candlelight Carolers, we decided to base a lot of it out in the Inland Empire. We would use local professional talent from whichever city we were booking in, to help give more opportunities to other artists.

The time I have spent with these two businesses, all that I’ve learned and continue to learn from them, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I would look at luck as timing, good and bad timing. I have had various rough moments with the caroling company, whether it be scheduling issue, gig related, something to do with a caroler, or something else, but it’s taught a lot about how to manage crises, deal with conflicts and solve problems, especially during a time crunch. In a way, I’m grateful for those moments, which have helped me to grow as a leader and a person.

With my music slam events, I have artists drop out the day off all the time, either because of illness, last-minute scheduling conflict, etc., which has helped me to become better at rolling with the punches and be flexible and be able to adjust and keep the show going. What’s been cool is sometimes, losing artists from an event, has at times allowed for surprise artists to jump in and fill the newly vacant spot, which has made for some of my most favorite music slam moments. When artists drop out, it may not always be negative; it could be a blessing in disguise.

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