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- Be honest with yourself and create what’s genuine. I know it’s easy for me to say this because I’m not a typical artist. I’ve lucked into a situation with my management and record label where I can pretty much create what I want, and they’ll put it in front of people, but I still think they’re willing to do so because the authenticity of what I give them only enhances the commercial potential of what we do. Even though I’m in a genre that has more room to breathe as far as creativity, I know that audiences in all genres are perceptive to whether or not an artist believeswhat they’re singing or playing, and that in turn has an effect on the business side of what they do.
- When it comes to making music, listen to what everybody has to say. Even your critics, even the folks who know little about music, and even your spouse! When I was in the mixing phase of my debut album, my wife Amanda walked into the studio and said (in her sexy little accent that turns more country when something has offended her) “gosh, what is that sound… it sounds like it’s from China or something,” in response to a track I was mixing. She was referring to an acoustic guitar that I’d EQ’d all the bottom end and mid range out of, which I’m guessing made it sound more like a sitar to her. My gut reaction was to laugh and tell myself she didn’t know what she was talking about, but I wised up and had two “light bulb” moments from this. One, it reminded me that the purpose of making music is to make other folks happy. There are some brilliant musicians out there who are set in their ways and have become successful because of the “I’m an artist, I only do things a certain way, if you don’t get it then you’re not artistic” thing… I respect that, but that ain’t me. I want people like Amanda to hear my music and experience something personal instead of thinking, “wow, he’s really good” or “well that was weird sounding, he must be creative.” Two, I’m trying to sell music to folks who don’t have time to learn about music, nor do they need to concern themselves with how to describe what they hear. Like Amanda, the folks I want to sell music to do other important things for a living (in Amanda’s case, much more important). It’s ok to be firm regarding how you want to make your music– I am–but I like to be of the mindset that everybody has something valuable to contribute to your creation process.
- It’s about relationships. This music career thing is awesome. You get to meet more people in a month than most people get to in a lifetime. Make friends with everybody. I’ve got a feeling that if I’m lucky enough to make it to old age, I’m going to think back to all the friends I’ve made, and the music will have only been what allowed me to meet them.
One of the Finest New Piano Talents in America
Ever have a song that you wanted to learn how to play but just couldn’t figure it out? An incredibly complex, but so mellifluously melodious that you just had to figure it out? A song that not only resonates with you but makes you obsess over how to learn to play the song, note-for-note, just like the recording?
You listen, endless practice and repetition, but you can’t figure it out. So you buy the sheet music, right? And then you find out … it’s worthless. It doesn’t capture the fingering, the right key or the structure. So then what? You go to YouTube right? To see if you can find a live version of the artist playing it or someone else that plays it well enough that you might be able to figure it out. And it’s not just you, even accomplished professional musicians do this.
For me, that song was Spider Fingers by Bruce Hornsby. I searched and searched on Youtube and everywhere else and only could find a few videos where Bruce played it live– but the camera angle was bad. Then, I ran across a young man that not only played it well, but he smoked it. I couldn’t believe it. Who was this young man? Who was this real live “Spider Fingers?” Well, I tracked him down, and we discussed his burgeoning career in the interview below. It’s an amazing story, one that any musician can learn from.
Kory Caudill, singer, songwriter, composer, and piano player extraordinaire. One of America’s finest new piano talents. A young man from Kentucky that performs wearing blue jeans, a University of Kentucky ball cap, and Creedence Clearwater Revival-like flannel shirts, but plays like Beethoven, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Bruce Hornsby combined, even on Bruce’s wildest, fastest, prestidigitating versions of “Spider Fingers.”
Launched Career When He Was Four Years Old
When Kory was a few years old, he shocked his parents when he toddled to the piano and played the melody to John Williams “Theme from Superman.” At the age of four, he became involved with the Kentucky Opry at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg, Kentucky.
Kory Caudill has a new album out called. “Tree of Life.” And guess what? He self-funded it by playing studio gigs and touring with Justin Moore and Brad Paisley. And versatile? Rock, Jazz, Classical, Country, Boogie Woogie and more. Kory describes his style as “Yanni Meets Eastern Kentucky.”
