A Q&A with David Young
"Is David Young the romantic, pied piper of the 21st century?
or just one of the most unique, hard working, multi-talented self starters
in the music biz who, with his last $100 launched his own record company
that has now sold over 1,000,000 CDs?"
David, how did you start playing two flutes at one time?
I moved to California after trying my luck in about 20 different cities across the United States, singing and playing guitar in different rock bands. It all started when I got my first jaywalking ticket, a $10 ticket for not crossing the street at the light. For a former New Yorker, this was an amazing experience of one of the unique aspects of California reality. The weirdest part was that the following day, 20 miles away in a different part of town, I got a second $10 jaywalking ticket.
I put these two tickets in my junk drawer, figuring that since I had a Minnesota driverís license, these tickets would never catch up with me. But somehow they found my new California address and each month they would send me an updated ticket that doubled every time. I also managed to get an $80 speeding ticket while driving through Beverly Hills practicing my creative visualization, imagining that my red Plymouth Duster was a Porsche.
Six months later, the jaywalking tickets had grown to be $250 a piece and the speeding ticket was now $400, a total of $900! Now they started sending warrants for my arrest along with the updated tickets. One of my musician friends came over one day and when he saw these warrants that had just come in the mail, he warned me that it didnít matter how silly these tickets were, these were serious. If I was caught driving with these type of warrants, they would take away my car, my license, and throw me in jail. I had never been to jail before and he definitely put the big scare in me, impressing me that I had better pay them off right away. So I went down to each city hall and paid them off, one by one. When I was done I had $100 left to my name and had to move out of my apartment the next day because rent was due. I moved onto a friends couch and was desperate.
David Young backstage
with Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull
(holding David's Renaissance CD)
Earlier that month, I had met a girl who played the harp and she had told me that she was sometimes making $200 a day down at Venice Beach. So that weekend I went down there with my childhood instruments, my recorders, a battery powered boom box, and a rose. I played for 2 hours but didnít even make a dollar and thought Ďoh my God, I canít even make it down here where all of the losers are!í
I packed up my things and started heading up the boardwalk to where my car was parked: a beaten man. The girl playing the harp recognized me and asked me how I did. She was also a rock bass player and had seen me sing and play guitar at one of the clubs in LA. I told her that I didnít even make a dollar, so she asked me if I wanted to play with her and her partner for a little bit so maybe I could make back my parking money. Parking was $6.00 and that felt like a lot of money at that point.
I started putting my instruments together and right around this time, a young woman with a thong bikini on roller blades whizzes by us. This was the early 90ís and thong bikinis were the new thing, so her partner put down his instrument and ran down the boardwalk after her. The harp girl gets a little miffed that she has just lost her partner and says "letís play something". (No one wants to play at Venice Beach by themselves because then you really look like a loser. If thereís someone else playing with you, then youíre in a band, and thatís much cooler.)
Well I closed my eyes and about five minutes later, after we had improvised for a little bit, I opened my eyes and could see that there was a huge crowd around the two of us, and it was raining money into the basket in front of her harp. An elderly couple slow danced and kissed between the crowd and us for about twenty minutes and I was in disbelief.
As fate would have it, her partner left the following week and with my last $100 we recorded a tape in a friends garage for a total of $90. It was $15 an hour for six hours and with the $10 I had left, we bought a pizza. We didnít have nearly enough money for a photo session or color printing, we barely had enough gas to get to Venice Beach the next day. We went to a Kinkoís and made 50 black and white copies of a line drawing picture of a girl playing a harp and a guy playing a flute and colored them in with colored pencils and magic markers so we would at least have some color on the tape covers. (Most of the other musicians at Venice Beach only had black and white.)
David Young and his third grade
music teacher, Manny Mendelsohn.
We called our music ĎCelestial Windsí, sold them at the beach, and then later at festivals all over the country and after 3 Ĺ years of touring together we had sold over 100,000 copies of them. CNN did a special segment on our Ďrags to richesí story that also aired on Headline News and our "Christmas Morning" CD went to #2 in Canada.
At that point, we were really tired of each other so we went our own ways and I hired musicians who played with The John Tesh Orchestra, Tracy Chapman, Tori Amos, James Taylor, Van Morrison, Kitaro, and Supertramp to make my CDís with.
So how does all of this connect with me playing two flutes at one time?
