Matt Makovsky: Staples Football Star Tackles Music

At Staples High School, Matt Makovsky was a talented athlete. He captained the football team, and ran track. Sports helped get him into an Ivy League school.

He had other talents too. He played piano, drums and violin. He sang in the choir.

Still, the Class of 2001 graduate says, he was not really in touch with his artistic side. He hung out with “the popular kids” — the jocks.

Matt Makovsky, in the 2001 Staples High School yearbook …

“I didn’t know how to reconcile both parts of my life,” he notes with regret. “I wish I had that perspective back then.”

Nearly 20 years after his last football game, Makovsky still counts his University of Pennsylvania teammates among his closest friends. Sports gave him his identity.

“There’s a reason companies recruit athletes,” he says. “They can take on a lot. They’ve learned character.”

He misses the locker room. Plus, he says, “I was in great shape.”

But now — with a degree from Columbia Business School, and years as a successful entrepreneur — Makovsky has changed careers.

He wants to be a pop star.

Makovsky has spent a lot of time thinking about his high school years. “Things were more separate than they should have been,” he says of the Staples culture.

Speaking of himself and his classmates — in every realm — he says, “We didn’t truly embrace what  was special about what others did. I wish I had spent more time developing relationships in other areas besides sports.”

He pauses. “You only have so much wisdom at 16.”

Makovsky was as talented a musician as he was an athlete. Though he says he was the best violinist, he was not named concertmaster. Mariangela Lisanti practiced more.

She also won first place in both the Intel Science Talent Search an Siemens Competition. She’s done quite well, and is now a professor at Princeton. However, Makovsky says with amazement, “at Staples I got more recognition than she did.”

At Penn, he thought about joining an an elite a cappella group.

“They were sick!” he says with awe. “But I was singularly focused on football. We all ran together. We didn’t have time for other stuff.”

Now — after shifting gears — he does.

… and today.

A friend from the business world, Jared Feldman, had also been a star athlete in New Jersey. But he’d never let go of his artistic side. When he played some beats. Makovsky was intrigued.

He wrote some lyrics. The next morning, Feldman sent a “super-polished version” of Makovsky’s beat.

Feldman arranged some studio time. “As soon as I hard my voice, I was hooked,” Makovsky recalls.

He set up a home studio. He wrote songs.

Meanwhile, he continued working as CEO with Skylabs, an innovation firm.

“I’d get my teeth kicked in by a client,” he says. “Then I’d go home and write 2, 3 or 4 hours a night. It helped me in business. But I reached a breaking point.”

Calling himself “Mak,” he released one album.

His second — “Lucid Dream” — dropped a few weeks ago. The difference this time, he says, is producer Yonatan Watts. Makovsky formed a bond with the “operatic and hip hop singer/songwriter,” who has worked with Ariana Grande — a relationship as close as he has with his former football teammates.

Making music is “an intimate process,” Makovsky says. “Those moments when it gives you chills — you can’t buy that.”

“Lucid Dreams” already has 750,000 streams. Part of that is due to Makovsky’s marketing.

“I have resources a 17-year-old can’t have,” he says. “I’m applying my business and athletic mentality to being an artist. I want to win at this too.”

Makovsky thinks about his Staples days often.

“I wasn’t able to embrace all the parts of myself,” he says. “I didn’t have the maturity or understanding. Young people have evolved more, but at 16 you still don’t understand every part of you.”

“My culture in high school didn’t provide an environment to fully be myself. I don’t blame it. I wanted to be football captain more than concertmaster.

“But nothing beats being Justin Bieber or Ariana Grande. That’s a different stratosphere.”

Matt Makovsky, making music.

At Penn — where the Quakers set a 4-year Ivy League record for football success –Makovsky played in front of 40,000 fans. He recently did his first post-quarantine show, for an audience of 100.

But, he says, “the energy was great. There’s a connection between a performer and an audience. That kind of love is amazing. If you believe in what you do, that’s a game-changer.”

And now that he thinks about it, Makovsky realizes there are plenty of connections between sports and music.

Every locker room has a sound system. And, he says, “every athlete secretly wants to be a musician.”

Long ago, Makovsky’s mother told him, “Football will end. But music will always be part of your life.”

She was right.

So his message to today’s Staples students is the same one he’d give to his 16-year-old self: “Embrace who you are. Be open. Experiment. The more well-rounded you can be, the more full person you’ll become.”

(Click here for Matt Makovsky’s Spotify link.)

3 responses to “Matt Makovsky: Staples Football Star Tackles Music

  1. First, congrats to Matt on his success in his new artistic pursuits. And kudos on taking on the challenge of this type of very different endeavor.

    I was surprised though to read about his description of the Staples scene during his years there. I had always thought that the arts were a very popular and respected part of life at Staples. Between the packed houses for such events as the Candlelight Concert and productions by the Staples Players—not to mention the number of students who participate in these activities—it would seem that the arts receive every bit as much of the limelight as sports do.

    I do know that a good friend from my class (‘71), the late Andy Lewis (who had nothing to do with varsity sports), said at our 25th reunion that one thing he really loved about our time at Staples was that there was a lot of crossover between classmates—that people didn’t feel pigeonholed to a particular group. And I remember telling him I felt the same way (and perhaps our friendship until his death was just a small example of that).

    One thing I hope Matt finds in his new pursuit: perhaps he will ultimately have a different take on his following statement—“There’s a reason companies recruit athletes…They can take on a lot. They’ve learned character.”

    I think what people in the arts experience (especially in a group effort such creating music or a theatrical performance)—in terms of the teamwork involved, the intense practice to achieve your best, the ups and downs one must learn to cope with—creates character every bit as much as sports do.

  2. Ngassam Ngnoumen

    No individual is meant to fit in a box. We should do what feeds our souls. Einstein was a strong musician.The arts often co-exist with other passions.

  3. I am a big fan of Matt Merkevsky’s music on Spotify, I listen to it while I speedwalk around my neighborhood. It reminds me of cats in heat.