Michael Corin of Anavox Interview: Part 2
We are continuing with Part 2 of our very in-depth interview with Michael Corin from Anavox. In Part 1, we were introduced to Anavox’s history, got some insights about lessons learned from the music business, and talked about the ‘thick-skin’ required when pursuing your passions. I mentioned that Michael and I go back many, many years. We’ve spent a lot of time together on the road, in hotel rooms, and at gigs and things over the years in various states. When approaching Michael to do this interview, I knew we’d be able to really connect and get at the heart of what the concept of RockStarWay actually is. I’m talking about it as a philosophy. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of looking at things. We can talk about music in this context. We can talk about business. We can also talk about life in general, lifestyles, and ideas like that within this framework. That’s what these interviews are designed to address, and there’s nobody that I would consider to be more of a “rock star” in a literal sense and in a figurative sense, than Michael Corin. Here in Part 2, Michael and I get into discussions about songwriting, music genres, the lost art of effective communication, and listening skills among other things. Read on…
Tom Leu: Michael, in Part 1 we were talking about Anavox and the history of Anavox up until this point. Anavox has been a Christian/Pop/Rock band since its inception. And this is interesting as it pertains to putting music into genres and categories. People need to label things. It’s human psychology. We have to put things into categories, but those do not always serve us best. So, Anavox is a Christian band, but recently, you’ve also ventured off into the country music market. Talk about that a little bit. What prompted this? How did that come about? And what’s appealing to you about country music?
Michael: I lived in Nashville for quite a few years, and I couldn’t help it. I got the bug. I think that country music is a songwriter’s music. There are so many tremendous songwriters in Nashville and so many writers get together and work and collaborate and that kind of a thing. There’s a real sense of family. There’s a real sense of unity in that respect. You can’t be around it for very long without getting addicted to that kind of concept. And being able to go to writers rounds and hear other people expressing themselves, and then sharing their music and be inspired by that. For me, as a writer you’re always looking for that next piece of inspiration that’s going to put it over the top. There were so many times that I would go hear artists or songwriters, and then I couldn’t wait to get home and pick up my guitar.
Tom: Would you say that living in Nashville has been a big influence on you from the country music perspective? And that’s a cliche by-the-way… that Nashville is just country music. Of course, anyone who knows anything about music knows Nashville has a wide variety of musical styles present in that town. Is that right?
Michael: Absolutely, because as a songwriter, regardless of the genre that you’re in, a good song is a good song. There are people that are there trying to get deals just to be able to write songs for other artists from all different kinds of genres. I loved it. I loved the idea of it. I’ve been writing songs since I was 15 years old and working on trying to be better at that in every way possible. Being in that atmosphere really challenges you to step it up a notch because some of the best writers in the world are there.
Tom: Do you have to have a different mindset as a songwriter? When you’re sitting down to write a song, do you think, “Okay, I’m going to write an Anavox song, or maybe a song for the Christian market,” or, “Today I’m going to write a country song for that market.” Is there a separation there or doesn’t it matter to you and you just write whatever comes out? How does that process work for Michael Corin?
Michael: It’s interesting because from the standpoint of faith, there are elements of faith that are laced throughout all country music. That’s very much a part of it. So for me it wasn’t that far of a stretch. There are obviously different things that you do musically, different kinds of instruments and things that you use, but ultimately, it’s about telling good stories. Everyone wants to hear a good story. When you can do something like that inside of the country world, that’s a great thing. For me, stepping from the Christian side into the country side is a fine line. I guess maybe it’s blurred a little bit. It’s not as different as you might think.
Tom: Is there a Country-Christian version of Anavox in the future perhaps?
Michael: That’s interesting. I’m not sure. At this point, I would say no. Anavox is a rock band. What we do inside of the Anavox concerts is more straight-ahead rock. But I definitely like to dabble on the country side.
Tom: I had a friend who exposed me to country music many years ago. I used to give him a hard time about it. I’ll admit that back then I was, like, “No, no, no. I’m not into this country thing. Come on… rock and roll, man, rock and roll!” That was my whole gig back then, and it still is to an extent, but I can appreciate country music today. Some critics of the newer country music say, “Well, it’s not really country. It’s country-pop. It’s country-rock.” That’s another whole conversation. I can appreciate country music and the cleverness of the lyrical content. Some country artists and writers come up with some amazing stuff. They really hit people where they live. It puts me in a place and a mindset that some other genres of music just don’t do, or at least not in the same way.
Michael: It’s funny, but sometimes I feel like pop music and rock music isn’t exactly sure who she is right now. You go in and out of different times where different bands will be popular because of their sound, or how they create it in the studio, but I think ultimately a good song is a good song. I find that in the country world, you’ve got to have those strong hooks. You’ve got to have those good melodies. Melody is king there. It’s not about just turning on the mixer and that kind of thing where so much can happen and be created inside of a sound. Though there’s a little bit of that in country music, you’ve got to have a strong song. I think that’s where it was so appealing to me. I love that. I love being able to sit down and communicate through songs.
Tom: I loved how you put that ”pop and rock music doesn’t know who she is, necessarily.” Going back 10, 12 years ago, around the time you started Anavox, the ”music business” was quite a bit different. What’s your take on the landscape of the music business today, the state of the industry? How are you as an artist going to be adapting, and how have these changes affected how you move forward in your career?
Michael: I had signed to a record label and was pursuing making an album and that kind of a thing. One of the things that I found when I did that was that the label was afraid to take a risk. I think that with everything being so different now, with people buying online and digital downloads and that kind of thing, it’s changed the business pretty drastically because people aren’t going out and buying CDs like they were. This has been a common thing for years. Labels have been trying to figure out how to get their sales up and do things differently than what they had before, and so they are tending now to get their fingers in every area of the pie for an artist.
Tom: Yes, the so-called ”360 deals,” right?
Michael: That’s right. A 360 deal is where they’re going to be involved in every area, from the merchandise to what you do in music sales. It takes away from the artists a little bit. As a result of this, the industry has struggled because they’re just not making the money that they were so they are having to get involved in other areas. What that does for an artist is it kind of takes away from the desire for the record label to take a risk. They want to have an artist that’s going to hit it overnight. It’s going to happen with one song and it’s going to sell millions and millions of albums. Whereas my heroes, the U2′s, the Bruce Springsteen’s and guys like that, those artists were developed over time. It wasn’t until two and three records were released that they were really beginning to build that fan base and becoming known. Now, if you’re not the flavor of the moment that’s going to sell millions and millions of albums right out of the box…
Tom: Then you’re all done…! You’ve got a single or so to prove it.
Michael: You got it! I’ve been fortunate enough to play with artists who have had one, two, or even three singles that have been released and have done pretty well. But, you’re just not going to hear from those artists again. It’s an interesting world, and for a guy who got into it because he wanted to be one of those artists who was going to sell 100 million albums, it just doesn’t happen that much anymore. You have to be more innovative, that’s all.
Tom: Absolutely. Good word… innovative. So what’s on the horizon? What’s next for Michael Corin, Anavox and your music career?
Michael: As far as Anavox is concerned, I’m going to be continuing to pursue playing out and connecting with people and doing what we’ve always done. It’s very much a part of my heart, to be able to travel and play and release music and that kind of thing. I’m going to be starting a new project within the next couple of months or so. I’m probably going to release a five-song EP and put it out there of just some new songs that I’ve written, more from the Anavox-Rock sound side of things. As a writer, I’m going back to Nashville and network with some friends of mine and see if we can further a writing deal in that world where I might be able to get involved more in the country side of things, too. I’ve had the writing deal with the Christian side of things, but I want to get involved more from the country side. I think it’s important to know what you want and just put that out there. There’s going to be a whole mess of new songs and stuff as far as Anavox is concerned that I’m excited to do. So basically, a little bit of both.
Tom: You mentioned networking and really knowing what it is that you want. Knowing what you want…? It sounds so simple, right? But I think it’s something that’s really complicated for a lot of people, maybe even more so for creative people. If you have a hard time telling somebody else what it is that you want or what you do, how much harder is it for them to understand how they can help you? Talk about how important it is to have clarity around your vision, your goals, your pursuits.
Michael: It’s extremely important, and honestly, I’ve learned that the hard way. Years ago I had a relationship with a very successful businessman who wanted to invest in what I was doing. At the time, as an artist I was just expressing myself. I was young and just writing whatever I could write and doing what I could do. I was excited and we had a good relationship. He looked me in the eye at one point and said, “Michael, who are you? What do you want to do?” I was so busy just doing everything that when he asked that question, it took me by surprise. And I couldn’t answer. As a result, I lost the opportunity to work with this guy who probably would have invested a lot of money to help me do what I wanted to.
Tom: So he walked away because you really couldn’t answer that question?
Michael: Yes. I’ve found over time that people want to follow something that is clear-cut. You know, the Scriptures say you can’t serve two masters. I think it’s good to be diverse in what you do, but I also think and I’ve learned that it’s very important to have a laser-like focus on what it is that you want. When you have that and you’re bold in that, I think people will follow that.
Tom: Good stuff. I would agree. And again, as I’ve said before, this stuff is easy to say, but hard to do, especially earlier in a career or when we’re younger. I don’t necessarily mean earlier or younger as in chronological age. I’ve talked to people who are in their 40′s, 50′s, or 60′s even, who are finally just figuring out who they want to be, and what they want to do. I’ve use ask the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” in my writings and talks frequently. We’re all asked that as kids. It’s a little question with big implications.
Michael: For sure.
