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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 small.

"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 struggling inside.

"All these people had faith and I did not and I was jealous," Cornyn says.

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 can't argue.

"I think it says something to the world that it enjoys hearing.''

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