Podcast Episode 151 – Tony Nominated Lyricist, Michael Korie

Last week I wrote about how so many fantastic musical theatre writers come from the advertising world, and one of the primary reasons why I postulated that they do was because they learned how to write for an audience, instead of just writing for themselves.

Well, advertising ain’t the only training ground for writing for an audience.  You know what another one is?

Journalism.

And guess what this week’s podcast guest did before he started writing lyrics for operas and getting nominated for Tony Awards for his Broadway show?

Michael Korie, the lyricist of Grey Gardens, War Paint, and more, talked about the similarities between writing for the theatre and for the papers, as well as . . .

  • Why he does so much research for his shows and why you should too.
  • The biggest mistake beginning songwriters make . . . and it’s an easy one to fix.
  • Why he never speaks his lyrics out loud when working with a composer on a song.
  • Rhyme . . . and the purpose of it, and how to use it for the greatest impact.
  • A secret method to making sure a song that you love stays in your show.

Michael is an artisan of words, and the only thing this podcast left me wanting . . . was more musicals with his name on them.

Click here for the link to my podcast with Michael!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

 

What Billy Joel didn’t know when he wrote “Pressure.”

If you know the Billy Joel tune “Pressure,” then those familiar keyboard strains are probably ricocheting through your brain right now.  (Da-dee-da, da-dee-da, da-da-da-da-da-dee-da . . . )

It’s a great song.

But the lyrics suck.

Ok, ok, they don’t suck.  I just, well, don’t think they aptly describe what pressure is and what it does.

Everyone, including Mr. Piano Man, thinks pressure is a bad thing.  It’s something “pressing” on you, squeezing you . . . maybe until you pop.

But that’s not how I think of it at all.

I’m a big believer that without pressure, you can’t perform at your peak.

You need that deadline.  You need to know that 2,000 people are going to be watching your show.  You need to know that critics are going to chime in.  That kind of pressure kicks achievers in the ass and turns them into super-achievers.

So don’t be afraid of a little pressure.  Embrace it.  Enjoy it.  Let it push you to the next level of whatever it is you are doing . . . writing plays, producing musicals, raising kids.

We all face pressure every day.  It’s what we do with it that defines our future.

So you have a choice . . . you can think of pressure as something overwhelming that prevents you from moving forward.

Or you can remember that pressure is what turns carbon into a diamond.

(And if you don’t know Billy’s “Pressure,” click here to listen to it.  If you do know it, click here to listen anyway so you can get the da-dee-das out of your head.)

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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FUN STUFF:

– Listen to Podcast Episode #62 with Tony and Emmy-nominated composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul!  Click here.

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Podcast Episode 60 – President of Local 802, Tino Gagliardi.

When the root word of “musical” is music, the people that play that music are pretty damn important to the art form.

Seriously, imagine a Broadway show without musicians.

You can’t, can you?  Because it wouldn’t be Broadway.  It’d be the company I worked for that did pop-up musicals for senior citizens in catering halls.  (Not that there was anything wrong with it, by the by, but you get my point.)

Because the instrumentalists in our industry are such an integral part of what we do, I wanted to hear The Musician’s Perspective, if you will, so I sat down with the guy in charge of them all, President of Local 802 (and former pit musician himself), Tino Gagliardi.

Tino and I had a great chat about all things musical, including how we both played the trumpet (I won’t be battling him anytime soon) and lots of other stuff like . . .

  • The challenges of being a pit musician.
  • How 802 embraces technology.
  • What the 2003 Broadway musicians strike was all about and how Production-Union relations are now.
  • What he’d want all Producers to do before they decide on an orchestra size (oh man did his answer to this question ring in my ears).
  • The biggest myth about Broadway musicians and why it’s just not true.

Big thanks to Tino for sitting down with me to give me (and all of you) a literal and figurative look into The Pit . . . which, frankly, I think should be renamed The Heart.  Because music is the lifeblood of musicals, and it’s here where it gets pumped out to the rest of the stage.

Click here to listen.

Listen to it on iTunes here.  (And give me a rating, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

Click here to read the transcript!

More labor leaders next week when I sit down with The President of Actors’ Equity Association, Kate Shindle!

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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FUN STUFF:

– Want to learn how to succeed in the arts . . . or anything?  Sign up for my webinar TOMORROW!  Click here.

