Road Less Traveled
There's no easy formula for building a music career. Except for the fortunate few, it's a bumpy ride fraught with twists and turns, peaks and valleys. And then there's that little thing called "life" that doesn't always cooperate with one's aspirations.
For Steven Franz, life's wandering path led to a few detours away from his journey toward becoming a successful singer/songwriter. As a student in the first graduating class from New World School of the Arts' high school program in 1988, the Miami native had a promising start, even winning the dean's award for music. From there it was off to the heralded Berklee College of Music in Boston for a few months before transferring to the University of Miami's jazz school to study voice. But after he realized that he didn't want to write and sing jazz tunes at eighteen without having lived them -- not to mention succumbing to pressure from his German-born parents to get a real job -- he put his dreams on the back burner and went to business school. He earned an MBA from the University of Florida and is now happily employed as an operations manager for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, where he's been for the past six years.
But while most erstwhile musicians would have resigned themselves to fantasizing about former glories while the proverbial piano collects dust in the corner, Franz is playing more than ever. He released a solo album last June, The One You Choose, and has regular gigs at places like Main Street Cafe, Luna Star Café, and Tobacco Road. Most important, instead of getting frustrated about the lack of time he has to perform, he's used the benefits of his life experiences to hone an authentic songwriting voice, full of honesty and emotional depth. His heartfelt songs, with their rich vocal harmonies and range, mix earnest folk, pop, and rock into a style popularized by singers like David Gray and Martin Sexton.
"I'm doing this because I love music, and I love the process, and that's what you gotta do it for," says Franz from his Miami Shores home. "Probably if I was nineteen or twenty and pushing the whole music thing, I wouldn't be as stubborn. I'd be like, 'Yeah, I'll do whatever.' I'm in my thirties now and it doesn't make much sense to try to be something you're not."
Though he's happy playing the local club circuit, the end goal is to create a full-time recording and touring schedule. Unfortunately, as an openly gay artist, there's not much precedent for him, since most homosexual celebrities like Elton John and Melissa Etheridge only come out of the closet after winning massive commercial success. "The thing is, you just gotta be real. That's the way I look at it and this is who I am," he says. "Not all my songs are specifically gay, I'm not trying to be one of these gay writers where everything is about buttfucking and, you know, men and men. I think my songs for the most part are universal in theme: love, anger, passion, whatever. I'm just not changing the pronoun on some of them."
Ironically one of the biggest influences on Franz, at least when it comes to the business side of the industry, has been Julio "To All the Girls I've Loved Before" Iglesias. After getting his MBA, Franz worked for two years as an assistant business manager for the Latin crooner, traveling on tour as part of his entourage. "For me professionally, what I always admired about him was, amidst all the chaos that's going on all around, the minute he walked onstage he was entertaining," he says. "We could've just been having a big argument with the promoter about some bullshit. But the minute he walked onstage it was, 'I'm here to entertain.'"
While Franz currently enjoys an audience of both gay and straight listeners, his encounters with the recording industry have not yet yielded positive results. He's working with the A&R outfit Taxi, a service that pitches new artists to representatives at record labels large and small. "I submitted 'Double My Wardrobe' a couple times to different A&R people," he says, referring to his light and upbeat tune about gay life. "They were like, 'Yeah, I like the groove, but not sure what niche it would fall into.'"
In the end Franz wants to be a recording star on his own terms, although his otherwise stable life means it isn't an all-or-nothing goal. Still he wouldn't have a problem signing on with a major label as an openly gay artist. "As far as becoming a trailblazer," he muses, "hey, if that were to happen and all of a sudden Sony and Universal were like, 'You know what, we need a gay artist this year,' go right ahead, I'm ready for the ride."
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