J.R. Rotem: Music And Nibs

J.R. Rotem is an important presence in the music industry and for over 20 years as a music producer and songwriter, he has worked with several popular talents in multiple music genres including Britney Spears, Nikki Minaj, Rihanna, Jason Derulo, and Gwen Stefani to name a few. You might be surprised to learn that Rotem is also a fountain pen enthusiast and like so many enthusiasts, Rotem began his journey searching for the perfect writing experience through nibs and inks. 

As an accomplished student of classical and jazz piano, followers of Rotem’s Instagram account are treated with occasional glimpses into his life including the newest musical releases by his music label, Lyon Estates, and impromptu musical performances by Rotem himself. While his fingers dance effortlessly across the piano keyboard, viewers can catch a glimpse of beautiful Miami in the background. Every so often, Rotem will slip fountain pen and notebook imagery into his stories.

That leads this discussion towards how I met J.R., the way I’ve met many awesome fellow fountain pen fanatics, through Instagram direct messaging. Back in January of this year, J.R. contacted me with several fountain pen questions. The hobby was so fresh and exciting that he was cruising YouTube for more information and found my Pen Gangsta videos, which led him to my Instagram account, and we’ve been talking pens ever since. Being new to the fountain pen hobby, Rotem did not start his collection with the usual beginner fountain pens like the Lamy Safari or the TWSBI Eco. He dived into the hobby headfirst with a limited edition rose gold trimmed Leonardo Abalone Momento Zero Grande sold through Limited Pens Korea. 

Rotem has excellent taste in fountain pens and the pens in his collection are completely grail worthy. Looking at the images of his current collection, you might recognize these beauties: from left to right a vermillion Pilot Custom 845, a vermillion Namiki Emperor, a Pelikan M800 Blue Dunes, a Sailor 1911 King of Pens Maki-e Sakura Nagure, a shiny circles Montegrappa Legacy Extra Grande, a gold Cross Peerless, the Leonardo Abalone Momento Zero Grande, Taccia Myabi Winter’s Breath, a black Sailor 1911 Pro Gear King of Pens, and a Parker Duofold Prestige Blue Chevron. In the second photo, there is only one fountain pen, a Leonardo Momento Zero Grande Art Deco, and the rest are rollerball pens that Rotem is unenthusiastic about and would like to sell. Can you blame him? Rollerball versus fountain pen—fountain pen wins every time.

I had a few questions for J.R. that examine how this fascinating man got into the fountain pen hobby and what types of criteria he looks for to have a delightful writing experience.

Vanessa Langton: Hi J.R., would you please tell Inkstable readers a bit about yourself and your professional background.

J.R. Rotem: Hi, I am a professional music producer/songwriter who has produced many hits in a variety of genres including Pop, Hip Hop, R&B, Country, Rock, Latin, etc. I also sign and develop my own artists such as Sean Kingston, Jason Derulo, and Iyaz to my record label. I started my career as a classical and jazz pianist, so I’m first and foremost, a musician. 

V.L.: Everyone has a ‘fountain pen origin’ story, what’s yours? How did you get into this hobby?

J.R.R.: I started by getting serious about having a morning routine, which included journaling. In the process of making journaling fun, I became passionate about using high end pens. It started off as rollerballs because I did not think I would want to deal with the hassle and maintenance of fountain pens. But after few months of rollerballs, I finally tried a fountain pen (partly due to the encouragement of a certain Pen Gangsta 😉) and became a bit obsessed buying way too many pens in a short amount of time lol.

V.L.: I am your friendly pen enabler, haha! What was your first fountain pen?

J.R.R.: Leonardo MZG Abalone (Jonathan Brooks Special Edition)

 V.L.: What was your experience when you wrote with a fountain pen for the first time?

J.R.R.: Haha, to be honest, I found there to be a lot of hard starts, like ink flow problems and inconsistencies with my particular pen. I had to send the pen back to get tuned before I could enjoy it. In fact, this happened with a few of my first pens. 

