It was around early 2006 when I first came across Colbie Calliat in the days when MySpace ruled and YouTube was just a fresh startup. I became a fan well before the release of Colbie’s first album Coco, and the first (then) independent artist I was regularly playing on YouTube. At the time, I didn’t realise that behind the scenes was a wise guiding hand, that of her Grammy winning producer and father, Ken Caillat.
Ken Caillat played an influential role in the development of Colbie’s music career, by giving some simple yet vital advice that helped her develop into becoming a solid, well rounded music artist.
In my conversation with Ken about Colbie, in no way does he come across as an overly ambitious parent that pushed his daughter into a regimented program. In fact it appears that her career had more of an organic and natural development right from the early stages that Ken gently nurtured.
The Beginnings of a Music Artist
I asked Ken about how Colbie’s music ambitions developed and he responded, “It’s funny, the path never appeared that evident. She was a singer, she sang all the time from the time that she was 11. She had this little voice and we said, ‘if you are going to sing, we have a friend who gives vocal lessons.’ We put her together with this girl, and she got vocal lessons for 5 years, and it really helped Colbie with her breathing and other things. Again it was just little nudges.”
All too often an overly ambitious parent can push their children too hard to develop musically (Or in any other career or artform), but Ken simply put his ‘little nudges’ to work in right ways at the right time. By identifying a talent in the early stages, Ken matched Colbie with a singing teacher that built a foundation with strong vocal skills.
Ken Caillat on The Importance of the Artist’s Song Catalog
An artist’s catalog is a crucial ingredient for success. There is no shortage of great vocalists and bands that can perform covers amazingly well, but unless the artist/band are only interested in a career with singing covers or with tribute bands, the artist will need their own material.
This was a natural step in the journey for Ken and Colbie, “I came home from the studio one day and I was thinking about Colbie singing all the time, with her singing lessons and she was getting better and better all the time, and I thought to myself, ‘what is she going to do?’. And let’s put it on the table ‘If she’s going to sing, then what is she going to be singing?’. Then I came home and I told her ‘If you’re really going to be a singer, then you have two choices, you’re going to have to write your own songs, or you’re going to have to buy somebody else’s.”
This is a crucial point of any developing artist. They may have the technical ability and feel to create amazing performances, but not every singer or musician can write great songs that resonate and ultimately help grow a fan base. There should be no shame in being a vocalist or band that has music written for them. Great art is also with interpretation, as well as creation.
A Songwriter is Born
A good level of musicianship is important to write songs, and realizing that as a developing artist, the option of Colbie creating her own material is an option that needed to be explored. “Here’s the deal Colbie,” Ken recalls an early conversation with his daughter, “‘if you learn to play an instrument, I promise you that once you learn to play an instrument, even at a basic level, you’ll put those hands on those keys and something will come out of you, and magic will happen’”.
Songwriting is a craft that some are born with as a natural ability, and some need just another nudge to begin the development as a songwriter. “I told her, “I’ll give you a hundred dollars for every song you write”, and of course that was a million dollars to her then. And so she said OK. She started taking guitar lessons, first day of guitar lessons she came home and she had written a song”.
Does parenting and producing have a complimentary skill set? My thinking lends itself towards being a good parent is knowing how to nurture the best in his/her child. Artist development and music production definitely includes nurturing the best from the music talent at hand, one nudge at a time.
MPF Podcast 008: Ken Caillat on his Career as an Engineer and Producer – The full Music Producers Forum audio interview with Ken Caillat.
Producer Ken Caillat Records Daughter Colbie with Shure