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Life & Ideas

Interview with Stephen B. Riley @ CMG Nashville, cutting edge Country Music Indie label.

           I met Mr. Riley through a mutual friend, whom he used to run a music row recording studio, called Cadillac Tracks.  Mr. Riley was born on June 4, 1952. His formal education consisted of getting his GED while serving in the U.S. Air Force, and a degree in Commercial Art and Cartooning in Victorville, California 1973, after leaving military duty. Everything he learned after that in the Music Industry was self taught, after giving up a career sketching and drawing in Burbank. It was here that he realized his potential as a Recording Artist, until 1975.

            Stephen Riley now owns and manages CMG Nashville, formally CMG Records. He employs five people, which conduct in house booking, recording, A&R, and reception duties, as well as dozens of Artists spanning genres from Rock, R&B,  Electronic, Jazz, and of course Country music.  Mr. Riley described to me how, because of the ever changing landscape of the industry, every Monday he holds a meeting with all his staff to discuss ways to innovate and accelerate their thriving label. He said things can end up running differently from week to week, and he makes sure to keep up with all the recent developments in his market, to reassess all activities accordingly. This may include shifting online distributors, activities and events, and signing new Artists. Mr. Riley is not one to lounge about in his office, as he is often actively engaged in the production of Artists, managing live performances, setting up regular meetings, and is not afraid to take out the trash every once in a while. He is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the curb.

            Stephen Riley explained to me the best and worst parts of running an independent record label. The best part of his job, as he stated, was when a succeeding artist thanks him for changing their life, getting the chance to undertake a career in music, and exceeding their expectations as a label. He urges his artists to own their careers and music, as he mentors them along the way. Mr. Riley values his artists and staff above all other assets, and lets them grow and breathe naturally, without micromanaging. This instills a sense of loyalty, and he believes if he takes care of his people, the establishment will take care of itself. With that said, on the other end of the spectrum Mr. Riley’s least favorite part of his job is when a new artist (usually in the 18-25 age group) just will not comply with the production and development process, and instead seeks to work against him out of arrogance. He is always very open to new ideas, but when someone implies that they know more about his business than he does, as a new act, it can be very frustrating.

            The career choice in the music business, has greatly impacted Stephen Riley’s life in many different ways. He has been in four marriages, his current lasting 18 years. Most of his marriages have been broken up because of constantly being gone. He has moved constantly from coast to coast, running production operations in California, Florida, and Currently in Nashville. Even So, he has produced many great songs and artists, produced many music videos for which he has won numerous awards for, an experience he wouldn’t trade for the world. He has become a successful entrepreneur and has found himself and settled into a life he is very comfortable with. The only regrets that he has is not seizing important opportunities in his earlier career, and not listening to his mentors on occasions. He told me, “Sometimes opportunities knock, but most of the time they whisper.”

            Stephen Riley holds many optimistic visions for his label. Every Monday morning he discusses new ways to innovate his label. He wants to be a major player in the Nashville scene, on par with Big Machine or Broken Bow. To get there, he emphasizes heavily on the importance of his A&R division, headed by Jonathan Frizzel  (Nephew of Country Music Hall Of Famer, Lefty Frizzel). CMG Nashville is still looking for that breakthrough artist, that will propel them to the next level. He also stresses the importance of maintaining a huge online presence, utilizing streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play. He believes that in the future all entertainment will be converged into an online format, rendering CD’s, Cable TV, and even TV’s and radios, themselves, obsolete. He makes many references to his favorite author Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek”, and how he saw the invention of the cell phone before it’s actual production.

            Mr. Riley has much advice to give to people trying to get into this business. In his opinion, the key is patience. He says that if you keep going, working hard every day looking for and seizing opportunities, you will find success. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes,” he says, “Because you know who doesn’t make mistakes?” he answers, “The one who works for the guy who makes plenty of them. It’s like standing in line at the supermarket. If you get out of line you lose your spot and all the progress you’ve made, so just stand there patiently and wait for your turn.”

            Talking with Mr. Stephen Riley was a great experience for me. He even offered me a job as either a Stage Manager or Tracking Engineer, which I had to politely decline in lieu of my own recording operations and educational aspirations. He respected this decision, stating that, “Education is the only thing that can’t be taken away from you.” A quote that reminded me of something my grandpa once said. He asked me to stay in touch and to stop by sometime in the near future if I’d like to see what else they have going on, which I’m sure I will do in the near future. I was very thankful for the opportunity to speak with and get to know Mr. Riley, and will take his words of wisdom to heart to help me in my own journey in the music industry.










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