Tom: Now, you’ve had the good fortune to have met some really key people over the years, not only in Nashville, but in other places. These are some music industry high-rollers; people who are in a position to help you, and have helped you. You said you’re planning to “reconnect.” Talk to me about communication skills. I know that might sound rather academic, but it’s a big theme of the RockStarWay and what I talk about and write about frequently. I argue that one of the most important, if not the most important skill-set that any of us can possess is to be a great communicator. To maximize that chance meeting at the coffee shop, or at the grocery store, or at the party with the person who is in a position to help you… How important has it been to you to have a grasp of, and a level of communication that transcends the average? How truly important is communication to get to where you want to get in your life and your career?
Michael: That’s a great question. Personally, I think it’s the single most important thing. I’ve found that you obviously want to be good at what you do, and you want to perfect that craft to the best of your ability. But there comes a point in time, that moment of truth (to use your phrase), where you’re face-to-face with an opportunity. You’re face-to-face with a person that could really help to take you to the next level. Your ability to connect with that person and to communicate who you are and what you want with passion is vital. I think that’s what separates the men from the boys. It’s those moments where you take advantage of an opportunity and can really come through with what it is that you want to do and then of course deliver from there. I think for me, those moments have been vital in all that I’ve done.
Tom: Knowing you for so long and seeing you in action, so to speak, I would attest to that. You have one of those “gifts-of-gab” as they say. I’m not necessarily just talking about the kinds of communication skills that allow you to be able to speak in front of a group of people or sing on a stage. I’m talking about the subjective types of skills where you’re having a conversation with a person one-on-one, and you’re able to notice and use what’s going on in that moment, in that environment, in that situation. You’re picking-up on the nonverbal cues and the body language that others might miss and you know when to go in, and when to pull it back. You know when to press, and when to pause, if you will. It’s those kinds of communication skills that are most important. Being a college instructor, I’ve had the good fortune of being able to frequently study this stuff in real-time within my classes and with my students. This has personally helped me improve in this area over the years. I think it’s a journey that hopefully we’re all progressing on together. But to be honest, what I’ve found frustrating is that a lot of people think they’re really good communicators, when in reality, most are not. If you ask ten people if they’re good communicators, and I’ve done this repeatedly in my classes, most will say “Yes, I am.” But I always press them for what it really means to be a good communicator. Michael, do you think most people are good communicators?
Michael: No. In fact, I was going to say exactly what you just said. I think that most people think that they’re great at it, but they’re not. The reality is that there is a need to be able to read where people are at, an ability to sit down and communicate, and like you said, notice the nonverbal communication as well. And really, I’ll tell you what, so many people are so busy in life thinking of the next thing that they’re going to say, that they don’t stop to listen.
Tom: That’s an interesting point. But often, those are the exact people who think they’re great at this communication thing and don’t require any additional training. Yet, in my opinion, these are the folks who need it most.
Michael: I’ve found that so much of it is really being able to sit down and listen to where someone is really coming from, and be sincere in your communication with them. It doesn’t matter if it’s music. It doesn’t matter what it is. You’re going to do so much better in life and succeed in life to such a greater extent than you ever would, if you can learn to listen and learn to really be aware of where the other person is at.
Tom: Great words that you mentioned there: ”aware” and “awareness.” Again, a lot of the stuff that I write and speak on is about raising awareness to these kinds of things. These critical communication skills and the psychology behind the ways that all of us interact. We’re on a planet of about 7 billion people or so, and we’re bumping into each other physically and in cyberspace these days. And like never before, we are seeing the importance of having great communication skills and being more aware. I like how you talked about listening. Everybody thinks they’re good listeners too. It’s another one of those things that I challenge people on. I ask: “Do you understand the difference between hearing and listening?” Hearing is an auditory thing. But listening has more to do with comprehension, empathy, and understanding. There’s a big difference. Listening takes a lot more work. For most, it’s a lot harder to really listen than to hear.
Michael: Yeah, and you know what? In the world that we live in, like you said, with all the media and everybody having their iPhones and texting constantly, people have such a short attention span. It is a conscious decision to be present in a moment with someone. I think that when you do that, it does a couple of things. Not only does it allow you to have the edge in terms of how you communicate, but I think it also communicates the respect from you to that other person, that you really genuinely care about who they are and what they’re saying. And when you do that, it speaks volumes, especially in the world we live in today. I was in a restaurant recently with a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I was so excited to spend time with this friend. This person spent the majority of the conversation on their cell phone texting someone else. They didn’t mean to be rude, but it was incredibly rude. I think it’s just the awareness of going: “Okay. I’m going to just be present in this situation.” When you do that, it’s so rare anymore. I mean, people really, really appreciate that you know?
Tom: I do know… So to really listen to people and be present is a skill that can really make or break somebody. I’m glad you shared that example. Being very aware of these types of situations, and monitoring how you are coming off to other people is hard work. But worthwhile work IF we put the effort into it…