Renowned music industry executive Tom Sturges literally wrote the book on creativity. In his most recent work, Every Idea Is A Good Idea, he explores the two primary types of creativity- individual and collaborative. While the book is a must-read no matter what you do, filled with excellent advice and exercises to help anyone find their creative center and learn to access it more efficiently, many of us work with artists every day in a non-creative capacity. We followed up with him to find out a little more about how to have a successful relationship with truly creative people, and see what creative turns he has taken to end up where he is today.
In the book Every Idea Is A Good Idea you talk about how deeply personal the creative process is, and how it shouldn’t really be discussed. When you said that a one-hit wonder will go on and on about how a song just came to them, I laughed out loud. We all know those guys. Can you give me a few questions one can ask to get a good read on whether or not a new artist is really tuned in to their creative center? Or is producing material the only way to really know?
True artistry is very genuine, and very truthful in its presentation. And you know the truth when you see, and more importantly, hear it. In a strange way, it’s almost as if the performer doesn’t really care if anyone is listening or not, as if he or she is so in tune with their own music and art that the presence of a witness is insignificant. Picasso could not tell you how he painted, but he could tell you how empty his life would be without his art.
So the questions to ask a new artist would relate to their inspirations, their artistry, their big dream, their favorite song that has ever been written (not their own, I hope), what they were like in high school, and that kind of thing. Come at them from the perspective of complete respect and see how they respond.
You have worked with a lot of very extremely creative people and in your book you share one particular story about an encounter you had early in your career with Carole King. You have picked up a lot of wisdom about creativity itself, but what can you share regarding what you’ve learned about working with creative people, from the business end of things?
Between an artist and the record, there are several intermediaries, including the producer, engineer, mastering engineer, mixer, a&r, etc. Between the songwriter and the song there is no one. When working with artists, the music is almost like a third person in the room, probably because it required so many others to successfully create it. When working with the writer and talking about the song, you might as well be talking about a family member.
The bottom line is that one must be completely respectful of a creator’s art, and allow plenty of room for ego and dreams to co-exist with the vocal, instrumentation, the lyrics and melodies. But, before sharing an opinion with someone about their work, find out if it’s the FINAL version, i.e., cannot be changed no matter what versus a DRAFT, i.e., still a work in progress. If it’s the latter, feel free to say whatever you like. But if it’s the former, pay a compliment relative to your view of the work and say no more.
What do you think it takes to have a successful working relationship with an extremely creative person when you’re not really a collaborator?
If you are working with someone and you are not a collaborator, you need to pick the role you intend to play. Possibly you are the sounding board (listen to all ideas and offer comments and suggestions), the enabler/facilitator (organizer of studio time and finder of musicians, but with no “creative” role to play), or the fan (who loves everything, no matter what). The thing I find most creators need most is believers. So if you cannot be any of the three above, just believe. CONTINUE READING
Wind-up Records has long been known as the house that Creed built. Although they are an independent label, they’ve been home to many chart toppers in the Active Rock and Alternative genres. Over the last few years, Wind-up has been branching out, picking up artists that seem out of place on a roster that once included Drowning Pool and Evanescence. Kings of A&R caught up with Wind-Up A&R director, Shawn Cohen, to find out more about their new eclectic roster that includes bands such as The Griswolds and SPEAK and how they are transitioning into new genres.
Wind-up has been picking up some surprising new bands. Where is all that coming from?
We have been known as the house of active rock for a very long time and we’re trying to be creative and showing the world that we can do mainstream, alternative, pop…we’re not just rock. We want to work with music that we love, no matter the genre.
What’s your favorite artist that you’re working right now?
Hands down, The Griswolds. Not just because I signed them, but they are just from fans to music the most intriguing, fun, exciting people and it shows all around. Their social media, their recorded music, their live shows, they are a very dynamic band.
How’d you find them?
I found The Griswolds in the blog scene. They had posted their first song , Heart of the Lion. It was under the radar when I heard the song and I was really into them. I did some homework and saw they were doing well on Triple J (Australian Radio). I listened to their other songs and I thought it was very creative and refreshing so I reached out to them. CONTINUE READING
When did you consider having a career in music?
