Two Music Legends Gave Me Career Advice
I was working for Dave Cowley at COPRA Media in the early nineties and it was my first artist interview trip to Los Angeles with him and the company. Over a week we sat down with many of the artist that formed pop music: Fabian, Little Richard, The Turtles, The Association, and Al Stewart to name a few. The interview with Al Stewart was the one I enjoyed the most. If you're old enough you’ll remember his songs, “Year of the Cat” and “Time Passages”.
We were in a room in what is now the Andaz West Hollywood Hotel. On the seventh floor in a small room the talented Al Stewart sat on the bed opposite us with a microphone in his face.
For weeks later I pondered one of his responses which I believe happened after we stopped recording. We asked, “Help us understand what you are working on today. In the 70's you filled arenas with screaming fans and today you play in small venues. How do you process that?”
Stewart’s response was confident and it was clear he had dealt with this reality for himself. I am paraphrasing from memory, but he stated that you know while it is happening: the big crowds, and everyone wanting a piece of you, that it doesn’t last forever. He shared that you must be aware the change is coming while you’re in the middle of it all. He said he was just as content producing, writing, and playing smaller venues and he anticipated the change in his career. He looked and sounded content.
A couple of years later I was working at KLTY in Dallas. A music promoter with Taste of Dallas wanted to reach the Christian music audience and asked us to promote Randy Stonehill on air who would be performing on Main Street at two o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday.
We recommended a more current artist and a day other than Sunday. Randy is an icon in Christian music, a true pioneer, but he had nothing current on Radio for many years.
The afternoon of the concert the station sent me to bring him up on stage. Before the concert Randy pulled up in an old minivan. I knew it was him with his curly long hair and glasses – a living legend of the Jesus Freak movement. It was one of the few times I was giddy to meet an artist since I grew up on his music and it had meant so much to me. To this day my favorite song is “When I Look to the Mountains.”
[ Always give your best, even when circumstances change ]
I told Randy I was a true fan and shared what I planned to say when he went on stage. He was kind and gracious and told me to say anything I wanted too.
I walked up on stage and looked down Main Street. There were three people in a sea of hundreds of empty chairs.
Walking backstage I asked Randy if he wanted me to talk with the promoter since there was only three people. He said with a smile, “If three people show up, you still play your heart out.” He went out on stage and did just that.
It was a strange moment, as I had sat in a packed theater at Wheaton College for a sold out Randy Stonehill concert in 1984. He performed with the same enthusiasm for the three people in Dallas in 1996 as he had for the 600 in Wheaton all those years ago.
The lessons are simple for our careers from these two men:
Know where you are and understand how things may soon be different
Always give your best, even when circumstances change
Our companies and careers will change. We must learn to morph with our organization or industry, or know when it is time to try something new. All careers have peaks and valleys; you must be prepared to weather both.
And no matter what changes in your office or industry, we must give it our all. There is never a time to lay down or offer mediocrity. You are the constant in your circumstances and your response is what matters.
We must give it our all, try new things, adapt, and appreciate the different seasons of our career.
Good lessons from two talented artists.