Make a business plan early and stick to it. I was older than I should’ve been when I realized a business plan was more than just a thought. Outline every single detail of who you are from a business perspective and put it on paper. Organize every scenario for your career. List out all of your contacts. Consider risks and how you’ll procure the means to take those risks, then put that down on paper. When I finally put on my big kid pants and made a bonafide business plan, my productivity skyrocketed. The resources around me became more readily available. This probably sounds childishly obvious to the majority of business folks, but creatives like myself tend to have a hard time giving our careers the business-minded attention necessary for success.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Kory Caudill.
Performer, producer and industry executive are just some of the roles that multi-faceted musician Kory Caudill inhabits on a daily basis. From his vast touring experience in the country music industry to his own chart-topping solo releases and acclaimed live shows, the Nashville-based keyboardist and entrepreneur is charting a compelling course that’s all his own. And his singular sound and string of successes can be traced straight back to his Appalachian roots.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thanks so much for having me, it’s an honor! I grew up in Floyd County, Kentucky, which is as deep as anyone can go in rural Appalachia without having to turn around. Both of my grandfathers were coal miners, my grandmothers were deep-rooted in their communities, and my parents are retired from careers in music. I had a knack for music at a young age, but it was never forced on me. I had balance. I grew up fishing, playing sports, and doing all the things kids do. The arts are heavily ingrained in that region, which made music part of everyday life. Despite the economic struggles the area experiences, there were actually more opportunities available to young musicians in eastern Kentucky than there were in most metropolitan regions. There’s a reason we’re experiencing another wave of popular recording artists from eastern Kentucky, and not only was I a product of the same system, but my parents were responsible for creating a lot of programs that fostered those careers. I honed my chops through real world musical experiences at a young age. I got hip to a lot of genres, but country music was in my blood, so I decided to move to Nashville at 18. I majored in commercial music at Belmont, where I studied piano with Bruce Dudley. From there, I eased my way into the Nashville scene and I’ve somehow managed to keep the train on the tracks since!
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
The summer before my senior year of high school I was selected to attend the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts. For somebody who grew up two hours from the nearest interstate, being in the mix with kids from Lexington and Louisville was an intimidating experience. It’s worth noting that this was before social media made the world a smaller place. I just assumed that if the musicians I was around in east Kentucky were so good, there was no way I could keep up with kids from bigger cities. Turns out, we had it going on in the coalfields. That experience showed me the value of my roots and how our approach to music connects with people on the “outside.” Also, as intense as the program was, the fact that I kept wanting more told me I’d found the only field I’d consider making a career in.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
With as undeservingly cool as my career has been I don’t think I can pick the single most interesting story, but the way I met my business partner, Marc Costanzo is a trip. Marc was renting a spot at the Rukkus Room recording studio. He’d hang out for a couple of weeks per month while he visited from Toronto. I’d been working there with Jamie Tate, mostly in country music, for years. I’d noticed some really incredible pop music coming out of the B room for a while and it was way more legit than anything I was used to. It was so good that I couldn’t bring myself to make an introduction. Turns out Marc felt the same way about what we were doing in the other room, so we just never crossed paths even though we were 20 feet apart every day. That changed when we were cutting a jazz record with Chester Thompson (Genesis, Frank Zappa, Phil Collins, Weather Report, etc.) on drums. Chester was really ripping on one of the tracks. After the take we looked into the booth and saw a full crew of pop music cats, gold chains and all, staring into the live room all starstruck. We took a break and Marc made an introduction. I was elated because I’d grown up listening to Marc’s records and I knew of his history behind the scenes. Something in me felt like it was appropriate to tell him how good I am at making beats, and if you could imagine Gomer Pyle telling somebody he can make beats, I’m sure that’s how it sounded to those boys. But Marc took me seriously. Long story short, I met my business partner (also one of my best friends), who’s an Italian/French/Canadian pop music guru, because I was playing on a session with one of the most iconic drummers in modern music history. When you grow up so deep in eastern Kentucky that one of your 5th-grade classmates passed out when he saw an escalator on a field trip, you don’t really expect that kind of stuff to happen.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It’s darn near impossible to filter through that many mistakes to find the one worth mentioning! I went straight from college to a major touring gig, with nothing in-between, so I was as green as could be. We were in the middle of rehearsal at a warehouse with multiple rehearsal rooms and during a break, there was another band hanging out. I started making small talk with them, largely about myself, how I’d just got this cool gig, and how we were about to change the world. Upon finally asking them about themselves, I realized I was talking to the A-team rhythm section in town. These guys/gals had played on every country hit I grew up listening to and here I was telling them about gigs. They were nice, but I walked off with my tail tucked. From then on, I talk to every new person I meet as if they’re my favorite musician on the planet, which I should’ve been doing in the first place.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I couldn’t be more excited about the projects we’re in the middle of. That might sound like a boring way to start answering the question, but it’s true. Everything I have going on fits within Inside Music Nashville, which I’m treating as a parent company for the diverse range of things I’m tackling. At the forefront is the relationship with Marc and I’s publishing entities. We work in the thick of the Nashville music scene which affords us the opportunity to collaborate with folks in all facets of the industry. It also allows my team in Nashville to have connections in other music hubs such as L.A. and the U.K.