While we were playing at Venice Beach on the weekends, people used to walk by and say "oh, look at that beautiful girl playing that beautiful harp! Isnít that lovely, etc.", and I was invisible, which drove me nuts. I was always the lead singer and lead guitarist of my bands, and had always been the center of attention, not to mention that I was also a middle child. After a couple of months of this, and getting so tired and bored with playing the same 8 or 9 songs over and over about 30 times a day at the beach, I got totally frustrated that she was getting all of the attention. One day out of total boredom, I decided to try picking up a second flute and playing both of them at the same time, and from that moment on, when people walked by, the first thing they said was, "hey look, thereís a guy playing two flutes at one time!" And then the harp girl was invisible!
Is it hard to play two flutes at one time?
Well, if you can imagine playing a piano upside down and backwardsÖitís not. But if you practice 5 or 6 hours a day for 20 years, itís a piece of cake.
How would you describe your music?
People tell me that I have elements of Cat Stevens, John Mellencamp, and Jethro Tull and I take that as a compliment. Great music is timeless. Cat Stevens makes you feel and think about life. John Mellencamp writes about our culture and it makes you want to move and have fun. Jethro Tull is instantly recognizable because he plays the flute and thereís not many flute players in rock and roll. I donít actually play the flute, itís a renaissance flute called a recorder, but I do play two of them at one time.
How did you start playing the recorder?
I started playing the recorder in the 3rd or 4th grade just like everyone else, and like everyone else, I was terrible at it. But after the 2nd year of it, I began to figure out how to play by ear while listening to the radio.
Recognizing my talent, my parents found Phil Levin, the most knowledgeable man in New York on Baroque and Renaissance music, enrolled me in private lessons and he became my mentor. Eventually, I became the youngest member to join the NY Recorder Guild advanced performing group when I was 12. Not only was I the youngest member ever, but I was the only one who was neither gray haired or balding.
Later on, while in Junior High, I heard my first Jethro Tull album and that was the end of my classical career. I got Aqualung and all of their other albums, and after I learned all of Ian Andersonís flute solos, I figured out how to play all of the lead guitar solos on my recorder. Eventually, I got Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Yes, and Bad Co. albums and learned all of the parts, inventing how to bend notes like a lead guitar player on a flute."
How did you go about playing these two opposite styles of music? And what is the connection between you and the Seinfeld episode about the "white puffy shirt"?
For the first couple of years in LA, Iíd be rocking out every night in my leather pants in the clubs, and on Saturday and Sunday morningís Iíd become "the flute guy" at Venice Beach. Lisa (the harpist) and I always wore white, because white is a symbol of peace and surrender and with all of the craziness down there, we wanted people to know that we were harmless, peaceful, and approachable, because if we werenít, theyíd be too afraid to buy anything from us.
Lisa found this white puffy Renaissance shirt at a Good Will store and it really went well with the fact that we were both playing Renaissance instruments. I wore that shirt with my sunglasses, so my rock and roll friends wouldnít recognize me every weekend and the writerís from Seinfeld, which was filmed in Los Angeles, used to come down to Venice Beach and watch us. A couple of months later, the infamous episode about the white puffy shirt came out, and boy did Jerry look silly in that shirt.
How does it feel to be one of the most successful independent artists of all time?
There are lots of musicians who are well known now that started out selling their music directly to the public. MC Hammer sold his CDís out of the trunk of his car at dance clubs. Yanni and Huey Lewis both used to play down at Venice Beach before their careers started happening. It may seem like a real demeaning thing to do, but it is extremely valuable in the long run. Itís an opportunity to hone your act in front of a sometimes brutal audience- the public- and you have to be totally aware of what is working and what is not, or else you may not eat that day. Now thatís survival!
How many guys do you know that imitated Angus in an AC/DC clone band for 2 years and are still alive to tell about it without extreme neck pain?
Not many. When I was 19, I was in a struggling rock and roll band in upstate New York called Outakontrol that was seriously starving. It was so bad, that we were living on popcorn and ketchup, and when we ran out of ketchup, we lived on popcorn and mustard. Our manager handled two other groups that were successful on the club scene and he had a hard time dealing with the fact that we were so hungry all of the time.
He came up with this idea that we should dress up like the band AC/DC and learn all of their songs during the time of Back in Black, and do a show, like Beatlemania, of only their songs. My job was to do Angusís part. When we first went on the road, we each lived on $5.00 a day for about 3 months and eventually, it caught on, and we became one of the biggest draws on the East Coast in the early 80ís.
What was the Paul McCartney connection and why did he start a standing ovation for you?
To really give this story justice would take way too long, so in a nutshell, six months after Linda passed away, I was hired to perform at Heather McCartneyís highly publicized launch of her gift line in Atlanta, Georgia. This was a major event and the press was everywhere because it was Paulís first public appearance in six months. Paul came out to support her and he was fascinated by the way I played two flutes at one time in harmony. He wanted everyone there to know that he thought I was great and stopped the whole event to make sure everyone appreciated what I was doing.
