You're born. You live. You die. And in between you hope you've made a difference. Candy Coburn is making a difference, not only with her music, but with her humanitarian efforts as well, which is where this interview starts.
Q - Candy, you've started a homeless shelter for teenagers?
A - I did a really unusual thing in the last three weeks that is totally like taking on a full-time job as well as all the stuff I do now. I was part of putting together a homeless shelter for youth that are like 13 to 21 years old. I've always worked with these kids in a music project I did last year. This is a Winter (2014) that has been horrible, so long here (Missouri) that those kids every Thursday night when I finish this project, I was taking them to parking garages to sleep, underpasses, just crazy stuff. I got it up and running three weeks ago. I'm totally 1000% in charge of it with like 50 volunteers and it has been like jumping into the deepest part of the pool without a life jacket. So, I have been literally rolling so fast with keeping that thing functioning to get through our Winter here. It's kind of been frantic, but it's going great and the kids are doing awesome. It's been a totally different experience for me to juggle work and that.
Q - You could almost say that the energy you devote to this shelter takes away from promoting Candy Coburn's musical career.
A - Yeah, it could be. But it's kind of like, "been there, done that" too. I've already gotten to go to all the big places, to Charlotte Motor Speedway, to Churchill Downs, to Daytona. I've done things all over the country for up to 125,000 people in a sitting. It's like that is wonderful and I loved it. It's not all I am. That's why I'm really excited about this company we have coming out because this company is also going to be a giving company. It's going to help out a lot of musicians and these youth that really have no way to get out of their situation in a transitional living program. We have such a vision for this to stay in the industry we love, which is music, but to really make a difference with what we have been given. So, we are really excited. We are never going to quit playing music, ever. But is it the only thing I need to do now? No. I know tons of things and I know I can make a bigger impact in other areas. So that's why I encourage the kids I work with; keep going! Don't just be a one trick pony. Continue to grow and continue to learn all parts of the industry. You can keep branching out and make it mean something. Don't just play to play. Make it mean something.
Q - I will see homeless people on street corners and it's the same people day after day.
A - Absolutely.
Q - I saw this one guy holding up a sign, "I Won't Lie. Will Work For Beer."
A - Exactly, and you know what? That's the ones that I call the bad apples that mess up the rest of the batch. It's so bad because the area that I live in, there's a video called "Homeless In The Heartland." This is actually up for some major awards for a high school media group that did it. It's truly what I call the most White town in the Midwest. It's about a 200,000 to 300,000 Metro area and we have got 500+ homeless kids in this area. And that just doesn't make sense or add up to me when we have tons of churches and tons of resources. A pretty middle-class area. What really sucks is these adults get out there with their boards or gas cans or whatever they are trying to finagle people with. It gives everybody else who is in legitimately a bad place, a bad name.
Q - Why are teenagers homeless?
A - Well, let me tell you, I could talk about this for three days. There's such a major problem with the way the system is set up, especially here. It's illegal to be homeless in this area. In other words, you really have to keep traveling. You talk about their feet hurting? It's because they have to. One of my kids got a ticket just for sitting on the lawn of a park in the middle of town too long. So, you get a ticket when you are homeless. Then it immediately goes to the court and you have a court date, correct? 'cause you didn't pay it 'cause you didn't have the money. So right there you don't go to court 'cause you don't have the money and then you have a warrant for your arrest. And you are maybe 18. So then what happens? You try to go get a job and you have a warrant. You tried to go to the Salvation Army or a shelter and you have a warrant. You can't go in. This is how things happen that make absolutely no sense. The kids, many times, and you hear their stories, it can be A to Z. They either have parents that sold drugs or are in prison; they are currently selling drugs; they have an abusive parent. If they do have a home, the parent has died and they were literally kicked out because they can't pay the rent on the place where they lived or they were left somewhere traveling across the country. I mean, these are real stories every day and they are kids that have no choice. They have what they have on their back and that's it.
Q - How can you come along and help anyone in a situation like that?
