‘The best kind of career’

‘The best kind of career’

Teaneck millennial video-making musician talks about his choices

Liz is a news writer for Bustle and a contributor to the blogs TeacherPop and the Elizabethian. She recently completed a novel based on her experience as a Spanish teacher through Teach for America. Her work has been published on 50 Word Stories and Dead Snakes, and her story “Habibi” received Honorable Mention in Memphis Magazine’s 2015 Fiction Contest. She also wrote and produced two plays that were performed at Brandeis University.

Jeremy Katz, plays the drums in his Teaneck home studio.
Jeremy Katz, plays the drums in his Teaneck home studio.

“Do you want to be in a music video?” Teaneck musician and entrepreneur Jeremy Katz asked me as soon as I stepped into his home studio. I’ve never had an interviewee begin with a question for me, let alone an invitation to live out my teenage fantasy of becoming a pop star. Eagerly, I agreed.

Jeremy directed me to his drum set in front of a large green screen, which he has set up permanently in front of a digital camera and a MacBook. He hit “play” on his speakers and “record” on the camera, and I drummed awkwardly along to David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” A quick few minutes later, Jeremy had uploaded the video, chosen a backdrop, and added spliced footage of himself on guitar and vocals. The green screen disappeared, replaced by a full football field. We watched the final product: me, on drums; Jeremy at the mic and another Jeremy strumming the guitar in front of a screaming stadium of thousands. I have to say, Jeremy, his clone, and I make quite the trio.

Wearing many hats comes naturally to Jeremy, 24, a Frisch School and Yeshiva University graduate. His professional website, JeremyKatzMusic.com, showcases his various passions, which range from instrumentals and vocals to writing original music, video production, and gear reviews.

Music is in his blood. As a teenager he played in a blues band with his family. “My father, older brother, and younger brother used to rehearse together,” he said. “Our basement was always like a mini-studio.” He plays 14 different instruments, including drums, banjo, mandolin, and guitar. “My father used to record us playing together on a daily basis. We’d dance all day and he’d film us. It’s fun to go back and watch the videos now.”

Some young musicians give up their dream of making it big once they graduate and realize open-mic nights won’t cover their rent or college loans. Not Jeremy. In the pragmatic tradition of the Jewish people, he found a way to turn his passion for music into a career. “I wanted to find a way to showcase the fact that I play 14 instruments,” he said.

On his YouTube channel, which has more than 900 subscribers, Jeremy produces and stars in music video covers of pop songs old and new, including singles by some of his all-time favorite artists: Queen, Elvis, Maroon 5, and Bruno Mars. Some have gone viral — his cover of The Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face,” for example, has more than 9,500 views.

“Not everyone is nice on YouTube, but I try to listen to what everyone has to say,” he said. “I also respond to all of the comments viewers leave. I’ll sit down once a week and answer everyone’s questions. It makes anyone who comments feel important.”

Maybe Jeremy’s most valuable asset is the healthy sense of humor he brings to his videos. He frequently dons costumes to heighten his music videos into tribute-parody hybrids. “The costumes are the best part,” he said. “It’s one thing hearing me, and it’s another thing seeing me play.”

Performance certainly is on his mind throughout the creative process. “I try to make it as entertaining as possible. I thought, I’m doing a Queen song, why not dress up like Freddie Mercury? I’ll just put the mustache on, get the wigs, and go for it. I want you to watch my music and be like ‘damn, that was a really good song and at the same time, that was funny as hell.’”

Jeremy launched his entrepreneurial enterprise in 2015. So far, he has worked with major companies like Shell Oil to create music videos for corporate team-building. He combined his love of music, entertainment, and video editing to jumpstart his music video production career. “It was an awesome experience. I had a such a great time working with Shell, I thought, why not keep doing this?”

For his most recent project, he created a video for Campus Pursuit, which organizes scavenger hunts for college students to connect them with brands. “They’re using the music video more for advertising and marketing,” he said. “I leave the creative decisions up to them — I give them certain production clues.” The rest is up to the company.

Jeremy does not see a strict divide between his current projects. “It’s goes two ways,” he says of his YouTube channel and his corporate work. “The people in the companies will share it all around, so the more people I work with, the more my channel grows.”

Like most ambitious millennials, Jeremy uses social media to build his personal brand. “I use Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. I’m not the best at Twitter but I’ll tweet something special for famous dates, like the day John Lennon was killed, or on Elvis’ birthday I’ll post a picture of myself dressed as Elvis.” Social media helps him interact with younger fans, though he says some older admirers often leave comments on his videos.

“I’d say I’m best at piano and guitar. I hated piano when I first started it. I wanted to play guitar because my dad always played rock, but then I realized I loved listening to Billy Joel and Elton John, and that’s all piano. So I started teaching myself piano again when I was five or six. Then I realized I liked the saxophone part in another song, and so I picked up the sax.”

Some instruments are more challenging than others. “By far, the hardest instrument is the violin. I still play it, but saxophone only took me a couple of months to learn. But the violin, it’s like no matter how hard I try, I can’t get down.”

So why don’t you just give it up? I asked him. “Because I’m dying to play ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia,’” he said jokingly, but I could hear the seriousness in his voice. “You can’t half-go at music. With these videos, I had to dive in head-first. It takes me about four days to make a music video now. The first time, it took me three weeks. It’s trial and error, but I decided ‘I’m doing this,’ and so I did it.”

Like anything, hard work is just that: hard work. The video production aspect of his business is the most difficult for Jeremy. “It’s frustrating at times. Like with the violin, sometimes I want to break the instrument. But I give it a day and try again.”

He plans to build his personal brand by continuing to create music videos, both the corporate ones and the ones he makes for fun. “I want to have a big, successful YouTube channel. At the same time, I want to build my corporate work. They go hand in hand.” His videos already have been syndicated to TV networks worldwide, and he has a large fan base in Germany.

Growing up in a Jewish home had a major impact on him. “My Jewish background has influenced me tremendously,” he said. “Jewish homes always have a lot of music. Think about it — when you’re learning about your religion as a child, they teach you through songs.”

As a fellow 24-year-old pursuing my own creative future, I told Jeremy how much I admire his commitment to doing what he loves. What’s his advice for other young aspiring musicians, I asked. “When you find a career that you’re passionate about, you’re going to give it 110 percent,” he said. “I wake up and I want to finish a song or a video I’m working on. That’s the best kind of career you can have.”

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