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"Witness": A Conversation with Pianist Cory Reese, Pt. Two
CORY: I think it went bad because I went to the studio in the mindset that I wasnít going to be playing anything, and they were just going to professionally record what I had already done on the Clavinova. So when I decided to actually go into the studio and play on the piano, it felt like I was trying to force the music. Additionally, some of the songs I had recorded on the Clavinova months before and hadnít stayed fresh on playing the songs so I didnít have them as solid as they needed to be. That night I went home and ran through all the songs a few times which helped, and I went back more relaxed and prepared.
I donít use sheet music. I donít know if itís a good or bad thing, but each time I play a song, there always seems to be a little bit of a variation. I donít think I have ever played a song that I have written the same way twice. I canít read sheet music, so itís all stored in my brain which can be dangerous because I have been known to forget my own song!
C.S.: The song "Looking In" you recorded in one take. That must have felt great. What is your usual approach when you go into a studio? How do you approach recording each song?
CORY: I had recorded a different version of the song ďLooking InĒ on my second CD ďHeart To HeartĒ, so that one went really smooth because I had basically been playing it for years. They arenít all that easy. Because recording is so expensive, I make sure that I donít go to the studio until everything is solid, and I could almost play it with my eyes closed. There are still little touch-ups to make, but thatís how I go about each song.
C.S.: Youíve been able to work with two different distributors. How did you go about finding them? And finally, is it true that you have now created your own label?
CORY: To this day, Iím not sure how it happened, but my first distributor, Inspired Ideas, actually found me. I had been playing around at places a lot and working on getting my name out, then one day I get an email from the president of the company saying that they are interested, and to send them my stuff.
At this point, I only had my first CD, the beginnings of a mailing list, and a list of places I had played. I sent these things to them, and they decided to sign me. A few years later I wanted to branch out a little bit, and had heard good things about Granite Publishing and Distribution. With the first distributor, I was still feeling my way around things, but after a few years I had a lot more confidence in what I was doing. I sent Granite my two CDs, places I had played, and possibly most important Ė a marketing plan: who my target demographic was, where I was going to play, what I was going to do, etc. Distributors or labels arenít going to care about my music if they donít think itís going to sell, and it doesnít sell itself. They want to know how Iím going to push it.
I thought early on that having a distributor was the ultimate goal that would get me where I wanted to go. I learned that really a distributor doesnít do much to market. They rely on me to market the music, then they get the CDs in stores for people to buy. One of the most important things that I try to stress to everyone just beginning is that a label or distributor shouldnít be your goal. I havenít accomplished anymore now since having a distributor than I did before, except be able to walk into some stores and see my CD sitting there.
C.S.: Very good advice, Cory. You have accomplished some amazing things, for a pianist who never started playing the piano till the age of 18. Do you think you were just inherently talented or has it come from hard work or from a little bit of both? What words would you have for those who are discouraged but would like to use their talents to bless the lives of others?
CORY: My personal opinion is that it is about 10% talent, and 90% hard work. I heard about an opera singer once where a lady walked up to her and said ďGosh, I wish I could do what you do.Ē The opera singer responded ďNo, you donít. If you really wanted to do what I do, you would wake up at 5:00am every morning, sing through scales for a few hours, and practice singing other pieces of music for another twelve hours after that. Then you could do what I do.Ē It takes dedication, practice, and a willingness to work hard. Coming from a totally non-musical background, if I can do it, anyone can.
C.S.: At your website, you mention that you've had many requests for your sheet music. What are your plans with this?
CORY: I have had a lot of people asking for sheet music so I recently hired Lindy Kerby to help me out with this, which I am excited about. She is a great solo piano player with an excellent new CD, and she knows a lot more about this technical stuff than I do. It wonít do me any good, but maybe someone else will want to play a song or two. Hopefully the sheet music will be released sometime in next month or two.
C.S.: Well, I for one would be excited to get some of your sheetmusic. You have two beautiful comments from David Lanz and Paul Cardall on your site. What would be your advice for other musicians who would like to obtain endorsements for their projects?
CORY: When I finished my first CD, I just emailed a bunch of musicians I looked up to, and asked if theyíd take a listen and see what they think. Some I never heard from, and some I did. Since that time I have talked with David Lanz a few times, and have become good friends with Paul, both of which would have never happened if I hadnít got into doing music. Paul is an amazing musician, but above that, he is just a really nice guy, and the kind of person that would help anyone out. I have a lot of respect for him.
C.S.: Cory, you have done some beautiful things with your life. What would you share with those who might be feeling discouraged right now about what they have to share?
CORY: I donít think there is one musician who hasnít felt at least a little self-critical at some point. I know I have. My encouragement would be to stick with it, and donít give up. Everyone has their own song to sing, and if you donít sing (or play) your song, who will? One day I was at an in-store performance at the front of the store, and I couldnít see anyone around, and it felt like I was just playing for myself which was kind of discouraging. Then a lady walked up from behind me with tears in her eyes and said ďYou have all of us crying back here.Ē You may be touching someone or making an impact on someoneís life and not even know it. Stick with it.
C.S.: Words well spoken. Any favorite scriptures or thoughts which guide you as you make your choices about what to do with your talents?
CORY: The counsel on using our talents and not letting them go to waste is something that I have given a lot of thought to. Itís true that if you use your talents and share them with others, they will be increased. I know this has been true for me. Just the way I think when I sit down to play the piano or write music is completely different and more complex than when I first started playing. Additionally, if I donít continue to use my talents, I will lose them. I talk to people all the time who played the piano (and a variety of other things) when they were younger, but didnít stick with it, and now they canít remember how!
C.S.: So ďuse it or lose it,Ē I guess? Thank you for sharing so much with us. Any final words?
CORY: Thank you so much for the interview. It has been fun to think about the steps I have taken along the road. The music business, whether itís writing, singing, or playing, is a journey and the results usually donít come as quickly as Iíd like, but when those results come, it makes all the hard work worth it.
It is rewarding to know that somewhere, someone is going to have a stressful day, and maybe pop in my CD when they get home to relax. It is rewarding to hear from people who say that a song brought them peace after the death of a loved one. Itís rewarding to have someone say that my music helped them feel something they havenít felt before. It is those rewards that keep me doing what I am doing.
C.S.: I for one am grateful for Cory and his music. For more information, please visit his website.
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