Jimmie Allen’s rise from a kid from rural Milton to history-making, multiplatinum recording artist and songwriter may have seemed to happen overnight.
But, like most successful people, it came after years of hard work. And that’s OK, said Allen, who became the first Black artist to launch a career with two consecutive number-one hits with his 2018 debut album, “Mercury Lane.”
“It takes eight to 10 years to become a doctor or a lawyer, right?” he said. “Give yourself 10 years.”
Many of those years were spent living lean in Nashville after stints at Delaware State University and the University of Delaware, he recounted Wednesday during the Millennial Summit. He admits he didn’t go to many classes, but for him, college was about getting to know people. As a young Black man from the country, he was especially interested in meeting Black peers from different backgrounds, but it became broader than that. His study of people became a sort of market research for what would one day be his brand.
Allen was interested in all different kinds of music, but it all came back to the country he grew up on. The choice to go into a genre that is often seen as the realm of white people caused more than a little doubt from people in the industry, who often saw investing in him as a risk.
As the current holder of the title ACM New Male Artist of the Year, he proved them wrong. But, like finding success in anything, whether it’s a music career or a startup, it wasn’t easy.
Allen’s talk at CSC Station, part of the only in-person event at #MILLSUMMIT 2021, was delivered as fireside chat-style storytelling, full of anecdotes and advice that’s valuable no matter the journey. Here are some of our favorite takeaways:
- Follow your own path — When you’re chasing a big goal, often people will try to steer you to a safer, easier path that isn’t the right one for you. If you know it’s right, stick to it.
- Always be available — Allen turned down a high-paying full-time job in insurance because the hours didn’t give him the flexibility to do what he needed to do to pursue music. These are hard choices, but commitment is necessary.
- Find someone who believes in you and what you have to offer — You’ll need support to thrive.
- You can’t take care of others until you take care of yourself — Sometimes, you have to be selfish and put yourself first when you’re pursuing success. Remember that once you get that success, you’ll have the money and resources to give back more than you ever could before.
- Let go of people who don’t push you to be better — If someone is holding you back or enabling bad habits, avoid them.
- Forever isn’t right now — The mantra for when things look bleak.
- If your foundation is narrow, the higher you go, it will tip over — A variation on “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket,” Allen means to diversify when you can. He’s added different projects to his roster, including a children’s book called “My Voice is a Trumpet” and becoming the executive music producer for the upcoming Netflix series “Titletown High.”
- It hasn’t been done before? Great. Now it’s gonna get done.
“I do think of myself as an entrepreneur because with music, it’s a business,” Allen said in an interview with Technical.ly. “As an artist, I’m the president and CEO of a company. You have a product that you’re selling whether that’s yourself, whether that’s something else, and you have to add value to your product. How do you create a demand for what you’re trying to supply? You need to understand people. Sometimes you need to package one way for this person and one way for another person.”
If you didn’t get enough of Allen at #MILLSUMMIT, you can catch him back in his hometown of Milton this weekend for the inaugural Bettie James Fest featuring Allen with guests DJ Jazzy Jeff, Hero the Band, Chuck Wicks and JJ Rupp. The festival is a part of Allen’s Bettie James project — named after his grandmother and father — through which he collaborates with other artists, including Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Nelly, The Oak Ridge Boys, Rita Wilson, Tim McGraw, Babyface, Monica and Pitbull.
This month he’ll also be performing at Bethlehem Musikfest in Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley and the Barefoot Country Music Fest in Wildwood, New Jersey.
While the fame takes him all over the country and beyond, Allen will be back.
“I don’t think you should turn your back on what made you,” he said. “I love Delaware. Anytime I have a chance to come home, I do.”
P.S. Watch U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester’s lyric-filled spoken word introduction of Allen at MILLSUMMIT: