My personal career reinvention road has taken me to many fabulous experiential locations but the destination that has had the most influence on me as a Certified Professional Career Coach is the music business, especially my 10-years as a record producer, engineer and A&R talent scout for industry giant London Records, Inc.
I grew up in a musical family that made playing an instrument non-negotiable. But, once the calluses of learning to play guitar on high-set steel strings wore off, I excitedly let myself become indoctrinated into the world of Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Duane Eddy, The Ventures and so many others who became my vinyl best friends. After working my way through three years of college performing on the coffee house circuit on alternating evenings with fellow Ionian Don McLean and opening on the steps of Spellman Hall for the likes of The Beach Boys and The Four Tops, proximity to New York City brought with it an invitation to become a regular performer at Malachy’s II on the east side. It was there that A&R Vice-President Walt Maguire of London Records, Inc., which was riding the crest of the British wave of music, made repeated visits to hear me perform and ultimately offered me a songwriting contract with London’s Burlington-Felsted publishing division. Within weeks I had sufficiently networked myself through the company to land a full-time A&R gig in addition to a songwriting contract and thereby avoiding my liberal arts quandary of what I was going to do with my life after senior year.
Once onboard, I listened to countless demo tapes submitted by hopeful performers from around the world and recommended to Walt those I felt worthy of a contract. I studied engineering under John Woram at the Institute of Audio Research and became Director of Recording Studio Operations and a producer on the London label. Not bad for a college dropout (though I fulfilled my commitment to my parents to complete my education at night all the way up to my PhD).
My multiple roles at London Records, Inc. enabled me to work in different capacities with some incredible artists on our family of labels like The Moody Blues, Dave Edmunds, Thin Lizzy, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton, Al Green, Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison with Them and ZZ Top. As I began producing for London Records, my guiding principal was to bring out the best in the artist. My self-assigned role was to make the recording studio a musical “place” that brought out the unique abilities of the artist so that the music created was the best that it could possibly be. In addition to working creatively with the artist, I had the balancing act of managing the recording budget and being sure that the “final vinyl” was a commercial success. Decades later, this would become the bedrock of working with my career coaching clients: making sure that their life was on track with their natural talents and abilities while making sure that they could earn a living doing what came most naturally to them.
Every coaching client, like every recording artist, is unique. My approach to producing Erroll Garner’s “Magician” LP was to create a final sound that spoke to his unique four-in-the-bar left hand with single-note passages from his right hand accompanied by his trademark grunts. Not long before his death, Erroll and I talked and he shared with me an important facet of his performance: “Every time I go to the piano I try and give the audience my absolute best. What I say through my hands is different every time. Jazz is about improvising. I never play anything the same way twice. But, I always make it my best.”
Producing hit singer-songwriter Leslie Pearl was about capturing her flair for the story line and her captivating hook which was the key ingredient for her successful jingle writing career. She had already written jingles for the likes of Pepsi, Folgers Coffee, Ford and Gillette when I signed her to London so the studio was a natural place for her talents to shine.
The challenge with Texas band Greezy Wheels was to make sure that the excitement of their “live” performances on the Armadillo World Headquarters stage in Austin was brought out in the more sterile recording studio environment.
In this digital era of artists being able to record their own album in the basement and then package, market and sell it on their own comes at the DIY risk of not being open to a second set of more experienced ears so as to be sure they’re on the right music track. The same goes for so many people who keep doing the same work year after year knowing that it makes them miserable but not knowing that a career coach can help them get off the hamster wheel and onto a meaningful career path. The same reason that so many musical artists with little or no recording experience don’t seek out the guidance of an experienced record producer is similar to the aversion so many people have to using a career coach. The “I can do it on my own” mindset is why so many people continue to be stuck in unfulfilling jobs that prevent them from doing what they truly should be doing with their lives.
Whether it’s in the recording studio or in the career market, everyone can benefit from experienced guidance. General career advice from family and friends may, in fact, be the same stuff that got people stuck in the first place. Individuals looking to reinvent themselves are well-served by an objective career coach who has the client’s best and most authentic interests as the process focus; a professional who has experienced reinvention firsthand, not just from books, and who can convert those experiences into solid guidance for the client.
A coach, just like a record producer, can be a strong motivator who will pump you up when you make achievements along the way and who can present advice in a supportive manner. And, a good career coach, like a producer with a track record, knows the importance of experimentation and trying things out during the process of creativity before putting the final music tracks down or going to the first interview. Both the artist and client benefit from the outside perspective on new ideas and suggestions posed in a safe, non-threatening setting that enables each to “try it out.” The real-time feedback playing a tape back to an artist who recorded a different approach to a song has the same value as conducting a mock interview with a coaching client followed by exchanging feedback and suggestions.
Record producers and career coaches have amazing commonalities. Both can understand the behavioral styles of the people they’re working with and provide objective feedback that converts into leveraging one’s talents and abilities. Whether it’s rehearsing a song before recording it or role-playing an interview before the “big day,” record producers and career coaches don’t let things happen by chance. They plan for success.
I’ve had so many experiences with newly-signed bands who have tried to bring everything into the studio with them from girlfriends and boyfriends, pets of every conceivable genus, foods of unimaginable aromas and even an inebriated fortune teller. Learning to set firm boundaries was a session prerequisite I learned very early on to apply. Similarly, career coaches eliminate clutter and distractions career building by utilizing tools and assessments to help clients achieve greater clarity and focus on what matters most.
Record producers and career coaches always take the side of the persons they work with. They are their clients’ single greatest advocates. Whether you’re a seasoned recording artist looking to remake your musical brand or a veteran executive looking to transition into becoming a sculptor, your producer or coach is there to help you build a plan to get you where you want to go and to provide guidance along the way. Whether it’s a jazz artist transitioning to a higher key or a lawyer transitioning to a career in art, the producer or coach provides the support and structured guidance to help you mark your map and arrive at your destination.
In my work with a human resources executive for a major corporation looking to create her own consulting practice I was asked by her if there were career coaches I particularly admired and who had an influence on me. It took but a few seconds to come up with names: American music producer and technical engineer for The Eagles William Frank “Bill” Szymczyk, “Wall of Sound” producer Phil Spector, The 5th Beatle George Martin and Beach Boy Brian Wilson.
“A good producer brings out the best in the artist he’s working with. You shouldn’t be able to listen to something and say, ‘So-and-so produced this album.'” Eddie Van Halen