Stan Cornyn shares the secrets
of the scene
By Naughty Mickie
I ripped open the large envelope with excitement, it was finally here, my copy
of "Exploding: The Highs, Hits, Hype, Heroes, and Hustlers of the Warner
Music Group" by Stan Cornyn. In the music industry, "exploding'' is
the term for "breaking out'' in sales and I had a feeling that this book
would do the same thing.
As I turned the pages, I was impressed. Inside there was a slice of history,
from 1960-1999, plus lists of significant albums and a collection of cool
photos. My intuition was right, this was going to be a very interesting read.
For those unfamiliar with Stan Cornyn, he has won two Grammy Awards and spent 34
years working with the Warner Music Group. But he is best known for his early
work with Warner, writing liner notes for Frank Sinatra and other rising stars.
For this, Cornyn has earned the moniker of the "Liner Notes King." So
it was with much awe that I picked up the phone and called him at his Santa
Barbara home to discuss his book.
Cornyn's charming manner put me at ease immediately. He shared that we had
common stomping grounds. Cornyn had grown up in Arcadia, California, and
attended Monrovia/Arcadia/Duarte High School. His father, T. Guy Cornyn, was the
city attorney for West Covina during the 1950s. I currently work in the San
Gabriel Valley, so this was interesting. Then I cut to the chase, asking him why
he wrote "Exploding."
"I thought it was a terrific story and I lived it," said Cornyn.
"I also got rather fatigued with books about the music business which were
more or less 'ego patting.'''
He explained that it was common knowledge that he had kept notes for years about
his experiences in the industry. In fact, in 1995, the distribution company WEA
had asked Cornyn to write a 25th anniversary book. He did, saying a lot of nice
things about the music industry. WEA paid him for his work, but stated that the
time wasn't right for its release after all and shelved it. Cornyn bided his
time and has now rewritten the story his way, showing both the dark and light
sides of the industry.
"Stock options,'' Cornyn quickly quips when asked about his best experience
in the industry.
He said that there is a great opportunity to make good money in the industry
with popular artists, but this brings up the dilemma of art versus commerce.
"The other side of it is to produce really great albums,'' Cornyn balances
and says that art often suffers for the sake of commerce.
As for bad experiences, Cornyn teases me about his relationships, but then comes
clean. When he was promoted to executive vice president at Warners, he soon
discovered that there was no creative meaning in the job, it was purely a
management position without an outlet for his ever-flowing creativity.
We return to the heart of music, today's scene.
"Today's scene? It's in trouble they say,'' states Cornyn. "A lot
factors are money-driven.''
He feels that the growing disappearance of singles is hurting the industry, as
well as the consumer. The prices for albums are high and consumers are put off
because they really only want a single. Also, record companies are overlooking
the Internet, preferring to sell "legitimate" copies, instead of
offering music on the Web. Cornyn claims that this is short-sighted.
"In technology, the recording industry ties last with the Amish,'' he
laments. "Music is terrific, it's fun. There's a chance that the record
business will be really enlarged by the artists' ability to meet the public
without the 'big five' record companies. I'm not going to say that this will
happen, but there is an opening there.''
Cornyn tells people who may be seeking a job in the music industry to start
"I'd like to say, be in the right place in the right time, but there's no
such advice," he says. "Start with a smaller label where you have a
chance to be noticed.''
Cornyn explains that you can get lost working at a big label, there are so many
employees, that it's hard to get noticed. It's also difficult to go up in a big
company. He feels that this technique can work for artists as well.
"Keep your freedom by having a loose environment,'' says Cornyn.
"Exploding" should be read by anyone interested in music and the music
industry Cornyn tells me.
"Treasuring the art and the artist is still very important. This has been
lost in many industries, including television,'' Cornyn says.
He wants people to "get past that and get to the art, that is the message
that comes out of this book."
Just because Cornyn has divulged the secrets of the music industry, doesn't mean
that he has no more tales to tell. He is dabbling at a book on his travels
around the world. And Cornyn shows me his unique point of view with a brief
story about his trip to Lourdes, one of the most famous places for religious
pilgrimages. People come from everywhere to be healed in the waters of Lourdes
and for the opportunity to feel closer to God.
As Cornyn looked over the peaceful beauty of Lourdes, he noticed a McDonald's
restaurant at the top of the hill. It must have been strange to see such a
secular place juxtaposed against one of deep beliefs, but Cornyn was also
"All these people had faith and I did not and I was jealous," Cornyn
Currently he is preparing to take on a rafting trip down the Colorado River.
This too will be a big change for Cornyn, who will be roughing it by camping
along the way. He is used to a life of hotel suites and limousines, one where
your every whim is catered, as opposed to taking care of yourself.
"I'm at a point where people can say to themselves, 'I'm retired, but
there's a lot more life that I can experience; see... what is the expression.
before it's too late,''' Cornyn says.
If you are not intrigued by Cornyn's insight, then perhaps the stars, the deals
and the truth of the music industry will lead you to pick up
"Exploding." Still need another reason? Cornyn has one that you just
"I think it says something to the world that it enjoys hearing.''
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