Before leaving town I had lunch with an old boss and another co-worker/friend from my Almo Irving Publishing days, Bobby Rymer and David Conrad. On the way over it hit me that if there was ever someone who’s worth hearing about, for all those that wouldn’t already know, it’s David. He was my first and main mentor in music publishing. We were meeting at the bar part of Sunset Grill. I got there first and asked the bartender where to sit. He asked “who are you meeting?”, I told him and he said "Mr. Conrad sits anywhere he wants". So I sit down (one booth over from the “Harlan Howard” booth, apparently). We three sat there and caught up on what’s going on with my trip and their lives. He let’s me take him downtown to run an errand. That’s where this took place, in my car. David has always been one of (if not the top) music publishers in the last 30 years in Nashville. Starting his career in the early 70's and he has worked with everyone from Kent Robbins to Emmylou Harris, Paul Kennerley, Craig Wiseman, Marc Knopfler, Annie Roboff, Gillian Welch, Dennis Morgan and Waylon Jennings and a ton of others. Many of these being Hall Of Famer's. His friends have been some of the top music exec’s of the last 50 years. In talking with him, I'd forgotten HOW confident the guy was when he spoke. It's a general disposition, he's always carried as long as I've know him (close to 20 years).
Me: What goes into being a good publisher, you think?
DC: Part of it just has to do with how you grow up and how diligent and focused you are on anything that you set about to do. And that could’ve been delivering mail… there are people that depend on it and depend on whether you do it right or wrong and learn as much as you can about it. There’s a discipline that’s just there because of the way that you grew up. The other thing is the affinity for music and for songs. It took me a little bit to understand the difference between (a good and) a great song. I had to learn that. Because I was a musician (he's an excellent Classical guitarist), I’d just cared about melodies and the playing. That was taught to me by a guy named Glenn Keener who was the head of A&R at Mercury Records….. I (also) learned from great songwriters like John Schweers, Bobby Barker, Archie Jordan and Kent Robbins. Not only how to recognize the difference between good and great lyrics but how to overcome it when it was not there. And if it was a great idea THEN it was worth EVERYTHING you had to give it. Every bit of time you could put into it, every bit of effort and passion to write a little movie that’s engaging and economical and the notion that you gotta write this many (gesturing with his hands) for this many (smaller portion) to pay off, anyway.
DC: You spend those (first) 2 or 3 years learning these fundamentals and then you get to really learning the fine points of becoming a really good publisher. What’s good and what’s great… you’re willing to do it and think it and breathe it and eat and sleep it 24 hours a day, because it’s a lifestyle. It absolutely is a lifestyle and that’s why I don’t miss it a bit now. I got a new lifestyle.