Expert Testimony - Given by Jim McGorman to Mark Small
After leaving Berklee in 1995 with a degree in music production and engineering, Jim McGorman moved to Los Angeles. Within two years, he was touring with established artists. A multi-instrumentalist and singer, McGorman started his career by playing guitar and keyboards and singing backup for a variety of artists, including the New Radicals and Tal Bachman. Since then the list of artists has grown to include the Goo Goo Dolls, Shakira, INXS, and Poison. In 2001, he got his first shot at being a musical director for Michelle Branch. Since then he has served in that capacity for Avril Lavigne, Weezer, Paul Stanley, and Cheyenne Kimball.
As a result, over the past 15 years, McGorman has crisscrossed the country and much of the globe on major tours. But today his latest endeavor is building a studio and forming Purple Tongue Records, a production company and label. In addition to recording his own songs that have been featured in film and TV shows, he is actively developing new artists, such as (former American Idol contestant) Mikalah Gordon and Drew Arcoleo (whose YouTube videos have surpassed 8 million views). McGorman’s own videos have attracted a lot of viewers as well. His single “There’s No Over You” has gotten nearly 4 million clicks.
As McGorman and his wife prepare to welcome their first child, he has enjoyed a respite from the road and is devoting more time to writing and producing. While on the L.A. freeways heading to his studio late last fall, he took my call to discuss what he’s been up to lately.
Have you made a conscious decision to tour less and produce more?
Well, I’ve worked with Avril Levigne since 2007. That’s been my most consistent gig. When you’re working with rock stars, you’ll have busy years and then there are breaks. Currently she’s not touring. So unless you jump to another touring act, you have to figure out other ways to keep working. Writing and producing are really fulfilling and a great source of enjoyment for me. So I’ve become really focused on doing that kind of work.
Do you feel that the current trend of a producer cowriting the material with their artists for their projects will be the new industry standard?
In many cases, that’s how it’s going. There will always be people who just write songs and make demos for artists to hear. But, for many, writing and producing go hand in hand. Part of the reasoning is that production is blending into songwriting. Not many songwriters are sitting down with an acoustic guitar to write songs Springsteen-style. A lot create beats and experiment with soundscapes. Today, people want a track that sounds fresh. So if someone can make really hot tracks but isn’t a lyricist, that’s OK. There’s a career for you now.
What are your ambitions for Purple Tongue Records?
I have a few partners working on this with me and they are integral in making this work. Robb Vallier [’92] cowrites and coproduces with me on many projects. Kurt Zendzian is an Internet genius and handles all of the social media and video work for the label. He also directed the music video for “There’s No Over You.”
Developing artists and film and TV sync possibilities are among our objectives. Having a label is a way to create a support system for music that we think deserves more exposure. I see my label as a stepping stone to get artists to the point where other labels and brands will take notice. We don’t have the funding to give an artist a major promotional push, but I have some visibility through acts I’ve played with or written songs with. We’re hoping to open up some doors.
Are you mentoring your new artists as well as producing music for them?
I try to impart any nuggets of wisdom I’ve gotten though the years to help artists that don’t understand yet what’s involved in going out to play 200 shows a year. That way they won’t go in blind.
It’s still hard for new artists to get started. Many have regular jobs at Guitar Center or a clothing store. They make their music at night or on weekends and write on their coffee breaks. Maybe I can help beyond just the writing and producing.
Artist development isn’t part of the music business anymore. I think people like me have to do that. The idea of “getting signed” doesn’t mean what it used to. Before, [a recording contract] could change your life monetarily. Now those situations are rare—maybe a few people get a deal like that.
I think that there are opportunities for artists who want to make good music and make some money back even if they don’t become famous or superrich. I think people out there still want a variety of good music.
How do you find the artists you want to develop?
I’d say it’s 90 percent word of mouth from someone I know. Other times people approach me after hearing me play with Avril or the other acts I’ve worked with. The Internet is also a good source. My wife found a video on YouTube of Drew Arcoleo singing and playing cover songs. I thought he was great and connected with him through Twitter. We started a dialogue, and then he came out here from Connecticut and cut a track with me. We are going to get an EP together for him. It’s rare when things happen that way, but there have been other scenarios like that where you meet through the Internet.
What’s your approach for getting songs into TV and movies?
I’ve been creating relationships with music supervisors. They’re the gatekeepers for people wanting to get their music heard on television. I met a guy who does supervision for some big shows. He told me about a song he placed in the finale of a series, and it played for about two minutes. The next day, the artist sold 20,000 singles and four labels called to find out who she was and how to reach her. So if you have the right song on the right show at the right time, opportunities can come from that.
For musicians in general, it’s difficult to get through to music supervisors. They are bombarded with music every day. Sometimes you can attend seminars where you pay to play your songs for them. I’d like to think those things are worthwhile. One placement could get the money back that you spent for the seminar and you might build a relationship with a music supervisor.
The video of you singing “There’s No Over You” has gotten nearly 4 million YouTube views. To what do you attribute that success?
Twitter accounts for a large part of my YouTube presence. Avril, Michelle Branch, Vertical Horizon, and others tweeted about that video. They have huge numbers of followers and that amplified the number of views. I don’t do much with Facebook but I’m on Twitter. I don’t know if social media has helped me get work as a producer, but I don’t think it has hurt. It does provide a way for people to see who I am quickly.
That song and your performance of it are top shelf. Do you harbor any aspirations to be an artist one day?
When I was younger I wanted to be the artist, but over the years my desire for that has waned. I enjoy writing and recording as an artist, but I don’t have the time or desire to do all the other things a successful artist needs to do—like traveling all night after a gig and then going to a radio station at 6:00 A.M. to do a promo appearance. But I’ll still put singles out and will probably make other videos.
I’ve been on and off the road for 15 years. It’s been great, but that’s a lot. Traveling now is difficult and expensive. It’s still a rush to step onto the stage and play, but it’s not something that I have a strong desire to do right now. I have written about 70 songs since I got off the road last February. I hope to get to 100 by the end of 2012.