Beginning his pursuit of music at the dawn of the Internet age, Atlanta native Chadd hauled himself to New York City on faith and determination. In between opening a recording studio and performing in off-Broadway plays, the singer-songwriter found work in modeling, TV, and producing tracks for independent artists. Now, he has taken his collective experiences and molded them into a personal showcase of past and present accomplishments on his second album release, Better Day (Remastered Singles). He talked with me about the surprising breaks (and bumps) that have made the outcome all the more rewarding.
You’ve been involved in a number of areas of entertainment: modeling, acting, and music. What was your initial foray, and how did that interest come about?
I feel like I was born into music. I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. I started out playing trumpet, coronet, and french horn, then moved to playing keyboards, and then got interested in production. Once I started feeling like it was something I really wanted to do with my life, I went out into the world and was able to turn those talents into modeling and acting. When I first went out, I didn’t know how to get work. So, wherever I could get in or whoever would show interest, I would go with.
You’re from Atlanta originally?
Yep. I left there as a teenager and went to New York, and have been back and forth since.
Tell me about your start in New York.
I didn’t really think about it. I had a couple of leads: the girl I was living with, she was a model also. We both decided to go for it. She got an agent. and that motivated me. I started going out on auditions for off-Broadway theatre work, and that led to the next thing. On the side, I had a studio on the lower east side where I did music production. We’d do our recordings there; and at night, we’d do our bartending jobs and go out on our gigs. There was Showbiz & Backstage magazines, so I just jumped in it.
‘Music is my life, music is my soul,’ goes a line from the song “Music” on your 2004 debut CD, Mood. You mentioned the instruments you studied as catapulting your interest in the art form. How would you describe your music and vocal style to the uninitiated?
It’s today’s top 40, and when you really get into it, you have Latin, Island, R&B, and Rhythmic (club/dance) influences. One of my producers on the current project was big in the UK with some rock bands; the other is a Latino New York producer, who did a lot of club music. You can feel those vibes in my style.
When you create songs, is there a goal or a mission that you want to get across?
Lyrically, all my songs tell a story. I always want to be able to convey to people that it’s coming from a place where everybody’s the same. It doesn’t matter what the production style is, I want it to touch everybody.
Let’s talk about your new album, Better Day (Remastered Singles). Is it a retrospective, or a collection of new music? How did you decide what to include?
I think it’s my best work, because it’s a combination. Singles that were previously released on Sony compilation CDs make up half of it. Then there are four new tracks. I’m at this place in my life where I’m looking back and going forward also. If you look at the artwork, I’m looking forward in the main photo; but the layer behind that has a picture of me looking in the opposite direction. I’m coming full circle and looking to the future.
You open the CD with the title song, “Better Day.” What about that song made it the overall theme?
I’m looking at the bigger picture of where the world and our country is. We’re coming out of what’s probably one of the worst times since our grandparents’ generations. On a global scale, it’s a better day that we’re moving forward to. It’s a little bit shaky and rocky still; but the whole idea is that we’re looking for something better. On a personal level, my life is like a microcosm of everybody else’s. I went through some major financial challenges the past couple of years. Now, the transition is moving in a postive direction, into a different flow of life.
Tell me about the song “Triple Platinum,” one of your early singles that’s included.
Everybody can identify who’s been in a relationship: you’ve given your best, 100%. But no matter what you do, your partner still leaves. You’re just sort of out there. “One day you say you’re gonna leave me, one day you say you wanna be with me.” They’re always changing their mind, going back and forth. Everybody goes through those cycles.
Who influenced you vocally?
Going back, I love Harry Connick, Jr. There’s elements of Prince in there, Curtis Mayfield. My dad would listen to old ‘70s R&B, so I picked up on a lot of that. In more contemporary terms, I’d say Pharrell, Maxwell, and Marc Anthony.
Did your off-Broadway experience have any impact on your musical development?
There’s no way it can’t. I did a show called Up on the Block that was almost like a rock-opera. It was about a kid from the lower east side, going through the teenage years and getting involved in drugs and making different choices. That was an interplay with what I was doing with my music. At the time I was cast for the role, that’s when a lot of my other music commercially was coming out.
You also made an appearance on Sex and the City?
[Laughs] Yeah, it was a small, non-speaking role. I forgot about that. You just get involved and move on to the next thing!
How did you come to be a voting member of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS)? What significance does that organization have to you as an artist, and what has the experience been like?
It’s mind-boggling. I’m still kind of an outsider. I’m honored and humbled and in awe. To be alongside the mega-titans of the industry — to be able to have that notoriety and recognition, gives me a platform. The recognition that what I’ve done has made something positive in the world is great. There’s a committee that goes out to the community, makes donations, and mentors kids in schools — helping keep the arts active in communities.