We’re meeting a lot of really incredible people and given my partner’s past, I’m certain that we’re churning out music that will reach a lot of listeners. The other thing I’m extremely excited about is my joint venture with The Episcopal Church. For the last two years, we’ve been creating a concert series designed for sacred spaces. Many of their churches are home to some of the world’s most awe-inspiring architecture. We dreamed of what might happen if the music were designed specifically for those places. Most importantly, we’ve written music that we hope inspires listeners from all backgrounds/beliefs to experience a concert under the same roof, and hear songs/stories focused on themes of Becoming Beloved Community. The process of making that music has introduced me to lifelong friends from all backgrounds, such as fellow recording artist Anthony “Wordsmith” Parker. The Episcopal Church provided a platform for a Baltimore-based hip hop artist and an Appalachian pianist to release a record together that defies genre…how cool is that? They’re relying on music industry partners to continue discovering, signing, and developing other artists whose voices should be heard.
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Every facet of my career is surrounded by diversity. That’s not the case because I feel obligated to go out of the way to work with diverse folks, but because I try to find the best of the best to make music with. I try to find good people to be around. When I do that, I wind up with a diverse group of friends. Being a dad, I’m less concerned with my situation as I am the world I’m leaving to Annaleigh and Ellis. The culture we pass on to them is just better when it’s diverse, and the entertainment industry can shed light on how that can look in the real world. Here’s a few reasons why that’s important:
- Film and music are meant to allow us to draw connections to our own world. When they lack diversity, it doesn’t look like the real world, it looks like content designed for a small portion of folks.
- We’re seeing more diversity in country music, which is great. People who look and sound like me aren’t the only people who grew up in the south. When a truer version of that demographic is represented in a genre loved by so many, it has a positive impact on American culture.
- It’s good for us as humans, and it’s also good for business. I’ve seen first hand the benefits of the Nashville music industry continuing to diversify. I have a company and a career that I love because the Inside Music Publishing team, a Toronto-based outfit, felt welcome to do business in Nashville. And the music is so much better because of it!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Exhaustion isn’t necessarily something to be celebrated. My generation is quick to brag about how much we, work as if it’s indicative of character. Working hard is great, but working to the point of losing balance is counterproductive.
- The music business isn’t hard, it’s emotional. Wall Street is hard. Owning and operating a restaurant is hard. Mining coal is damn hard. Taking a couple of hours to get music business logistics squared away, or to negotiate a booking agreement, isn’t hard. Those things involve art that folks are very emotionally attached to, which makes the non-artistic side seem hard, but it’s not. Separate commerce and pleasure.
- Learn how to ask the right questions. If you’ve got big goals, odds are there’s a lot to find out about accomplishing them before you can do so successfully. I thought I knew how to record good records before I started working with Marc. He agreed to jump in on a tune that I had been working on for a while, and before we did the first musical thing, he spent a week doing nothing but asking me questions. The end result was me going into a recording with complete control over the situation, for the first time in my career.
- Things that don’t immediately result in a financial transaction can still be considered legitimate work. Practicing scales for four hours pay me nothing. Reading books and doing research in my field pays nothing. Meeting new people and expanding my network often costs money. There are so many non-paid things necessary for my success that deserve my time, even while I have the opportunity to do things that pay immediately. I’ve lost sight of that several times, and I’ve found that I made short strides for small financial gains, while regressing drastically in areas that could yield bigger gains in the future.
