My Interview With John Legend's Producer, David Schuler
David Schuler (aka BOYBLUE) is a record producer/songwriter from Rochester, New York. Currently residing in Los Angeles, Schuler has produced records and written songs with artists such as Pink, Ricki-Lee Coulter, Backstreet Boys, Esmee Denters, Lauren Bennett, John Legend, Sakis Rouvas, Billy Mann, Teddy Geiger, Shy Carter, Aimee Proal, among others. His single with Rick-Lee Coulter, “Raining Diamonds” went Platinum in Australia, and songs “The Good Ole Days” and “Truth About Love” debuted at number one on Pink’s album “The Truth About Love.”
Emily: We are excited to feature our first interview in a new year. It’s #301 for us at Creative Spotlights with Grammy nominated and multi-platinum worldwide selling record producer, songwriter and artist, David Shuler. How are you?
David: I’m good. That was quite an introduction, wow!
Emily: Absolutely! You most recently worked with John Legend and Pink as their producer. So the focus of this interview is to provide your perspective on what it takes for a music artist to succeed in the industry. This information will help countless music artists get an edge around what they need to stand out and make a good impression with the fans. So, my first question for you was if you could express your journey in music over the years into one sentence to share with your fans, what would it be and why?
David: In one sentence and why. Let me see, I would say passion, not permission. The reason that I would say that is because there’s gonna be a lot of people that are going to say to whoever’s reading this that they’re foolish for wanting to pursue a career in music and that it’s unachievable, it’s unattainable. A lot of people are going to tell you that you just can’t do it, period. Making a life in music, you have to make it without asking anyone. You just have to do it because you’re never going to get the answers that you seek from anyone else, but yourself. You only get what you put in, which I feel like goes along with anything in life. It really is a long, challenging, exciting journey, but I think that seeking validation in what others think, It’s just going to yield nothing but negative results nine times out of ten unless you’re dealing with your peers.
Emily: So one of the keys to success you would say is having this instinct that you’re meant to be in the music industry, the intuition on who you are to listen to for advice and listen clearly to yourself.
David: Yeah! I mean, be passionate about what you do in that it has to show every ounce of your character and even more importantly in your work. Your music should be able to speak to people and it should speak for itself. There should never have to be any kind of a disclaimer. I feel like that that’s the secret ingredient. When you can find a way to create music that just speaks to people without any excuse or any kind of pretense, that’s really what I think every musician should strive to achieve.
Emily: When you first started back in the industry, you probably had a totally different perspective of where you’re at right now and how you see the industry. What do you wish you knew back then when you started about being in this industry?
David: It’s great because I played in bands for years. I really started when I was in my junior high school. Honestly, if I had one wish, it would’ve been to spend my time a little bit wiser. At first, I was the guitarist and I was convinced that if I can learn every metallic song in the catalog that I would be the best guitar player in the world. I did that and I was like, “Oh, I’m still here. What am I going to do now?” It’s like if I could join a band and it sounds a certain way, then that’s going to be it. I went and I found that band and I was still kind of in the same place. You set goals for yourself along the way because that’s what you have to do to get by, but I wish that I was a little bit more reasonable with the goals that I had set as opposed to being so immediate. I mean, I’m 31 now and it took me a long time to really make a commitment to just let go of everything that I was holding onto that was holding me back and really commit to making music professionally for a living. I feel like there’s plenty of other producers out there. They’re a lot younger than I am that are breaking it down by the numbers and being successful in the business and you always think, “What could I have done better?” but I think it’s almost important to not think that way because everybody’s story is different.
Emily: You know, I coach artists and a lot of times, it is about having a focus. It’s this serious drive for who you are as an artist and your purpose in this life and expressing your art, but a lot of times, a lot of it has to do with kind of surrendering to the fact that you’re an artist and that you can’t control everything around you. Just have faith and confidence at the same time that as you go along in the journey, the right people will come your way, you’re authentically expressing your art, you develop yourself, you learn from mistakes and on and on, you know? So what do you think it takes for a music artist to really succeed in the industry that we have right now in 2014 where everything is so much competitive?
David: No, totally. I think first, the most important thing is that success is determined by an individual always. There’s so many ways to break through the noise of today in music because you can get music on your watch…there’s a watch now that you can get with a phone and an mp3 player. Music is coming at you at every possible format of media that there is. It’s really about finding where your music lives and who you’re trying to speak to and finding the best format to reach those people in the biggest way whether it’s on a specific blog. If you’re making EDM music, then you know you should go to Fresh New Tracks and you should be sending your music to that blog or anybody who writes for that blog. If you’re in hip-hop and you’re a musical director, you should be sending your videos out too..If you’re just a guitar player, you should be making YouTube videos of you – just start playing guitar and other songs and hosting them. There’s just endless ways. As far as succeed, overall, to break through, I mean again, I feel like it’s a relative term because it really is defined by the individual.
Emily: Right! Some artists would be satisfied just being a local band or just being a local famous artist. That’s good enough for them. They want to have kids and a family because that’s success for them.
David: Yeah, totally. And I think there’s formulas that work for producers. There are formulas that work for songwriters. There’s formula that work for singers, for touring musicians. It’s like there’s so many different ways to make a living off of music that it really depends on what you do and what you see yourself doing for however long. It’s just endless. There’s so many opportunities in music just like anything.
Emily: That’s good to hear for anyone who is a musician or a music artist and they maybe want to get to the behind the scenes side of the industry. You’ve been there both – musician and on the business side as a producer. How is the view different from each perspective for you?
David: Well, the only difference in producing a record is that you have to deal more with personalities. When you produce a record, you have to make a) everybody happy and b) the record everyone wants and that includes the artist, the label, the artist’s manager, whoever works for the artist, everyone at the record company. At the end of the day, everyone is just going to have their creative input, but nobody knows really what they want to hear until they hear it. That includes the artist and the producer and the songwriters at the same time. You set out to realize this musical journey, but you really don’t know what it’s going to sound like until you start to make some noise in the studio and figure out what the sounds are and everything. It really comes together in such a strange way, but as a producer, it’s most important to make sure that you’re spending the money for the budget of the record wisely, that it’s not getting blown on shirtless nights on the studio, like the liquor or whatever, the artists wants to do. You have to really kind of steer the creative work, but also create a space that the artist feels safe and open to try things, but also understanding that they have an obligation to the record company to deliver a record. It’s really just kind of a juggling thing.
And it’s much different. I think a lot of people think that – like movie producers, for instance, it’s like they’re producing a film, their job is entirely different than that of a record producer. It means two totally different things. In TV, again, it’s totally different. And I feel like you should also – I guess in today’s landscape, we’ll call it, being a record producer, I really feel like musically, you should have an arsenal of ideas and abilities. I mean, 95% of the records that I produce, I play every instrument, I do a lot of the engineering.
Emily: Yeah, I saw that. Amazing! Do you write as well?
David: I do a lot of the writing. I think with these guys like recruitment, they don’t necessarily play instruments or touch-and-gear anymore anything, but they have that ear. There’s a new wave of producers on the rise that do everything. They play everything. I feel like you should be able at any given moment if things are going well in the studio and suddenly, you need that guitar recorded and nobody is in the room that can play guitar, you should be able to pick up the guitar and play that guitar quite right the way the song needs it. That’s just my opinion though.
Emily: Yeah, it sounds awesome because you’re basically saying that because you’ve been there, done that, you’ve been a musician and that you got your start in high school playing guitar and it’s like part of who you are. You’re able to, as a producer have the edge, the extra thing that you need to create all the success and the successful records that you’ve done so far. You can contribute and have that vision and just really put your amazing input into the work that you’ve done – you know, John Legend and Pink and the Backstreet Boys, awesome! What are some of the things that you noticed that can ruin an artist trying to make it? Because you know, it’s a lot. A lot of pressure you have – your team on you, you have your own creative ideas, you’re trying to keep the ideas with the management and all.
David: In any situation, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care who it is, if it’s a massive star to an unknown singer, the most vulnerable person in the entire equation throughout the entire journey of anyone’s career is the artist. It isn’t the manager. It’s not the A&R’s. It’s not anybody, but the artist. And because of that, a lot of times, they’re also the most impressionable. I think that they forget that an artist is the one that if the rest of the world looks at you, it’s like, “I want to be like that girl… or that guy. They are awesome for what they say. They’re awesome for what they wear, what they stand for.” A lot of times, recording artists will let the music kind of float around a bit and they’ll seek opinions that they may not want to hear. I just think that leading by example as an artist as opposed to letting someone at a record company determine whether or not you like your own song is – It’s something that I’ve experienced that is a shame because you think if the artists say, “Look, this is music.
