Interviewed by Doug Minnick

Where did you grow up?

Are you serious!? (laughter).

Sure. We ask all the pertinent questions.

I grew up in Whittier, California.

Oh! Home of Richard Nixon.

Yeah. We used to be proud of that fact.

When did you first know you wanted to be in the music business?

Well, I knew all my life that I wanted to be in music. I didn't know I wanted to be in the music business until I was actually in it. I just kind of stumbled along into it. I sang. I danced. I played the piano. I did all that stuff all my life. And then after college, when I found out that there was a business, I decided to go into it.

What was your first job?

My first job was right out of college. I got it by answering an ad. I worked for an entertainment attorney who was a bit of tyrant. I never got to take a lunch. I ran the office for him. While he was busy handling his clients, I was busy running the office and learning what BMI and ASCAP were. It was a pretty hellish year.

My real first job was for Arista Music. Billy Meshel hired me as his secretary. Having grown up playing the piano and doing all that sort of stuff, I never learned to type. So, of course, I took this job, and they had the IBM Selectric typewriter with the correcting feature. I hired Tom Sturges as my first intern (who is now President of Chrysalis Music). Tom used to tease me because he said I used to type faster backwards than I did forward. (laughter) And correcting everything. But I did work my way up through the company, and ended up being General Professional Manager of the company when I left.

Where did you go from there?

I went to Screen Gems, which is now EMI Music. I was General Professional Manager. I signed Rick Nowels, Scott Cutler, and Jennifer Kimball. I was there for three years until the whole shakeup. I've been here at Warner/Chappell for six years.

What's your official title here?

My official title is . . . (laughter). Let me see (pulling a business card out from her little desktop cardholder). Vice President of Creative Services. I knew the Vice President part.

We could always put "Types Faster Backwards," under your picture!

Thanks (laughter). Really. Sturges might want the copyright on that!

How do you split your time between your writing staff and signing talent?

Signing talent is something that's done a lot after hours. It also happens when I'm on the phone talking to producers and managers about a project, and they're saying, "I've got somebody else I'd like to present to you." I'm always looking for people. But I don't find that it takes up a lot of my time. It's an ongoing process that's part of every day, but I don't delegate a specific time for it each day.

What does take up most of your time?

Developing and managing my songwriters. Figuring out how I can them make more successful. That's my main goal here. To make sure that Andy Goldmark and Frannie Golde, and all my other writers have enough projects to work on, and that they're collaborating with the right people. That's what's most important to me. These people are like my kids. I'm constantly looking for new things, but I can't neglect what's here now. It's up to me to make sure that my writers' careers develop properly.

Is there a development period, when you sign a new writer...

Absolutely.

...to get them to a point where they snowball on their own?

Yes. It's like introducing a new product to the marketplace. You know, Coca Cola introduces Diet Coke instead of Tab. There's a ton of research and the test marketing that goes into marketing that. It takes a couple of years before it comes on to the market. Finally it gets to the consumer who tries it and says, "Oh! This is great!" It's that way with a new writer. I'm constantly putting them together with other writers to see what will click and help them develop.

Who are some of the writers and artists that are signed to Warner/Chappell?

Sheryl Crow, Andy Goldmark, Frannie Golde, Brock Walsh, Mark Jordan, Jim Jacobson, Jamie Houston, J. D. Martin, Ali Thompson, Larry Tagg, Rick Neigher, Larry Klein, Linda Thompson, Michael Bolton, Bernie Taupin...

Did you sign all those people?

No. I singed several of them, but many of them were already signed, or came to Warner/Chappell through co-ventures. Even though I might not have signed them, they're still my responsibility.

Warner/Chappell seems to be doing really well right now, both with bands and writers.

Absolutely! We've got REM, the Gin Blossoms, Soul Asylum, Midnight Oil, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Michael Bolton. You know, it just goes on and on and on. I can give you a list of our acts . . .

That's fine, I'm already impressed!

You know, we won Record of the Year (at the Grammies). We had Best New Artist. We had Pop Female. We had Eric Clapton... I can't remember what he won, but we had Eric Clapton. Green Day won a Grammy. I think we got seven altogether. A good year.

