Our exclusive interview with Wendy Starland
Through sheer determination and hard work, Wendy Starland established herself as an award winning songwriter, record producer, and very talented performer. She is the poster child for the words “hard work does pay off”. Wendy is an incredibly nice person and we were lucky enough to be able talk to her about her life, her experiences and influences, advice for up-and-coming songwriters, her plans for the future, and yeah, her discovery of someone you may have heard of, Lady Gaga.
The Early Years.
Tell us about the early years, including where you were born, early childhood memories, and how you got started in the Entertainment Business? You started singing and performing years ago. What sparked that? What inspired you to pursue music?
My childhood babysitter, Rosetta Atkins, influenced me the most as a singer. She’s a gospel singer from the south, who basically became my second mother. She taught me how to sing by imitating the voices on the gospel radio station she listened to - both men and women's voices. By the time I was 6 or 7, I had learned several techniques of how to use my voice and was able to choose the sound I wanted to distinguish myself, so I started writing songs on the piano.
Eventually as a teenager, I was pulled up on stage by James Brown's saxophone player, Maceo Parker, during one of his concerts and scatted on his stage for 20 minutes. After I was done, Maceo’s bass player got down on one knee as if he were proposing, took a string off of his bass guitar and coiled it up around my ring finger. He hushed the crowd and said into the microphone, “Wendy, from this day forward you are married to music. You have a gift from God. You must devote your life to using this gift or else you will deprive the world of something so special.” I got the chills. It was written up in the newspapers the next day. I made the decision in that moment to focus my life around music forever.
You’re originally from the East Coast but you have lived in Los Angeles for a while. What was the music scene like in LA & do you like LA over NY? Is the music scene different in New York than it is in California?
I love the music scene in both places and have met extremely talented musicians in both places. LA seems to have a bit more excitement around going to see live music. There is a large artist community here and people support each other. It’s really great to see, and I feel lucky to have made some lasting friendships.
Who did you look up to when growing up?
Huge influences for me that I listened to growing up (and still do now) are Carole King, Shirley Caesar, The Police, Sting, Pearl Jam, U2, Stevie Nicks, Sade, Green Day, Aretha Franklin, and Stone Temple Pilots.
My #1 influence at the moment is Dave Grohl / Foo fighters. Dave just rocks. I could not be more impressed and inspired by his instinctive ability to write incredible songs, sing them with such heartfelt conviction, play drums and guitar with that same passion, and perform, produce…it never ends. His talent blows me away.
You started singing and writing music at a young age, and now you have added the titles of Record Producer & Label Owner, Did you ever think when you first started that you would wind up doing all of the different jobs/skills that you currently have?
Definitely not! I learned how to produce out of necessity. I’m a perfectionist when it comes to music, and like it to sound a certain way. In the past, I would be working with producers in the studio who would make creative decisions I didn’t agree with, so I needed to learn how to produce in order to have creative freedom. I'd watch the producers I was working with very closely, and paid attention to how they created various sounds by combining layers of instruments, etc. I bought some equipment. I started listening to music in a different way, and picked it apart in order to learn how it was constructed. Through a lot of practice, I was able to produce some recordings that had some success. Eventually other artists began hiring me to produce for them and it snowballed from there.
Several artists I produced needed an outlet for their music and liked that Give Back Entertainment incorporates charitable giving into our business model. There is also a strong emphasis on brand partnerships, which had always played a huge role for me. I’m currently working with the jewelry line Anna e Alex www.annaealex.com who creates magnificent hand crafted jewelry. Other artists would ask me how I was able to form those partnerships and wanted me to help set up those relationships for them - so I set up a platform for it. Starting a label seemed like the next logical step for this business model.
The Music Biz
How have your experiences from touring affected your music career?
My experiences on tour have been some of the best of my life and have only helped my career to flourish. It’s such a privilege to be able to travel the world doing what you love and be able to call it your job. I am so fortunate to have visited such amazing places and learned a little bit about different cultures. One of my most rewarding touring experiences was performing my music with the ACO Val Vibrata Symphony Orchestra conducted by Maestro Luisella Chiarini for the Mayor of Tortoreto, Italy. It was an unforgettable feeling.
How does the artist experience differ from being a songwriter?
Being a songwriter requires versatility while being an artist requires you to create a cohesive body of work. I truly enjoy both. My goal is to always contribute a part of myself to my music that will result in it sounding authentic, timeless, and real.
You were featured on Moby's Grammy Nominated Album "Last Night" where you sang the lead vocal on the song "I'm In Love". The album was on the cover of MySpace & iTunes as the "Staff Favorite." It went to #2 on the Billboard Charts which is a huge accomplishment. Can you tell us how you met Moby, how did the song come about, what was it like working with him, and what is he like behind the scenes?
