Rob Drabkin graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas with the intention of becoming a doctor. His focus quickly changed after a family trip to New York where he reconnected with his dad’s old musician friends.
A recent speaker at Point of Departure, his newly released single, “Someday,” has landed on major international Spotify playlists and has accumulated over a million plays from listeners around the world.
Here we talk about keeping cool on stage, finding inspiration in podcasts, and music that makes him smile.
You’ve had notable successes recently as a musician, so I’d like to to know how your failures have shaped your trajectory.
My first full length album was a huge learning experience. In 2010, I made the jump from solo demos to self-producing a 14-song album with a band, but I moved too fast. The music wasn’t bad, but my singing and instrumentation were still developing. I sounded young with a mature band, and 14 songs was too much to digest in the new digital age. I might have been better off focusing on a few songs. Keeping an audience and fan base engaged by releasing less content more frequently is a method that has worked best for me.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
I think it’s important not to be visibly angry when mistakes happen on stage. From an audience perspective, anger and frustration are easier to detect than musical mistakes. If my band train-wrecks a song, it’s usually missing a cue or accidentally going to the wrong chord or song section. Those are easy fixes and we get right back on board.
Can you describe a recent source of inspiration that was unconventional or surprising?
The refrain for my newest single is “someday love is gonna find us.” It seemed like a simple concept when I wrote it, but I had no idea what that line might mean. Has love not found us? Are we always longing for greater and greater love even in the happiest of relationships or marriages? Is love always here hiding and it’s just within our power to uncover it?
I had so many questions and a simple quote from a podcast answered a lot of them for me. Dear Sugar Radio—where listeners send in their love-life struggles — defined love as “something that we create in a day-by-day, moment-by-moment way.” When asked about the song’s meaning, I answer “We too often forget that love is ever-present. We share it with each other through laughter, smiles, and sympathy. We can find it in everything and we can also create it in the smallest, most unassuming moments of our lives. All we can do is keep being kind and have the courage to choose love in every decision we make.” That was certainly inspired by the Dear Sugar Radio podcast.
Can you tell me about a personal point of departure in your life?
I departed a life in biochemistry and molecular biology to become a singer. Guitar had been a hobby my whole life. I played a few hours every week in jazz bands and occasionally I’d be the campfire guy with an acoustic guitar. Someone else always sang. I never sang a note in my life. Even though I wasn’t fully aware of it, a desire to sing was simmering inside for over 20 years. My moment of departure happened while watching a Broadway musical in New York. I got distracted from the musical and started thinking about life. Then it hit me: I wanted to become a singer. I knew it would be the most challenging task of my life and I was determined to do it.
Do you have a favorite TED performance?
Vusi Mahlasela performing “Thula Mama.” This South African songwriter is one of my favorites. He has such a powerful voice with a story and history like no other. This song makes me smile every time.