Throughout the interview, you’ll see examples of Kory playing different musical styles. Let me know what you’re favorite is. Email me at Steve@Kaysermedia.com.
Steve Kayser: (Steve): When did you realize music was going to be your career?
Kory Caudill (Kory): I love getting this question. I grew up in eastern Kentucky before social media made the world a much smaller place, so I feel like it was common for kids in that area to have misconceptions of what they could and could not be, with the job of “musician” being the exception.
This may come as a surprise to people from outside the region, but there are a lot of artistic resources available in eastern Kentucky that most places don’t have, most notably the Mountain Arts Center and the Kentucky Opry. I was able to gain some solid performance and recording experience there at an early age, so it never really occurred to me to pursue anything else for a living. All this in mind, I still grew up with the notion that;
“if I have to be as good as James Whited (guitarist for the Kentucky Opry), and he’s in Prestonsburg, there’s no way I’ll ever be good enough to keep up with folks from Lexington, Louisville, or Nashville.”
So when I was able to attend the Governor’s School for the Arts in 2003, I got to spend weeks with kids from across the state and focus solely on music the entire time. This allowed me to understand how unique the opportunities are that I had as a kid and that the Eastern Kentucky music scene was one of the most vibrant in the country. I credit my Eastern Kentucky roots with the drive to be a musician, and I credit GSA for providing me that “aha” moment where I was certain I would be a career musician.
I also feel like it’s typical for artists to have had to overcome skepticism from their inner circles when they make the decision to pursue music for a living. We often hear of folks being told they couldn’t be a successful artist, or that “musician” isn’t a real profession, and they’re driven by the want to prove those people wrong. I consider myself one of the most fortunate people in the world because every person in my life has done nothing but encourage me to be a musician. My dad always jokes that he “hocked the farm” to allow me to attend out of state, private school and major in music, and I always knew that it made him and Mom happy to do that.
A Kory Caudill Piano Sampler:
Steve: Who have been your biggest musical influences? You play an eclectic and diverse set of music.
Kory: Thank you! My parents are both professional musicians, so I was turned on to a lot of hip music at an early age. I’m sure this is the case with most musicians, but my influences came in phases. Some folks I’ve done more than just listen to and studied are Bruce Hornsby, Pat Metheny, Billy Preston, the Yellowjackets, Yanni, Oscar Peterson, the Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elton John, Goose Creek Symphony, and so on.
I’m proud of the record I made, “Tree of Life.” I heard a lot of these artists make their way into my sound without doing it intentionally. I also studied a lot of Chopin and Beethoven growing up. I grew up playing country music and loving the textures and simplicity of the music. I feel like some folks who live only in the jazz world can be quick to assume country is easy to play, but it’s not. In country (the kind I grew up playing), you’re left very exposed, so timing, phrasing and the melodic nature of what you’re playing has to be dead on. One of my favorite things we did was have the guitar players play twangy country licks, but with a modern tone. If you listen closely to the title track, Tree of Life, Mark Stephens is playing a hook in the chorus that you’d expect to hear out of a steel guitar, but it’s disguised by a gritty tone. All this said my biggest musical influence are my parents, and I don’t just mean that in a sentimental way. Mom was an excellent music teacher; she really knew how to make things connect for me when I was struggling with them. Dad is an awesome piano player, but I think he’s best on B3. Dad has an instantly recognizable style that will make the hair on your arms stand up!
Talking About the Hammond B-3 Organ
Steve: What has been your most enjoyable concert yet?
Kory: This is a tough one. I’ve been able to make music with a lot of great people, and I’ve already performed thousands of shows in my relatively short career. There have been the huge concerts with Justin Moore, where you’re onstage with guys you consider brothers, and you look out into a sea of people and think;
“How did we get here? We were just in a van and trailer a couple of years ago.”