The way I ended up on Moby’s album was totally random. I got a message on MySpace from Moby’s drummer saying that he was looking for a female vocalist for his next album and tour. Since I rarely checked my inbox on social media websites, I received the message 3 weeks later. Luckily I got to audition and he liked my songwriting, so we wrote some songs together. Moby chose from over 200 song sketches and whittled it down to 16 tracks that made the album. I felt lucky to be a part of it.
I remember having a fever of 103° F degrees when I recorded that track, but I didn’t want to reschedule since Moby was so busy and I wanted to meet the deadline. He wanted my voice to be reminiscent of a drug induced girl who was on an all night bender after an evening at the club. Maybe my fever actually helped me to sound this way! Moby was very down-to-earth and we enjoyed tea on his roof overlooking New York City.
The Writing Process.
What is your writing process?
While writing my new album, I've typically started singing melodies over guitar chords while my producer, Ivo Moring, plays the guitar. The melody will lead us in a certain direction and we’ll follow it with the next set of chords. Working with Ivo is such a pleasure and is so effortless. We finish each other’s musical sentences. From there, I will listen to what the music is telling me and write the lyrics. Most of the time certain words, or vowel sounds, will fly out while I’m writing the vocal melody. Those will turn into key lyric phrases in the song. I focus on the phonetic sounds of the words as much as their meaning. There are certain vowel sounds that will catch the listener’s ear over a specific chord more than others. I think it’s a crucial element to how memorable a song will become.
What inspires your writing?
Life, love, lessons, pain…experience.
You have had a lot of success as a writer/producer, working with some of the biggest names in the business. Can you tell us about some of your most successful songs and what success has meant to you?
My strength is in my ability to be versatile. Authentically. I’ve collaborated with artists that truly run the gamut: from members of the Wu Tang Clan and Capone, to Moby, Lady Gaga, and opening for artists such as Sheryl Crow, Jack White, and Chris Shiflett of the Foo Fighters, etc. I’m currently working on a song featuring Snoop Dogg, MC Ekko and JC. I was also released on a Universal compilation that included Norah Jones and Feist, so I’ve written and produced several songs in that genre as well. I’ve been exposed to most musical genres and have learned how to tackle them effectively.
Who are you currently working with (artist, songwriters, producers, collaborators)?
I’ve been co-writing and producing a few artists - in particular, the RapScallions and Mackenzie Dayle. It’s been quite an evolution for the RapScallions to have arrived at where they are now. I’m currently co-producing the band with Grammy award winning producer, Matt Wallace (Maroon 5, Faith No More, R.E.M.,Pepper) Together, we’ve created a distinctive sound that isn’t like anything I’m currently hearing on the radio. It’s a blend of classic and SoCal rock influences.
In only the past few months, the LA Kings, New York Rangers, Colorado Avalanche, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, and FOX Sports San Diego have all licensed the RapScallions’ song “Can You Feel It” that I co-wrote and produced for use in their stadiums. Clear Channel stations 103.3fm (Temecula, California) and 93.9fm (Phoenix, Arizona) also picked it up. The RapScallions performed the song live on FOX Sports for the Padres "Opening Day" at Petco Park to millions of viewers. The RapScallions were iHeart Radio’s “Music To Know” for the month of July. They are killing it. Their sound is filling a void and people are eating it up.
Mackenzie Dayle is a 19 year old Pop artist, dancer, and actress from Canada - a true triple threat. The real deal. She is mature beyond her years, both vocally and personally. She’s been winning vocal competitions in Canada since she was 7 years old and has recently landed a role in the upcoming feature film “Branded,”produced by Kent Speakman - starring Quinton Aaron from “The Blind Side” with Sandra Bullock, and Josh Emerson from “Jennifer’s Body” with Megan Fox.
We’ve written some great songs together and collaborated with co-writers/co-producers such as: Lars Halvor Jensen (Jordin Sparks, Jason Derulo) Sarom (Enrique Iglesius, Jennifer Lopez, Lil Wayne, Carlos Santana, Nicki Minaj), Tero Potila (cowrote double platinum selling song for Isac Elliot, composed music for USA Network’s "Burn Notice") and Engineered by Ben Cole and Dario Forzato.
Have you ever mentored any songwriters or producers?
Too many to count! (laughs)
Are there any artists, songwriters or producers you would like to work with in the future?
Yes, I’d love to work with Steve Lillywhite, Hugh Padgham, and Dave Grohl.
"Garden Of Temptation was written, produced, & engineered by you. The song was chosen for the NBC Primetime Series "Las Vegas” and “Hawaii." Can you tell us how this all came about starting from the writing & production of the song and the process of getting it placed on a major TV Show?
