Arlington singer-songwriter Tom O’Connor falls among the minority of souls who take the bold plunge to follow their dreams. O’Connor, a Binghamton, N.Y. native, had never so much as picked up a guitar before attending a Dave Matthews Band concert just before going to college in West Virginia. But after watching Matthews perform, O’Connor began to see a new future for himself and bought his first guitar the very next day. And now he’s putting in the time and effort it takes to succeed in an increasingly muddled music industry.
During the day, O’Connor works as a government relations representative for the Security Industry Association. At night, he’s chasing down gigs, mailing out samplers, practicing old tunes and writing new ones. Usually, he can even squeeze dinner into the routine.
“It’s pretty much from the time I come home until the time I go to bed,” O’Connor says. “It’s basically like working two full-time jobs.”
By now, he’s used to the workload. And with an album (Frozen in Anticipation) recorded with Scott Harlan at Kensington, Md.,’s Golden Sound Studios, he has a proper package to show off skills.
From the back-country, foot-stompin’ romp of “Tangled Up Tonight” to the rest-your-weary-head strains of “Become Memories,” O’Connor displays an encouraging mix of talent and passion that marks a very solid first foray into recording.
But even talent isn’t enough to leave a lasting impression these days.
“The business aspect is very difficult. You always hear the cliche, ‘the entertainment industry is tough,’ but I don’t think I really understood how true that was until I started doing it,” O’Connor says. “Luckily, I have a day job, for now, and I have not yet had to rely on music as my main source of income. Unfortunately, and too often, people are not open to original music. They would rather go out to see cover artists play top 40 hits than to go watch upcoming local or touring original acts.”
And while the Do-It-Yourself era of music has certainly aided O’Connor to gain a foothold in the industry, it has also increased the volume of his competition. Easier access to recording tools has encouraged more and more musicians to take a stab at performing professionally, increasing both the size of the proverbial pond and the number of fish in it. Fortunately for him, the added income of his day job has allowed him to stick to the course he has plotted for himself and not cave in to outside demands.
“[I can] make the music that I want to make. Every track on my record has been my favorite song at some point and time and I am very grateful for that,” O’Connor says. “The artistic integrity of my work is likely to be challenged somewhere down the road, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, I will continue to work as hard as I can to succeed creating the music that I like.”
With a series of performances at Arlington’s Ragtime, O’Connor is still getting the opportunity to stand out, and he’s still got a larger engagement on the horizon. On April 25, O’Connor will perform a full-band show at Jammin’ Java. He also has shows slotted for Alexandria’s Buzz and Washington, D.C.’s Artomatic later this season.
Imminent success or not, O’Connor plans to continue chasing his dream. And as long as he does so, music fans in the District will have an opportunity to unearth one of the area’s hidden gems.