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Podcast Episode 59 – Tony Award-winning Orchestrator, Michael Starobin

When you talk to Michael Starobin about orchestrating for the musical theater, you just know he’s one of those lucky people that is doing exactly what he’s supposed to do.

He’s got such passion for the theater, and for his specific niche, that when he talks about it, it sounds almost, well, like music.

But don’t take my typed words for it.  Listen in to this podcast and you’ll hear what I’m talking about.  In these 30 minutes or so, you’ll hear the Tony Award-winning Orchestrator of shows like Sunday in the Park with George, Next to Normal, Falsettos and more (click here for his crazy list of credits) talk about . . .

  • The difference between arranging and orchestrating.
  • Why Orchestrators are like painters.
  • His two rules for Broadway Producers on how to avoid a flop.
  • What it was like orchestrating with a pencil and paper, and how digital notation changed all of that . . . and whether that’s a good thing.
  • Why his orchestrations may be on other people’s shows and vice-versa.

And just wait until you hear what he thinks about the “incredible shrinking orchestras.”

Enjoy the podcastian symphony of Michael Starobin!

Click here to listen.

Listen to it on iTunes here.  (And give me a rating, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

Click here to read the transcript.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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FUN STUFF:

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5 Things I learned from Country Star Chris Young on my Anniversary.

Ok, everyone, I’m coming out of the Country Music closet.  Here goes.

I’m a big time country music fan.  I even listen to “The Highway” on Sirius radio more than the Broadway Channel.  Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, these guys have become my new Rodgers & Hammerstein.

Phew.  It feels better getting that off my chest to you guys.

And just last year when I got married, my wedding song was the boot-scootin’ “You” by Chris Young.

So when it was time to celebrate my one year anniversary, I thought a great “paper” gift to my wife would be tickets to see Chris Young live.  And get this!  When I looked up his tour schedule, well, imagine my shock and awe when I discovered he was going to be playing about an hour away from my wife’s hometown (where we got married) on the day of our actual anniversary!  Kis-freakin’-met.  Or as us country fans would say . . . yee-freakin’-haw.

I suggested to my wife that the best anniversary gift we could give each other would be to go back to her hometown, spend time with her family, and have some year old cake.  And then I surprised her with the tickets.  Hehe.  Pretty good, right?

In between hootin’ and hollerin’ at the show that night, my bloggin’ radar was going off like crazy.  I took in all sorts of things from the live concert experience that us Broadway folk could learn from (at one point, Tracy saw me typing something into my phone and she called me out sayin’, “Taking notes for a blog?”  #SheKnowsMeSoWell).

Here are five things I learned at the Chris Young concert:

1.  Forget Lighters, Look at all those Cameras!

From even before Chris took the stage, at least 1/3 of the audience was taking pictures, taking video . . . and sharing pictures and sharing video.  Cameras at concerts are like turbo powered mini marketing machines.  Chris even called it out at one point, saying “I’m going to be doing some covers tonight.  So if I screw ’em up, just wait until the show is over to put ’em up on YouTube.”  I’m not saying we should allow the same kind of free-for-all at the theater (although in some cases – Hedwig, anyone? – it might actually add to the experience).  But we do need to give our consumers chances to do what they want to do . . . capture their experience to show their friends where they were and what they’re doing.  Cameras at events are the new t-shirts.  (Remember wearing concert tees at school the day after you went to one to show off to your friends?)  It’s a way for people to e-brag about what they’re up to.  So let audiences take photos before the show begins.  Maybe even let them take pictures at the curtain call?  Or set up step-and-repeats in lobbies.  But let’s figure out ways to allow our ticket holders to use those mini marketing machines in their pockets for good, instead of evil.