How were you selected?
It’s based on much work I’ve done. At the time I was invited, artists or producers had to have at least eight releases on a major label. It might be different now, since social networking also counts. At the time, I was able to get there because I was listed as an artist and producer on a lot of projects.
Speaking of major labels, you started your career on that path, but ended up going the independent route. What can you share about your experiences at large on both ends? What’s been most helpful and difficult about each one?
Hands down, any artist will tell you: if they can get some sort of major backing, it always makes a difference. The upside is, it’s a lot easier for us to do the projects. Sony would place my songs on compilation CDs (the Hot Hits series), take care of distribution, and those CDs would go out to different venues and jukeboxes around the country. You’d be able to hear our tracks. And of course, you get that stamp of approval from a major label. But in reality, I’ve always been an indie artist, because I was never actually signed toSony. It was all done through their licensing department. At any time, they could opt out.
Was that also the case with EMI?
Well, I was almost signed to a major-artist deal with Capitol-EMI before they merged. We were in the process. I was able to take my tracks to the A&R people and have them listen to them. We were sort of putting together a game plan. But as things progressed, I fell out of the loop, and they rearranged. I got lost in the shuffle. So, I never secured that major-label deal, but I had that distribution with Sony.
So, there was never an expectation of being signed to Sony’s artist roster?
If I had been signed, I don’t think I would have been as successful, because I wasn’t in the right mentality. When I look back, I see how much more needed to be done. It was the right place for me. It wasn’t as demanding, and I didn’t have to worry about, “If you don’t sell a million records, you’re gonna owe these guys.”
I’m still getting royalties from those CDs. I can’t live off of them, but I’m thankful whenever they come in. It was a non-exclusive licensing deal, so whenever they want, they can put the songs on a CD or project. All they have to do is send the royalties. It’s pretty sweet. You don’t owe the record company. Some of the CDs my songs were on also had Jay-Z, Selena, Barrio Boyzz, and Duran Duran. They would go into a lot of other companies and pull off singles they wanted to license on that particular CD, and knock it out!
How did you get in the door there? Did you know somebody at the company?I’ve gotta give thanks to the universe. I’ve had some angels looking out for me my entire life and career. Thinking about many of the places I’ve ended up, I have no idea how they happened. I had an attorney or two, who got me publicists, [and] who got me a big review in Billboard Magazine with Larry Flick. That led to Sony calling us and opened the door. One thing led to the next.
I first became familiar with your music through CD Baby. Was that the first main outlet you used for getting your music out there?
When I did my first project, Mood, it was released on CD Baby. It’s great. They do all the distribution, take care of royalties, get it to all of the major networking distributors online: iTunes [and] Rhapsody. It’s huge for the independent artist. They fill that niche that wasn’t there 10 years ago. Everyone was needing to get a major deal, or send everything to radio stations, record stores, and do consignments.
From a production standpoint, do you pay attention to current trends, or stick to your own thing?
My producers pay attention to what’s going on. I like what I like to listen to. If you’re trying to do something based on what’s happening now, by the time it gets to the market, it’s not going to be what’s happening now. I want to have music that transcends all time. If you can do a really good, quality production, you can do music that can still be played five, ten years from now — and then remastered and put out again. If you hit the universal theme. It’s still really about, ‘Can you touch people?’ That’s always what I’m going for.
You started your career at the beginning of the Internet age and the digitalization of music. Do you think the growth and current level of that is a good thing for you as an independent artist?
It always makes a difference when you can control as much of your work as possible. You also have to come to the realization that if you want to get to a certain level, there’s work you have to put in. I go through my daily stats from all the sites: Jango, Headliner FM, [and] iTunes. You can check the hits. The thing is, nowadays, popularity can be so convoluted. Everybody has access, so it’s awesome. The downside is: how do you stand out of the crowd of a thousand great artists?
It definitely feels more transient. As a listener these days, it’s easy to hear selections of so many different songs. But for an artist to make a lasting impression can be harder.
Definitely. That’s why I’m amazed that you’ve been able to pluck me out of what’s going on. Again, it’s my testament to the universe and angels looking out for me. I truly feel this is why I’m here in this lifetime: to contribute to goodness and happiness, to entertain people, and be a positive spiritual example. I’ve always felt this inside of me. Now, it’s almost overwhelming to look at te odds of being able to get your music heard and to get to the masses. Us doing this interview is a validation. For you to find me and give me a voice —you can’t make those things happen. I’m in awe of that.