A Penny's Worth

Pianist and Composer, Paul Cardall

Paul Cardall is a pianist, composer and owner of Stone Angel Music, an independent label whose goal is to create music which "enriches, enlightens and heals the soul".

» Quotes by Paul Cardall» Straw poll votes by Paul Cardall

Many give up playing a musical instrument in their youth, but few return, let alone to forge a career. Can you describe discovering not only your talent for, but also your passion for music and the ways in which music has impacted your life both tangibly and intangibly?
I imagine most of you wanted to take piano lessons and after a few months wanted to quit. I was one of them. Yet, I developed a love of music and pop culture as a product of the 70s, 80s, and MTV. During that time I learned to play melodies on the piano by ear, but when a friend of mine in high school tragically died I prayed to God for understanding. This was devastating. Over the next few days I found myself at the family piano creating my own song. When I played the piece for my friend’s parents, for me personally, I knew I wanted to share more of this with others. The tune helped me through a hard time. The very heart of my music has been to compose uplifting instrumentals to heal and provide peace to listeners.

As a Mormon artist, whose faith is tightly bound to the DNA of your work, can you talk about the ways in which the religious nature of your music is both a help and a hindrance?
Jesus is the very heart of my music and life. I believe He gave me the gift and could very well take it away. So, I don’t make religion an issue. It is who I am and always will be. People of all faiths are buying my music in Asia, Europe, and throughout North and South America. They don’t care where it comes from. They’re searching for something uplifting.
The first handful of Jelly Belly candies taste good, but the law of diminishing returns quickly kicks in as a person's taste buds become exponentially insensitive to their flavor. Do you find that the necessary practice required to perfect a song reduces its emotional potency?
When I get frustrated I move on to something else. If the tune doesn’t come to me at the moment I give it a few days. The frustration lies with seeing something you and other musicians feel is a masterpiece only to have it rejected by the buying audience. Oh well, move on to the next project.

Some of the traditional songs I've arranged can become redundant. But, my original music becomes more enjoyable because as I grow in my own abilities it is much easier to play these with a nostalgic feeling.
Would you liken musical composition to painting (as something which you create), or butterfly catching (as something you merely capture)? And do musical compositions come to you in a sequential, linear fashion or do you see a piece in its entirety before putting pen to paper?
Composing for me is like painting. It evolves and improves as you work on it. I begin with a theme, then a bridge, and a chorus. I like the hit song format rather than the tune that takes you to unexpected places that sound cool to a composer but make no sense or are uncomfortable for the audience.

A hit song consists usually of a verse then the chorus back to the verse followed by the chorus and a bridge into another chorus ending where you began. This is usually referred to as playing A A B A A B C B A. The other formula creates a composition from point A to Z.

In the modern digital age where instruments and instrumentalists are almost flawlessly mimicked or surpassed by computers and engineers, what does a traditional musician have to offer that is exempt from technological threats?
The only thing technology has done is allow more people to enjoy creating their own albums. I imagine it’s extremely therapeutic for these folks to have a creative outlet. Life is so hectic. I love all the new technology and have used modules and synthesizers throughout my recordings. My album “Faithful” has this technology throughout the recording. The only thing a traditional musician has to offer exempt from technology is pure talent. You either have it or you don’t. If you don’t I probably wouldn’t ask yourself why your homemade album didn’t sell to more than family and friends.
Creative freedom is the mantra of many modern musicians and has given rise to the greater prevalence of independent record labels. As an artist formerly under Virgin Records' Narada label, can you talk about the value in allying with an established record label, particularly in light of technology's lowering of the barriers to entry into the music business?
What most people don't understand is that a record label is an investment company, known as a venture capitalist. However, because of the digital world it’s becoming easier for an artist with a business and marketing mind to cut out the label. An artist can get his or her own distribution, which is why you used to need a label.

I signed with Narada because I had already exhausted all of my distribution routes for my album “The Christmas Box” inspired by the #1 NY Times best seller. They opened up more distribution. I hung on to these distribution contacts so when my contract with Narada was over I could continue to distribute new albums through my own company. This was only possible because we had great marketing and public relations. Overall, labels are great if you need financial help and a partner experienced in the business.

Record company executives are often portrayed as the villains of the music industry while artists are projected as heroes pursuing the noble ideal of artistic freedom. As both a record company executive and an artist, can you talk about the relationship between labels and their artists and whether profitability and artistic freedom are competing interests?
It’s all a misunderstanding. Artists need to keep in mind that their manager, lawyer, booking agent, and tour manager are a business and the record label is their banker with some distribution and political contact with large corporations. You don’t need them to make a living. If they’re your banker they take a large cut of the pie leaving your business with anywhere from 9-25%. If you run the show yourself with your team, you guys can make up to 70% of profits.
There's been a marked shift in commercial thinking in recent decades away from making what people want, to making people want what is being sold. With art being both a form of self expression and a source of commercial profit, how do you balance creating music for your tastes with catering to the market's?
Every recording has been to pay the bills and to a specific audience. I think every working artist will agree although they won’t admit it. I’ve had some recordings I’ve loved more than others but the overall objective was to please an audience.

I know musicians who are amazing but won’t share their talent until they feel good enough about it. It’s unfortunate. I try to remind them that we won’t know what’s true art until 50-100 years from now. So why does it matter' Write a song and share it. We are just beginning to study the Beatles and Elvis in college, but they are still part of the very end section of a really thick music appreciation book.
AirAsia founder, Tony Fernandes noted that one of the major failures of budding entrepreneurs is that they believe in themselves more than their ideas. How can musicians guard against similar over self-confidence sabotaging their work and career?
I remind myself I’m an amateur musician who loves the music business.
Film actors often talk about the squeamishness that afflicts them when watching their own performances on screen. How do you feel about listening to your own musical recordings?
When you give your all to a project you are so happy when it’s finished and it’s inside of you so deeply there’s no need to listen again because you know the recording so well. I enjoy pulling the album out after a year and hearing all of the imperfections. It’s beautiful. It’s a period of my life. I can’t change it. I can only look ahead to the next project.
There's an entertainment industry phenomenon, which sees singers dreaming of acting careers and actors dreaming of singing careers. Despite your talent as a pianist, having covered styles from classical to jazz, do you find your interests tugging you in any unchartered directions?
No. I am what I am, always evolving and taking life one day at a time. I wouldn’t mind changing careers. Maybe write a film, or work in advertising.
You were born with a serious congenital heart defect which doctors expected to be fatal, then waited 36 years for a life saving heart transplant which most patients have received by their late teens. Can you talk about both the practical and personal effects of this illness and the role which adversity has played in shaping your character?
My heart defect has been a tremendous blessing. I was told from day one, “you shouldn’t be alive.” Doctors have said, “You won’t live very long.” Death is always forefront in my mind. That is how I live. Acknowledging your own death, because all of us will die, motivates you to live and enjoy everyone and everything around you. God has been good to me with this perspective.

Straw Polls at strawpolling.com
Paul Cardall's responses to straw polls at strawpolling.com / See how they compare to the consensus.
Which do you prefer? Raindrops on roses,  whiskers on kittens,  bright copper kettles,  warm woolen mittens or  brown paper packages tied up with strings.
raindrops on roses
Would you rather have a flower, an insect or a library named after you?
an insect
If you were a professional athlete, would you rather be bad enough to be famous or average enough to be anonymous?
average enough to be anonymous
Would you rather be stuck in a booby trapped elevator with MacGyver or Batman?
If Superman and the Incredible Hulk were to arm wrestle, who would win?