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The Wisdom of Dom Famularo

“Drumming’s Global Ambassador” has been traveling the world for 40 years, coaching amateur percussionists to world-famous professionals, and everyone in between. He’s also an in-demand motivational speaker and the author of several books, including The Cycle of Self Empowerment. Here, he shares tactics with you on how to empower your self and start getting the most out of life.


RI Magazine: What originally got you behind a drum kid?

Dom Famularo: Easy. I was a kid and it was February 9, 1964, and the Beatles went on the Ed Sullivan Show. When they came on and started playing, it was monumental how many musicians were inspired. It was thousands. It started there. I took some lessons. Grew more to see what my potential was. At 12, I started working paid gigs while his friends were taking paper routes.

I started doing jingle work in the 70s. It was a time when every commercial had an original song. The scene got crazy and there were lots of drugs in the studios. I pulled myself out of that business, formed a few different bands, and developed a teaching program. Enough to make a great living.

You write in your book, The Cycle of Self Empowerment, that your dad didn’t originally approve of your drumming and told you, “Most people don’t like their jobs or make enough money.” Did he eventually get it?

My father was one of the Greatest Generation. He saw the need for more soldiers, left high school to join after reading about the Battle of the Bulge. He saw massive combat. We didn’t know about a lot of that until the last year of his life when he moved in with us. He had dementia, which gave him clearer memory of events 70 years ago than what he had for breakfast.

He had a gas station and auto shop with his brothers. He worked hard to raise four children. I said, “Gee dad, you want me to find a job I don’t like so I can not make money.” He said, “No, I want you to be happy.” I said this makes me happy and he didn’t know how to battle that.

Seven years later he came back to me. His clothes were greasy, hands filthy. I was sweaty, 18 years old, bashing away at the drums. He had been sitting behind me. He said, “I’ve been watching you practice. You’re really into this.”

I told my parents, the support I need is not financial. You can choose not support me and if I fail, you’re a part of my failure because you didn’t support me. If you support me and I fail, it’s on me. I made the mistakes. If you don’t support me and I succeed, then I did it alone. But if you support me and I succeed, we succeed together.”

And the support I want is, when someone asks you what does your third son do, you proudly say he’s following his dreams into the music industry. You don’t say, “Eh, he’s a musician and who knows what’s gonna happen with that?”

“I said, I’m making money. Paying my own bills. I’m gonna make this work.” My father said, “I’m gonna support you 1000 percent.”

Both of them on their death beds at different times said, “Wow, you did it.” And I said, “No. We did it.”

A parallel today might be a parent worried that their kid is YouTube gaming commentator or something like that.

Absolutely. That’s getting huge. When they say think out of the box, they mean, live out of the box. I live so far out of the box I think of crazy things. I have a friend who makes $70,000/month off of 800,000 YouTube subscribers. Outside of something illegal, 70K a month? I’m in! I’m building my YouTube channel THE SESSIONS. I have to think of a 21st Century Mentality. If I think in the 20th century mentality, I fail.

Right. If you hung onto the idea that you need to put a record out, obviously that’s not the way the industry works now.

There are no record stores. I still get people who send me CDs of their music. I have to get a special attachment for my computer to even listen to it. There’s no drives on the computers. All of my drum books – we have physical copies from one company, digitally from another.

You have a quote early in the book: We become actors in our lives rather than playwrights of our own destiny. Why does life feel like that a lot? That life is something that happens to other people and we’re just observers. They’re on a stage. We’re in the audience, as Ian Anderson wrote.

People have a tendency to think they are doomed to fail. They use the words and thoughts of failure. I removed the word “problem” from my vocabulary. I have zero problems. Problem is a negative word. It weighs on your shoulder and pushes you down. A problem with my car, my house, my girlfriend… I replaced it with the word challenge. With a challenge, you lift yourself to rise to the challenge. People think that if they talk themselves out of success they can be safe. Because then when they don’t get the success, they didn’t fail. I enjoy failing. That’s where I learn the most. There are two paths: least resistance and most resistance.

When I was young and drumming someone told me to get a job at the post office. That it would be an easy job that I could glide through and get a pension. That was least resistance. In most resistance, I grow the most. I still do that. When you step onstage you have to be able to take risk and accept failure as a part of success.

I’ve read that about procrastination as well. It’s not laziness, per se, but about owning the moment and protecting yourself from work that could turn out badly or unfulfilling.

Procrastination is a great way to not fail. I didn’t do it so I didn’t fail. In reality, they failed. It takes a certain level of courage. It’s not a word just to refer to heroism, but something that we need to have to explore our creativity.

