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Band Aid: Circus Act

June 1, 2008
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Band Aid Carmen Rizzo

After high school when I knew I could not become a pro baseball player, I decided to move to Los Angeles with $1,000 and found a job at Westlake Recording Studios in 1984. I was a janitor in the morning, a runner during the day, then at night I would hang out with the techs, engineers, musicians and anyone who would pay attention to me. This really was the foundation for me to have good work ethics. When I was in my early 20s, I was lucky to produce a record for a young singer-songwriter named Kristen Vigard for the Private Music label owned by Peter Baumann from Tangerine Dream. We worked with Fishbone, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, N'Dea Davenport (Brand New Heavies), Jill Jones (Prince's band), Amp Fiddler and Suzie Katayama, to mention a few. This helped establish me with a lot of the up-and-coming musicians in Hollywood.

What experience have you gained that enables you to give advice to up-and-coming producers out there?

I am someone who does not wait for people to do things for me. I don't understand why when some people have success, they often have a bunch of people doing everything for them. The thing that people forget is that relationships mean a lot. It's not always just your talent. Often the reason why you might get a gig is because of the relationship you have with the client. Of course, your work will speak for itself and should be judged first, but I always tell people there are many people out there more talented than I who are not working, but if you are well-liked and are easy and fun to work with, that goes a long way. If you are rude and not fun to be around, who would want to hire you?

What's an average day like for you?
People who think they can sleep in, make music and hope the world will discover it are all wrong! Making the music is the fun and easy part! Everything else you do to make people hear it is the challenging part.

I am up by 7 a.m. every morning — does not matter what time I come home the night before. I help with the kids, getting them ready and off to school. Then I check and return e-mails, especially before 9, so I can catch people who might have emailed from Europe. Then I pay some bills, take care of some house chores, etc. Then I am off to my studio in Hollywood, getting there by 11. I then do even more e-mails and phone calls, following up on past work and tracking down leads for future work. Throughout the day, I have to find time to update my Web presence, which is crucial. Running your Website or MySpace page to make sure your fans know you're current is really important. I hate when you go to someone's Website and you know they have not updated it for ages; that shows they don't care.

In the middle of my day, I will try to do some studio maintenance when needed, updates, etc. I might have a lunch meeting in the afternoon with someone. By late afternoon, I will start making music or whatever session I am doing that week, which takes me well into the evening. I wrap it all up and try to head home by midnight. I know this sounds mad, but the weekdays are for my business, and I really look forward to weekends when I can play baseball, garden and see my kids!

At what point in your career did you realize you needed help to get everything done?
You always need help, but finding the help is never easy. You must form a good team to succeed. Whether it is a good assistant, intern, manager or lawyer, it is really important to have people around you who believe in you and have some passion for what you do, not just hired help who don't care.

If you could pick only two people to assist with your career, who would it be?
I would say a publicist and a studio assistant. They're all valuable, but a publicist is someone who can really help get the word out there to nonindustry folk like fans, who matter the most and are not easy to reach out to. A studio assistant can really help you with the everyday stuff in the studio, from music stuff to technical stuff.

If you're knee-deep in a studio project, is it still important for you to find the time to get out and network?
I probably spend 40 percent of my time networking or keeping my name out there. I don't care how great your music is: If nobody hears about it, no one cares. There is a fine line on how to do it in a classy and noncheesy way, but that's where your diplomacy skills come in. I know plenty of people who are amazing producers or artists, but people cannot stand them, and that affects how they are perceived. That is one area that is always a problem for all of us. We're all racing to the finish line and looking for recognition, but where is the finish line? When is the recognition enough?

What's important to do in order to stay in the game?
People assume it will keep coming — they actually believe the hype. I tell people all the time, “Don't chase the charts.” Like in baseball after a player gets a hit, he's calculating his batting average on his wrist while standing on first base. People aren't going to check your bank accounts or your wallet and might not even care how many gold records you have. At some point, you have to play people music, and that is what you always need to stand behind: the music. I run into people who can talk a big game about all of their success. But when they play you some music they're working on, you just want to vomit! You can't hide behind bad music.

What are some mistakes you've witnessed other producers/artists make?
Like I mentioned, success can be very dangerous. I have seen big producers take the bait and work with other, bigger artists who are not very good, and then the record tanks and so do they. That is why I love so much to work with newer, more cutting-edge artists. They're often more fearless and don't have expectations of sales or pleasing someone else. Being original these days is way overlooked!

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