A - I'll tell you what, I have no clue what I'm doing at all. It's just something I'm called to do. I'm supposed to do it. I started a music project with them a year ago and the place is called the Rare Breed. It's awesome. It was started a long time ago. It serves these youth from 3 PM to 11 PM. These guys are wonderful. They provide services like showers, washers and dryers and a hot meal at night. They are open 3 to 11 PM 'cause that's the only funding they have. They got cut by the Sequester. They got cut by other grants falling away. They do this to provide a safe place for these kids after school hours or as long as they can have them there. 11 o'clock they have to go hit the street again. Unfortunately there's just not enough money. Then they had a transition living program which basically gets a kid in at a time and they really give them some great benchmarks. This is obviously what we hope to do with our business, to have a transitional living lend to this. But these guys get them on a budget and a job, help them get a car and just get them on their feet and mentor them to know exactly even how to have responsibilities. Remember, these kids have not being parented at all, so they are completely clueless when it comes to how to have responsibility. They do this at the Rare Breed. They used to have many more of the transitional living spots or apartment complex spaces and it got cut. So, many of those kids went back to the street. But they were coming in every Thursday night. What I started doing was recording their music, getting to know them, working on the gear, guitars, you name it, whatever. Started planning events that we had three of last year (2013), to get them out in front of the public, to give them a chance to play with a real band, 'live' in a venue. These events were really for two reasons. One, to build their confidence, to feel like they had something to look forward to, to help them if they had talent or not. Just to make them feel good about something they had accomplished. The next reason is to get them in front of people that had the potential, or maybe the backing, to get involved with Rare Breed and to get involved with transitional living. I'm taking kids all around to those places that are ridiculous, to take them to go to sleep that night. I can't take them home. (Laughs) I have kids too. I couldn't do it anymore. It was making me crazy. I can't leave them at these places at night. This is so insane. There's nowhere for them to go. My church didn't have a building for a whole year. We were like in a transitional theater we met in. We finally got a building and in the first week we got a building, I'm like, "Hey? We gotta do this! We got a building now. It's going to happen." And pretty much I was told, "Okay, if you want to do it, you gotta do it." I'm like, "All right." I have no clue what I'm doing. 50 people volunteered. I mean, just the greatest things have happened. I'm a believer. I believe God does things for a reason and this was a super neon light for me that this many people came up to spend a whole night, fron 9 PM to 7 AM, and stay up all night for these kids. Now, we've seen these kids getting jobs, rested, looking like they have a brain again. They literally have not slept all Winter. It's amazing just the strides we are making in the short time we've had it open. This is kind of something that landed in my lap and I would never in a million years thought it was something I was supposed to do, but I'm supposed to do it. So, music is still going on. I'm absolutely playing. I have all kinds of things going on, but this is really exciting to me.
Q - Is it true that you didn't start writing songs until after you graduated college?
A - It wasn't something I was ever told to do. That was kind of a big hole that I missed there, that nobody educated me during high school that that was something to do. As a kid I was always told "Sing this" and I did. What do I sing next? What ever they told me to do. I was kind of like the dog and pony show. I learned it, played it well, and do it probably like it was recorded for the most part. Then I got to college and realized real quick that I'm not going to be a good teacher. The traditional, contemporary way to teach this is not what I want to do, no offense to anybody else. There are amazing music teachers that deserve the biggest raises in the world right now. They have the hardest jobs in the world. I work with a bunch of them now in the schools. I go in and hang out and I'm just always amazed about the amazing love they have for these kids and music. But I knew I didn't want to do that and that's when I kind of said wait a minute! Everything I thought I was heading towards and did the right pattern to which I was taught in public school, really has nothing to do with what I want to do and that is to be a working musician and make money. So, there was no in between. There was no way to find that at a university setting. There was no way to find that in any books. It was completely, when I started going, trial and error and that is starting out writing my first song, getting my first guitar, starting to co-write. Then, making trips to Nashville and writing and just put a band together. Playing bar gigs. Started playing my original music. It was just that progression that is very old school, but it's the way I learned to be an original artist, not a "me too" artist. When I coach kids now I tell them "Listen, there's already been Taylor Swift. There's already been Carrie Underwood. There's already been Miranda Lambert. All these people. Who are you? You need to be something different." I really started paring down and writing songs because it was more of a necessity. I tried to get songs from Nashville first. All the good songs, they don't give to anybody. (Laughs). You got the D, G, F drawer. All the A and B drawers are just held for those artists they can make money from and that's totally understandable, especially since so many of my friends are songwriters down there just struggling to eat. You get one cut. Back then it was even better than it is now because at least they were able to get a cut and get real albums sold that gave them real royalties. Now, they are all downloaded or ripped off and they are all completely hurting now. The industry has really had major changes since I started. But no, I was not writing. I was not told to write. I was never told to say what I felt, what I believe, what I thought in my heart. That is one of the biggest platforms I have created for coaching and going to schools and going into the University of Missouri, which is about original artists that are working and having a business versus karaoke graduated singers. There's a million great singers that can kick my butt all across the country, but I can guarantee you they can't run a business and know how to hire employees and cover all the taxes and do everything as a small business owner like I did because I had to learn it from scratch.