I have considered having a career in music for as long as I can remember. From a very young age, I felt like this was what I was created to do. For most of my life it just seem too far out of reach. So, two years ago I decided to take the first step in actively pursuing the career I had always dreamt of obtaining….. and here I am!
What were some of the steps that you took to help shape the craft of singing, performing, and songwriting?
I never had vocal lessons growing up, so the first step was working with a vocal coach to reverse bad habits I had developed, and improving those that came naturally. I’ve been working with a choreographer to develop a great show/performance. Singing is one thing and dancing is another, both challenging in their own way, but doing both at the same time while engaging your audience and connecting to your lyrics is a completely different beast. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication.
Additionally, I have been working in the studio with award winning writers, producers and vocalists. There is no better way to grow and develop as an artist than by learning from and collaborating with some of the best in the business! They push me.
I am also teaching myself acoustic guitar to help with songwriting, putting together a great show with my band, and finishing touches on new music to be released at the top of next year! With each new project, there are new challenges and significant growth as person and artist.
Do you see yourself acting in the future?
I absolutely do! Acting is the element of entertainment in which I have the least experience, but I believe there is a natural ability within me that just hasn’t had the opportunity to be exposed yet. I’d love to do a comedy! CONTINUE READING
He was an aspiring golf pro turned law student who went on to manage one of the most successful names in modern rock. Today he is inviting the entirety of the music industry into his office for some lively, and often deep, conversation. Through his web series, Renman Live, and his coursework at Renman U, Steve Rennie is preaching the truth of the music business and trying to share all he has learned with the next generation of managers and industry professionals.
We caught up with Steve Rennie to find out what a good education really is when it comes to the music business and what people really need to know to make it.
What do you think has been the biggest pivotal moment in the industry just since you got started 36 years ago?
Definitely, without question, the advent of the internet. That changed so many things about the way we do business. It didn’t change the core of what the music business is. It’s actually much simpler than people want to make it. It’s about great songs and great performances. Without that, there is no music business. The internet hasn’t changed that. How you make the songs, distribute, promote, listen, buy, experience has changed dramatically and in that change you see all the worst instincts of the music business- fear, insecurity, politics…all of that playing. And that’s what contributed to the general anxiety of the music business. It was always there, but has been heightened by the internet. It’s hard to believe things could be crazier.
Do you think it’s harder or easier for artists to get noticed these days?
Before the internet, artists had to find a way to get the attention of the label guys. Bands started playing the Troubadour or the Whiskey and little scenes developed. The only way for business types to plug into that scene was to go to clubs. Or artists would go to lawyers or managers and try to get insider status. That’s where the action happens. They were face to face connections, eyeball to eyeball. Now with the internet, artists have new ways to make money and new ways to present themselves to the industry in a much more complete way. They have photos and videos and websites and can make a more complete presentation. They have more control over that first impression. CONTINUE READING
So you’ve finally moved into an apartment or house that has enough space for a home studio. Whether it’s a spare bedroom, cellar, basement or shed out in the yard, things are going to get exciting very soon. A home studio means you can unleash your creative genius whenever it comes calling – no need to wait until you get to the studio downtown.
A music recording space needs to fulfill a whole lot of criteria; as well as being a stimulating creative space; it needs to work on a practical level.
Keep it to yourself
You don’t want to annoy your family, housemates or neighbors with loud music, so soundproofing is essential. Using materials that soften and absorb sound limits audio spill outside the studio. Fix acoustic mineral wool to walls and cover with fabric, quilting or even carpeting. In the old days, low-tech solutions such as cardboard egg boxes effectively broke up the sound waves and deadened noise – you could also try studio foam to disperse sound. If you have a decent budget then check out studio-build suppliers who will have a range of acoustic panels, bass traps and diffusers to create the best sound environment and soundproof the space.
Basement studios are ideal because there are no neighbors below. If your studio is above other rooms, lay thick underfelt and carpet on the floor. In classic recording studios, wooden surfaces have always been coveted for their great properties in promoting a warm and earthy sound. If you want happy ears, get as much wood in the studio as you can. From a paneled wooden ceiling, wooden monitor stands and sound desk to wooden shutters to help reduce noise, invest heavily in this music-friendly natural material. CONTINUE READING