There have been some larger scale concerts of my own that were extremely memorable as well. That said, the most fun I’ve had was my senior recital at Belmont. Of course, I had to perform a couple of tunes that leaned more academic (and ate me alive), but none of that mattered. For the last tune, I surprised Dad and got him up on stage to play “This Little Light of Mine” with us. After an hour of tough, polished music, Dad came on stage, and we just mapped out the tune right there as if we were in church. Dad and I had performed together regularly, but never in Nashville in a theater full of other great musicians. It was an awesome moment in which I didn’t even realize I’d shut everything else out and was just jamming with my Dad, which was the perfect way to end my college career and begin my journey as an artist.
This Little Light of Mine
Steve: The business of music is much different than the raw creation process of music. What have been your three most important lessons so far?
Kory: Great question. As a new artist, I’ve learned to enjoy the process of blending the two. A lot of artists speak negatively on the business side of things, but the business side is simply the link between your audience and the music you want to share with them. I’m no expert, and nobody’s ever accused me of being the sharpest tool in the shed, but here are a few of the things being a new artist has taught me:
Steve: I heard Bruce Hornsby say in an interview that it’s much harder to sell records than it used to be because of the ways the music industry has been disrupted and the pirating issues. The economics, the money for musicians, seems to be in touring. Are you finding that to be true?
Kory: It’s a little early for me to be able to answer this with any certainty, but I do think that Bruce Hornsby and I are similar in that we tend to focus on our live performances to begin with. I’m hoping that as we start to really work “Tree of Life” this summer we’re able to turn some heads as far as sales, but I’m heavily focused on getting folks out to concerts and bringing them to the edge of their seat from start to finish. I’ve always wanted to be a performer, and making albums is a fun part of that process. I’m finding myself doing different, grittier versions of my songs live because fewer rules apply than they do in the studio. Economically, I’m still figuring things out, and I may not be the best example because of how different my career path is. For now, I sell the most records on tour dates, so the two seem to go hand in hand, but I’m curious to see how things shape up as we grow.
Steve: Why did you decide to self-fund your Tree of Life album? What’s the theme of your album? What’s it mean to you?
Kory: For starters, I didn’t have a record deal before I made the album, so my options were to fund it, or try crowdfunding. I think that crowdfunding can be a great thing for a lot of different goals, such as medical expenses, mission trips, extracurricular academic ventures, etc., but strictly about music, I’m not a fan of it. I think that crowdfunding in music is different than other areas because it’s possible to work as a musician to obtain the funds you need, but many in my generation lack the patience and drive for this. Being a musician means I have the privilege of providing folks with an experience.
I knew I wanted to make an album one day, so I moved to Nashville at 18 and began a several year process–which involved little sleep– to obtain the tools and resources to do so. Also, my parents did everything they could to send me to a music college they couldn’t afford. After graduating, I began work as a touring musician, and after a couple of years, I had the money to record an album they way I wanted it recorded. I was driven to do this because it gives me a purpose to make something that has a positive effect on people. I could have never asked folks to pay for something I wanted to do to make them proud and happy. Additionally, it would negate my entire reason for being a musician and point my career in a very self-centered direction. There are so many more ways an artist can obtain the resources for musical ventures that puts financial responsibility on them instead of fans. When I was given the chance to demo “Cowboys and Angels” for Dustin Lynch, I went to the bank and took out a loan so I could pay the band/studio/engineer, then recoup that money knowing I would do a good enough job to somehow be invited on the master project. In addition to all of this, I have never known anything other than unconditional support from those around me, so it was very rewarding to be able to show folks that they had gotten me to a place that allowed me to handle this project myself.
To me, the theme of this album is family. The older I get, the more I’m able to comprehend how fortunate I am. I wanted to make an album that reflected on how thankful I am for the people around me, as well as the way I experience life. I enjoy instrumental music because each song can invoke a broader emotion for different people while allowing them to apply it to their personal experiences.
Intro to The Tree of Life Album – Intimate Setting
Steve: What tips would you share to help other up and coming artists?