Do you think this phenomenon gets worse with social media? People are exposed to idealized images and it gives them this false sense that everyone else has it made?

It’s a very sharp, double-edged sword. What the internet gives us is incredible opportunity. I’m sitting here with you and making money from my YouTube channel without doing anything. People watch and subscribe while I’m sleeping. The internet gave me that chance to reach the world. The saying used to be, “Think globally, act locally.” Now I tell people, “Think globally, act globally.” Fifty percent of my students are Skype. I taught eight lessons the other day to people in eight different countries. They all paid through PayPal. I never left my property.

But the internet can also be overwhelming. If we compare ourselves to others, that’s where the procrastination comes in. “Oh, I’ll never be that good.” It’s easy to talk ourselves out of greatness.

The self-help world is huge on perception, particularly the notion that the world is what you perceive it to be. Do you see a danger in that? Because there’s a whole legion of people out there who think that anything they don’t like to hear is “fake news.”

There’s an inherent danger in the amount of information we have access to because we cannot believe it all. I don’t like to use the term fake news. We have to get smarter about information that comes to us. When I see what’s happening in the world and the divisiveness and arguing, they’re easier to control. People are confused and frustrated.

It’s one thing to be passionate/successful at what you’re doing, but where did the power of positive thinking or law of attraction come to you?

Just imagine doing something you absolutely love doing and being excited about it. And then making a good living out of it, a house, a wife, three kids, paying for all their college. You don’t have to worry about being positive or negative when you’re engaged with that kind of passion. I meet a lot of people who think they’re not good enough. Is it luck or hard work? The harder you work the luckier you get, Thomas Jefferson said. Nothing came easy and nothing is free. The positive attitude reprogrammed me so that every day was positive. When I would meet a negative person, I’d ask them what they do for a living and the negativity usually sprang from the fact that they hated their job, their boss, their commute. My commute is to the studio in my back yard. Or to JFK to travel the world. Hard work is easy; people want to be around positive people.

A lot of self-help gurus or new-age thinkers will say things like, “Universal source energy is flowing around us and being grateful amplifies it” and they describe a magical process where you’re pulling things to you. What you’re saying is a lot simpler. People see you smile and they say, “Oh, that’s good. He’s smiling so now I am too. Yes, let’s spend more time with him.”

Empowerment means to give power. And I cannot make you happy unless I am happy. I cannot love you until I love myself. I cannot give you power unless I have done that for myself. My next book is called Owning Now. I’m not worried about everything that happened yesterday or what I have to do this afternoon. A person that lives with regrets is living in the past. A person with anxiety is living in the future that hasn’t arrived yet. A person that is at peace with themselves is living in the now.

I’ve noticed the higher up the ladder of success you go, the more those people employ exactly what you’re talking about. With a lot of people I’ve interviewed – celebrities and other successful people – you understand that they’re very busy and maybe they’re in the habit of checking their phones a lot. “Hold on a sec, I need to see this e-mail.” But right now I have your undivided attention. And at the highest levels of success, I see that. I got that from interviewing The Rock, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Michael Strahan. They were completely dialed into the fact that the only point of power is right now.

We have to own the moment. You can’t glaze the moment. You can’t semi-own the moment. The energy is all here. The Secret, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, all the Tony Robbins stuff. I’ve read tons of books and some of the stuff I agreed with and some stuff I didn’t. But I at least saw the direction they were going. I know that if I can get inside this conversation 110 percent and put maximum passion into each word I’m saying and you capture that and put this out in an article and someone somewhere around the world reads it and that comes across, then we’ve made a difference. If that happens, then we’re onto something.

Stuck people look to poke holes in the story of the successful person. “Oh, Dom, you’re lucky because you knew what you wanted to do. Me? Eh. I don’t know.” Athletes, musicians, and actors are most often perceived as being lucky because they’re perceived as naturally gifted – looking right past the decades of blood, sweat, and tears.

A couple things: Parents will often call me up and say they have a 12- or 13-year-old who loves to play and they want to get my opinion on if the child has talent. And when that call comes in I say, that’s not what I do. I’m not a judge of talent. If your child comes here, has an open mind to take in new information and wants to learn, then I can work with that.

And if you think someone just has a gift, I will argue like a prosecutor that the gift was earned, not something that just appeared. Mozart as a child, in the womb, his father played piano constantly for him, and other live music. Then they put him on a piano immediately. So by the time he was five he could play, but if you look back at what his father did – it didn’t magically appear.

I didn’t have a gift. I had an incredible desire to learn a craft and I’ve put thousands of hours into from practice to research. That gave me the confidence and skill.

