Continuing our interviews of recording artists, this week we have Kelly Pardekooper, who's found a way to make the music business work for him by selling his songs to cable TV shows. I've loved Kelly's music for years. He's the real deal.
Bill Frater: What got you started in the music business?
Kelly Pardekooper: I got into music and songwriting pretty late, releasing my first album at 30 years old in 1998. My Iowa City hometown is where mentors Bo Ramsey, Greg Brown and Dave Moore are based, so I got to see up close from those guys that you can have a life in music if you're willing to work hard at the craft. And there was no real magic a-ha! music moment. My song career has been a slow turtle burn that continues today. Ha! Based on income, my wife probably still wonders if I'm really in the music business at all.
How do you describe your music and or songs to someone who’s never heard you?
I usually describe myself as an Americana/rock singer-songwriter. I swim in that rock/country/blues/folk gumbo soup... bar music. These days, most of my conversations have to do with TV show songs, so I'll say if a TV show can't afford a Springsteen, Petty, CCR, Wilco, Mellencamp, Chris Isaak type song... I'm another option in that genre that's cheaper to place on a show.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
My parents had a great baby boomer era vinyl collection and they were always playing music when I was young. I would say CCR and Neil Young were the two big roots influenced guys early on. Fogerty's urgent, pissed-sounding vocal over that great swamp blues was/is still amazing to my ear. And Neil Young's large eclectic range of sound... from the softer acoustic/pedal steel Harvest era stuff to the rocking "Cinnamon Girl" side. Neil Young's albums and his catalog always made me feel free to have songs all over the genre map. My new album rolls from dreamy lush slide songs to rock songs to blues to screaming in an almost punk style by the end. Freedom.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre?
Almost impossible to answer without leaving a ton out. With that caveat, top of head this morning goes Kinks, Who, CCR, Neil Young, Bo Ramsey, Greg Brown, Kevin Gordon, Tom Petty, Stones, Muddy Waters, Hank Williams, Cheap Trick, Chris Isaak, Johnny Cash, Clash, Neko Case, Billie Holiday, Grandaddy, Calexico, Cracker, Miles Davis.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
I think I read last week that Americana artists on Billboard actually just outsold Country artists for the first single week ever. I'm guessing that's attributed to the rise of Americana radio, publicity efforts, and AMA-type organizations. Right now, I'm prepping an Americana/NPR radio mailer to about 150 stations that have been friendly to me over the past 20 years. I'm always hopeful radio will continue to provide more exposure to my music, but streaming (which pays less) may be the next generation's radio.
Where do you see the music business going?
I would guess the music biz will continue to go to war with the tech giants over copyright issues, streaming pay scales, and the overall philosophy and merits of "free." If not for the eight years of TV royalties and syndication money I get from my music publisher and ASCAP, I wouldn't be in the music business right now. Google/Spotify/Whatever tech savior is next... has no interest in my studio costs. No interest in really paying songwriters and musicians. We're just music content to be monetized. I see that as the biggest issue going forward for musicians and songwriters. You generally get what you pay for in life, and my guess is the generation coming up will get exactly the quality of music and culture they pay for.
What are your most memorable experiences or memories from working in the music industry?
So many gigs and friendships over 20 years of plugging away. Starting with the small-town Iowa bar gigs to SXSW in Austin, to the Take Root Festival in Europe. Playing the Viper Room in Hollywood and Radio Cafe while living in East Nashville. Having True Blood feature three of my songs over their seven-year TV run has been big for me. That seemed to lead to Sons of Anarchy, Justified, Cold Case, Blue Bloods syndication etc. and currently the Longmire Netflix series. The whole TV placement publishing side has paid for my last three albums. I'm really grateful for that and that's what keeps me plugging away and inspired in my second musical act.
What recent and/or upcoming projects are you working on?
I'm releasing my eighth album City At Night on November 25th! I guess it represents the Indiana chapter as it was produced/recorded by Paul Mahern (John Mellencamp, Willie Nelson, Afghan Whigs) in Bloomington. We recorded in an old church by a cemetery, which was a lot of fun. So, right now my slice of life is making new album music videos in the cornfields and stuffing envelopes for radio. And taking new album pre-orders at www.kellypardekooper.com. I just keep song-plugging away the best I can... still a slow turtle!