Dave Carlock: Music stop contains a bit of drama

Published 8:03 am Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Picking up from last week, I was asked to check out an L.A. friend’s band at a rehearsal. I could only stay for about 30 minutes, but the female lead singer was an hour and 15 minutes late. The songs were truly the weak point for the band, and I knew I would be in the hotseat. So I told them the only thing I could — my truthful opinion.
And, guess who the songwriter was. Yep, the horribly late female lead singer.
We’ll  call her Kathy. She was one of those 5-feet, 11-inch women that wear 3-inch heels. Somehow, I had to tell the truth and still get out alive.
So I started: “Well … the songs were OK, but they didn’t knock me out. Song 1 was the one that caught my attention the best, followed by No. 3,” I said.
Then I immediately started to compliment them individually about their playing and singing. There was no issue there, so those compliments were easy. Next, I asked them questions about the band’s goals. A couple people spoke up and I learned they wanted to “go all the way.”
Kathy said, “I want to have four or five records.”
So then I asked her the magic question, “OK, cool. Who’s going to fund the four to five records?”
Kathy looked a bit put off by the question and said, “I don’t know, we’re not thinking about that.”
So then I told her they really should start thinking about that because how they fund will define who they are and their career path.
I told Kathy the band had a couple different paths they could travel. One path is getting a label to fund her records, tour support, etc. In that scenario, I told her, she must understand the label will need to assure their investors the band’s songs have money-making potential. Songs make or break a band’s career. I told her that melodically, their songs were like a multitude of other bands, and they didn’t stand out. I asked her if she was prepared to use songs from established songwriters if a label felt it would give her band the best shot at commercial success.
“*BLEEP* THAT,” Kathy said, “I’m not going to sing other people’s songs. We don’t need a label, they need us!”
I looked at my friend the drummer, who has been surrounded by the music industry much of his life, and he gave me a “she doesn’t get it” type of grin. So there I was, discovering the band’s weakness in less than two minutes flat: Kathy.
I continued.
“So that’s a pretty firm boundary for you then. You’d walk away from a deal if a label liked you and the band but didn’t like your songs?”
“Definitely,” Kathy snorted. “This is my art. I write the songs for my band.”
“OK, so then are you willing to take the band down with you?” I said.
Kathy looked stunned.
“And I guess I should ask, is this your band or are you guys a democracy? I mean, I’ve just met you. I don’t know how you work.”
A couple others spoke up and said, no, it was everyone’s band. I seriously think that was news to Kathy.
Then came Kathy’s meltdown: “Well, I’ve written 100 songs and these aren’t even the best ones and these songs haven’t even been produced yet! You can change a million things in the studio! You’re telling me what this baby’s gonna be before it’s born!”
“Believe me, I get what can be done in a studio,” I told her.  “In 26 years, it’s been my job to polish my share of turds. Now I’m not calling your songs turds, but they aren’t attention getting, they don’t stand out. A great song doesn’t have to have a full production to be ‘heard’ — it’s the blueprint you go into a studio with to build a great production. If you want a label to be the ones to fund your records and career, the label has to believe your blueprints are worth their money spent.
“But a label is just one path,” I continued. “If you can’t compromise with the people who can write the checks to make you a household name  — if you ever get that chance — you can always try to talk producers and studio owners into giving you free time. But anyone worth trusting your project with is going to ask for an ownership position, and probably some pay, too. And if your songs aren’t amazing, they’ll find other songs or write them for you because it’s not just your personal success that’s on the line here. It’s the success of all your bandmates, too, and the producers and contributors that contribute to try to help you. Or, if you can’t compromise with producers, you can always pay for everything yourself. You have several options!”

“There’s been a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon,” — Rhinestone Cowboy (L. Weiss)

NOTE: “Rhinestone Cowboy,” one of Glen Campbell’s biggest chart toppers, also wasn’t written by Campbell, despite his great looks, deep-rooted industry connections, record deal and legendary session musician work.

Dave Carlock is a 26-year veteran of the entertainment business whose work as a recording engineer and producer, touring musician, and songwriter made him Googleable.
His continuing work as an Independent Content Creator of Sound and Image has earned him a Grammy Award certificate, two Platinum Record Awards, and a Paragon Award in advertising. Currently, he brings national and international artists to make records and music videos at his production studio in the Benton Harbor Arts District.