A black and white video slowly pans across a swanky apartment living room. A slow and mournful guitar riff begins. Jake Jones enters the frame and croons the lyrics that jumped into his head not more than a few months ago. The song progresses into a dark and folksy cowboy ballad that could have been written and performed by the likes of Bob Dylan or John Mayer. One would never guess after listening that Jones has only been producing music for less than a year.
This video of “Cowboy Song,” along with two other originals, written and performed by Jones, a religion major and 2012 graduate of Gustavus. “Cowboy Song” has gained an impressive amount of attention recently in Guitar Center’s 3rd Annual Singer-Songwriter Contest.
The winner of this online competition will receive a massive grand prize, including a trip to Los Angeles to record a four-song EP produced by the Grammy Award-winning producer, Don Was, and $25,000 in cash. The first round of the contest requires singers to upload videos of themselves performing their original music for people to watch, listen, and share through social media sites. Every week, the top ten artists with the most “online activity” make it into the “Top 100” to be reviewed by a judging panel of industry professionals. The judges will then select ten finalists to travel to Hollywood in March 2014 to perform live and compete for the grand prize.
Jones made the Top 100 during the week of Sept. 22 and now ranks 29th out of the current top 100 artists. He anxiously waits for the Top 10 to be announced around Dec. 15.
“I didn’t expect to have this kind of success,” Jones said, “I’ve never really been too keen on contests, but this has definitely warmed me up to it.”
Jones’ musical career started at age 15. He teased his friend for buying a guitar, but after picking it up and playing around with it, he ended up getting a guitar for himself. After several failed attempts to start a band, Jones began singing
Surprisingly, Jones did not formally pursue music during his time at Gustavus. Preferring to contain his hidden talent, he only performed behind closed doors for close friends.
Senior Tom Johnson met Jones two years ago when he joined Epsilon Phi Alpha. They immediately bonded over their shared love of music.
“He was always very private with his talent,” Johnson said, “Everyone sort of pushed him to get out there and pursue music.”
“I think Jake is very deserving of the recognition he is receiving through the contest, and it shows that discerning and following your vocation is worth it,” Assistant Director for Community-Based Service and Learning Dave Newell said.
The support of friends and family ultimately persuaded Jones to explore the possibility of a musical career. Their band, which they affectionately refer to as “The Jake Jones Band,” won a battle of the bands competition in July.
Johnson commented that Jones’ indie/folk style has become very popular in Minnesota.
“Everything he creates is an extension of himself. His process is very organic and from his heart,” Johnson said.
“I try not to write about myself, but as soon as I look back, I realize it is. I find that the songs that are the best are the ones that come out right away rather than the ones that take longer to come up with,” Jones said.
Jones’ “from-the-heart” songwriting style should prove to benefit him when the judging panel period begins on Nov. 9. Guitar Center posted several videos on their competition page that feature Don Was, a contest organizer, explaining exactly what he’s looking for in this contest.
“I want something that makes me feel something—some genuine emotion. Not, ‘Wow, those are clever words’ . . . I don’t care about that. Make me feel something, you know?” Was said.
Jones hopes he has what it takes to win the attention of the judges, but if not, he doesn’t plan on giving up music any time soon.
“I have a lot of hopes and dreams,” Jones said, “And this is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
No matter the outcome, his band-mates are supportive of whatever decision he makes.
“I think his passion has fueled his ambition. He wants to do this for a living. It’s the thing he enjoys most in the world,” Johnson said.