2.  Meet & Greets Go Official

Because I had crossed paths with Chris briefly a few years ago, I managed to arrange a meet and greet as another surprise for the wifey.  (More points for the hubby!)  Imagine my surprise when we were given official “souvenir” meet and greet passes, and sent to a special VIP meet and greet room.  There we got instructions from Chris’s manager, Brent Gibbs, who told the fifty or so folks there how the M&G would work.  It was swift and structured, with time for photos, autographs and even a hug . . . and it made all the fans in that room feel so special.  And the photos get posted for free on their website.  Most of the fans won the meet and greet through a radio promotion, but I couldn’t help but wonder how much people would shell out for a few minutes of up close and personal time.  Broadway M&Gs are so unstructured.  Maybe there’s a list at the stage door.  Maybe not.  Not only could adding structure to it (and making it more available to the public) give our fans a memory of a lifetime that they’d share and share and share with their friends, it could be another way to generate income for the artists.  Broadway actors aren’t paid as well as movie stars or solo country artists, so I’m sure most would be happy for the extra dough.  (I have to publicly say that Chris went above and beyond his meet and greet duties and spent a little more time with us, and even gave us a “Happy Anniversary” shout out during the show, so thanks a bunch, my friend – you helped me score like 100 get-out-of-the-dog-house-free cards.)

3.  Follow the Bouncing Ball

Every single concert I’ve ever gone to, from the Monkees (my first concert ever) to Bon Jovi to Chris Young have all featured some kind of audience sing-a-long.  The artist holds his or her mic out to the audience and the audience sings the chorus . . . and then usually the singer says that wasn’t loud enough and they repeat it . . . and the audience eats it up.  Every single time.  Obviously this bullet point isn’t for a literal Broadway interpretation (although I’ve seen it work at more Broadway and Off Broadway shows than you think, from the aforementioned Hedwig to Spamalot to Altar Boyz and so on), but the idea is an important one . . . especially in the 21st century.  Today’s audience wants to feel more involved than yesterday’s audience.  How can you make them feel like they are part of the action?  Is it a surround sound design?  Is it actors out in the house?  The fourth wall crumbled to the ground around the same time the Berlin Wall did.  Immerse your audience.  Because soon enough they are not going to just expect it, they are going to demand it.

4.  Concerts Don’t Have Understudies

Joe Nichols was one of the opening acts for Chris Young (although he’s a headliner in his own right), and before his third tune he admitted that he was under the weather and not in the best voice.  He went on to explain that he usually never makes excuses if he’s not in the best voice, but today was terribly hard so he had to apologize.  But, he said, “We’re going to give it all we got.”  Joe knew people showed up to see him, and he knew no one could take his place, so he went on.  When Broadway shows have longer runs, absenteeism rises.  I know performing in a show is a hard thing to do eight times a week, but we have data that tells us that when audiences see that slip of a paper in the Playbill announcing an understudy, they’re deflated (click here for the research report).  We all need to work together to curb this word-of-mouth killer (that means Actors thinking about the Ethel Meman days when there were less “outs” even though there were no microphones, etc., and Producers need to do more to ensure that Actors have the best working conditions possible so that performers can stay in tip top shape).

5.  Oh the Passion and Pain in those Songs

I’m sure one of the reasons I love country music is that like show tunes, country music songs tell stories.  And as I’ve listened to more and more of these songs, man oh man are they filled with some serious passion . . . deep love, deep pain, or serious pleasure.  It was a great reminder of how important it is that characters in musicals and plays are in serious love with someone . . . or something.  Think about some of your favorite shows . . . West Side Story and its written-in-the-stars romantic love . . . A Chorus Line and all of those dancers who would do anything for “love” . . . Les Miserables and Valjean’s love for his family (he stole bread to “save his sister’s son” and then swears on his life that Cosette “shall live in my protection.”)  If a main character and his want are the engine for a show . . . then the love for that want is the gas.

Oh and here’s a bonus tidbit I couldn’t help but contemplate . . .

6.  What if we went General?

At the Chris Young show, the entire “floor” of the concert was general admission.  What did that mean?  There were lines down the block hours before the doors opened.  Honestly, I’m not sure I’d ever want general admission at one of my shows, but again, there’s a right show for everything.  And there is something about first-come-first-served that creates a fever pitch with an audience.  It also has a cheaper feel to it . . . so maybe there would be something to doing it with a rush audience?  Or lottery?  I dunno.  But worth a thought, right?  My new rule is when I see something that’s so different from what we do, I try not to dismiss it.  I try to twist it.

 

So a huge thanks to Chris Young and his staff for making my anniversary a night we’ll never forget, and for teaching me a few things as well (I didn’t even talk about how to incorporate the idea of an “opening act” into our shows).  Oh, in case you’re wondering, yeah, I’m trying to get him to write a musical.

 

(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)

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