An online Battle of the Bands contest might seem an odd way for a student to be introduced to the college he or she would eventually attend, but that is exactly what happened in the case of Blakley Leonard of Abingdon, Va.
Blakley's band, The Calendar Effect, came in second place in the Young Guns 2008 Battle of the Bands national online competition that Catawba College coordinates and hosts. It was actually a current Catawba music business student, Lara Poplo, who discovered Blakley's band on MySpace and e-mailed him an invitation to enter that competition. His band's second place finish was based on online votes from fans and on the votes of executives in the music industry.
Winning the Battle of the Bands competition during his senior year in high school set Blakley to thinking about college. "Most of my friends had already decided on colleges while I was still unsure where I wanted to go," he remembers. "Many of the deadlines [for applying] had passed when I started thinking about it. I definitely wanted to go to college, but I guess as far as finances go, I never jumped on the bandwagon because I knew I was going to pay for it.
"Dr. [David] Fish [director of Catawba's Music Business program] called me and asked if I wanted to come to campus for a visit. My dad and I came down and I sat in on a class. I actually met Lara Poplo and got to know the college. Even though I knew it was going to be a lot of money and a lot of ifs to attend Catawba, I decided to go with it."
Now a Catawba student majoring in music business, Blakley is working to develop his unique acoustic style. While he has had two different bands, he realizes "it's always been me and my songs, and I've just found people to play. I've decided this past year that I'm just going to go with me and my name when I perform now."
His formal musical training is sparse, but his exposure to music of all types stretches back into his early memories. He credits his grandfather, the late French Leonard, a local barber in Bristol, Va., for setting him on his current path. "He could play about everything and had tons of instruments," Blakley remembers. " When I was four or five, he got me this small guitar and showed me a few things — showed me how to play. I was too young then, things didn't stick with me, and then I got into sports.
"It was my Dad who suggested me getting back into music when I was in high school. I took five or six months of formal guitar lessons and since then, I've played every day sticking with it." Blakley plays one of his grandfather's Martin guitars to make his music.
Another thing Blakley is sticking with is his work ethic. "All through high school, I worked a job at a grocery store — I started out at the very bottom and would work 20 to 30 hours a week. Now, that grocery store lets me come back and work anytime I want to. They've actually made me assistant front-end manager (over the cashiers at the front of the store's checkout), and I like the responsibility.
"When I finished my last day of exams last semester, I drove home to the store, clocked in and worked. That first week of Christmas break, I had a 54-hour week."
During the past summer, Blakley had two payroll jobs — one at the grocery store and another at the local gas company in Abingdon, and he says he also "had my own landscaping sort of business thing going on."
"I'd get up before the sun and go do my landscaping, then later I'd work at the grocery story or the gas company."
On campus, Blakley has a work-study job at the Lerner Wellness Center and has opted not to get an off-campus job in Salisbury. "I don't want to take away from my school work," he says. However, he is frugal. "Friends ask me to go out an eat at a restaurant and I calculate in my mind just how long I'd have to work to pay for that meal. Then, I usually pass."
Blakley is hard at work putting together a demo of his songs and on his MySpace page, he has six songs posted. He's looking out too, well beyond his time at Catawba, and considering his career options. He is considering managing a band or musician, but says, "I'm not sold on it yet." Other options he is exploring include producing, studio engineer, booking agent or tour manager. "A lot of insight for these jobs will come to me, I expect, through internships that I'll have."
What advice would this son of a single father give to another student who might find themselves in a situation similar to his? This advice:
"You've got to study hard, save your money, and you have to be dedicated to work. You've got to want it. You can't be bitter about what you don't have because of what someone else has. You can't focus on those things — that's one of those things that will tear you apart if you let it."