Kara DioGuardi,
Keynote Interview, Part 2

Live, On Stage at TAXI's Road Rally 2007


Interview by Michael Laskow
kara dioguardi keynote
It's easy to admire Kara DioGuardi, not only because she's one of the music industry's most highly sought-after songwriters and producers, BMI's 2007 Pop Songwriter of the Year, and a Grammy-nominated songwriter with cuts on more than 100 million records by artists such as Celine Dion, Faith Hill, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Santana, Kelly Clarkson, Avril Lavigne, Jewel, Pussycat Dolls, Katharine McPhee, Hannah Montana, Taylor Hicks, Bo Bice, Clay Aiken, Ashlee Simpson, Natasha Bedingfield, Hilary Duff, Jesse McCartney, Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey, Marc Anthony, Enrique Iglesias, Anastacia, Ricky Martin, Kylie Minogue, and many, many more!

She's also been awarded nine BMI Pop Awards, had 250 songs released on major labels, more than 80 on multi-platinum albums, nearly 50 international charting singles, and her songs have helped propel more than 38 albums into Billboard's Top Ten.

The reason I personally admire Kara is because she spearheaded the effort and donated money to build a recording studio for severely disadvantaged teenagers at Phoenix House in Los Angeles last year. I was honored to work with her (and West LA Music CEO, Don Griffin) on the project.

Kara isn't a 'take the money and run' kind of person. I was very moved by her determination, selflessness, and generosity in helping to improve the lives of those teens at Phoenix House. And for those qualities, I thought she'd be the perfect person to receive TAXI's first-ever Humanitarian of the Year Award at the 2007 Road Rally.

What follows is Part Two of the Keynote Interview I did with Kara, on stage, immediately following her award presentation. I hope you enjoy reading it. — Michael


"I think that really the hardest part about being a writer is getting in a room and being naked in front of your co-writer, and allowing someone to say to you, 'That's not very good,' and not get offended. To this day, still, I'm always listening to what people have to say. But you always have to keep your ears open. I'm still learning to this day."
— Kara DioGuardi

Do you ever get depressed? Think about it, you've had cuts on 100 million albums. It's staggering. With illegal downloading being what it is, that number could be 200 million, 300 million. And I'm not talking just money-wise, but from a sense of accomplishment... you get ripped off on an achievement basis...

You know, every time I'm in New York with my friend and she sees one of those guys peddling CDs (on the street), she grabs my hand and makes me walk away from them because I'm about to go crazy on them. But, what are you gonna do? Yeah, I get depressed about that, but I have much more in this world to get depressed about than that—whether I'm making an extra dollar or whatever. Yeah, piracy sucks, but getting depressed to the point where I can't get up and do my job would be more depressing. What can I do?

I get depressed because I worry about the future of our industry. These guys (pointing to the audience), they're my "babies," as Ralph Murphy calls his writers at ASCAP. These are my babies, and I want to know that if somebody in this room writes a song that's an unbelievable smash, they deserve to be rewarded for that. And I worry about how they're gonna get paid five years from now...

Well, there are many theories on that. Some people think there will be subscription-based services. One thing that's starting to happen in the community is people have got to write singles or your not going to make any money, which is an interesting kind of thing. You used to be able to have a few album cuts on a record that sold 10 million copies and you'd make money. Records don't sell 10 million copies anymore.

So you need all the radio performance money you can get.

Yeah. I mean, they do sell 10 million when you have somebody like Chad Kroeger... Oh, that's another one where I wanted to throw up when I was in the room with him. [Laughter, because it was a reference to Kara telling the audience in Part One how she knew a co-write was a good one when it made her nervous enough to throw up. — ML]

He made you nervous?

When you have Chad Kroeger writing All the Right Reasons, there are so many hits on that record, and it's sold 10 million copies. So, there's an argument: if you're on a great record and there are a lot of great songs, it will sell, like Carrie Underwood. But the majority of records, there are like two or three songs and the rest are not that great. So, I think people started to lose faith in going out and buying records. They figure, "Why don't I just download the single?"



I am completely in agreement with you on that. However, I get asked the question all the time, "Why are they only looking for hits?" Meaning the companies that request music through TAXI only look for hits. I've been in the business for almost 34 years, and I can't remember once having somebody say, "Go find me an album cut." Have you ever heard that?