- Make a business plan early and stick to it. I was older than I should’ve been when I realized a business plan was more than just a thought. Outline every single detail of who you are from a business perspective and put it on paper. Organize every scenario for your career. List out all of your contacts. Consider risks and how you’ll procure the means to take those risks, then put that down on paper. When I finally put on my big kid pants and made a bonafide business plan, my productivity skyrocketed. The resources around me became more readily available. This probably sounds childishly obvious to the majority of business folks, but creatives like myself tend to have a hard time giving our careers the business-minded attention necessary for success.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I’m not the best person for advice on this because I’m yet to experience burnout. During times I’ve come close I’ve learned the value of being surrounded by folks who are great at what they do and trust them. The only times I’ve felt burnout could be on the horizon was brought on by me expecting myself to have every solution. When we opened up Inside Music Nashville, I understood the importance of not only staying in my lane but in making sure the other lanes were open for the right people. I think that’s kept me from experiencing burnout.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
By 2021 standards I don’t necessarily have the online following to be as effective as I’d like in steering movements, but I’m fortunate to be working directly with individuals and organizations who do. One of the great things about social media, and the internet in general, is the accessibility it provides to the arts. In tumultuous times like we’re in, I think the arts will ultimately be what heals society. Music allows us to share messaging and inspire each other in ways that are otherwise difficult. I’m fortunate to be playing a role in the Becoming Beloved Community movement, and we use music as a tool for opening up conversations within that movement. The challenge is that artists often feel the need to create within the confines of scrolling culture, which can be detrimental to the purpose music is meant to serve. Music is about tension and release, which is why we connect with it and associate it with our own lives. There’s no way we can experience that in the five seconds we usually give ourselves to check out a new song.
With that said, a movement I’d like to see that fits within more important movements is for folks to allow themselves time to truly experience art. I know I feel healed when I do that. I truly believe that if we all listened intently, our souls would be much more at peace, and we’d be more likely to engage in important movements.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My “village” is huge. For as many folks who have been unnecessarily kind and resourceful along my way, a guitarist named James Whited stands out. Anybody who knows or has worked with James considers him one of the best musicians alive, but he’s also a very successful business person, loving father, and generous friend. I started gigging with professional musicians when I was around eleven years old, and James treated me like an adult. He once ripped into me because I was playing in a way that made it obvious, I wasn’t reading the chart. Dad saw it from a distance and was worried because I was so soft-hearted. My response, however, was to be elated because “James just got on to me same as he does Dwayne (drummer)!” It meant I was good enough that my errors could be fixed and James felt it worth his time. As I continued to grow musically James always made himself available. He was a CPA, and he ran a multimillion-dollar company, but he would stop what he was doing any time to come over and jam. The better I got; the more James became the only person with who I could fully communicate musically without having to slow down. As my career grew into a legitimate business, I leaned on him — the best musician I know — to walk me through setting up an LLC. Even today, he up-ends his life to buy his own flights and meet us to do important recording sessions, or appear on the Concert for the Human Family, never asking for anything in return. I often tell him I can never pay him back, but I’ll pay it forward. Ultimately, my work with James led to a career that introduced me to my business partners, who I could say the same things about.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My grandfather on my Dad’s side would always say “Ain’t no biggie.” He was known for that. If I tied a bad fishing knot and lost an expensive bait… “ain’t no biggie.” But he also said that in more pressing situations, and the older I got the more I understood how he was right in doing so. His generation had experienced “biggies” and he knew what those were. He had a handle on what mattered in life and in the short time I knew him he passed that on to us.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Pat Metheny. I’m hesitant to even refer to him because it gives me imposter syndrome. In a time where modern musical genius is perceived differently than it’s ever been, Pat is a living extension of the classical and early jazz greats. I might catch some heat from music aficionados, and maybe even Pat for saying so, but it’s the truth. I once read an article where he complained about the sound quality and the logistics of playing his shows in arenas…a jazz instrumentalist, in arenas. He was more focused on the sound quality he was able to provide listeners than he was all the hoopla. My favorite musicians aren’t defined as guitarists or pianists because they make those instruments seem like vehicles into a deeper experience. That’s Pat. My grandmother was the same way on piano, in a much less refined, but equally spiritual manner. I’ve read interviews where he dives deep into his practice, performance, composition, and business habits. When I started implementing some of those into my own career, I saw myself begin to truly solidify into a professional.
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!