Alannah Myles

The year was 1988 when my good friend David Tyson, a remarkable keyboardist and producer called to book some studio time with me. “I love the sound you guys are getting at Kensington Sound and I want to bring this demo project in – it should be a lot of fun.” It turned out the artist was a singer named Alannah Myles. Personally, I knew Alannah as a formidable blues singer. She had been playing around the club scene in Toronto for a few years and despite the lack of success, had developed a reputation for being fiercely ambitious; she made it quite clear to everyone including me that Toronto was not going to be her last stop - nothing was going to get in the way of her making to the top.

Within days, we began a series of pre-production sessions on what would we all hoped, would eventually become an album. The main writer was Alannah’s boyfriend at the time, Christopher Ward who was in those days a very popular veejay at MuchMusic.

Quite early on, it became quickly obvious that we were on to something - the tracks were amazing – full of passion, crackling with energy, with songwriting and production laced with brilliant hooks and superb lyrics. As the excitement level grew and grew over the coming weeks and with everyone convinced of impending success, it seemed absurd now but there were some serious doubts about the entire project. The reader should know that this was all happening at the end of the 80’s -the decade that had just discovered and fallen in love with computerized, sequenced music and the endless horizons of the video frontier - synthesizers, drum machines, guitar pedalboards, fog machines ... and endless vats of hair gel.

The record label that had taken the risk and signed Alannah was Atlantic Records. We all began to wonder if there really was a market for a bluesy female vocalist singing well crafted pop tunes. Ah…the never-ending insecurities of artists! Christopher Ward and David Tyson talked endlessly about the style of production and writing and whether Atlantic Records would come on board. In the end to be honest, Alannah Myles’s unyielding, burning confidence was a huge factor in inspiring (sometimes not so diplomatically) and driving the project forward to completion.

Upon completion of the rough mixes, much to everyone’s relief and a chorus of high-fives, Atlantic Records gave a huge thumbs-up and approved financing for the production of the final album. Everyone was thrilled.

When it was first released, the first singles were ‘Love Is’ and ‘Still Got This Thing’ and although these received substantial airplay in Canada, the response of American radio was tepid. It seems unbelievable now to think that although we all loved the track ‘Black Velvet’, Atlantic Records considered it an ‘album track’ and certainly not a single. Then finally just when it seemed time had run out on the album, a radio programmer in the Los Angeles area was persuaded to put ‘Black Velvet’ into medium rotation and they say: ‘the rest is history’. The single ‘Black Velvet’ garnered a Grammy award for Alannah and the album was the biggest selling album in Canadian history until Alanis Morrisette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’. By the year 2000, it had passed an astonishing five million airplays threshold internationally. Persistence and dedication had won the day.

This is also a story of small decisions that can have huge implications. Towards the end of the Kensington Sound sessions, David Tyson asked me if the studio would take a ‘point’ (1% royalty) instead of the $3,700 bill. Blown away as I was by the final product, I persuaded my partners to accept the offer. However, the next day, when David arrived at the studio to pick up the master tapes, he said he and Christopher had discussed it and had decided to pay the studio bill after all.

Groan!– the difference between $3,700 and what I estimate would have been a nice little payback over the next few years of about $40,000 has taunted me ever since!

In spite of the financial hard luck, I learned a valuable lesson – NEVER give up on what you believe in. In the end, in the midst of all her detractors and having to endure Eat Your Young Toronto, Alannah was eventually proven right.

Don’t forget that trends are here today, gone tomorrow. By the time you try to mimic anyone or any style and actually produce a similar product, there is a good chance you will already have missed the boat. And then, when you need help and find yourself looking in the mirror, well, there won’t be anyone else there except you.

Don’t let yourself down.

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