Kory: It’s a process. Cliche, I know. My managers and the label tell me once a week that;
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
This helps me sleep at night. I’m in no position to give advice, but I can share some that I read about which helped me a lot. I was reading a Pat Metheny interview a while back where Pat mentioned how new artists like to think in terms of “if I only had X, then I could do Y,” when the best thing we can do is ask ourselves “what can I do in the next fifteen minutes that will let me work towards achieving this bigger goal?” For me, I could have a million things going on in terms of upcoming concerts/deadlines, but I stress most when there is nothing going on. I’ve had to learn that there’s always something I can be doing to make progress, even if it’s just sitting down at the piano and running scales longer than I usually do.
Steve: Spider Fingers by Bruce Hornsby… I always troll the web for people trying to play that. You’re the only one that has ever remotely come close to pulling it off live. The only one except Bruce himself. . Why did you decide to take that tune on? Musical challenge?
Kory: I decided to take on that tune during college. Bruce makes it sound so effortless, so when it came time for us to pick which tune we wanted to do for the Rock Ensemble performance, I figured it’d be a fun challenge…I had no idea how tough it would end up being. As I dove into it, I quickly gained even more appreciation for Bruce and what he does. Looking back, I think that me and the guys would play the tune much differently now. I think that in capturing the dexterity and flash of what the lyrics talk about, we still missed on how deep Bruce’s groove is, which is probably common for young players. I will say, though, I do like that we usually tend to rock a bit more towards the end of the tune, I always dug having it peak the way we did. I’m from the bluegrass capital of the world, so I like to play on top of the beat more than what somebody like Bruce would probably dig. That said, one semester my roommate and I actually waited outside a back alley for Bruce to go into soundcheck at the Brown in Louisville (flattering I know), and after we approached him saying “it’s ok, we’re piano majors” he stopped and talked to us. It turns out he had seen my video of Spider Fingers online, and he said;
“Yes, that’s the toughest tune I play and here you’ve made it sound effortless,”
Needless to say, that’s been one of the coolest moments of my career.
This is What Bruce Was Talking About
Steve: What is the song you most enjoy playing- have the most fun?
Kory: This is where I should probably tell you it’s some emotional piece off the record, some overly technical number, or some hit I’ve recorded on for another artist, but honestly I have the most fun when I play “The Weight” by the Band. I love that song, and I never really take the time to think about why, I just make sure I put it into every set we play.
Steve: What was it like playing at the Hollywood Bowl? How did that gig happen?
Kory: That was a special day. I played it with Justin Moore on the Brad Paisley tour. Earlier in the day, I had coffee with Mike Regan, who manages one of my biggest influences, Yanni. When you grow up in eastern Kentucky and get to have coffee with your hero’s manager before you go play the Hollywood Bowl with your best friends, it’s safe to say you’re blessed beyond imagination.
Steve: What’s your schedule like for the rest of the year?
Kory: I have several concerts that we’re waiting to confirm for the coming months, and we’re doing a very busy radio tour this summer. All this will lead up to a major event we have planned late fall and a Christmas tour that ends with our annual Christmas special in Elizabethtown, Kentucky.
Steve: Thanks, Kory. Looking forward to seeing you at “Live at the Ludlow Garage” in Cincinnati, Ohio April 22, 2016.
Before You Go, Watch Spider Fingers Takes on Frankenstein
For more information on Kory Caudil go to:
About Steve Kayser
Steve Kayser is an award-winning writer and the author of “The Greatest Words You’ve Never Heard: True Stories of Triumph.”
How to market your music yourself
Fans of movies and television may be familiar with the sound of Kari Kimmel’s voice. The songwriter and recording artist has contributed more than 250 songs for stories on the big and small screen including “Burn Notice,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House,” “Private Practice,” “The Hills,” “The Office” and “The Walking Dead.” Kimmel has also been named one of the top 50 artists on VH1.
Kari Kimmel’s story — her journey — is one of extreme hard work and intense passion. She’s originally from South Florida. She moved to Los Angeles about 10 years ago to pursue her love of music. She plays multiple instruments, produces most of her own songs, and she handles her own marketing. That’s right, she handles her own marketing.
A while back, I had the opportunity to interview Kimmel on a radio show. For you up-and-coming musicians, Kimmel has a lot of good insights and lessons learned about marketing and developing your music as a business.