Afterwards, his manager requested some of my CDís because Paul wanted to have some for him self. A couple of weeks later, I had to call Paulís office for something and realized that they were using my music as their on-hold music, which at the time was another real thrill.
What about "free music"?
Itís ridiculous and thank God I donít depend on the kids to buy my music. Kids change their taste in music every 18 months, but adults, once they get past 30, usually listen to the same music for the next 20 years, so you have a choice of trying to hit a moving target that is out of style every 18 months, or a window that lasts for 30 years. For me, thatís an easy choice!
Kids have grown up with this concept of free music and it has gotten to the point that kids donít even think of going to a record store to buy a song that they like. They just download it or copy it. Adults come from the generation that if you hear a song or CD that you like, you go to a store and buy it.
As far as the downloading thing goes, if you put a $20 bill in your computer and make copies of it for all of your friends, eventually the government will track you down and youíll go to jail. So why is music different? Music has value and when do you ever get something of value for free?How different would our lives be without the great music that we enjoy that really cost the musicians so much money to record and produce?
How do you think computers have affected music, its quality, and the way it is made?
A computer can fix just about anything and recreate any sound, so you donít actually have to be a musician to make music anymore.
But there is one thing that a computer canít do and that is to write the words that touch peopleís lives and hearts. Thatís why I believe there will always be a place for songwriters and storytellers. The words are the heart and soul of a song and when a lyric tells a story of something that you have experienced for yourself, there is a bonding that takes place between the listener and the music, because you share the same truth.
How did you, a traveling musician, become the model for the Arcopoedico shoe company?
I have been traveling about 40 weeks a year for about 10 years now and every week, everywhere I go, people ask me these two questions: How do I play two flutes at one time? And, where do I get those shoes? When youíre a flute player, you have to wear the right kind of shoes, or else it just doesnít look right. Every three or four months, I would go into this little shoe boutique in Santa Monica, CA., a few streets down from where I lived, and buy a new pair because I liked the way they shine when they are new.
It got to the point, after years of this, that when I would walk into the store, the lady, a German lady, would automatically head for the stock room and get my new shoes in my color and size.
Last year, I told this lady at the shoe store about the two questions, (how do I play two flutes at one time, and where do you get those shoes), and asked her for a contact number for the manufacturer, Arcopoedico. She gave me the number and I called the man and told him the story of the two questions and when he stopped laughing, he asked me what could he do for me? I told him that since 90% of my CDís are sold to women, ages 25-55, and that was probably the core of the demographic that bought his shoes, maybe there were some ways that we could do some cross marketing of our products together.
How? he asked.
My first idea was to put a poster together with me wearing these shows, with the two questions, and this could be put up at all of the stores that sell their shoes. Each store would also buy 3 of my CDs to play during store hours and their customers would get to enjoy my music, while looking at a picture of me and get a chuckle when they read the two questions. Because I was willing to be the model for the shoes, it would help raise the public awareness of their product, as well as to help turn men onto the idea that they can wear them as well. He said that he had been waiting for me to call for 5 years.
They sell their shoes to 1,000 stores in America alone, and I guessed that if 100 people went into each of their stores each week, multiplied by 52 weeks in a year, then 5,200,000 people a year who were totally in the demographic of my average customer would get to see a picture of me with my flutes wearing those shoes, and listen to my music while getting turned on to who I am and what I do.
I had just done a photo session for my CD "Happiness", and had asked my photographer to make sure that she took a few pictures where my shoes could be seen clearly and we put together an advertisement with one of these photoís and the two questions. I emailed it to the guy, who just happened to be the North American distributor, while we were on the phone and he loved the idea.
He said, "We can do that, what else do you want?"
Well, I have a good friend in N.Y. named David Krebs, who is famous for having found the groups Aerosmith, AC/DC, and recently Trans Siberian Orchestra, and he gave me the idea to have Arcopoedico purchase thousands of my CD samplers that they could put their logo and marketing on, and use them as giveaway gift. So when you buy a new pair of Arcopoedico shoes, youíll receive a Free David Young CD Sampler.
He liked the idea, but said that he would need to go to their corporate headquarters in Portugal to talk to the owner about it. When he came back, he said that the owner of Arcopoedico really liked my music, but he didnít want to use this for the United States alone- he wanted to use my idea for their world wide campaign and thatís how this all came about. Now I get free shoes.