I got a mass email saying that NBC was looking for a theme song for one of their hit shows. I decided to send in one of my songs and I received a call saying that they wanted to use it! From there, I built a relationship with the people over at NBC who decided to use my music for a couple of their primetime promos.
You were honored by the Songwriters "Hall Of Fame" at a ceremony in June. You were also featured on their "Best of the Songwriters "Hall Of Fame" CD. How did it feel to be honored in such a prestigious way?
I was blown away. I’ve been writing songs since I was a little girl and never dreamed that I would be included in such good company. It was an incredible honor that I will never forget.
Since radio playlists seem to change every six months, how do you stay ahead of the curve with your songwriting so that you songs are fresh by the time they hit the radio or wind up getting a SYNC License?
Music is cyclical and as an artist or songwriter, you need to be able to predict what trend is coming next. That being said, ultimately, a great song will stand the test of time regardless of what trends are happening at the moment. So the golden rule would be to write a great, authentic song that’s well produced and it will find its home.
Do you have any advice for young up & coming songwriters?
1. If you want to develop an act from scratch, then you should ignore trends at all costs. It typically takes about 8 months from the time the artist signs the record deal, to when the 1st single will be released. So if you follow a trend, by the time it’s released it will sound like the same regurgitated music that the public has been hearing for the past 8 months (at least.) I am not referring to genres or production that is considered to be timeless or “classic” sounding.
2. If you want to place a song with a popular artist or be a “track guy” then it’s okay to follow the trends. This is mainly because many labels are afraid to take big risks on something that sounds too different than the status quo. Pressure is high and jobs are at stake. There’s nothing wrong with having commercial music to pitch for those situations, as well as for ad campaigns.
3. Write great songs that sound amazing if sung and played on the piano or acoustic guitar. Always encourage sing-alongs.
4. Be prolific. Say “Yes” to new collaborations because you never know where it could lead.
5. Fill a void. People get bored of hearing the same genre of music over and over again. Observe the current musical landscape and predict what “mood” people will be in next. Ask yourself what would be the most natural transition or reaction to the current genre. Then create it.
You Discovered Lady Gaga, one of the biggest selling artists of all time. She made 100 Million Dollars on her 2011 World Tour, and she is reported to have a net worth between $150 - $200 Million Dollars. You changed her life by finding her, bringing her to Rob Fusari & developing her. Can you tell us all the details about how you found her?
In 2005, Rob asked me to search for a female artist under the age of 25 who had the characteristics to be the female equivalent to the lead singer of The Strokes. Someone who was edgy, bold, energetic, confident. Someone you can’t take your eyes off of. That was Stefani Germanotta to a tee. I attended about 50 live shows and searched for over 8 months before discovering Lady Gaga and introducing her to Rob on March 23, 2006. More importantly, Rob had to approve the artist I found, so there is no question that it met his criteria. He stopped looking for The "Strokes girl" as soon as I brought him Germanotta and eventually signed her to his production company. We wrote songs together and strategized about the project. I could not be more proud to have played a part in the worldwide success of Lady Gaga.
There is a lot of incredible talent out there, however, talent alone isn’t enough. Being a great singer doesn’t matter if you’re not singing great songs. Having great songs won’t be obvious to record executives if they are not professionally produced. Consistently performing those songs extremely well is essential. Having an undeniable stage presence and never quit attitude are necessary requirements. Taking constructive criticism from others is required to get to the next level. Knowing how to market yourself and your press materials is key. These things don’t happen overnight. Every artist that becomes famous has a team, and needs to convince someone to believe in them enough to have others rally around them to achieve stardom. If I can be that person, then I’m happy to do it.
What is Gaga like on a personal level & what type of things did you do for fun when you worked with her?
Lady Gaga is extremely intelligent, talented, and a lot of fun. We've had so many good times together. We went to concerts -I took her to see the symphony at Lincoln Center and we’d sneak in fruity cocktails. We spent Christmas with her family and New Years with my friends. We’d blast music and dance around her apartment. We were a great team!
Do you plan on working with her again in the future?
It would be great to work with her again! We’ll see what the future holds. I love the songs we wrote together.
What was it like for you when she blew up?
It was fantastic! I was so happy and excited to watch her become a household name. There are hours and hours of work that went into the project, and it was very rewarding that the world recognized it. I was most excited about the fact that Lady Gaga has been such a trailblazer. This project made a huge mark in music history, and I am so proud to have been a part of it.
