I spoke with my friend Dave Cowell today about what truly drives him in the music industry. I asked him why he does what he does for the musicians and how he keeps going day after day with a smile on his face and no regrets. His answer was simple: Love.
I want to give more detail than that though, so I will share with you this interview and let you see what it truly is to be in it for love and not for greed. There, sincerely, are real people out there who believe in the die-hard musician and the effort they put into promoting themselves and getting their albums put together.
Michelle AlRowwad (MA): When did you first get started in the music business?
Dave Cowell (DC): Well, my mother and father were both musically inclined so music just came naturally to me. I started playing when I was 3 or 4 and by the time I turned 5 I was playing guitar, bass, drums, and piano. I started going to studios with my dad when I was pretty young, maybe 9 or 10 or so, and was playing shows by the time I was 11. My first show was a blues competition at The Black Diamond on Beale St. I signed my first production/developmental deal with Paul Ebersold when I was 17. I went on tour for the first time at 20 years old playing guitar with Breaking Point who was signed to Windup Records. I had learned as much as I could about recording along the way, and started working in studios full time in 2006.
MA: What/Who were your inspirations?
DC: I find inspiration in strange places… Sometimes a situation or conversation can inspire a chord progression, or even an entire song. I guess that’s kind of vague though, so I’ll just say that I find inspiration everywhere. As far as people who’ve inspired me musically… David Gilmour, Brian Wilson, Lennon and McCartney, Neil Finn, Eric Johnson, Ronny Martin, Jon Cooper, Kurt Cobain, Gavin Rossdale, Daniel Johns, Trent Reznor, Mike Shinoda and Chester Bennington, Clint Lowery, Donald Carpenter, and so many more. As far as recording goes, The Lord Alge brothers, Skidd Mills, Matt Martone, David Bottrill, Mike Shipley, Andy Wallace, Don Gilmore, Andy Sneap, Howard Benson, and again so many others.
MA: What do you want to do to change the music industry?
DC: I’d like to find a way to stop the trend of shoving talent out of the picture. It’s also very unfortunate that money is the only thing that the industry wants respond to. If you can afford to buy your way in, you’re in. But millions of genuinely talented bands and artists are being ignored to the point of giving up, all the while talent-less wastes of space are dominating the charts because they could afford to buy their spot there. I believe that real music still has a heartbeat and there are bands all over the world who are going broke everyday trying to self-fund tours and studio time just to keep the dream alive because they refuse to believe that just because they can’t catch a break from a fickle industry, they shouldn’t be doing everything they can to be heard by as many people as possible. These are the people I’m trying to help.
MA: What is it that you have to offer new talent and or other already formed musicians/bands?
DC: I’m an all-around musician, writer, engineer, and producer. Even if you just sing and can’t even write a song, I can help you make a record. I’m open- minded and will listen to all ideas while offering as many of my own as needed. I can offer as much or as little help with production and arrangements as needed. I drive songs further. I’ve made old songs exciting again. Most importantly, I’m one of the few that’s still driven by a passion and love for music, not a lust for money, so with me you’ll be treated like a fellow artist, not a dollar sign.
MA: What makes you different from other producers?
DC: I might have somewhat answered that question within my last answer, but I’ll add this. If a band brings me a song and its perfect, I won’t change it just to put my name on it. If I don’t change it, I don’t think I deserve points as a producer on that song. I’m not a greedy prick. Other than that, like I said before, I just love music. I’m capable of recording and producing all styles because I have an appreciation and understanding of all styles. I started speaking music as a language when I was a small child and so all genres make sense to me. I don’t have to fake it just to take an artist’s money. I can turn out a quality country record that can contend with anything else in that market (even write songs for it) and then turn around and do the same thing with the same quality for a blues, pop, hip hop, or metal band. I’m not forced to stick with one style because I’m not a “one trick pony.”
MA: What bands have you produced/mastered albums for?
DC: Too many to list them all here, but some of the larger bands that people might have heard of that I’ve worked with, written for, and or done demo work for are 12 Stones, Surrender The Fall, Zach Myers of Shinedown, Joan Red, Sore Eyes, Egypt Central, Ed Harris, Keyless and many more. I mainly try to focus on the smaller bands that are up and coming though, I enjoy helping them develop and try to teach them anything I can to better prepare them for a future in this business so that they have a chance to compete with what else is out there in their particular market.
MA: How do you plan to make it affordable for up and coming talent to be produced?
DC: I start by only charging a fraction of what other producers do. It’s not fair to charge a local unsigned bands $1,000 or more per song because let’s face it, they don’t have it. I genuinely care about the artists that I work with because I was also a broke musician struggling to get by and haven’t forgotten what that’s like. Yes, I have to make money to support my family, but I refuse to take advantage of an independent artist in the process. That’s just not right, period. Charging less leaves some money left over after recording to actually promote the product because as I said before, unfortunately it takes money to do anything in this business. This way they can actually start entertaining the idea of a publicist or a radio promotion campaign. I hope these answers will give anyone who reads them a better idea of who I am and why they’d want to consider working with me, cheers!
I can’t imagine working with a better producer than that; one who sees you as an artist, not his next paycheck. He knows you by your name, knows where you’ve been and can picture where you’re going. He won’t hold your hand the whole way, but he’ll guide you to the top then be proud to shake it when you get there.
Producers of this caliber are a dying breed, a forgotten face, and a distant memory when music was real and you didn’t buy your way into the industry. It’s time to get back to the basics and remember the heart of music and the love that moved us. The beat in our very own souls.