It is no secret talent development is a lost art. It is rare to find that person who is not afraid of rolling up their sleeves to polish those rare diamonds in the rough. The old record labels had their now extinct Artists and Repertoire (A&R) the division of a record label or music publishing company that was responsible for talent scouting and overseeing the artistic development of recording artists and songwriters.
But there is a major step before that.
Fast forward to shows like American Idol and The Voice and the whole world realizes there ARE a lot of diamonds in the rough out there. A&R’s gone who do you turn to? If you are lucky enough to live in Southern California, you hire Aaron Burch, best known as the Founder of Rock and Roll High. Beyond that, he has been developing some of the hottest rock acts for over a decade. We met with the elusive Aaron Burch in Los Angeles.
KMB: How have you managed to be the “best kept secret” in talent development?
AB: I try to keep the publicity on the bands more than on myself. Bands need a road map to get where they want to go, but they have to get there themselves. I have a good sense of what an artist needs to develop themselves, but that development comes from them so it’s appropriate that they get the credit.
KMB: How long have you been working with bands and preparing them for major record deals?
AB: I’ve been working with bands for the past 14 years. I began producing solo artists 16 years ago.
KMB: How are you able to manage working with more than one talent at a time in a band setting?
AB: It’s not easy. In fact, that is the hardest part of my job. Different band members tend to have different strengths. It’s my job to make sure that each member feels valued while ensuring that the band isn’t held back by any member not pulling their weight. Sometimes this means guiding the band through difficult conversations, but it always means pushing the band harder and harder towards success.
Most of what I do when a band records is take away things they have recorded. It’s not easy on the ego of the players. But when you have a band that wants the best record possible, that’s the only thing that matters. Making music is about sculpting away the excess to make the piece.
KMB: If there were three qualities you look for in talent what would those be?
AB: That’s pretty easy actually. The more music you listen to, the better you are. The more wide ranging the music is, the more you will be able to create music in your own style. I look for musicians that can listen to any genre of music and see the best things about them.
I also look for ability to focus and put in long hours on their instruments. Some people call this a love for music, but I need more than that. I look for the musician that doesn’t give up when they get bored or frustrated. I look for the musician that wants to be the best at his or her craft.
Once you have the individual players, it’s all about the chemistry and how I think they will work together.
KMB: Can you name some of the bands you have guided into record deals and touring.
AB: I work with different bands in different contexts. While I’m proud to have worked with so many bands over the years, it’s important for me to point out that, while I guided them, they did all the hard work themselves and they made it happen.
Some of the first bands I developed were Black Out 101 and The Acers. From those bands Christo Bowman and Ray Libby went on to form the band the Bad Suns. Sam Kritzer went on to be the drummer for Melted Vinyl.
I worked with Jet Stream who’s members later went on to form Talk in Tongues and HUNNY.
A band called The Program has been together about 10 years and is currently recording with Rob Chiarelli, a multi grammy winning producer.
I recently co/produced a record with a former band member for the first time. His name is Michael Soffa and we produced a record called The Equinox by Satellite Ravens.
Matt Pulos was a founding member of Foxygen.
I’ve worked with Aidan Gallagher from the TV show Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn and Nextlfix’s upcoming The Umbrella Academy.
I have worked with most of the members of the band Spo Bro who were recently on American Idol and have a single coming out very soon.
I worked with Gavin Göttlich who is in the band King Kavalier who are on tour and recently did a remix for The Black Keys.
David Kohn and I have worked together on several bands. I produced the first single for his band Sir Please, who are now playing stadium shows and their single is blowing up faster than we had expected. I’m really excited for that band. Currently, I am working with Austin, the audio engineer who did The War on Drugs’ “A Deeper Understanding” which won the the Grammy for Best Alternative Album in 2017.
KMB: Tell us about your own music. Who are your main influences?
AB: Without a doubt the Beatles are the biggest influence. The Beatles are the ultimate blueprint for any band to follow. They worked harder than any band ever has and they made themselves successful in several genres. They always pushed themselves and that’s why we all came to love them.