But what about the person who says they don’t even know what they want to do? They don’t know what they’re passionate about.

I think that’s where the book comes in. I wore glasses as a kid, I stammered. I was bullied for these things. Then I found something that gave me a reward.. When I saw people react to my playing, it didn’t matter that I couldn’t see that well or speak that well.

I said to my three boys: I’ll pay for your college, but you’ve got to go to college for your passion – something that makes you excited. If it’s knitting, we’ll find the best knitting teacher ever and we’re gonna do that. The second thing, you gotta get straight As. One B and you’re on your own. Inspire the investor. There’s a certain level of fear that goes into that. They delivered A’s all four years.

Talk about creativity for a second because when you’re using the conscious mind, it’s a grind and it can take forever. But if you can remove the conscious mind and you stop thinking about it, you enter a flow state where it feels really easy and good.

That’s unconscious competence. Which means you’re at a high level of competence and you’re unaware of it. There are four levels that we travel to get there. It starts with unconscious incompetence. Let’s say when we first start to play the drums, we don’t know the technique, it’s terrible but we don’t know but we’re having fun and that’s great. Then you hear someone who’s really good and you move to conscious incompetence and you know you’re not good. Then stage three is conscious competence because you become the constant learner, listening, reading, constant awareness. Now at unconscious competence, I can get onstage and do it and not have to think about it.

We have to provoke our creativity by planting seeds of open-mindedness to ourselves. And that’s the key to me, having an open mind.

In that third stage, a lot of people possess that but don’t graduate to the fourth level. And the work produced at that stage is a grind. Because you’re thinking about everything you’re doing. In music, that would be a piece that is technically correct but it lacks that extra thing that makes it feel natural.

In certain areas not everyone achieves that, but everyone learns unconscious competence with their language. You speak and you have the unconscious competence. You are just expressing. You aren’t thinking about which nouns, which vowels, which consonants. With my music students, I tell them you want to get your music skills to the same level as their language skills. Where it becomes raw expression.

I always come back to the stuck person. Never mind a passion for learning and getting a job you love. What about the person who’s morbidly obese and every single thing they do is a struggle?

I ask, “What is the essence of life? What are you looking for out of this life?” Happiness? Success? What do these things mean to you, anyway? For me it’s very simple: To matter. I’m on this planet now. Can I make a difference? If you’re just going through life to exist and to take, there’s a challenge with that. Some people have baggage that they can’t get out of that hole. And they use words and thoughts of failure.

I can’t do that. There’s no way. I don’t have that kind of patience, that kind of talent.

And they stay in that safe zone of doing nothing. Their essence of life is to do nothing. So I have to question. If that’s what’s you want to do, you’re doing it well. If you’re 800 pounds, and want to lead an impactful life, you have to show the effort to want to change. And when you do you can inspire other people. Because now it’s not just about you, it’s about others and when you can give people a cause like that it can really start to turn them around.

And everyone has baggage. You can go through each piece and try to resolve it. A challenge with a sibling, or a fight many years ago. The second thing you can do with baggage is put it in the closet, close the door, and say I’m gonna get to it later. And some things you do have to put off, but the problem is every time you open that door you say, “Oh jeez I gotta get to this.”

Or you can take all the baggage down to the nearest river and dropkick it into the water.

I believe the resolution is in all three. Some things you have to face, some you have to put off, and some you have to let go. Challenges come up all the time. My wife and I unfortunately lost a child – stillborn. You face these challenges, look at it, then on behalf of my three boys you go on to show them strength, accept that it was meant for you to experience that, and then you move on.

Sorry, but to give this a dark turn: Terrorists, mass shooters, these are people who desperately want to matter. And we look at all this stupid reasons when we try to figure it out: What books were they reading? What video games were they playing? What music did they listen to? But really, this was a person who was forgotten and wanted to matter.

And America has gotten to a dark place where there’s no compassion. People live in this world of America and this American mentality and it’s all they know…

And the American mentality is that if you don’t make a ton of money and drive an awesome car, you totally screwed up.

That is the disease of capitalism. That you’re drawn to objects. I don’t love anything unless it can love me back. Not my house, my car, my studio. As long as I have memories of my family. The capitalism disease is to step on the next person. Compassion is to care about others. We’ve lost that compassion. We have to be healthier in how we see our neighbors. In how we see people who have less than what we have.

And remember: Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your character. What your character, it becomes your destiny.


Order his book, The Cycle of Self Empowerment and book one-on-one sessions at DomFamularo.com/Shop

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