Inspiring Musician from Germany Shares his Story – Meet Ben Fein
Ben Fein grew up in Heidelberg Germany and is now living his best life in New Zealand. Ben talks about being a musician, entrepreneurship and how he left his finance career behind to travel and pursue his deepest passion for music.
When did you first discover your passion for music?
I’ve always been into music. When I was 6 years old, I performed in my first concert and learnt to play the guitar at the age of 4. From 11 years old, I started playing the piano and my piano teacher at the time introduced me to computers and taught me how to use music programs back then, and his lessons have continued to help me now. Of course technology has changed and developed over time, but the same basic structure still applies. I moved my way around the instruments and started playing the drums during my teenage years and owned my first set of DJ turntables at 17.
How did you enter the DJing scene?
I started producing and DJing with a friend when I was 17 and we named our duo band, Topaz. While making music, I was also completing an apprenticeship for three years in Management and Computer Science. I worked for this same company I did the apprenticeship through for about 7 years. Music was always a hobby and something I did on the side second to everything else. I never understood that if you really focus and give it 100 percent, you could also live from your hobby.
Before working on my solo projects, I teamed up with another friend I met in 2010 and named ourselves Tailgate Chamber. We played in various cities and clubs around Germany and had a lot of fun! I released my first solo album ‘Young’ in 2016, my second album ‘Grow Up’ in 2017 and my latest album ‘Mature’ this year.
“All of the track names have some sort of connection to a time, a place, a person or to a feeling”
How do you describe your style of music?
Electronic. I do love classical music and incorporating melodies in my music. Though, I believe no music is created from one person, there’s always an outside influence. For example, if someone sings a song, or you go to a concert, you get so many ideas on how you can place these influences back into your own music.
Are your music creations ever how you envision it at the start?
No, it’s never exactly what you have in mind. You might have a melody in your head, but you have to transfer it into music software – sometimes you just can’t. You have to rearrange it and change the sound you initially intended.
What have been some of your challenges as a musician?
There are so many things that pull you off your path, telling you to stop. When I first entered the music scene, there was no Facebook, Instagram or Sound Cloud to share your work to everyone instantly. I sent my music to labels and people I knew; hoping someone would hear or know about it, so that was a struggle. It was also hard when I was working full time. I had money, but no time.
I never studied music, but I learnt to play instruments which taught me harmony and rhythm. It’s hard to keep up-to-date with my sound design skills and maintain the quality of music as music software is constantly updating. Every piece of music I create, I learn something new.
I have moments when I’m creating music and I have so many ideas, but when it comes to composing it, I struggle as I don’t always have the patience. So you have to find that balance.
“There are times when you are creative, but not productive and times when you’re productive, but not creative”
Tell us about how you changed your career path and the direction of your life
Before devoting my time completely to music, I was working as a Finance Controller in Germany for BASF, the largest chemical producer in the world. I was earning good money but I still didn’t really know if this was what I wanted. I’d often have these thoughts whenever I went away on holiday.
I always thought I would do something with my life and these thoughts came up repeatedly and I kept thinking – I’m that crazy person, because I should live a “normal” life.
I started questioning things more and I was about to buy this house in my hometown with my girlfriend at the time, and we went to a viewing with the agent who explained where the kids room would be and I could picture the basement where I would set up my music set. I knew what my life was going to look like in the next 5 to 10 years. But I didn’t want this. I wanted life to be a, surprise…
I turned to my parents and asked them, what did I want to become when I was a kid? I was searching for their approval as you do, and they both said… you always wanted to take your guitar and travel the world. I was like, wow decision made – I didn’t expect this sort of response and so much encouragement. They’re amazing people.
“I asked my parents – what did I want to become when I was a kid? They both said, you always wanted to take your guitar and travel the world”
So, I said to my parents, I’m going to make a big change. I’m going to sell everything, quit my job and travel the world and do what I always wanted as a kid. I knew where I was currently wasn’t where I wanted to be. I didn’t know where I was going to end up, but I just wanted to enjoy the journey.
“My parents are the most important and influential people in my life”
You’re an avid traveller – can you tell us more about this and how you ended up in New Zealand?
I’ve always loved travel. At 15 years old, I went to school in Australia for 6 months which was a great experience. Before leaving Germany – I travelled to Norway, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Greece, South East Asia, South America and Dubai to name a few.
But how I ended up in New Zealand is a big circle! I visited San Francisco and met a guy named Chris from New Zealand at a hostel – he’s such a cool guy and we partied hard for two nights and got along really well. He told me he was going to Colombia and I said I’d visit him there, but I needed to go back home, quit my job, sell all my stuff and then I’d come over to meet him.
Two years later, I visited Chris in New Zealand but when my visa had ended, I went back to Germany and did a lot of travel along the way. I stopped over in Miami for a month, travelled through South America, visited Peru, did the Machu Picchu and a trip around Brazil – Buenos Aires was amazing! From there, I went to Chile and met up with my Kiwi friend Chris and we travelled together around Bolivia and Colombia. Chris was planning to move to Perth for work and he had a house in Christchurch in which he rents out rooms to tenants. I offered to help take over managing his house and next thing you know, I bought all the furniture off him and moved in. I’ve now been here in New Zealand for almost a year. Christchurch is great, as it gives me the space to be creative and productive – which is what I need right now.
How do you stay self-motivated with being a musician?
The thing is, I’m not always motivated. When I was travelling, I had no motivation to create music but during those times when I’m feeling lazy, I’m usually most creative.
As soon as I get back into my routine with exercise and eating well, which nowadays I luckily do 90 percent of the time – I can be super productive. Seeing yourself develop, your successes and gaining more knowledge with what you’re doing keeps me motivated.
What are some of the projects you’re currently working on?
I have recently finished composing music for a friend’s new café/restaurant in France called Delicacy. He wanted music for his new restaurant where you wouldn’t hear anywhere else in the world. We talked about the exclusiveness of the music for the restaurant, and creating USB sticks with a live mix loaded on it that customers can buy. This way customers always have something special to take away with them.
I’ve also spent 3 months recently getting certified in the music software (Ableton) and I’m currently working on my fourth album and two others at the same time.
What is your advice to someone else who wants to pursue a career in music or any other creative industry?
In this western world, we have all the opportunities. You can do anything you want (just not fly to the moon, that’s too much work). Set your personal goals high and your work goals realistically. With the music industry or any form of art or creative industry, there’s an element of business. You always have to be aware that you still have to manage it and work hard. Look at it from two sides – as an artist and as an entrepreneur.
Find out more about Ben Fein and check out his music on the following sites –
Photos by Lars Walkling, Miami, Florida © www.larswalkling.com