Steve Kayser: Let’s go back to 10 years ago. You left Florida, and you went to LA, to Hollywood with the big dream. What did you find when you got there?
Kari Kimmel: When I moved to LA, I was writing and just trying to figure out exactly what I wanted to do, and then soon after that, I signed a deal with Virgin. I worked on an album, and we were getting ready to mix it when the president who signed me was fired … and basically all the artists that he had been working on were gone, including me.
It wound up being a blessing in disguise, but at the time it was a bummer. I soon realized that I could do music for film and TV and just do my own music. I started doing more and more writing and recording on my own, and it turned into what I’m doing now. I have a studio in my house. So getting let go actually wound up being a really good thing.
Kayser: Does it even amaze you that you’ve been in over 250 films and TV series? Do you ever think to yourself, that’s so much so fast?
Kimmel: It’s still really exciting and fun. I get to do what I love, and I get to hear the finished product on TV, so it’s great.
Kayser: Even though you don’t have an agent, which is usually how music used in film and TV gets placed in Hollywood, how do you get your songs heard by the right people, by the right music supervisors?
Kimmel: Well, you have to start by doing a lot of research, like finding out what TV shows are out or what films are coming out and then work backwards: Find out who’s working on the film, what company it is, who the music supervisors are and then the real work starts in.
That work is basically figuring out how to contact them by their email, phone number, or whatever, and once you figure out, getting them to hear your music is really difficult.
They get hundreds and thousands of emails from different artists and songwriters. They don’t answer everybody, so that’s also challenging, contacting them the right way. It’s a lot of research, but obviously it pays off in the end if you can make it happen.
Kayser: When you finally do get through, break down the wall and get your reputation established, do you get more opportunities? Like I heard one of your songs on “Burn Notice.” Did someone from the show approach you? Are people approaching you now to do these songs?
Kimmel: I definitely get phone calls to do songs for a film or for TV shows, but I also am pushing my music. And it’s just as hard as it ever was. It goes both ways, but over time, I’ve definitely gotten more phone calls from music supervisors to do certain things. The one for “Burn Notice” was a cover of an old 1940s song. It was a Doris Day song, and the music supervisor wanted a cover with a ballroom dance-like theme, and so I got the call to do this song.
That was an instance where I got a call. I would say I’m still on the other side reaching out to music supervisors and tipping my songs. It’s a combination of both, but it’s nice to get calls. Now that I’ve been doing it for so long, I do get a lot more calls.
Kayser: Networking in the music industry is obviously very key. How do you work on that and build relationships?
Kimmel: Honestly, it takes a long time. You meet one person and hopefully through that, maybe you meet another person, and it just kind of keeps going on and on like that. It obviously helps if you can get a recommendation from another business person. Let’s say you know someone at ABC Family. Maybe that person will recommend you to a music supervisor on one of his or her shows and that person can recommend you to someone else. So it’s a lot of that. It’s a lot about being persistent and also being aggressive but not being annoying. There’s definitely a delicate balance.
Kayser: You play a lot of your own instruments. Do you favor the piano or do you favor something else?
Kimmel: Piano, definitely.
Kayser: Did you grow up on that?
Kimmel: Sort of. My mom made me take piano lessons when I was young, and I didn’t like it at all, but now that I’m older, I’m really glad that she did. At least I had somewhere to start when I picked it back up. I played it when I was six, and then I stopped. I picked it back up in high school, and now I play by ear mostly, and it’s my main instrument.
Kayser: The Internet has changed the music business completely. More people are downloading music, fewer people buying actual CDs. Do you think you’ve been successful because of MySpace, iTunes and the like, or do you think you would be where you are now if those services had not come along when they did? They’ve really flattened the earth for good musicians to rise to the top.
Kimmel: It has definitely helped a lot. With the Internet, it’s so much easier to find people now. For example, we were talking about music supervisors and how you find them. I mean, you could basically type in “music supervisor” and “Sons of Anarchy” or whatever, and you might be lucky.
