It’s hard for me to believe that it’s been 10 years since my Sony album Standing at the Edge was released in the United States. So much has changed since then. So much had changed even leading up to the big release day. In my mind I flash back to 2002…
I was living in Chicago, unsure of where my career was going. After some relative success in Los Angeles, including 18 months as a songwriter with Rondor Music Publishing, I had spent a few years really struggling to find a path in an ever-changing landscape. I am just the right age to have come up in the business when things worked a certain way, only to find them suddenly changing rapidly from year to year beginning in about 2000. I was tired of the rat race and focused instead only on writing. For nearly two years I did not play any shows or look for a label. I went to my day job waiting tables and I came home to write the bulk of The Winter Children, The Garden EP and the holiday record First Frost, Then Open.
One day I was out job hunting, sitting on a bus, when I reminded myself that I hadn’t checked my “business” email in weeks. My intuition proved correct when I returned to my apartment and found an email from someone asking me if I was looking for management. Some emails and phone calls later, I had a new manager and suddenly my career was back in overdrive. Literally from one week to the next everything was different. I find shifts like this have become a motif in my life. When you take big risks, sometimes you endure quick shifts of perspective and circumstance.
I moved to New York City and after a few months of meetings, both in NYC and Los Angeles, I ended up with not only one but two major label recording contracts offered to me. After over 7 years of trying to get a major label deal, getting very close only to have the rugged pulled out from under me, it was really happening. The level of intense excitement I felt is something I will always remember. I felt like I had won the lottery, except I also felt the wonderful exhilaration of knowing I had ended up there because of hard work and tenacity. I weighed my options, counter-offered a few times, and ultimately chose Sony Classical over RCA Records.
The DAY the advance check went into my bank account, I went out and bought a home studio; the same home studio that I still use to record albums over 11 years later. It was the best investment I ever made. It has paid for itself 10 times over, not to mention it allows me to make music without having to scrimp and save to pay for precious studio time. I can be creative whenever the urge strikes me. Note to up and coming musicians: Get yourself a home setup and learn how to use it properly. Anyone can make a record at home these days, but not everyone can make them sound decent.
Through another twist of fate I ended up getting Patrick Leonard (Madonna, Elton John, Jewel, Roger Waters, Brian Ferry) to produce my album and Kevin Killen (U2, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Elvis Costello, Paula Cole) to engineer and mix it. I was in HEAVEN. I flew to Los Angeles in January of 2003 and we wrapped the first week of April. I worked 14-16 hour days, six days per week and I have never been happier in my entire life. The energy was intoxicating to me. Working that hard with professionals on that level was inspiring and I learned so much from the experience. Being in a fancy studio with a Bosendorfer and Yamaha piano didn’t hurt either.
We turned in Standing at the Edge, which was called From Sea Into Sky then (Sony rejected the initial title and sequence), and waited to hear back. I flew back to NYC and immediately scheduled a meeting to talk about what would happen next. At the meeting I was told that they appreciated my enthusiasm but I was jumping the gun a little. There was plenty of time to get the record set up. We were looking at an August release. Fast forward to July when I got a call that they were not as far along as they had hoped and it would be pushed to October. So much for my enthusiastic gun-jumping. In August I got the call that Sony was merging with BMG and my heart sank. I knew the dangers of a big merger. The new CEO at Sony had also made one of the label Presidents the boss of all the other Presidents and this did not go well either. From colleagues to subordinates made a lot of people very uneasy, the President of my label included. Budgets were slashed and internal politics began to shake out in a way that made my stomach drop.
I got word that the record was being pushed again, this time to January. JANUARY? The worst time for a new artist to release. I asked them if because of this I would get longer than the standard 8 weeks to show strong sales. I was told they expected a slow burn and not to worry. It was hard not to worry when I watched the marketing budget get slashed by 75%. The writing was starting to show on the wall. Then they took the easiest way out with marketing, which I refused to go along with. Then the VP of Marketing quit 6 weeks before the album was released. Now I was also highly uneasy. Mind you, this was after arguing for months about my image and being told repeatedly to lose weight and to stop wearing certain clothing. This was after being told I needed a performance coach; being told to say the same thing between songs in shows and to play the same, pre-approved set list every time. I was starting to feel like the hired help and I was not happy.
Still…January 20, 2004 arrived and I hoped against hope that the attention from critics, which was overwhelmingly positive, would propel the album up the charts and Sony would then invest more into it. I had a great agent at CAA. It was all set up on paper to be a slam dunk. The record tested very well. Critics were raving in advance of the release. I flew to Michigan to do a week of promotion on my home turf. They thought that was a good marketing angle. I played the public school I had attended before I went to Interlochen Arts Academy. I did a ton of press. I hung out with my Mom and my sister on release day in Detroit. I went to Best Buy to purchase my album in a store and the cashier asked for my ID and said “Hey, this is like those Jerry Seinfeld commericials! I still need to see your ID!” They had me autograph the left-over copies which made my day. The day that album came out was huge for me and I let myself be excited and enjoy every minute of it.
Release week was a whirlwind and very fun. Upon returning to New York I did a residency at Joe’s Pub which was great outside of the pre-approved set lists. I did more TV and print interviews. Rave reviews continued to come in but sales did not.
In the end, it was a failure where Sony was concerned. It was not to me personally, but knowing it was a “commercial failure” was a bitter pill to swallow for a while. Sometimes I still fight the urge to get down on myself about it. I worked really hard. I pushed myself to be everything I needed to be to be ready for prime time. I WAS ready. It just didn’t work out. It wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular, but I had a bad taste in my mouth about how it all went down for a while there. Still, I knew the dangers going in. I just didn’t quite believe it would happen to me. That happened to other people.
I moved back to Michigan, mostly for financial reasons but also to ground myself. In December 2004 I read online that the President of my label was leaving. I had 7 months left on my contract but knew I would be dropped so I called and asked him to do me a parting favor and get me out early. He obliged and I went indie. I decided the majors were not for me even when a few sniffed around when the news got out. I was one of the people to watch for a while and other labels knew about the politics involved with the merger. I just decided that being signed to a big corporation is not for me. I chose art over fame a long time ago. It is more important to me to express myself authentically than to be rich and famous. It has not always been easy to live by that standard. Fame and fortune is quite a tempting thing and often times even people close to me do not fully understand why I make certain choices. But I have persevered and made a multitude of music since leaving Sony, beginning with DIVIDE, that I am very proud of.
Do I regret it? Absolutely not. There are listeners and people in my life I would never have known without it. I learned what I could endure as well. I learned what I wanted, and more importantly what I did not want. I got to work with some amazing people and have an experience many only dream of. I beat the odds to get a deal at all and I will always have that. I will always have the memories and the knowledge I gained from it. I will always have the record to listen to. The only record I have made thus far with a big budget; with a 22 piece string orchestra and world class musicians. I mean, the drummer on it is PAUL MCCARTNEY’S drummer. WHAT?
Many people have their stories about Standing at the Edge and I love to hear them. Here’s to everyone who came on board ten years ago and a big thank you to those who remained and continue to support my work. It means a lot to me.