Get onboard or get out of the way” because I know artists that are like that as well. Pink is one of those people. I mean, that’s really how it should be because at the end of the day, everyone’s working for that pinnacle of what the artist is doing which is songs. If they can’t rally up behind their own music and lead, that doesn’t really work well. I think being confident is the most important thing. When you record a song and you’re like, “I love this song,” and three weeks later, no matter how many people told you they’ve hated it, it shouldn’t change the fact that you love that song.
Emily: I love that. Yeah, a musician should also be timeless in a way. Music, I feel should be 20 years from now, it’s still like “a great song”. People go, “Oh, okay! That song is great. I remember it back in the day, and it’s still good, let’s listen to it”..When it’s timeless like that it creates a form of a musical masterpiece. So what do you feel is the future of music like in the next five years?
David: Honestly? Spotify. It pains me to say that as a songwriter because they’re not paying what they should for the music that they service, but that’s a debate that will probably never end. Companies like Spotify, they are offering massive amounts of streaming music for literally free with the exception of a few advertisements that you have to listen to unless you want to pay a subscription.
Emily: Right, that’s a challenge. Musicians worry about their creativity, their branding, social media and fans, but also how technology has changed the music industry and will continue to rapidly change how music is heard and what kind of music keeps the attentions of the market. So I agree with that point.
David: I think that’s probably where everything is heading. I think that the day of the album is numbered as well – at least when it comes to pop music because there’s so much noise. You have to release a new song like every three months or else, people forget. It went from a day and age where you would buy an album, open that pamphlet, see that person and be like, “Oh, my God! This Bon Jovi is like a legend.” You would go to the concert and see Bon Jovi and like almost be able to touch him, but that’s as close as you could ever get and ever imagine to get unless you’ve got some meet-and-greet pastry, radio station or something. Now, if Bon Jovi doesn’t tweet you back, you’re not a fan. If he doesn’t reach out directly and speak to you and connect, then it’s almost like Bon Jovi loses that fan. So the entire mystery has kind of been stripped, but that’s the world that we live because people want things now and they don’t want to wait. And when they get something, they get it and then they want something new. It’s the day and age that we live in. If that’s what everybody else is doing, then in that sense, it is a race and you have to keep up or else…I’ve seen it happen.
Emily: That’s amazing advice for the readers. As an artist is it important to stay ahead of the curve and observe the trends. Social media networking and it’s influence, getting close to one’s fans is really where it’s at, the walls fade a lot every few years. What are some key success habits that you recommend that a music artist or musician commit to?
David: That’s a tricky one. It really depends on what you do. I mean, I feel like you should be practicing if you’re a musician. You should constantly be practicing and performing if that’s what you want to be doing. You should be booking shows. You should be – and see what I mean, tweeting your ass off if you’re the artist, if you’re like the singer of the band or like just a singer. You should be making it known to the Internet that you’re out there and that you’re there to find if people look for you. But at the same time, I feel like you should only pay so much attention to the Internet because it’s also a very cruel and unforgiving place. It can be a lot of negativity at the end of the day. So it’s like you really have to commit to who you are and just let that be that and give people that their right to free speech, but try not to look at it because it gets pretty ugly.
Emily: Okay, alright! And what do you feel fans really want from the artist now?
David: Something new. Everybody knows how much they hate to turn on the radio. Now radio is still the biggest format, but it’s also the slowest. I think guys that are breaking through, whether it’s – oh, man. I don’t know, like I do like Zed or a band like the 1975 or like this band, Joy Wave (that I’m a huge fan of and friends from my hometown), these people are making music that just doesn’t sound like anything else, but it also has that home-cooked feeling at the same time. When you listen to it, you love it. It takes you somewhere, but you don’t know where it is, but you gravitate towards it because it seems familiar because the songs are good. I think that that’s what everybody wants.
Emily: I feel that, yeah, definitely, music is basically out of all the arts (acting, dancing and all of it), music is just the one that hits you the deepest because it’s just vibrational and it connects to your subconscious and your spirit. I feel that music is so influential because of that, because it has that power.
David: Also, I will say I’m a huge cinephile. I’m a massive fan of cinema. I see pretty much everything that comes out. I think that when it’s paired with film that it’s like very powerful.
Emily: For example, like music videos. You get a combo of both that influences you.
David: Yeah, whether it’s a music video or if it’s a movie or whatever. I agree. I think that it’s like you’re going to listen to music on a tone and you can watch a movie that has no music, but when you watch a movie that does have music, then it has everything. But at the end of the day, who doesn’t want a new favorite band or a new favorite singer though? I mean, every time you discover new music, it’s like being born again or something. It’s a whole new experience itself.