Kelly Pardekooper and I spoke for a couple of hours and talked about a bunch of things, including:
* How he landed his first record deal and started touring in Europe.
* How he got his music on high-profile TV shows like True Blood, Sons of Anarchy, Longmire and Justified.
* Why Kelly agreed to sign an exclusive deal with Black Toast Music and what he did to vet them beforehand.
* Why keeping a part-time job with human interaction is central to his creative process and successful music career.
Kelly’s Latest Album
I’m going to share a few of my favorite Kelly quotes with you in a second but first, please hit play and enjoy the goodness below….
If you just want to go ahead and watch the full interview, click here.
For tasty appetizers, read on…
On getting started – “I didn’t put my first album out until I was 30 and even that, I would consider now a pretty rough demo. I think it’s hard for a lot of musicians to look back 20-25 years and listen to their recordings but it was certainly a very necessary first step.” [04:00]
On cover songs and original music – “I quickly started writing my own songs. I never had any interest in being anything else other than a songwriter who’s creating his own music.” [07:50]
On finding inspiration and structure in the day job – “As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to appreciate that, for me and the way I write songs, that are kind of character story songs, I absolutely need to be interacting with people and these different jobs helped me that way.” [08:30]
On touring in his late 20s/early 30s – “We were at that point in life where we could really drop everything and live very poor out of a van and just sort of go try to play music. […] The very pragmatic side of me felt like: this is a good time to try to do this. I have time to go have a regular job later.” [21:10]
On building an audience. – “Our band was only concerned about putting on a good show, performing live as much as we could. It was a very grassroots following we built. […] It was before social media. […] Feedback was instantaneous. You could tell if people were up dancing and having a fun time. […] I joke that my music career was about making relationships dozens at a time, not hundreds or thousands.” [23:45]
On writing with licensing projects in mind – “My best advice to any songwriter is to try to tap into what inspires you the most and worry about where it might land later.” [30:45]
On doing due diligencebefore signing an exclusive deal – “Him wanting to work with me was a pretty quick decision. Me deciding it was ok to sign an exclusive deal was a longer decision. […] I went in slowly and he was fantastic. […] Still, it’s a stranger who’s asking you for the exclusive rights to your music. […] I looked at what he was getting placed. I spoke to some of his other artists – I tried to do due diligence – and they got back to me right away and said wonderful things about him.” [37:00]
For the record, Bob Mair and Black Toast Music ended up placing many of Kelly’s songs in numerous high-profile TV shows.
On dealing with rejection – “The rejections are going to come and, as you get older, you don’t take it personally. You just can’t. […] They love the songs, it just doesn’t fit that project.” [49:50]
On asking more experienced people for help – “We were young and we probably thought we knew what we were doing but we didn’t. […] The sooner you feel confident enough to be reaching out to people who are better at the skills you don’t have, the better.” [01:08:35]
On exercising and taking care of his body for music – “Your vocal cords are a muscle and you need to take care of them. They’re not going to be there for you forever. I try to be conscious of that.” [01:19:00]
On staying creative – “My biggest challenge right now is how to NOT repeat what I’ve done before just because it’s comfortable. In my own work, I’m trying to always be thinking: what haven’t I done?” [01:32:28]
On his lack of formal music training – “When I’m writing, the focus is still primarily on the story. Is it coming across quickly? Do people get it pretty fast? […] Very much of my songwriting is really just technically trying to chase what I’m hearing in my head. That’s never changed. What’s changed is now I’m not afraid to ask for help from other musicians.” [01:35:15]
On working with other musicians in the studio – “Collaboration has been a big part of my process. I’ve often found that letting people do what they’re good at has helped my songs tremendously. My albums would not sound the way they sound had I tried to be too controlling over that process.” [01:36:00]
Something similar came up during my interview with SHRAi when he told me that he wished he had been more open to collaboration at the start of his career.
3 Pieces of Kelly Advice Before You Go?
Towards the end of our talk, I asked Kelly what advice he’d give other musicians who want to get better at their craft and maybe even earn a living from it.
Here’s what he had to say…
Do what moves you –”Stay true to yourself. When you’re writing, do what moves you. Continue to do the things that bring you joy. Be careful about trying to write to popularity or to what you think people want. Some people maybe can do that but I think usually when people try to do that, it shows. It comes through as a little bit contrived.” [01:56:30]
Be patiently persistent – “Be patiently persistent. I feel like my music career has been a marathon. It’s just very slow and steady.” [01:57:10]
Don’t take things personally – “Don’t take things personally. If you don’t know them personally, don’t take it personally. Part of the process is that people are going to say “no”. It happens to everyone at almost every level of music. Don’t let that stop you from submitting music. […] You’ll learn more if you start getting it out there.” [01:57:58]
“You come to music from different directions, start at different ages. Some people still work jobs, some don’t. The work ethic part, it doesn’t really matter what your journey is as long as you’re willing to keep putting the work in. It’s ok for you to have your own story and to work at your own pace.”