I currently have a blues solo project and record under various pseudo names.
My band The Good Cheer and I played for over a decade and now do the occasional song for licensing. We recently got to write and record a gospel song for an upcoming movie.
KMB: When did you realize you had a talent to break new artists?
AB: My band used to play with a band called Simon Dawes. The guitar player of that band was Blake Mills, who was 16 at the time. It was obvious to me that he had a gift way beyond any of the other guys were were playing with, especially me haha. He went on to produce Alabama Shakes which won the Grammys for both best Alternative album and best rock song of the year in 2016. He has worked with Randy Newman, Eric Clapton, Stevie Wonder, John Legend,, The Avett Brothers and Jeff Bridges. He just finished producing the Cars 3 soundtrack for Pixar. He is truly one of the greats of our generation.
I only point it out to say, that in retrospect, I would have “put all my money” on Blake the second I heard him as a teenager. He just had a gift and the passion to pursue it. That’s the kind of thing I look for when I’m developing an artist.
KMB: When it comes to artist development, there are so many elements – songwriting, image, music skills etc. How do you approach each of these with new talent?
Confidence is HUGE. Confidence comes from repetitive practice. If they don’t believe it, no one will.
I think my answer to this has changed over the years. I used to think that it was essential for an artist to be good at EVERYTHING. I’ve realized that different people have different skills. If you don’t like developing an image, team up with people that do. If you don’t have a strong vision for something, be willing to participate in someone else’s. Find the people you want to say “yes” to and focus on what you want to be the best at.
When it comes to song writing, you just need to do it a lot and do it within very confined rules. Write 50 songs in the 1,4,5 progression. Even if you get bored, keep going, keep pushing the simplest of ideas further and further. Then add 1 chord into the progression, usually the 6 chord, and write 50 more.
It’s relatively easy to write something “original” that breaks every rule in music theory. It’s much harder to write something timeless.
Writing a pop song is harder than writing a jazz or metal song. If you want to write the best punk, metal, or jazz classic, write the simplest pop version of it on acoustic guitar and don’t allow style to be a crutch for the song. When you have something that truly moves people in it’s simplest form, then you have a masterpiece. You can add your style or genre back in at that point.
KMB: Tell us about your current music projects and upcoming tours.
I have several artist and bands in development that I’m really excited about. A band called The Antidote and a solo artist called Mad Lucas and her band Sick of Sarah’s in particular have a lot of potential.
The Sir Please band and their lead single “Dance With Me” are going to going be huge. Their release party had a line out the door of teenagers who couldn’t get in. They are opening for REO Speedwagon at a stadium in 2 weeks. I’m exited to see how they sound going from the backyard teenage party to the stadium haha.
My old band the Good Cheer did a few gospel tunes for a film soundtrack.
KMB: Advise for musicians trying to break into the industry. What would be the first 5 steps?
Just start listening to a LOT of music. If you like a particular style, trace it back. Find out what your favorite musicians were listening to and listen to that. Then find out what influenced them and trace that back. Just keep going back until you get to that simple acoustic hit we talked about before. It’s there, and finding that is the journey of music.
Don’t confuse lots of notes for good music. Record yourself all the time and then ask what you can take away to make it better. Be the absolute best at being simple. Ask more questions.
Practice with a metronome. When I was in college I would walk to my classes with a metronome on my headphones. I used to sleep with a metronome under my pillow. Now that I’m married, my wife has opinions about that…so that was “discontinued” as an adult haha. If you can’t play to a metronome, you’re not ready.
Don’t accept the idea that you can have your “own groove”. If you can’t play your “own groove” while listening to the click. Be able to do anything with or without a metronome by knowing it completely at every speed. Learn how to be 100% correct and then learn how to groove off the click by incidents of 1% at a time.
Be simple. Be confident. Be the performer that you can’t look away from and the songwriter you can’t get out of your head.
This story was originally published at http://www.killermusicbuzz.com/aaron-burch-the-master-of-talent-development/.