Sometimes I think that if I weren’t broke, I would be a lot happier. I would be able to pay my bills on time, I could put more than half a tank of gas in my car, and I could finally afford to shop at Whole Foods – but if there’s anything I’ve learned from being on my own for the past 7 years, it’s that you can’t be a fully realized human being without dealing with some sort of financial hardship.
My name’s Ryan Nealon, I’m 24 years old, and I’m a singer/songwriter from San Diego, but I’m currently based in Los Angeles. I moved out to LA for school when I was 18 —went to college at UCLA, and graduated in 2013 with a B.A. in Jazz Studies. I went through 4 years of school riddled with anxiety, panic attacks, indigestion, and a hell of a lot of loans, for an over-glorified participation award, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The only reason I was able to afford to go to college was because I worked my butt off in high school and got a scholarship, and I worked customer service jobs while I was in school to make ends meet.
I got my first job at a video game store in a mall when I was 19, and it was pretty horrendous. My job as a sales associate included wiping off boogers from the display games, and let me tell you, I had lots of fun doing that. Besides that, I mainly worked in coffee shops and had to deal with lots of very interesting people including the stereotypical “Beverly Hills Mom,” who would come in and order a skinny vanilla almond milk latte with extra foam, extra ice, no ice, extra hot, with a sleeve, 2/3 decaf, and 5 ice cubes in the shape of Patrick Dempsey. If you can’t tell, I’ve retained a lot of PTSD from these jobs, but they humbled the heck out of me. I watched a lot of my friends and peers get handed a lot of things because of their financial status, which you could probably figure was and still is much better than mine. For the longest time, I let it define me. I would go to work, and feel like an absolute waste of space because of how much I wished I was doing music full time—it literally ate me alive for years.
When I was 22 and had finally graduated from college, it was time for me to really focus only on my artist project and dedicate all of my time to it. It was the reason why I had moved from San Diego to Los Angeles in the first place. Unfortunately, things never really work out the way you expect or want them to, and you just have to accept the fact that setbacks happen and they teach you really valuable lessons. I would’ve loved to have that realization in the moment, but then I wouldn’t have learned anything. After college, I managed to get myself not only one but five jobs (I know, I’m insane) because I wanted as much money as possible to save for my artist project. A lesson I learned the hard way was that even though I was making all of this money working extremely long hours and at multiple jobs, I didn’t have enough time to work on the music that I wanted to be making.
After this period lasted about a year, I ended up auditioning for a reality show because I wanted a quick way to stardom. Of course, it was not what I had hoped for in the slightest. I went on this show seeing it as a way for me to quit my jobs, but I didn’t even realize that I didn’t want to do the show at all because they were trying to change who I was as an artist and as a person and I almost let them. I’m not going to go into the details about what the show was, but trust me when I say that reality television is never the answer if you’re looking for a “quick fix.” I was fortunate enough that I had the courage to stand up for myself and for what I believe in to confidently walk away and leave that experience behind me, and knowing that it was 100% my own decision is pretty badass if you ask me.
After my reality TV career was cut off before it even began, I went through a really intense depression. I ended up going straight back to my five jobs and had a legit epiphany, and I knew that I needed to let go of this crutch that I was holding on to and bite the bullet and focus on music. As soon as I came to that realization, I quit everything except for one customer service job, and now I’m able to focus on my music a lot more than I ever have been able to. Sure, I’m 24 now and I still work in a coffee shop, but I use this job as a way to get a steady income and insurance. I now have a lot more time to book gigs, writing sessions, recording sessions, and meetings to keep moving forward with my music career. I have been able to do things that people would kill to do, and I was so quick to diminish my own success because of the fact that I’m not financially stable. If there’s anything I want you guys to get out of this, it’s that I am a struggling 24-year-old singer/songwriter that is pursuing his dream to the fullest even though, on paper, there’s no way I could afford to do what I do. I’m not going to lie, there are a lot of nights where I sit in bed with my tub of coconut milk ice cream and cry about how I can’t afford to live in LA, but these emotions have inspired me to write some pretty incredible music. I’ve now gotten to a point that I have a team of friends and peers that have helped me make my dreams and songs a reality.
I am broke and I haven’t figured out my life yet which is totally fine… kinda. At least, that’s what I have to tell myself to stay grounded. The point of me saying all of this stuff isn’t to ask for pity but for people to realize and understand that money should never be an excuse for you to not follow your dreams. Also, one other thing to add is that if people aren’t giving you their time or if they’re not providing a solution for you, you have to make your own solution, and mine was to keep busting my ass to make it in the music industry regardless of what I have to do to keep a roof over my head. This year alone, I’ve put out some of my favorite songs in my catalog which you can hear on Spotify (follow and stream please, I’m poor lol), and I have another tune which came out on October 25th that’s called Sleepwalking and I would love if you guys listened and let me know what you think. Anyways, thanks for reading all of my emotions and current feelings. This is your friend Ryan signing off.