Q - You've got a marketing background and that's a terrific thing to have when you are in the music business.
A - Self-promotion is self-promotion. I was in sales before this, but I didn't really have any formal way to know how to go at this, how to market myself. I tell these kids, I would literally call, then used to book myself as my sister. I used my sister's name, a bogus booking company. Everybody knew me. On the phone is this person for booking and I'd show up and they'd say, "Oh yeah, your sister." No, it was me, totally faking it because no one takes you seriously representing yourself. I had to figure that out. I would work in the grossest bars and then these guys were horrible and would barely pay you at first and then you have to get gutsy and ask for more. You just keep working your way up. The most unusual part of the Midwest, it's a little different in Texas, is women don't tour. There's a reason for that. They don't think they will sell tickets. They don't know how to run a business. They have a bunch of people that usually try to run it for them, but it really takes that front person to run the business and care about it. So when I started doing that, they didn't take me seriously. I'd go in and there's been some serious, hilarious stories behind the music... Because it is such a total man's world. What I had to prove was that I had to make my show so different and so 'live' that no one could ever say, "Oh, well that was a singer-songwriter that stands there with her guitar like 99% of every touring artist that's a female" if they are trying to tour. I had to be comparable and have the same energy as any other guy I had to either open for or follow. That was the goal of my entire existence touring, which was to make the best 'live' show that any female had. I still to this day have no qualms saying I think it's one of the best ones on the road. I love that part of my job, creating that, having a band that is amazing and having material that reaches people. Every time, if you come in and they don't know your name and they could care less and have never heard of you, by the time you leave, you knew they got it. That was always my goal. I do know that every time we leave the stage, I've got nothing else left to prove and we love, love what we've built.
Q - When you're spending all this time on the business side, how much time is left for the creative part, to sit down and write songs?
A - Let me tell you, that's the best question I've ever been asked by any interviewer. I'm not kidding. This is the best question that's ever been asked because it's never even thought of. What I've said, and I've told every artist I've worked with when I'm coaching and talking to them going into workshops, I say you have to love this so much that every morning you are ready to get back up and say all right, let's do it again, because 99% of your time, maybe you go 98 if you got some other people in your camp that are really hard workers and I do, but 98% of your time is spent doing the business so that you can just go have those few minutes of what you love the most to do, the music 'live'. I'm going to say this, for me, 'live' is where it's at for me, an audience, seeing the reaction, having an interactive music experience is my favorite thing in the world. It really is because that's when you know "Do they get this song?" You immediately see it in their face. They are part of the experience. We are all in the same boat, just on different sides of the stage. That's what I've always loved to death, but 98% of that time, my day and my energy and my efforts on the phone are all about just getting to that gig. So that's what I think is missing right now. I honestly think you don't have to go to Nashville. Get your own fan base. Create it. Get your own following because the labels don't have the money to support artists anymore. If they do, then they are owned by the label. That's a problem if you don't know how to run your business and grow your show. They throw these young kids out there with no experience and expect them to have a 'live' show that's going to sell stadiums out. Well, that takes time and many concerts and many experiences and many hard shows, busted tires and many things that make them understand what it takes to build that. I think that's the biggest broken leg Nashville has ever had. They don't give people time to grow and be original artists before they throw them out there with funding. They are like doomed to fail. They get one shot. If it doesn't work, goodbye. By the way, you are still married to us and you can't go play a show because we own you. Those kind of things have killed me. That's what I try to tell artists now more than ever. You've got to be a commodity before you ever think about a company investing in you in the first place. Why would they invest in you and not keep most of the money? It's their neck they are sticking out. You need to be something of value before you ever take someone else's money. You are certainly not going to work with a team that you love. In 2007 I completely cleaned house in my life of music. If I don't feel everyone I work with can be at my Christmas dinner, I'm not going to have them hired in any way. It has to feel like this is all a team. Remember we talked about that 98 percentile of business?
Q - Yes.
A - Well, if 2% of your time finally is playing and you don't enjoy those people you are playing with and they are not all gung ho on your team, then it's all wasted. To get out there and have them have crappy attitudes and not be jivin' or not be jellin' or not have the right chemistry, it's just not worth it. When I changed that, it was like the doors opened to such a different experience. Nobody told me any of this. I had to go out and just kind of beat my head against the door and do it again and again. (Laughs).
Q - Is Magda Russell your manager?
