Singer, Songwriter, Producer, Talent Scout and Philanthropist (Give Back Entertainment) – all describe gifted Wendy Starland.
Her songs have been heard in movies (The Rules, Anna’s Thread, They’re Just My Friends, Weekend Getaway) and on TV series (The Hills, Las Vegas, Hawaii). Meet one of today’s driving forces in the music world, Wendy Starland.
I&S: You are recognized as being the person who discovered multi-Grammy winner, Lady Gaga, and have written songs with/for her while developing her creative and marketing strategy. Rather than re-hash what has been written by others, we’d like to follow some different paths. First up: You must have seen a lot of frogs prior to finding the rough diamond. What turned you away from those groups? Is there a small checklist in your head which must be met before you are willing to see the potential of a young performer?
WS: 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.
I&S: What did Stefani (Lady Gaga’s real first name) have that prompted you to say, “She is the one?” Had you seen similar personalities in the past and found that they too turned out to be successful?
WS: I was looking for something specific and immediately felt that Stefani had the “it” factor. In 2005, a multi-platinum producer I was working with 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, and confident. Someone you couldn’t take your eyes off of. That was Stefani Germanotta to a tee. I attended about 50 live shows and searched online for over 8 months before discovering Lady Gaga and introducing her to that producer on March 23, 2006. He had to approve the artist I found, so she had to meet his criteria. The producer 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. She is one of a kind and I certainly have not come across any other artist with a similar personality before or since then.
I&S: As a member of the public, we assume that artists choose songs based on their vocal range / ability to perform in that musical style. From a songwriter’s perspective – especially with an artist just starting out – do your songs end up defining the artist? What is the creative interaction like between songwriter and artist?
WS: I believe that a great song will succeed even if there is a mediocre artist performing it. However, when an exceptional artist sings a mediocre song, it will fail. We’ve seen it too many times. So ultimately, the song always wins. I believe that a hit song will help to define that artist’s career and will be associated with that artist for the length of their career.
The creative interaction between the songwriter and the artist depends upon many factors…personalities, tastes, creative influences, etc. The songwriter should analyze the artist’s most distinctive traits and emphasize them in the song. If the artist is also a cowriter on the song, then the songwriter’s goal is to bring out the best in that artist and let their unique characteristics shine.
I&S: You are an accomplished singer and songwriter independent of your major find. What drew you to music as a profession? Did you begin with some natural talent for music either as a performer or as an author of songs? Among the others in your profession, is the story of how you came to the profession unique?
WS: Although I may have had a natural ability to sing and hear pitch accurately from an early age, I started honing that ability as a child as well. My childhood babysitter, Rosetta Attkins, 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 and pursue it professionally.
I&S: We’ve spoken with others in the music profession about this next topic…and now it’s your turn. Are the subjects of memorable songs the same from generation to generation (with only the lyrics changing to match the current-day vernacular)?…OR…does it require a gifted interpreter of the human condition?…or a bit of both? Who stands out as legends/examples in your profession?
WS: I am typically drawn to the melody of a song before the lyrics. Music is its own language and expresses its own meaning. It will be the first thing to catch my ear, and I’ll have to hear it a few times before catching the lyrics. In terms of the subjects of memorable songs, I would say that it requires a gifted interpreter of the human condition to put a new spin on the timeless subjects songwriters have written about for years.
Legends who have been 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. I always feel his music coming from an authentic place, which is what makes it timeless.
I&S: Where do you gather inspiration for new songs (in particular the musical parts)? Do they come to you from your imagination…or are they distilled from your musical memory…or might they be drawn from the many World cultures? With so many songs already written, it seems like one might run into the problem of playing the first four chords and someone in the room would mention the already written song. Aside from the notes, what other tools for musical variation are in the composer’s quill?
WS: I constantly have new melodies running through my head! Many times I’ve had to literally wake myself up from dreams where I’ll hear a great melody for a song and need to record it. Or walking down the street…or in an elevator…there are countless times when inspiration will strike and it takes discipline to make sure you keep a log of all of your ideas. Music is a language and once you immerse yourself in it, it comes to you instinctively – like words in a conversation. Sometimes the musical conversation will be better than other times. Life, love, lessons, pain, experience…all add to what will ultimately be expressed through your music, both lyrically and melodically. So I’d hope that the more experiences I have, the better my music will become. It’s exciting to watch the evolution of my own music as well as that of other artists.