Never. I've never heard that. Actually, it's funny, when someone says, "Yeah, that's an album cut," you'd think you'd get excited. But it's almost like, "Guess you don't like it so much." But, you know, the industry is going to work itself out, one way or the other. I think the important thing to really concentrate on for the people in the room is to just be the best writer, the best artist you can be, the best collaborator, and the most honest person you can be with yourself on your strengths and weaknesses. I think it's really important that you not believe that you're amazing and everything you do is incredible, because it's probably not. What I do every day is not incredibly amazing. Next year, if I do this (the Road Rally), I'll bring you in my first tape of the first song I ever wrote. It's got to be the worst song ever. I get so many submissions to my company and I've never heard a worse song than this. I'm not kidding. It's so bad, unbelievably bad.

I will hold you to that. I want these guys to see how you can go from here to 100 million albums.

Actually, what I'll do is send it to you and you can send it to everybody as an e-mail, "This is where she started. This is where she ended up." I'll give it to you. Of course, my poor co-writer who I wrote it with is gonna be offended probably. He thinks it's bad too.

Check with your co-writer.

I don't know where he is. He's somewhere in the Bronx. I haven't seen him in years. But I'm sure it was my contribution that sucked.

We can say that, but it might be cool to put it out in our newsletter with a little story about it, and we'll put a link to the song so the people can hear it.

I'll give it to you and you'll see that it's staggeringly how bad it is. I actually keep it where I write. I found it and I pulled it out and listened to it. I don't know why. Maybe it's to remind myself how lucky I am.

Listen to 'I'll Never Love You' by Kara DioGuardi:



"The only thing that you can really do to insure that you have some sort of career in music is to just keep doing it."
— Kara DioGuardi

You certainly realize that and I know that about you, that you don't take it for granted, but I think that's to your credit because a lot of people with the kind of success you've had could easily forget. Kara's not just a songwriter, not just a producer, she's got a publishing company, a production company, just became an A&R person at Warner Bros. I'm guessing they don't make you come in and punch a clock there.

No, not yet.

She's pretty much got the world working for her.

I have a boss for the first time in 10 years!

That's scary. I'd hate to be your boss.

I wonder if he's gonna give me a review at the end of the year. [laughs]

Do you get health insurance with the gig?

I don't know. I should ask about that.



You once told me—and I'm praying to God that you didn't tell me this in confidence—that there was a song or two that you wrote that you felt might have put women in a bad light, and in retrospect you regretted sending that message to young girls. Is your commitment at Phoenix House to build a new studio your way of paying back?

But putting women in a bad light... there were a few songs I was involved in, like the song "Beat" that I did with Will.i.am. He had this concept for a chorus and it was pretty amazing. What am I gonna say? "Will, I'm not going to write it." But when I heard it on the radio, it was a bit racy. And then, there was the "La La" song for Ashlee. I guess what it really was, was that they were more sexual songs than I'm used to writing. I'm not really used to writing sexual songs, and I guess I don't want little kids going, "You make me wanna la-la," which basically was saying, "You make me wanna 'do it.' " So, I was kind of just in the moment, and I think feeling that in my own personal life, I just injected that into the room, and you don't really know that that song is going to end up on the radio. It's kind of an interesting thing that you think you can be feeling feisty or angry, and then all of a sudden that emotion goes into the universe. And when you're listening to it in the car, first of all, it's embarrassing, and secondly, you start to think, wow, I'm influencing minds here so I have to be careful what I say. I guess that was kind of my afterthought. [applause] I've had some doozies out there.

You know, I was telling someone last night, I've really had more failures with singles than I've had successes, if you can believe it.

It wouldn't appear to be so, but tell them about that. What's your success ratio?

What is success? In terms of charts, like Top10 records every year? This year I haven't had a Top 10, Hot 100 record. I've had AC records and other things. But it fluctuates, so not every year is amazing. You face your own challenges. But I've definitely had a lot of singles come out and not do well, and that's always hard to take, because I think as humans we look at what we haven't done as opposed to what we have done. I think it's important that every day you think about what you have done as opposed to what you haven't done and kind of celebrate that too, because you let this period of your life just go by and it just all feels like a failure, and it's not. You're working towards something.


