Steve Lillywhite At CMW
(Steve Lillywhite/Phillips Communications / CC BY 2.0)

Steve Lillywhite At CMW

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He sells 600,000 CDs a month at KFC.

Lillywhite lives in Jakarta, as in Indonesia, as in most Americans have no clue, even though there are 200 million people there.

He came over to produce a record by Noah. Heard of them? I thought not, and ended up staying, after paying rent for a year, which was required.

And after arriving, he was approached by the local KFC licensee.

You see in Indonesia, chicken is the thing, in this predominantly Muslim country, beef is taboo, and KFC is a luxury restaurant. Well, kinda like an Olive Garden, with some local spices, not just the usual Kentucky Fried flavors, and with every meal, you get a CD. Really.

So Lillywhite signed on, producing local acts, and now, even though there are only ten choices per store, and some of them are from the majors, Lillywhite and KFC dominate the market. There are only 100,000 other CDs sold in the country a month. Sure, streaming is coming, but for now, KFC RULES!

So Lillywhite played one of his productions. There’s a local sound, it started off with Indian influences and has evolved over the years and the result…this was a hit, even in America, if it got a push. That’s today’s market, sans push it doesn’t matter how great you are, you’ll languish in the marketplace.

And Ralph remarked if only English-speaking acts recorded a song or even a verse in the local language, they’d be stars, but few want to go there, why? It’s a worldwide business, the person who realizes this and maximizes their reach maximizes their dollars.

And contrary to preconception, of a man who’s a Commander of the British Empire, who’s sat behind so many consoles, Lillywhite is a bundle of energy and stories and truth, he’ll talk a little shit, you could listen to him FOREVER!

He was famous for his big drum sound. But after employing it on Marshall Crenshaw’s “Field Day,” he realized it was a mistake, that it wasn’t in service to the music, even though Marshall likes the album. You’ve got to be in service to the music, you’ve got to evolve.

But you’ve got to have hits to play. And after having one he leveraged himself out of the punk world, you don’t want to get caught in a niche.

And after asking Elton John who the hot producer was, Mick Jagger called Steve and Lillywhite produced a Stones album, which he calls the band’s worst ever…until the next one. Says the music keeps Keith alive, others get caught up in the dope and lose focus.

And Jared Leto is a perfectionist with Thirty Seconds To Mars. He literally sang a line a hundred times and was still unsatisfied. But then he strummed a guitar and sang in the lounge and Steve said Jared thinks too much, you’ve got to let it flow.

As for today’s music, he laments it’s not done all in the same room and is perfected by machines. He believes it’s best when the musicians can see each other and play off each other, like his client Phish.

Who he produced after working with Dave Matthews. He became the jam band guy.

As for his long history with U2…

Bono was unsatisfied with the last single so he farmed it out to every famous mixer on the planet, but after going back and forth with Lillywhite via WhatsApp all night in Jakarta, it’s Steve’s mix that survives, that is the single.

As for producing bands, he focuses on the worst players, the ones who are anxious they won’t live up to what the writers’ wants, he lifts them up.

And as far as left field ringers…

He was in Paris cutting the last Talking Heads album, and they called in a locally famous African musician, but he was late, and they thought the non-English speaking messenger was the player and sat him down on a stool with an axe and recorded him until the real player arrived.

Lillywhite’s full of stories like this. And he’s not just living in the past, he’s still playing.

It was funny, educational and EXHILARATING!

P.S. I caught half an hour of Marcie Allen’s interview before I had to bolt for the airport. The sponsorship queen said a couple of interesting things. Like tour sponsorship is dead. It’s about the whole enchilada. The brands want to be involved in the album release too, everything, to garner maximum value. And her pet peeve is companies who only look at the data, who won’t play unless you have a certain number of Instagram followers, whereas Marcie believes it’s all about meaningful connection, some clients might post infrequently, but when they do, engagement is through the roof. And she believes the future of sponsorship is artist-curated festivals, she worked with Dave Grohl on CalJam, she said sponsors get lost in the smorgasbord festivals with names bigger than the acts.

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