It was recently widely reported that you won a $7.3 Million Dollar Law Suit against Rob Fusari who allegedly did not honor his agreement with you in regards to Lady Gaga. Can you walk us through what it means to you to finally have the world know that you found Gaga & were a big part of her development and success?
Rob and I made our agreement in 2005. We are now entering 2015. The journey has been a long one. I knew that the truth was on my side and I felt fortunate that the jury was able to see that. My attorneys at Dunnegan & Scileppi did an extraordinary job at helping me reach this milestone. I am so thankful to them for making the Herculean effort that was required to win this case. It would be wonderful if the verdict helped other people to remember that agreements are enforceable. Do business with people who are worthy of your trust. Be the living example that your word is your bond. It’s a tough business and people need to be valued for their work.
Wendy Starland the Artist & Musician
Tell us what type of artist you are? What is your message as a recording artist?
I’m an authentic artist. My music is an expression of myself. After having lived out in Los Angeles, the evolution of my sound has led me into the Rock genre. When I was living in New York and was surrounded by the loud sounds of the city: people, cars, subways, etc. I created music as a method to soothe me. LA has so much open space, and I’ve been inspired to fill it up with rock music, since my environment here is much more relaxing and low key.
My message varies from song to song. Each song reflects a different chapter if my life, and my mentality at the time. My overall goal is to connect with other people like me who can relate to some of the experiences I share in my music.
What are your live shows like? What artists have you performed with? What is it like to be on tour? Does any one city, concert, or tour stand out in your mind?
Each show gives me the opportunity to have a communal experience with the audience and connect with them. It is up to me to make that experience a memorable one. Music is very spiritual in this way. In addition to playing all over the US and Canada, I’ve had the privilege of performing all over Europe: Italy, Portugal, Poland, England, Spain, Sweden, etc. I performed on the same bill as Jack White and Sheryl Crow, which was one of my favorite shows. Being on tour is so much fun and is always adventurous. I have crazy stories from each city that will always make me laugh extremely hard.
What is it like to meet your fans & what does their support mean to you?
It means everything. Their overwhelming support has been such a blessing and I could not be more grateful. I’ve received so many emails from people who have turned to my music in tough times to help them get through obstacles in their life, and it means the world to me. One woman had breast cancer and listened to my song “Diamonds In The Rain” on her headphones while going into surgery because she said it gave her courage. If my music can offer anyone solace, I am thankful for the opportunity. My connection to my audience is a very personal one. It’s why I love music.
What instruments do you play?
I play a little bit of piano, but my main instrument is my voice.
Learning how to produce music has helped me to execute the ideas I have by sequencing them. I've learned various techniques to build out the layers of instruments that helped make up for my lack of expertise as a pianist.
You are a very busy person. Do you have time for a personal life, and if yes, tell us a little bit about your life outside of music?
I’m a busy person but will always make time for my personal life. Without it, I’d have nothing to write about!
I’m engaged to Chris Clemence. He is also a musician from New York and we have a lot in common. I feel fortunate that we understand each other’s experience on such a deep level. Being in the music business requires having a very strong resolve. You must be completely committed to the craziness that will inevitably ensue when pursing a career in music. I’m lucky to have found a partner who can relate. We help one another and it strengthens our bond. We also have the same taste in almost everything, which makes being together fun.
What is the short term & long term (Big Picture) plan for you as an artist? What is “next” for Wendy Starland?
I’m excited to release my new album and hope to help bring back Rock to mainstream radio. Rock stations have been dwindling in the US, and I’d like to see that change. I worked on my new album with award winning multi-platinum producer, Ivo Moring. The stadium rock sound we’ve created is not something I’ve heard before from any other female solo artist. The first single, “Home” is in stores now.
The video for the 1st single, “Home,” was Directed by Thierry Brouard, with aerial shots by Gary Reisman. I’ve licensed the the song to a London based label, MCR, and it will be released on a compillation album called That’s My Jam! 87.
My new album was produced by Ivo Moring, who has had several Top 10 hits, including his song that was #1 for twelve weeks and became the second most successful song in german chart history. He was also awarded “Hit Of The Year” in 2012, and has worked with Jordan Knight , The New Kids On The Block, Heather Nova, Darren Hayes of Savage Garden, Jennifer Paige, Sarah Brightman, Limahl, Sarah Connor, Lutricia McNeal, Chris Norman, Christina Stürmer, and Sandra and Coolio. In 2012 alone, his compositions were placed in 108 different radio charts. Needless to say, his talent is through the roof. He also happens to be an incredibly kind and humble person. I love the songs we’ve written together and believe that Rock music is coming back with a vengeance. There are a lot of new and exciting things on the horizon and the next chapter is going to be amazing.
How can fans find you online & order your songs?
Thank you, Wendy.
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