#061: David Gray – Anatomy of a Music Career

David Gray has done it all. He’s been a musician, songwriter, publisher, producer, A&R rep and worked for some of the most renowned record companies in the world. Currently he’s head A&R for Simon Cowell’s Syco Records label. You’ve probably seen some of the music reality shows they produce like, “America’s Got Talent, X Factor, and American Idol.” After the show is over, it’s David’s job to continue the artist’s development and help them create their albums. In this interview, conducted by the president of CD Baby, Brian Felsen, David shares his experience as a musician as well as an insider in the mainstream music business.

  • Good show. The high point for me was the Zeppelin moment though:) If you don’t understand that mention, you have no real knowledge of Led Zeppelin:)

    All in all, good insights though I found it somewhat disjointed. Your guest made an interresting though confused point about physical media. Hard copy sales have decreased but, so have music sales in general. In my opinion, it has little to do with the age of the buyer. More so, to do with their level of fandom.

    Fans want to show off their favorites. An iPod doesn’t cut it for that:)

  • This is the first episode that has disappointed me. I must say that a big part of the reason is my almost complete hatred for the X Factor-type shows and of Simon Cowell. But there are other reasons, partly connected but less to do with contempt.

    I don’t think David Gray gave much advice that was of worth to me to be honest. I suppose that’s because I’ll never be (and don’t want to be) a ‘pop star’ in the X Factor mould but I would quite like to find out more about getting some of my songs sung by other artists. The only advice he had for this was to hook up with a publisher – that’s all anybody says! Maybe a podcast all about how to get your foot in the door with a publisher would be a good idea?

    The other reason I didn’t completely enjoy it was Brian Felsen. No offence Brian, and I assume you’re reading these comments, but I felt the interview didn’t flow as well as Kevin’s do. Kevin seems to react to the interviewee and go off at a tangent depending on what answers are given but I got the impression you were reading a list of questions. However, I like the fact that the president of the company is getting hands on with the various aspects of CD Baby – just don’t mess too much, I love my CD Baby podcast just the way it is! 😉

    This was still a decent podcast though, just not the greatest.

    P.S. Robert, tell me about the Zeppelin moment. Can’t remember if I spotted it or not.

  • Darren,

    What I was refering to is the airplane fly over in the recording. The Zep moment was at the beginning of Black Country Woman on the Physical Grafitti album.

    The recording engineer says “Shall we roll it Jimmy? We’re rolling on a what one? no, one again”.

    Jimmy Page laughs

    Recording engineer says “Gonnaa get this airplane on”

    Jimmy Page says “No leave it, yeah”

    I know, it’s an obscure reference but, that was the first thing that popped into my head hearing the airplane in this interview episode:)

    Perhaps that’s why I didn’t hate the interview so much:)

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  • This podcast got me down 🙁 David is old school record industry and represents more of what would make me want to get out than stay in.

    I’ve tried three times to be more specific but have ditched each attempt for fear of turning in a rant but like Darren, it’s the first one I haven’t enjoyed.

  • marlowe

    not one word about being involved with music because it is art. sad.

  • This might be rambling but one thing that came out in the interview is that the sort of label that David works for seems to be unwilling to gamble on an artist. The X Factor model is a way to try out various artists without taking much of a gamble – they make money on the phone votes and the winner is guaranteed a UK Christmas Number One single, the biggest selling single of the year.

    And to top it all, they get a pop puppet who will do whatever the label wants them to do, sing whatever they’re given. There’s nothing wrong with pop music (I love it) but the cynical way it’s sold these days gets me down. Ironically, what I dislike most about the current pop scene is the dishonesty – they hardly ever talk about what it’s really about; money. At least in hip hop they’re happy to admit it’s all about the money.

    I wonder – if CD Baby is predominantly a service used by indie artists, many of whom have strong artistic principles (not necessarily me!), was the podcast particularly relevant to your listeners?

    Mind you, although not aimed at me it certainly got a reaction from me 😀

  • Like other commenters, I can’t say this episode immediately relevant to my career, but it was interesting seeing the curtain pulled back a bit on this aspect of the biz.

  • Chris #2

    I am a little behind on the podcasts, but I just listened to this one and it upset me enough to write in…

    I thought David kind of had an attitude, but he might have had one because I really felt Brian Felsen was woefully unprepared for the interview. Multiple times he was asked questions about David that any interviewer should have known if they had taken the time to research the person they’re interviewing first. It was as if Brian had just walked in to the interview on a whim and didn’t even know who he was talking to.

    Now, I have never heard of David myself, but if i were responsible to interview him, I would have darn well found out as much as i could about him so i could construct some decent, interesting questions…not just for the podcast listeners, but for the interviewee. I think it was rude to David for Brian to ask some of the questions he did.

    My 2 cents…

  • Justin Goode

    This is the first podcast I haven’t enjoyed, partly because I prefer Kevin as an interviewer, his manner and energy is a little slower, more considered and thoughtful, and partly because David didn’t really display any qualities that I found even remotely attractive as a human.

    I don’t like Simon Cowell’s empire, for me it has nothing to do with music, more about unit sales, about cheap entertainment, teenage hype and big profits, and David’s whole attitude and approach suggested a love for money rather than for art/music or anything of any heartfelt value. Not once was there a mention of being remotely touched or moved by anything he wrote, signed, or was involved with.

    Correspondingly there was no practical advice for anyone that I imagine would be listening to these Podcasts. I can’t really imagine anyone with any serious musical intent or creative ability wanting anything to do with Pop Idol, the X Factor or any other of these TV talent shows, except maybe to cash in and try and make a small killing as a songwriter, ( a topic which wasn’t really covered except by the remark ‘go find a publisher’).

    I was also somewhat perturbed by David’s constant sniffing. Perhaps he had a cold, but to my cynical imagination it seemed like it might well be the residue of a coke habit, further fuelling the stereotype of the crazed, coked-up music industry big-wig, intoxicating himself beyond belief to try and ease a troubled conscience. This was coupled with what sounded like a fairly hefty smoker’s cough. Please excuse me for reading between the lines and perhaps over-stepping the mark here, but that’s just how he came across to me.

    But this is one ‘miss’ in a sea of ‘hits’. I have over the last few days been trawling through many of the Podcasts, the shows keeping me company while I finish a painting here in my studio, and they have all been interesting, fun, and informative. Mostly they make me feel less alone, that there’s others out there who share a similar passion and a similar drive to try and make a life work out of their passion. How much one can ever learn from others is debatable. Ultimately you’ve got to forge your own path. But sometimes it’s nice to be given a few options that you might not have thought of, and have a few of your own opinions validated.

    Keep up the good work!

  • I must agree with the previous comments. This was a cold episode. But, the facts are cold. and is a very down to the point this is how it is, take it or leave it kinda thing.