Posted by Carl Thomson on 7th November 2014
Hi guys I'm back!!
As some of you may know in April of 2013 I relocated to Los Angeles which resulted in me inadvertently taking a hiatus. The craziness of moving continents, making connections and establishing myself in a new place meant that my blogs fell by the wayside. But now I'm feeling a little more settled and able to give some time to the blogs once more! I intend on trying to cover many diverse areas over the coming months within my blogs and as usual I would love some suggestions of the things you would like to see and hear about, whether it be interviews with people, looking at certain genres of playing, gear etc... just let me know!
I guess the right way to begin would be to tell you about the process of how I got to Los Angeles, and yes before you say it 'by plane!', but aside transportation it can be a hard task, so anyone wanting to do the same (move countries/continents to work professionally) I hope I can shed some light on the situation for you.
It all started when I went to the NAMM show in 2011 with DSUK, this was my first time going to America and on the flight over I began to think about what it would be like to gig over there, then once I was there I fell in love with the place. On this trip I also met my now girlfriend Jill, and with meeting Jill it gave me another incentive visit again and see what it was really like. Over the next two years I began to make the trip across fairly frequently (every 6-10 weeks)and started to meet people, build contacts and educate myself on what I needed to do in order to move here legally.
On one of my flights back home in 2011, I was just settling in to my seat before taking off and the seat next to me was empty, I was thinking 'tremendous! I can lay out' then just as the seatbelt signs went on Tonya the air stewardess was escorting a guy apologising for his broken seat in business class into the seat next to mine, Oh how my joy came crumbling down, but not for long!! The guy introduces himself, his name is Andy and he's from Hull, so I was like 'It's ok, at least he's northern-ish ;)' and we spent the majority of the flight chatting and after a while I said 'so what do you do!?'. Now call it fate or whatever but his response freaked me out he says 'Oh, I organise Visa's for performers', I literally couldn't believe it! So I mentioned I was a drummer and what I was wanting to do so we exchanged details and he said he was happy to help if I had any questions. Now obtaining a visa can be a very costly process and with no guarantee that you will actually be successful in being granted the visa, so I was looking to apply for the visa myself and had no intention of using Andy's services. Over the next year and a half myself and Andy stayed in touch and became friends, every time I was in LA we would go out for drinks and I'd sneak in some questions about the whole visa process thankfully he was cool enough to answer with getting narced off with me.
It was after my trip in august 2012, I had been playing with a bunch of people and I was asked to join a band who was signed to a small label, I remember getting the call from them saying 'so are you sure you are willing to move here and give it ago'. My initial response was 'Yeah!' but as i put the phone down the reality of it all sank in! I was due to fly home in a weeks time and when I got back I would have to tell everyone, leave everyone and everything behind and start again, and really start this daunting task of gaining a Visa if that was even possible!? But this was just nerves and I had been planning on doing this for nearly 2 years now, this was what I wanted! It became apparent to me that the task of applying for the Visa myself was going to way to difficult. I had done research to the best of my ability spent endless weeks and months online and spent hours on the phone to the US Embassy which costs about a billion pounds a second to still be confused and really none the wiser of exactly what visa I needed and how to apply for it.
So late one night I Skyped Andy in a cry for help, he said 'send me your CV/Performance resume' so I sent it over and in a matter of minutes he says 'You should have no problem at all getting a Visa'. Again I was shocked, everything I had read or had been told was that it was a closed book! He informed me that I would need the O1 Visa (the full name is 'O1 Alien of an Extraordinary Ability' absolutely mental! who came up with that!)This would enable me to perform and do anything that is linked to my speciality as a musician/performer. Andy's business is called Next Stop LAX so he sent me over the welcome pack which outlines everything that I needed to do in order to gain the Visa. Now this list was still crazy big and was daunting but he assured me he would be there all the way to assist! The list was as follows: Contract from your Sponsor, Deal Memo (A statement saying some one wants to work with you exclusively), Proposed work Itinerary, Supporting Evidence; Qualifications, 10 Letters of recommendation from top industry professionals, Press clippings, Video stills, Payment slips, Invoices, Performance Evidence, Gig posters Passes, and other evidence of your work, Extensive Biography, Performance Resume, and CV. The thing I was most worried about was the portfolio, it wasn't the fact I hadn't done any gigs etc it was the fact I didn't believe I had kept any memorabilia such as posters, passes etc... However to my surprise after hunting high and low at home and my parents house I was amazed at just how much I had kept!
It took me around a month or so to collect all the papers and evidence that I needed, it ended being around 200 pages thick. I then sent it off to Andy in LA he then summarises the whole thing into around 15 pages which gets added to the front, He then sends it off to the American Musicians Guild and the American Federation of Musicians to get authenticated, then it goes to a lawyer to be checked over then finally it is sent to United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, to get approved or not! I sent it to Andy around the last week of November and it was sent to the Embassy on December 15th, on the January 15th I was on the phone to Jill at about 10:00pm when I received an email with the subject 'CASE APPROVED'. To say I was excited was an understatement it really hit home then! However I wasn't in the clear yet, I had to go for an interview at the US Embassy in London, again I had heard horror stories about this process, basically like its an interrogation and they can ask you absolutely anything from what your going to do and anything in your past.
To be continued...