Kayser: Not only do you do all your writing, singing and playing, but you’re also the chief sales person and chief marketer. Can you talk for a little bit about the marketing hurdles you’ve had to go through and what strategies you’ve employed to break through?
Kimmel: It helps to have somebody who can be on your team. It’s really hard to do it all by yourself. I did have an intern for a bit, but I’ve done it all on my own for a long time. It’s very time-consuming. You want to keep the fans you have, but you want to also get new fans. So it’s a balance of trying to stay in touch with the people who are already fans of your music and let them know what’s going on and what new things are happening — whether they’re songs, TV shows, commercials or a new album coming out — then also doing marketing. Most of the marketing I do actually is on YouTube, and it’s a great place to do marketing. One thing I found interesting is that on YouTube, if you do a cover of a song, and somebody looks for that song, a lot of times he or she will come across your cover of it, and if that person likes it, he or she will probably go check out your other songs.
Kayser: Explain a little bit about how you match up a song to a show. Do you come up with a song and then try to squeeze it in to a show, or does the music supervisor come to you and say this is the genre of the show or this particular episode and then you have to create something that fits? How does the process work for you?
Kimmel: It happens both ways. I would say it happens more the first way, where I tend to just write and record whatever I’m feeling at the moment, and I enjoy that process a lot more. Or I get requests from music supervisors for what they’re looking for. They’ll email me and say they need a song that sounds like this, that has this lyric in it or whatever, and I have a lot of songs. So I’ll go through my songs, and I’ll think about which song might match up best for what they need.
Then, there are the other occasions where company representatives will call and say that they want something specific, and they want me specifically for that show or film. In that case, I just write the song and go to the studio and turn it in.
Kayser: I read that you have a knack for turning songs around fairly quickly, is that true?
Kimmel: I think so. I don’t really like to spend too much time on something. I’m either feeling it or I’m not, and I’m like that with my songwriting. Most of the songs I’ve written have been written within an hour or less, because it’s when I’m feeling it. If I have to think too hard about it, for me, I don’t think it will turn out great. So I usually do things pretty quickly for production.
Kayser: When you write these songs, do you write them by yourself, or do you bring in other band members and kick ideas and words off other people?
Kimmel: I usually write songs by myself. Occasionally, I will co-write, but I would say about 95 percent of the time, I write all by myself. My best time to write is late at night with a glass of wine at my piano.
Kayser: Several years ago, you received an email from a young unknown singer telling you that she loved your music and that you were her favorite singer at that time. When that young lady popped up later her name was Taylor Swift. When did it strike you that she was the same young lady who emailed you?
Kimmel: Well, I don’t really know when it was exactly, but I would say probably six months later. Around the time, I was hearing this girl’s name, and I couldn’t figure out why it was familiar to me, and then one day it clicked, and I went back, and I looked in my past emails. I was like, oh, okay. Of course she got bigger and bigger from there.
Kayser: Let’s go back to one thing that really affected your life, the balance of your life. You had a child two years ago. How do you balance being a creative artist and getting up at 3 to 5 a.m. in the morning? How do you do all that?
Kimmel: I will say, I have been extremely lucky, because my son is just so great. He’s such a good kid. He plays by himself really well, and most people wouldn’t think this, but I’m actually a quiet person.
Kayser: I’ve seen your videos. I find that hard to believe.
Kimmel: I know, but I kind of get in my own head sometimes and just start thinking a lot. He’s such a thinker, too, I can tell. He’s always trying to figure things out, and he’s such a good kid. It’s given me a lot of structure.
I used to have no structure in my life. I would just do whatever I felt at any time, and obviously, I can’t do that anymore. He wakes up around anywhere from 7 to 7:30 a.m., and so I start my day earlier then I used to. I have nannies that come to the house. I actually have a nanny who basically is there until 4 or 5 p.m., so I work Monday through Thursday or Friday. Everything I need to do work-wise, except for writing, which I leave for after he goes to bed, I do within those hours.
Kayser: Thanks Kari, I appreciate you taking the time out of your schedule to talk to me.
If you want to find out more about Kari you can go to her website, karikimmel.com