Singer/songwriters Kenny Loggins, Gary Burr and Georgia Middleman recently formed the new band Blue Sky Riders, and were profiled by Huff/Post50 in February. They are finishing their first album and will be chronicling their experiences as a band in this blog.
My name is Middleman. But don't let the name fool you. These guys make sure that's not my job in this band. I work with two very strong male personalities and though at times they butt heads, they're very sensitive to the fact that I will not be the tie-breaker. Unless of course, I have my own distinctive opinion about the issue at hand ... then in that case, democracy goes out the window and we all go my way. (Okay, maybe not.)
I remember my first recording session in Nashville. I had written an uptempo song that I thought was a smash. As I was directing the band, the piano player/band leader said, "You know, this is really a ballad." I said, "Oh, no, this is definitely an uptempo song..." to which my publisher said, "Georgia, you're new to Nashville. These guys have been doing this for a long time. I would listen to them. If they think it's a ballad, you should probably think about recording it that way."
I was stunned. I was the writer of the song, was sure I knew how I wanted it to be recorded and yet these two men who had been working in the Nashville music business for way longer than I had, told me "No, that's NOT how it should be." And I was too intimidated to speak up for myself. We recorded the song as a ballad and once it was done, I put it away in a drawer never to listen to again. Until 15 years later, when I made enough money to buy back the rights to that song so I could record it again one day -- the way I wrote it.
Business is about compromise and it was an invaluable lesson I learned that day: Never work with people who don't value your opinion. Just don't do it. When I finally started getting more experience in Nashville, I started feeling more confident about how to express myself and I saw how important it was to surround myself with people I trust and who trust me at work. Life is too short. I am always interested in someone else's perspective if they feel passionate about something, but when it comes down to the final decision, I feel like it should be the writer who decides the final vote. He/she is the creator, he/she knows how it should go.
So what do you do when there are three people on a project and all three have a different idea of how things should roll? Such are the dilemmas of Blue Sky Riders. The funny thing is, it never really is a problem because we all trust each other and whoever makes the strongest case generally wins. When I have an opinion, I speak up and feel I am heard. Sometimes I side with Gary; sometimes with Kenny. Sometimes I have a third point of view. But we simply talk it through before that pit in our stomach turns into a full-grown stress bomb.
I'm not always good at saying things immediately; sometimes I wait a little too long before I bring it up. Old habits die hard. At times like those, I'll wake up with that sick feeling in my belly because I DIDN'T say anything and lo and behold, I'm usually amazed to find out that I'm not the only one with that feeling. We three are very much in sync with each other and I'm learning with age that you HAVE to speak up. Again, life is too short. And once you do, you find out all kinds of neat things, like, "Wow. I felt the exact same way but didn't know how to bring that up." It's amazing what gets accomplished when people actually sit down and say the hard stuff.
I think back to those two gentlemen from my first session in Nashville. I was intimidated by their experience and my lack of it. I guess you can always go through life never feeling experienced enough, or you can just sit down and do your job. I think about the current two gentlemen I work with, Kenny Loggins and Gary Burr. If I ever had a reason to feel intimidated, it would be now. But ironically, that's not the case. I trust these guys and equally important, they trust me. We're making our successes and our mistakes together.
It's weird 'cause once in a blue moon, I'll have a moment when I feel that "young" Georgia show up, expecting to be dismissed in a creative moment and it's always a nice surprise to realize that with these guys, I never am. Then you throw legendary producer Peter Asher into the mix, who turns to me in the studio and says, "Georgia, what do you think about that bass lick?"
It is lovely to be treated like a professional. But the best way to ensure that kind of treatment, is to know that you ARE one and never doubt it.