A - She's not my manager. She's my publicist, media and booking agent, all in one. We basically downsized. I've been with every agency. I was with CAA. I was with Conway. I've been with all kinds of different agencies. The problem was, the more the industry kept changing, with venues booking less and less 'live' music happening in general, there's really no reason to be on a big roster of artists when you can book yourself. You've already worked with all these people directly and they want to re-book you. Really, those other agencies have got bigger fish to fry. They need to be working on those $100,000 shows to get their commission, not a $5000 to $10,000 show. They need those big shows to keep their pocket functioning. We did everything in-house a while back. Magda is basically my right hand. I've been with Dave Snowden of Triangle Talent, Louisville, Kentucky. Best manager ever. Wonderful. We are still best friends.
Q - How many shows are you doing a year?
A - Right now we are down to the 30 to 50 range. There are so many new projects and companies I'm working with. We were at 150 shows in 2011.
Q - You are saying Dave Snowden is not your manager?
A - He's not, not formally on a piece of paper. He's still a great mentor, friend. I just really self-manage and have a small team. Dave's always there for any advice I need for anything. But pretty much when I'm not doing 100 shows a year, we can still do these things easier with a small team. At one point, I had seven full-time employees. What you do as a business person is you just continue to grow with your industry and morph to keep your bottom line great because you learn things as you go. You don't need that many people. You don't need a five piece band. You only need a three-piece band because I front it and play as well. You keep learning and honing your skills and your craft and you really can downsize things and still have as impactful a show and company, but without as many people.
Q - When I saw you a few years back at the New York State Fair, were you with Creative Artists Agency?
A - I don't know what year you saw me. I was with them for a few years and after that I was with Conway, the Conway Group, Mike Conway's agency. So I'm not sure what year you saw me.
Q - 2012.
A - I probably would have been with Conway two years ago, but either way it doesn't matter. I have wonderful relationships with all those people. We have nothing but great blood between us and I love them to death. Stan Burnett is one of my favorite people. He's my agent in Nashville, at CAA. I have great friends at agencies I didn't even work with that book me anyway. William Morris. They have been wonderful to me mainly because we've worked with them all. I think that's one of the best things I love about what we've done, even though I didn't live in Nashville proper. I was there working a lot of coarse. We have a respect level with all the agencies. I started my career touring in Texas and had a pretty good following there. My dad's from Texas. I really respect their market there. They do it a little bit more like the way I go, that is having most of your stuff owned. I own my label. For a long time, Pat Green was my template to mimic. He did everything and built his fan base and worked hard. That's really how I started and learned. I know it's an old school way to do it, but I think right now it's coming full circle back to that, where artists are realizing, "I've got to get out and work." You do have to get out and get a van and trailer and just beat it up and get a fan following. Truly that's the only way to have your own company.
Q - How do you get radio airplay with your own record label?
A - We don't even wrestle with that anymore. We've had some good stuff in the last several years. We've got on the Music Row charts and all that jazz. I don't believe it is your bread and butter. The reason is, it costs too much now. I love radio. I love my friends in radio, but they have no control over what they play. Zero. We have great radio stations that are wonderful, independent stations that we love that can play the stuff they want. But radio cannot be purchased and that is what it takes! Sorry, but that is the truth. (Laughs). As much as they want to say it's not that way, it is! Even if you are not paying, you might be giving away ten free concerts, which is still dollars bills to someone. You don't roll out a band and a bus and fuel and equipment and food and hotels for nothing. It's all paid by somebody. So basically they might call it a different thing, but it's still the same old story. Those songs are selected and played for a reason because of a few people that take those and those are all affiliated with labels. So, I don't even go down that path. It's not where I'm trying to go. I wish all those people more power, but where we are now is so exciting because now you are seeing independent music at the biggest uptake I've ever seen. The only reason I know that is because of one of our new companies that we are starting and rolling out this Summer (2014), a new guitar case company. What's great about this guitar case is we gear it towards all of us people out there trying to have the smallest footprint, have the most options, have the lowest maintenance, the easiest setup and teardown ever. We had to do some research on it. In the last two years there has been a huge increase in how many independent artists are actually out working now. So as much as they say the industry is bad and rough, yeah, maybe for the amphitheater shows, but more people are playing 'live' now than they ever have on their own. I know the big venues are one way to look at it. Ticketmaster is a different thing. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about people getting out and playing music and putting it on the Internet and getting fans and doing it all on their own.
Q - It's a big struggle.
A - Absolutely. If it was easy, everybody would do it! (Laughs).