Following a passion can pay off
A man came up to me at a concert the other night and said, “Aren't you Andrea?”
He went on, “I have something for you,” dug into his wallet and fished out a business card. It read Kimble Mandolins.
“I finally got into the music business,” he said proudly.
He had to remind me why he was so pleased. After all, it had been 14 years since he had come to see me about his career.
He was 30 at the time and now says looking back: “I couldn't have been more disappointed. I thought I was a smart and talented person, and that I would have made my mark or at least have some direction I felt good about.”
When we first met, he was working in account services in advertising — and not happy about it.
“I wanted a job in the music business and didn't know how to get there,” he said.
He remembers me telling him, “If you want to be in the music business, don't settle for something you don't want.”
Will Kimble got his bachelor of arts in music at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
“I loved music so much I wanted to be around it,” he says, but “didn't feel I had enough talent to be a musician.”
He got a master's in business administration, then moved to Franklin, N.C., where his parents had retired. He worked for a startup ad agency, which he called “an incredible fiasco. But it allowed me to be around my dad.”
His father makes mandolins for fun, it turns out. Kimble had played one his father made him when he was young.
“It was good, but not as good as what I wanted. I asked him to show me how to build one. We built it together. I immediately become obsessed with building a better one.
“I had no aspirations of building to sell. I only wanted to build for me.”
After work each day and sometimes weekends, he built mandolins with his father, “making sawdust, gluing and experimenting.”
Then he met Lynn Dudenbostel, whom Kimble considers one of the top four mandolin builders in the world. Dudenbostel lives across the mountain in Maryville, Tenn.
From there, “it was explosive growth. It freed me up to experiment radically since I wasn't doing it for a living.
“Then my wife said, ‘You've been going to your dad's house every night for three years. This has to change, or I'm leaving.”
So 12 mandolins later, he quit his day job. By then, his mandolins “had been refined into a pretty darn good product.”
He built his reputation and business at bluegrass festivals and music camps.
“You sell them one-on-one to people because the one you have is better than the one they have.”
“We were scared to death going out on our own, but it was obvious that was what I should do. The doors kept opening, and I kept walking though them.”
He and his father have built 200 mandolins together. The market has matured with mostly serious players, and he's working more closely with music stores these days.
Like most who turn their craft into a business, he has had to stand his ground when asked to do things he didn't want to do.
From the start, “I made a conscious decision to build what I want to build, to represent what I'm passionate about,” he said.
As it turns out, he built the career he had always wanted based on that same decision.