I&S: What style(s) of songs (among those you have written) are your favorite? Can you offer up some titles of your favorites so readers can review them? How about the same question for songs you sing personally?
WS: Although I’ve written for other artists, my favorite songs are the ones I’ve kept for myself to sing. They are the truest reflection of myself and my life. Some of my favorite songs have yet to be released. I really love the album I’ve written with producer, Ivo Moring, and feel a strong tie to the material we’ve created together. My upcoming album will be released later this year. In particular, one of my favorite songs off the album is called “Safe Tonight:”
Have a little hope like New Year’s Day
When you close your eyes and wash your sins away
A kaleidoscope of plans you made
Pressure squeezing like a vice now you’re afraid
There’s not another one like you
Who brings color to the world and inspires truth
So let me hear you sing
Oooo Oooo woah We’re all safe tonight (4x)
Have a little hope
I heard you say
While your fears transform to diamonds from decay
You’ve gotta look up and all around
Angels everywhere protect you from your doubts
Now let me hear you sing
Oooo Oooo Oohh We’re all safe tonight (4x)
Gotta smile, gotta breathe, go slow
Let courage take a hold
Please understand you’re better than you know
You can find peace in the shadows
Now let me hear you sing
Oooo Oooo Oohh We’re all safe tonight (4x)
I love this song because it helped me through a tough time and gave me the strength to remember my true colors. Everyone needs to be reminded sometimes. Songwriting can be very cathartic in that way.
I&S: We hear about people downloading songs and taking money out of the industry that creates music. If this has affected you, how have you adjusted the distribution of your work so you are properly compensated? Have you anything to say to those who want product for free?
WS: Yes, the majority of music today is downloaded for free. At the same time I have noticed that fans want to learn more about the artist personally – their lifestyle, tastes and opinions that go beyond just their music. Artists have the opportunity to further connect with their audience in this way by pairing up with brands that they commonly use in their everyday lives. It works really well when the artist and brand genuinely love and respect each other’s talent, and this is definitely the case with the brands I collaborate with…which creates new revenue streams.
We’re living in a very exciting time for music and technology. As technology advances, we are seeing declining sales in several different industries – including the music, film, and advertising industries. Revenues are declining because everything is being digitized, and a different “value” is being placed on the new formats even though creating content is still labor intensive and can be costly. People are trying to readjust and find new revenue streams because their work is not being valued at the same price via streaming platforms, etc. Eventually new technologies will replace the current ones. I predict that artists will be even more integrated with brands than they currently are – helping to make them into ‘lifestyle’ brands, which will build and increase revenue streams for both.
I love working with brands that I believe in, that further reflect my taste as an artist. Music helps to define the brand’s audience while promoting my music, so it’s really a win-win situation. I am currently being featured in the new campaign for the jewelry line Anna e Alex, which has been in magazines such as Vogue and ELLE Magazine. They will be launching a promotion soon where their customers will receive a download of my new single “Home” with purchase at AnnaeAlex.com. I’m doing a similar promotion with skin care/makeup line, Beauty Society mybeautysociety.com. I use their products every day, so it just made sense to collaborate with them.
I&S: Give us a look into the crystal ball. Where is the music industry headed as far as distribution?
WS: I believe that music distribution will remain easily accessible to musicians, as it is now, plus new technologies (virtual reality goggles and others) will emerge in the marketplace. We’ll have new ways of integrating music and brands into our lives that will be much more interactive. The most crucial hurdle to overcome will be curating all of that music to find the gems. There is more content than ever, and it will take people with great ears to sift through it and help the best ones rise to the top.
I&S: Where do you hope to go with your work in the future? Are there styles of music you’d like to investigate/adopt/play with?
I’ve experimented with several genres of music and am able to write songs in various styles – 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 enjoy writing in different styles because it always keeps things fresh and interesting. I’m always open to investigating new genres of music and hope to create music that is innovative and unique.
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 song to a London based label, MCR, and it will be released on a compilation 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.
I&S: Would you provide the relevant social media and web links so our readers can follow you? Also, this is a space for listing any upcoming performances and/or releases. Thanks!
I&S: Meeting someone with such zest for their profession gets us excited for the future of the music industry. We also compliment her on her ability to clearly express herself in her responses (our editor was most impressed). Image and Style Magazine thanks Ms. Starland for sharing her thoughts and answering our questions. We look forward to her album due out later this year.