How did you first find Sheryl Crow?

When Sheryl first moved to town, she was doing some backup (singing) work on other people's albums. She had worked with Robert Kraft (producer - now VP of Music at FOX) . He called me one day and said, you know, "There's a girl who's working as Michael Jackson's backup singer, and I think she's an amazing singer, but she needs songs. I'd like to bring her by to look for songs." So I met them for lunch, and we had a great time. They came over to the office and we spent a couple of hours listening to songs. She really liked my taste in music, and we hit it off. She went back on the road with Michael Jackson, and the next time she had some time off, we got together and we just became really good friends.

But Sheryl writes her own songs. Why was she looking for material?

Because people had suggested that's what she should do. When she told me that she wrote, then played me some of her tunes, I quit looking for material for her. She's a great writer.

So you were involved long before she got a record deal?

Oh yeah! A long, long, long time before.

Did you help her get the record deal?

I'd like to think that I helped her. I think Hugh Padgham was the real force there. He walked in to David Anderle (A&M V.P. of A&R) and said, "You've got to sign this girl." I had been actively pursuing a deal for her at several labels. I had just taken it to Larry Hamby (another V.P. at A&M), and he was crazy about it. Larry was in the process of taking it to David when Hugh Padgham also brought it in. Then it just snowballed. So I would like to think that I helped to get the record deal going. I'm not going to take all the credit. It's not my style.

Well, it certainly sounds like you championed her cause in a big way...

And now that she's succeeding, people will say to me, "Sheryl Crow, Sheryl Crow, Sheryl Crow, enough already!"

(laughter) But her record took a while to become the hit that it is now. What role did you and Warner/Chappell play, in keeping it alive?

Warner/Chappell gets very involved with its writers and artists now. We have marketing budgets within our contracts so that we can help our artists out. Fortunately, there were only a few things that we had to do for Sheryl, because A&M is such an amazing record company. They really kept it alive. We helped pay for some indie promotion, and we were involved in some marketing decisions, but we didn't have to do that much because A&M was so behind her.

What was the radio situation like when Sheryl's record first came out? Did you know where you wanted to take it, format-wise?

Fortunately, AAA was just starting to break as a format. Sheryl did the Triple-A convention in September of '93 in Colorado, and I think there were only 50 AAA stations around the country at the time. I didn't even get to hear it. I'd hear about it from Sheryl's sister in Tennessee. "Oh, my God! We heard Sheryl on the radio!" But it was a long time before I got to hear her on the radio. Some alternative stations were playing 'Leaving Las Vegas.'

Back in '93, the Pop scene was being re-defined. The Gin Blossoms were just starting to be considered Pop. By the end of '93 and '94 the Pop format was clearly becoming the Cranberries and the Gin Blossoms, while Michael Bolton and Celine Dion were becoming Adult/Contemporary. But at the time when Sheryl's record came out, none of us would have predicted this was going to be a Pop record. Timing was on our side. Think of the artists that are getting played right now, ... the Pete Droges and the Freedy Johnstons, and all those kind of people. Before AAA there was no place for them to go.

Which kind of people?

Singer/songwriters. There just wasn't an outlet for that kind of music. If James Taylor came on the scene today, where would you play him? AAA stations have been so supportive as a springboard for artists and bands who can then go on to pop radio.

Would you classify Sheryl as your single biggest career success?

Yes. Absolutely. I'm very proud of many of the songwriters that I've signed. I'm so proud of them! I signed Scott Cutler at Screen Gems and within a year he had written with Brenda Russell and "Piano in the Dark" got a Grammy nomination. So there have been other great highlights, but Sheryl is one of my best friends. We've gone through so much together.

Does Warner/Chapell accept unsolicited tapes?

No. We don't. They have to be referred. 'Unsolicited', to me means just sending it through the mail. If the tape is referred to me by somebody who has done the initial screening, then I'd be more than happy to listen to it. But, if you just send it through the mail, I don't accept it. There's too much to do here. I try and set aside Friday afternoons to listen to all the tapes that I get. But it's very hard, because inevitably somebody wants something and I need to take care of it, and then the Friday afternoon's gone and it's another week before I get to them.

