A. Tell us about yourself and who you are.
In the first grade, my dad showed me how to make major and minor chords on the grand piano in our living room. I marked up the keys with a green magic marker, so I could easily see where to place my fingers. My mom discovered this and threw a fit!
This was the start of my career in music.
After 3 years of composing on the piano, I approached my dad about taking guitar lessons. His dad and eleven aunts and uncles had all been traveling Vaudeville performers, so he was elated that his fourth-grade son wanted to carry on the family tradition of entertainment. Without saying a word, he went out right away and bought a top classical guitar and signed me up for a year of lessons with Cleveland’s best classical guitar instructor.
I didn’t have the heart to tell my dad that I meant electric guitar, so I secretly kept that desire to myself and reluctantly took the lessons. After the year was up, I told him I couldn’t stand it anymore and wanted to quit. He looked at me and said, “I have a funny feeling about you – I think you’ll come back to music.” I looked him squarely in the eyes and said “never.”
One day a few years later (7th grade), I was lying in my bed listening to the guitar fills in Dire Straights’ “Sultan’s of Swing,” when a thought flashed through my head: “I wanna ROCK!”
This time I made it clear to Dad, “Can I have an electric guitar – and take electric guitar lessons?”
In high school I was in several cover bands, but started writing original songs with the concept of combining radio-pop & rock with the soul influences of my next door neighbor, Eddie Levert (the leader of The O-Jays). His son, Gerald, who would later become a hit R&B singer, was my kickball partner and campaign manager for the Onaway Elementary School student council vice presidency. On the other side of me, down the street, was the saxophone player for the Ohio funk group The Dazz Band. I join the funk group his singer son had started as the token white rock guitar player – this was my first attempt at making the urban/rock combination happen.
I also took college-level orchestration and arrangement classes, but got bored of them and cut class often. Eventually my dad persuaded me to go to class, gently suggesting that the things I would learn would be useful in my music career. (Right again, Dad – thanks!)
For my 14th birthday, I begged him to buy me a digital delay so I could simulate the guitar part from Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell.” But he insisted on getting me a 4 track recorder instead. “This will be better for your career in the long run” he said. (Once more, he was right!)
I took to recording with an obsession, and thus began my journey as a record producer.
After a summer session at Berklee College of Music, I moved to Los Angeles and went to the Musician’s Institute. Bored again, I quit after 6 months. The week after quitting, I met Macy Gray at Larry Parker’s Beverly Hills Diner. She was the cashier. While paying my bill, she asked if I could write songs, and suggested we work together.
The next day she came to my place to write and record. I heard her sing, and five minutes later told her, “I will commit to being your songwriting partner and producer for as long as it takes until we make it.” 12 years later, we did.
With Macy, I finally found the ultimate pop/rock/soul combination I was after.
B. What’s your history in the music business?
In 2002 I signed a publishing deal with Paramount’s Famous Music Publishing Company (now owned by Sony), and as a result have had my music synced in several hundred places. Some of these include: Apple’s first iPhone commercial, American Idol, Dancing With The Stars, Major League Baseball, The Winter Olympics, MTV’s “The Real World.” (Ironically, the only music credit that’s ever truly impressed my two pre-teen daughters is a sync I had in “The Dog Whisperer.” Go figure.)
One thing I absolutely love about the music industry is that it puts me into all kinds of interesting life situations: Like the time I was the music director for the live stage at Michael Jackson’s 45th birthday extravaganza. I was hanging out at Michael’s zoo talking to a small crowd of people when I suddenly felt this slimy sensation sweep across the back of my head. I turned around to discover that Michael’s llama had come up and was licking my neck! (The ranger came right over and took me to have my neck sterilized — apparently they have all kinds of enzymes to help their digestion that is bad for one’s skin.)
Now . . . if you had looked into a crystal ball earlier in my life and told me that someday I would be licked on the neck by Michael Jackson’s llama, I would have said, “There’s no chance of that ever happening” — yet it did!
C. How do you work with other musicians?
When collaborating, which I strongly encourage people to do, I tend to take a synergistic approach over a dictatorial approach. I have ideas and you have ideas and they make little baby ideas that end up being better than what either one of us would have come up with by ourselves. I find the collaborative space is a profoundly satisfying place — it’s where the “magic” happens. And it deepens the trust in my creative working relationships — that aspect of this industry is extremely important.
D. How do you work in sync?
A large portion of my catalogue — including my Macy co-writes — are now with Sony ATV. So, they land great placements all the time. For other material, I stay in touch with the many publishers and music supervisors I’ve cultivated trusted relationships with. I send them only music that is appropriate for the projects they are currently working on. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing many of these fine professionals on the panels I moderate – including the panel I’m moderating on artist branding through sync at the upcoming Sync Summit.
E. How people can find you?
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I meet a lot of people when speaking at music conventions such as The NAMM show, The ASCAP Expo, Billboard’s Film & TV Music Conference, and of course….. The Sync Summit.
Also, I want to mention that I send out FREE Music Success Video Nuggets & Tips every week to people on my email list. The first Video Nugget is called How To Get Your Music In Film & TV.
People can get it by signing up — free — at www.joesolo.com.