The Sweet Sound of Striking the Right Chord | An Interview with Ricky Bell

I met Ricky Bell because my home office computer was deadly slow. As an independent computer technician, Ricky came highly recommended by my accountant, so I knew I’d be in good hands. To my surprise, I soon learned that those hands were equally talented on the neck of a guitar and that Ricky had connected two talents into one amazing career.    

DL:  Ricky, do you consider yourself a computer guy who’s a musician or a musician who’s a computer guy? 

RB: My goals as a musician drive everything I do. It’s been that way since I was a high school kid, working whatever decent-paying jobs I could find, including telemarketing, to earn enough money to buy more music gear. I’m still that way, investing in new equipment that helps me make better music. 

DL:  Is that what your IT business does for you today? 

RB: That and a lot more. After I got my A.A. degree in information technology, I apprenticed in IT for a couple years until I realized I could earn more if I had my own clients. So I went into business doing on-site residential and business troubleshooting, then database development and website design. I also handle convention production audio for my corporate clients plus IT consulting services. 

As a married man with a family, I need a business that provides a growing income. As a musician, I needed flexibility so I can play. Being an IT entrepreneur gives me both. 

DL: When did you know you had the talent to be a successful musician? 

RB: I’ve been playing music since I was a kid—violin in 3rd grade, piano in 6th, guitar and drums in 7th and 8th. I play six instruments and have been playing in cover bands since high school. 

I figured out that I might have a real talent for the guitar when I took lessons from Greg Howe, guitar player for Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, and Enrique Iglesias. I wasn’t sure that I was any good until at 13 my friend’s parents let me sit in with their band. When they called me a “prodigy,” it got my attention. 

DL: How did that revelation change things for you? 

RB: I started to put myself out there more. My breakthrough came when I entered one of my original songs in a contest run by WZZO radio. As the winner (out of 150 entrants), I got to perform my song on stage at The State Theatre in Easton,PA with Ian Anderson from Jethro Tull. That recognition was a watershed moment in my music career.  

DL: What were your next steps? 

RB: I never like to say “no” to opportunity which means that to say “yes” I often have to go out on a limb.   

I’d been working a freelance job as a cameraman for Blue Ridge Cable, a sister company of Penns Peak, a concert venue in PA. Through that connection, I was invited to play at an American Cancer Society benefit there—just me singing and playing my guitar. The performance was so successful that I was booked by Penns Peak to open for major music groups, including Styx, REO Speedwagon, Kansas, and The Tubes.

DL: Where are you now with your music? 

RB: For me it’s all about performing to reach as many people as I can. I play with three bands now, two are my own. I play guitar and sing as a duo with my friend, Ian Frey, percussionist, at small venues and private parties. My cover band, Connect5, plays at larger venues where we keep the crowd dancing.   

I also play harmonica and sing as the Elwood character with the tribute band, The Blues Brotherhood, for large stage, sell-out crowds at casinos and the like. 

DL: How do music and your IT work fit together to meet your career aspirations ? 

RB: Computers and music share common ground in the music studio and on stage. Whether I’m performing with my bands, recording music, creating websites, or solving computer problems, my IT knowledge is always key to achieving successful results.   

I have no set-in-stone plan for the future. I continue to say “yes” to good opportunities the way I always have. All I need is money in the bank and the opportunity to play music. After all, I still need to buy more gear! 

Long term I just want to keep moving forward and upward. Making music and getting paid for it while taking care of my IT clients and raising my beautiful family matter most to me. Everything works together. 

DL: Your story reminds us all that careers emerge from the choices that we make. The more open-minded we are about our options and the more willing we are to take risks, particularly on ourselves, the more likely we are to fashion a career that fits us, striking the right chord. Thanks, Ricky, for sharing your story.

You can follow Ricky Bell and listen to his music and his bands at his website and on Facebook.  Here’s a two-minute video sampling of Ricky in action.

Dullard or Dynamo? A Case for Change! | Your Life Is Your Business

“You just don’t get it.” Ouch! That’s a pretty damning phrase these days. It’s also a reminder that we need to keep up or be left behind with no one waiting for us to catch up.

The more you know the more options you have.

Do you know dull people? I do. Are you dull? I hope not. We’re all susceptible to becoming stuck in a rut or irrelevant if we aren’t careful. So ask yourself:

  • Do I hang around with the same people all the time?
  • Am I doing the same things in my free time?
  • Do I avoid new challenges at work?
  • Am I doing my work the same old way? 

If you answered “yes” or “unsure,” oops!  

When a company answers “yes” to those questions, it’s saying, we

  • Don’t want new employees or customers either
  • Don’t invest in performance improvements
  • Don’t take risks to become more competitive
  • Don’t adopt new industry best practices 

Would you buy stock in that company? Me neither! Would you buy stock in yourself? Hummmm!

You can’t go forward when you’re stopped or in reverse. 

Your life is your business and you’re the only one driving. You can either go forward, park, or back up.

Business survival depends on the ability to grow and remain relevant in the marketplace. That’s why companies engage in research and development, exploration of new work methods, and employee training.

You need to do that too…for yourself. If your life is one dimensional, you limit yourself. Too many people expect the company they work for to provide learning and growth opportunities instead of finding those outlets themselves. Hey, it’s your life. Learn what you need to learn. Accept experiences that will enrich you. Do it yourself!

A casual comment may be all you need. 

A friend of mine invited me to attend a local horseman’s expo that featured vendors who sold tack, clothing, supplies, and services for people like us who were into horses.

During our wanderings, we met a woman who was selling equine art, signed prints featuring everything from cowboys to race horses. We loved what we saw.

As we were leaving the venue, my friend asked, “Would you like to do that?”

“What?” I asked.

“Become an equine art dealer,” she replied.

That’s all it took.

Now you may be wondering why I’d want to take that on. After all, I was already a commercial horse breeder and had a major corporate job.

The answer: “Because I knew nothing about retailing. I’d never been a waitress or a clerk. Never took money—cash, check, or credit cards—from anyone. I knew nothing about inventory management or sales for that matter.

Here was a chance for me to learn how all this works with products that I was passionate about and for customers who were horse enthusiasts like I was.

The business involved contracting with equine artists willing to provide copies of their work, prints and originals, on consignment. We would sell their art at major horse shows in PA and NJ where we set up as vendors. We also sold art on line.

I did this for 10 years. Here’s a partial list of what I learned how to do:

  • Procure and merchandize products
  • Market through cooperative advertising
  • Attract and retain customers
  • Manage inventory, pricing, and on-line sales
  • Package, transport, and ship
  • Manage the legal and accounting aspect of a partnership 

This wasn’t a very profitable business but it was a highly enriching experience.  

Nothing beats an ace-in-the-hole. 

We all sleep better at night when we have the right skills and experiences to maximize our career and job options. It’s like having a business fitness 401K. So fight the good fight against dullness and irrelevance by taking advantage of opportunities to learn and do. It’s all money in the bank.

Care to share an experience where you tried something new? What did you learn and how did it feel? Your story may spark a change!