"I think it's important that every day you think about what you have done as opposed to what you haven't done and kind of celebrate that too, because you let this period of your life just go by and it just all feels like a failure, and it's not."
— Kara DioGuardi

You and I and my wife were sitting together at the fundraiser for Phoenix House, five or six months ago, and I remember that on the way home that night, as soon as the valet brought our car up and my wife Deb and I got in the car and shut the door, she looked at me and said—and these are her exact words—"I think it's pretty cool that Kara's got the world by the tail, but she's making charity a real priority. Not only did she get the studio built for these kids, but she goes there on weekends to help them learn how to use it. Considering how crazy her schedule must be, that's really impressive."

It does a lot of good me too, my soul, to do something that's not so narcissistic, like sitting in a room with 16-year-old artists who are talking about nonsense sometimes. I'm 36. My views in what's important to me have changed in the last 10 years, so, I have to also be doing things that are important to me and that are giving back, because I have been lucky and I have been blessed. I've worked my ass off, but I've definitely had a bunch of people who have believed in me and helped me to get to where I am. I didn't do it on my own. I think it's important that I give that back to the people that I feel like I can really help in this industry, that are talented enough that I can say, "That's good, that's not good." And I hand pick them. And it's hard because you'll want to help everybody, but I can't help everybody. That's the real problem with it, is that you can't help everybody. As much as you want to, and you want to take their song and fix it for them and make it great, it's talent, it's luck, it's hard work. There are so many things that come into it. The only thing that you can really do to insure that you have some sort of career in music is to just keep doing it. And maybe someday for some of you in the audience it won't be a career. It'll be a hobby or it'll be something that's your outlet, your therapy. For me it was more therapy than anything.

Boy, that was a therapy session that paid off well.

It was! It was like a great way for me to get to know what was going on inside me. Sometimes I would read a song at the end of the day and go, "Wow, I didn't even know I felt that way." It's this weird kind of thing. I think that really the hardest part about being a writer is getting in a room and being naked in front of your co-writer, and allowing someone to say to you, "That's not very good," and not get offended. To this day, still, I'm always listening to what people have to say. Like, "Yeah, OK, I can see that." Then if they're right, I'm into it. Sometimes I'll know that they're definitely wrong and I'm definitely right just because it's a craft thing and they're maybe too young to understand that, or they're not into the craft of music to understand. But you always have to keep your ears open. I'm still learning to this day.


Wanna publish this article on your website?  Click here to find out how.











See How TAXI Works






















"I have spent my life playing and singing in bands and this is the most real thing I have ever seen."
— Dwight Nichols,
TAXI Member





"I was cynical at first, but my wife convinced me to join and I'm very impressed."
— L.A. Van Fleet,
TAXI Member

"Speaking to A&R people, getting inside info and some of the best advice I've ever had, was worth TEN times the cost of getting to The Road Rally."
— Mike Fitzsimons,
TAXI Member


"We appreciate all that you do and try to do to help us struggling songwriters!"
— Pat Harris,
TAXI Member

"The critiques of my submissions have been most helpful. I have learned so much during these past six months that I find it hard to believe."
— Gary Bonura,
TAXI Member


"Wow! 6 forwards for one listing! Thanks guys, you made my day (week, month, etc!)"
— Reid Power,
TAXI Member

"Thanks to TAXI I no longer have a day job! The membership fee was a drop in the bucket compared to what I have earned because of TAXI."
— George Nelson,
TAXI Member





"I've gotten one solid offer from a record company/publisher . . . and two other songs of mine are on the desks of A&R executives at major labels. Quite simply, TAXI works!"
— Paul Schwartz,
TAXI Member

"You are making an incredible difference in the lives of musicians and artists trying to break into the business!"
— Rob Khurana,
TAXI Member



"I would like to thank Taxi for helping me and my partner and become more polished writers."
— Liz Aday,
TAXI Member

"I've known most of TAXI's A&R people for years. These are real industry pros. I'd be happy to listen to anything they send me."
— John Carter,
Vice President of A&R,
Island Records





"I have spent my life playing and singing in bands and this is the most real thing I have ever seen."
— Dwight Nichols,
TAXI Member