V.L.: I know that was frustrating for you and thankfully it did not deter you from the hobby. How many fountain pens are in your collection?

J.R.R: After about 6 nice rollerballs, I moved on to fountain pens. As I have been in the hobby about a year, my collection is relatively small, only 11 fountain pens. But I watched so many YouTube video reviews that I was very selective and chose only what I considered to be the top-quality pens, which much more experienced collectors all seemed to collectively rave about. So, my collection is concise, but I’m blessed to have beautiful pens. 

V.L.: Just out of curiosity, who are your favorite fountain pen reviewers? Did you find them helpful during your fountain pen discovery period?

J.R.R: My favorite pen reviewers are Pen Gangsta, Samual Naldi, SBRE Brown, PenBoyRoy, Penultimate Dave, and The Pen Habit, even though he’s retired. I found all the YouTube reviews very helpful and watched countless reviews to figure out what pens I would actually consider purchasing. But you (Pen Gangsta) were by far and beyond the most generous with your time, genuine care, and help. You answered a million questions and were so welcoming.

V.L.: It is completely my pleasure to help you through this crazy rabbit hole! Do you have a favorite fountain pen that you find yourself reaching for consistently?

J.R.R: No, lol, I like to choose a different pen almost every day and have a steady rotation. I do find that it’s hard for me to go back to the rollerballs lol. 

V.L.: What is you preferred nib material and nib size?

J.R.R: I only have gold nibs. At first, my only concern was ultimate smoothness, which made me want broader nibs. I find that as a lefty, smudging is an issue, and finer nibs are better for me. Thus, I would say Japanese medium or western fine nibs are the most useful. Of course, a fat juicy broad nib can be fun, but again, it is less useable for my journaling due to the smudging.  

V.L.: What is your preferred pen material or materials? (resin, metal, ebonite, etc.)

J.R.R.: I personally like weighty pens that I can post. So, I do like metal for the weight, but I don’t write for super long periods, so weight is never an issue for me. 

V.L.: What do you like to use your fountain pens for? (journaling, drawing, eye candy, etc.)

J.R.R: Journaling—that’s it so far!

V.L.: What about inks, what’s your favorite ink brand or brands and ink color? Why?

J.R.R.: I am so new to the hobby that I probably don’t have enough experience to weigh in on inks. But so far, I would have to say the Pilot Iroshizuku line seem the most special/vibrant to me. I also like Diamine. 

V.L.: Any plans to attend a future pen show?

J.R.R.: Maybe!

V.L.: What fountain pen do you think will be your next fountain pen or pens will be?

J.R.R.: I went on such an insatiable buying spree that I have decided not to purchase any pens in the near future, and just enjoy the amazing pens in my collection. In other words, I cut myself off for the time being, lol.  

V.L.: When you are looking for pens, what kind of attributes or criteria do you look for to find that ‘perfect’ pen?

J.R.R.: Zero hard starts and ink flow issues—that is most important! Post-able, ideally weighty, and with a special unique aesthetic.  

V.L.: What is your current ‘grail’ pen?

J.R.R.: Sailor King of Pen Sakura Nagare

V.L.: That is a fantastic pen and a pen you now own! My last question is have you turned any of your peers in the music industry on to fountain pens yet?

J.R.R.: No, they seem amused and entertained by the pen posts [on Instagram] but I haven’t seen anybody become a “pen person” yet…

V.L.: Haha…yet! Thanks so much J.R. for sharing your fountain pen experiences and thoughts.

Be sure to check out J.R. Rotem’s Instagram account (@jrotem) for news about his latest musical releases from his Lyon Estates label and as a bonus, occasional fountain pen posts and stories.  I would like to express huge gratitude to J.R. for taking time from his busy schedule to chat with me about fountain pens and ink! 

Photo credits:
Images of J.R. Rotem’s pen collection are his own.
Leonardo Abalone was snapped by me

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