If you were teaching a course in songwriting...what would be the three R's that you would teach? The basics.

When you're writing lyrics, always try to imagine that you're talking to a second grader. You have three minutes on the radio. To do a dissertation and to get so complicated, and say words that you would never normally say is counter productive. Great lyrics are conversation.

The second "R" would be that the marriage between music and lyrics is really important. If you've got a really sad lyric, it's probably not going to work well for a dance tune.

The third "R" would be not to overdo it. By that I mean don't overuse the word, "love" for example. If you can say what you're talking about without overusing the word "love", that's a good thing. Every song's about love or breaking up, so try to find that angle to the heart that's different than what Michael Bolton has said in his last song. And, if you're submitting songs to me, never use the word "Destiny!" (laughter)

Okay. (laughter) We'll put that in there. We'll put it right under your picture. What's the mistake that writers who aren't quite ready yet, most frequently make?

They don't listen to the radio. People who want to be staff songwriters need to listen to who they're selling to. If you're going to try and write something for Celine Dion and Michael Bolton, then go and listen to their records. Listen to how they phrase. Listen to the lyrics they write.

What's more important? A great melody or great lyrics?

Oh, right! Like I'm going to answer that! (laughter) That depends on the song.

What are the qualities that make the most successful songwriters the most successful songwriters?

Their passion for what they do. Their passion for the music and the song. It's a gut feeling. It's just that little bit of magic that's in those writers that makes them just more. They live and eat and breathe it. The writers that I've signed here... it hasn't taken ten meetings. They've come in here and they've played me a song and you get it. You see that fire in their eyes and you see their lust for life and how they relate to people. These are special human beings. These are people who look at the world differently. They have a great sense of humor and compassion. Songwriters are some of the best people I've ever met. Some of my writers are my best friends because these are the people I want to hang out with. I'm sure that many of them would still do it even if they didn't get paid for it. Most musicians are like that.

Are great writers born rather than developed? Or is it a combination?

I think it's definitely a combination. I think they're born with something. Obviously, they all found their destiny and would wait tables, if they have to, just so they can do what they do. But it also has to be developed. For some people, it takes a lot more work than others.

It's not just sitting in a room and writing a song. They have to get out and meet people and be involved and be in the studio . . .

Absolutely. It's just a way of life. It's knowing who you're writing for, and mingling with those people, and their A&R people, and their managers...

So it's not only the creative side. It's the business side as well.

Absolutely. I insist that they know the business. I insist that they know the contracts that they're signing. I insist that they know how things work. Knowledge is power.

Are we in an age of diminishing stables of staff songwriters?

Well, not here at Warner/Chappell.

What about the industry as a whole?

The industry goes through cycles. I think we will always need songwriters. I really do. I think we may be seeing less of the typical staff songwriter who simply turns in his material and goes home. Today, you have to get your writers to collaborate with the artists. You have get your writers to write for films. You have to get your writers to produce the cut that an artist is doing. So our writers are producers. Our writers are programmers. Our writers are great guitar players, so they can play guitar on the track. Whatever it is, we have to find other ways to market them.

Do you think it's important for a songwriter to present a fully produced demo, or will an eight-track demo do the trick?

I think whatever gets the song across. I think that if you have an unbelievable tune, you can sit at a piano and have a great singer sing that song. You're fine. You don't need a fully produced demo. But presentation is very important.

We have people that are afraid to submit stuff to TAXI because it's not a 24-track digital production. Should they worry about that?

Absolutely not. Jamie Houston is great. He comes in and he will stand in front of me keeping time with his hand beating on his chest while he sings a cappella to me. I have no problem hearing that. My writers do everything. It depends on the song. As long as you have a great singer. That's really important.

You don't have to have 24-tracks. You can have an eight-track. You can have whatever. You don't have to have digital. People put too much emphasis on that. If you're a real true songwriter, you'll be able to stand here and sing the song and I'll get it. Think of all the songs that are standards. You can do them a cappella, and they'd still get across.

What's your favorite thing about the job?

I can wear anything I want to the office. (laughter)


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