Make Your Own Glory. Reflections on Resilience In The Music Business By Paul Santo
“The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.” – Vince Lombardi
This is a snippet from an upcoming book by Grammy Winning Producer, Musician, Engineer and Music Coach, Paul Santo
When making the Aerosmith album “Just Push Play” I would typically pick Steven Tyler up at 9 or 10 AM, drive to Joe Perry’s Boneyard studio, work all day and night, and drop Steven off at home some time from midnight to 2 AM. I’d get up and do it again. For months. It was fantastic….making records!
I kept calendars, with the days I worked – there would be months without a day off. I loved it because I loved what I did. A lot of those hours were just volunteering, essentially. Plus, it was the kind of environment where things would come up all the time and days could go really long.
I loved it and I felt honored that I was allowed to do this and get paid for doing it, so I wanted to excel beyond my employers’ expectations. And I have to say, I got plenty of recommendations and referrals from Aerosmith alone. Still do.
I suggest you always put in more time than you’re contracted for. I can’t stress this enough. This is important.
Know your value but don’t always take money for everything…sometimes giving can get you noticed. All through my career I’ve done this, whether I had to or not. I arrived early and left late. I made sure that things were right, whether it was efficient well-documented backups and notes, resolving a mistake I made during the day or the preparations for the next long day of recording. Dozens of things fell to me to do, because I was involved in interfacing on behalf of some members with the audio world, dissecting cover songs for the blues album, assembling computer systems, recording and editing promo spots for the singer, you name it.
I have distinct memories of working at Ringo’s UK studio; I stayed, first, with some of the guys at the ABACAB Cafe, the Genesis compound a few miles away, which had their studio, lovely accommodations etc. Later I moved into the cottage down the hill from Ringo’s abode.
In the morning I would walk up there to the studio, turn everything on, get stuff ready and discuss with Mark Hudson the plans for the day, we’d complete the day and people would leave….Ringo to his house, Mark back to the cottage: at first all the band members and lyricist were there together, as Ringo tracks “live”, and then later it was just myself, Mark & Ringo doing the vocals and some overdubs.
I would perform edits, hard drive backups etc. while and after recording. Often it was 2 or 3 AM when I wandered outside. after backing up drives. The walk back down the hill to the cottage, looking at the English stars in the English sky…very romantic to me as an Anglophile and marveling at what the heck I was doing there is a very strong memory. The next morning Mark would play “The Israelites” on the jukebox Ringo had in the cottage (I say cottage but it was bigger than my house) to signal it was time for us to gather again. We loved it.
Some words about Mark Hudson, who had hired me for the Ringo record, and subsequently, many more things. He really is an aberration in the music business as he puts the music, not his personal gain or glory, first. I could regale you with stories of dishonesty, two-faced behavior, insidious trust-making and other nefarious activities in the name of getting credit, songwriting or production credit and looking good in the eyes of the artists we are there to support.
Instead, Mark has been….generous. When he came to me in LA and said “we need a rock and roll song” for the Ringo, he was being generous. He probably could’ve just written it himself. He could’ve asked any number of others who were either already involved in the record or would’ve loved to get a co-write with Ringo; instead he gave me that opportunity. Lucky for me I came up with something that perfectly suited the words lyricist Dean Grakal had started. Mark and I then finished the music together. Mark then went further, as he believed in the song, to have us do a demo with Mark doing his “stunt Ringo” vocal then vigilantly pitched the song to the man himself. “I Think Therefore I Rock and Roll” made the record and is, according to reliable sources, Little Steven’s favorite cut, that he thought should be the single…and David Gilmour played the guitar solo!
Since then, I’ve regularly operated as an interpreter (with others) of Mark’s ideas on all sorts of recordings (the Elton charity, Nilsson’s final record, Joey Molland of Badfinger and numerous sessions), many where we sat together at the keyboard and completed the part in his head, with my style and flourishes. I can’t tell you how rare this generosity is at this level of the music business: almost EVERYONE wants the glory (and money) for themselves. Steven Tyler is similar in that he was always open to someone who had something unique to offer the music, even if he was someone delivering lunch to a session…hence, as I mentioned, he is the sole reason I got that break to play on Aerosmith records, because Steven identified my alleged talent and used it. Much to his amusement, I’m sure.
There’s a good moral lesson for anyone here which is to be nice to people as much as possible. Glory comes in all forms, not just financial or the recognition. The old Hollywood saying “you meet the same people on the way down as you met on the way up” is true! Our business can be incredibly stressful and it can be intervals of hours of dormancy immediately lit up by one hellacious 911 or another. Be kind and nice to people on the way up because you may see them on the way down and they will certainly fuck you and enhance your downward trajectory if you were an a-hole. The Golden Rule works as my mantra. And it’s a small congregation of people who made/make records at a pro level, that is making music that people buy. Particularly before streaming.
I had dinner once with Jack Douglas, a few other of us working folks and a guest, Shelly Yakus. Now, Jack Douglas is not only a REALLY good producer (Double Fantasy, my favorite Aerosmith records, Cheap Trick, plus he engineered the New York Dolls first record and John Lennon, among others and even does movie soundtracks) and fucking hilarious as well as a kind, considerate and helpful guy. He’s been great to me in so many ways and is a great hang, smart, with mind-blowing stories….Shelly….same thing: Lennon, Petty, U2, Raspberries et al.
During the course of dinner we talked about our jobs, what a bizarre life ours was and Shelly said something really interesting to Jack, and I’m paraphrasing: “There’s what, maybe 2000 people who do what we do at this level?”. In other words, that’s how many people made it to that tier, over the fence, sort of….producers, engineers recording legendary artists, as musicians playing on the records, getting paid like a job!….and then there’s Shelly and Jack’s level, as architects and documentors of some of the most vital and permanent music in the second half of the 20th century (and beyond). This really stopped me as I considered the work I’d done in “training” and then the fact that this guy is nearly including me in an elite club of making records. I mean, I was way down the pole compared to these cats but, yet, I had made it over the fence.
Kind of blew my mind. It also immediately conjured visions of just how many people are lined up for my gig. Which is also a real incentive to excel!!
When you look at the numbers in terms of probability of you “making it”, you really need every advantage you can get. And simply making a living in music is a major victory itself!
So, what do you want to do and what are you going to do about making it happen?
My default goal was, would and will be “make a living”. That’s an ENORMOUS victory. Probably more than 75% of those who give it a shot end up doing just that; they make a living. Most of those livings are club/ cover and wedding musicians or even music teachers.
This isn’t gambling, per se, but a game of percentages: how much time and how much work are you willing to put in? And is it the RIGHT WORK?
If you really want a career in music, you will be knocked down, disrespected or ignored on a regular basis. These things can seem utterly paralyzing and can be paralyzing, to your mind, soul, psyche and confidence. It’s inevitable and is simply what happens to creative people trying to make it.
But that number…’what, maybe 2000…”….has changed. It’s a new world and you can design and construct your own way of “making it” and reach millions of people. There’s never been more of an opportunity.
You just have to decide how much you want it…and if you’re gonna get back up after you’re knocked to your knees.