16 July 2013

Chapter 5 – Meeting record labels, the glamour and the shame.

So now we had the songs, the photos and the video. Our next step was meeting the record labels! Jud had penned quite a few successful hit songs in the past and as a result had made some good connections. So it wasn’t hard to arrange meetings with labels.

I was starting to feel like I was leading a double life. The girl in the video was not who I really was. Musically she was poppy and sassy and I was dark and quirky. But this was a great opportunity, working, writing and learning from Jud, meeting labels. This may not be who I’d eventually become but it was a great place to start.
Jud had arranged a handful of meetings in New York City, so my guitarist (and then boyfriend) and I quickly began rehearsing. Performing has always come naturally to me. I love connecting to an audience and the honesty in my performance is one of my strengths. But geling with the music was becoming a struggle for me. I have more in common with Bjork than Britney, and if I can’t relate to what I’m singing how the hell was I going to perform it to the biggest record labels in the world??
I was no longer allowed to hide behind a piano so I had to work on being a ‘front woman.’ Jud said I’d  need to ‘ooze confidence, be sexy and show them I’m the real deal’ …. I didn’t want to act sexy cos it’ll just look cringy and contrived. I was happy to ‘dress’ sexy, but in terms of performance I had to do what came naturally. The songs were rehearsed, my red PVC outfit was at the ready (wasn’t as trashy as it sounds – honest) but NOTHING could have prepare me for the week that was to follow.

We touched down in NYC, equipped with our demo, our music video and a set of well rehearsed songs – we were finally ready to showcase for the record labels. Jud greeted us with a beaming smile as we walked through the arrivals gate. I was grateful to have Andy; my guitarist and then-boyfriend by my side, he was not only a fantastic musician, he was also my rock and remains so to this day. We discussed the week that lay ahead over dinner; Jud’s enthusiasm was infectious, despite our jet lag. He had used his contacts to get us meetings with the head of the A&R departments at Sony music, Atlantic records and Arista – and it was all starting to hit home, that only a few months ago I was knee-deep in studentville, and I was now about to showcase for the biggest records labels in the world. The first meeting would be with Atlantic records the following morning. So once briefed, we headed back to our hotel to get some much needed beauty sleep – I was going to need it.

Jodie May

The following morning I began the transformation from a scruffy jean-and-vest-wearing student with a cockney accent, into to a sultry, red PVC-wearing recording artist from England. Jud picked us up from the hotel bright and early and we headed to Atlantic records to meet the head of the A&R department; Craig Kallman. Andy and I had a quick run through for Jud. He encourage me to be more sassy, sexy, and animated. I knew what he needed from me, but ‘putting it on’ was not something I was comfortable with. I write and perform music because I feel it. I think to be ‘the real deal’,  you have to be just that – the real deal. However, I was now becoming acutely aware that I had got myself into a bittersweet situation – Jud and I had worked hard to get to this point but the music I was showcasing wasn’t really the kind of music that I would usually create / perform. It was more commercial than I was used too. But when we initially wrote these songs on guitar, I really  thought I could make them my own, but Jud was a pop producer – it was what he was good at and he was the reason I was sitting in the reception at Atlantic records. So, to coin a phrase, it was time to shit or get off the pot. It wasn’t Jud’s fault I was starting to feel compromised artistically. He had been open, fair and encouraging every step of the way. He was giving me a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I didn’t want to let him, or myself, down. So I had to ‘bring it.’

We sat in reception and waited, and then we waited some more. Suddenly Mr Kallan’s secretary strides over to us, and tells us that Mr Kallman won’t be coming out of his office today …
“I’m sorry, what?’ says Jud.
“He won’t come out” she looks down.
“But he booked this appointment with us weeks ago … he does realise Jodie has flown here from the UK to see him?” says Jud.
“Yes he’s aware of that” she looks as baffled as us.
“Not just the artists who go all out diva then eh?” I mutter under my breath.

“but Mr Mardin would like to meet you!” the secretary adds.
I’m ashamed to say at this point I had no idea who Arif Mardin was, and in hindsight this was probably a good thing – had I known he was one of the world’s most renowned producers, responsible for: Aretha Franklin, breaking Phil Collins, discovering the high falsetto of Barry Gibb, producing Norah Jones’s breaking record, producing such songs as Dusty’s ‘Son of a preacher man’ and Bette Middler ‘Wind Beneath my wings’, I would have been a bumbling idiot! He was such a well respected figure in the industry, and in 2005 a film was released about Arrif called, ‘The greatest ears in town.’  Sadly Arif passed away in 2006 and left a rather large hole in the music business, and in the lives of those that knew him.

I loved meeting Arif. He was just so lovely. A kind, sweet-natured man who I would have happily chatted to all afternoon. We performed our songs for him easily, and he was very complimentary. I breathed a sigh of relief as our first showcase was over, and left Atlantic on cloud nine.

Our next meeting would be with Arista, and of all the meetings we had, that had to be the most unsuccessful, cringe-worthy meetings of them all. To be continued…