Carolyn Richardson, aka Music Carolyn, is a singer, songwriter, and music supervision executive. Though born in Dallas and raised in Houston, she cut her teeth and got her first big break here in Chicago before going on to settle down in Los Angeles.
In addition to her work in the world of music supervision with her company, Music 4 Scenes, Music Carolyn is a highly sought after recording artist and session musician in her own right.
Her heavily anticipated forthcoming album, Fireworks and Ocean Waves, led by the soulful single, Satisfied, is set to be released on March 29th. Listeners can expect to hear a fantastic mix of classical, free jazz, R&B and gospel as they are all in her powerful wheelhouse.
N’DIGO recently sat down with the busy artist and executive to learn more about her new album, her influences, and which Michael Jackson album is better than Thriller.
N’DIGO: Growing up, did you always know you’d be involved in music or did you dream of doing something else at first?
Music Carolyn: It was always going to be music and business. As a little girl I wanted to be a lawyer, but singing was my first love. I started singing in church at the age of four. My mother was the choir director and organist (and still is to this day), so there was no escaping my calling.
Who were your musical influences? Who were the artists that made you want to pursue music?
I hate to be cliché, but the First Lady of Song still does it for me. The energy and joy that Ella Fitzgerald exudes when she performed made me want to pursue music. In terms of seeing myself on stage, Jill Scott made it more real for me.
I worked at Sony Music, her label when she first released Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, and so I got a chance to see her perform so much early on, I started to be okay with being a little heavier, a little more soulful, and sexier than the traditional R&B types I’d witnessed growing up. Zhane, Sade, Caron Wheeler, and Tamia still do it for me, too.
What was your first big break in the music industry?
Without dating myself, I’ll say my husband and I started a band called Taniq in Chicago many years ago. We opened for Jon B, placed songs in a good number of TV shows and films, and toured around the country. But as a solo artist, I’ve had a reawakening!
I was featured as a background vocalist on a number of songs on Grammy-nominated Lukas Graham’s latest album 3. I’ve also shared the stage with Kathleen Battle as a soloist, and performed with Aretha Franklin’s musical director Damien Sneed. It’s been fun to be a little older, and still having “firsts.”
Tell us about your latest album, Fireworks and Ocean Waves.
Spring is a time to fall in love, even if your love has gone through a winter. This album is my offering to lovers who have lost and found that good thing. It’s an almost entirely positive love fest for couples, and while I touch on a few sticky situations, I like to say a few babies could be made, a few marriages saved, and a few new “situations” could go a little further if you listen to my album.
People say don’t drink the water – well, this album right here, don’t listen to it unless you want to be in love. I just feel like we have so many songs that become popular that talk about cheating, leaving, and being otherwise unhappy, I needed to offer something that people in love could listen to without amplifying everything that’s wrong with the world. Let’s try to love again. That’s the last thing I sing on my album. That’s the crux of it all.
In addition to being an artist, you also work as a music supervisor for film and television. What does that role encompasses?
I’m currently at FOX in the music clearance department, which is basically the legal side of ensuring music that’s placed in film/TV/digital media is properly licensed and paid for.
I also run my own music consulting firm, Music 4 Scenes, where I do music supervision for web series, commercials, and influencer marketing campaigns, in addition to session work for recording sessions and providing singers for live events.
It’s a grind, but I love wearing both hats. I like to call myself a music business artist. I am both at all times. I’m always thinking about story and images when creating music. I just can’t turn off the business side of me.
Do you have a specific formula that you use or routine you follow as far as creating music?
Well, I have three children, a husband, and a successful career in the music business. The formula is to get it done. I used to be able to spend hours in nature, usually a garden, just observing people, animals, water, and trees, and would let myself get engulfed until the right moment. Now, I have to try harder to be efficient with my time.
Early mornings, sometimes around 3 a.m., I’ll awake and just think about who I’d want to “talk to” through music. Most of the times it’s people like me, a woman who wants to feel loved, who wants to be sexy, who wants to be satisfied with her life, and her family. Sometimes it’s to people who are discouraged, or tired, or broken.
I ask myself, what do they need to hear, and then I write it, usually as lyric first, a poem, and sometimes with melody, but usually the music that backs it comes last. I’m strange that way. If I have a message, I can always find the right music for it to go to. I guess that’s my music supervision side helping me out creatively.
Speaking of being a wife, mother, artist, and business owner, how do you maintain it all and find balance?
I don’t have balance; I work and live at extremes. When I’m at home, I’m wholly a mom. I’m usually unreachable on Saturdays during the day because I’m hanging all the way out with my kids. I love being out and about, so they go to all the fun events. And there’s not a heel or makeup in sight when I’m with them.
When I’m with my husband, I am wholly present. I am not a mother then, I want to be available as a woman to his manliness and be romantic and sexy. When I’m the boss, I am the boss. I supervise teams of people, and when I do, I’m focused on the task at hand.
When I’m on stage, I am married to what I feel and see my audience reacting to. I don’t know how to do any of these things at the same time. I do not multi-task. And unfortunately, sometimes people don’t get what they want, but at all times, when I choose to do something, I’m all in. I love switching it up!
How do you feel about where the music biz is today in terms of how technology has changed it and the absolute need for major label support not being what it was in the past?
I think the listeners will always find a way to feed their needs. Tech people figured out what labels and publishing companies couldn’t. That is, that if you don’t make it convenient for the listener to feed their souls, they will find an easier way. That’s what has happened.
Labels would never allow artists to interact with fans without makeup, on a regular basis. Now indies who do that have more engagement and fan support. Labels would never present an artist with a lot of stripped down videos, cover songs, and tacky at-home videos, but now that’s the way that most labels and fans find their “favorites.”
I love it all. I love that people like H.E.R. could reinvent herself, put her music first, and win Grammys. It’s a beautiful time to create music. There’s no filter any more, so if you find your audience, that’s all you need.
What are three of your all-time favorite albums?
Oooh…you had to ask! Again, I hate being cliché, but facts are facts and Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life is the best album ever created. And you can fight me, but yes, Off the Wall is a better album than Thriller.
Last, and this one may be unexpected, but Zhane’s Saturday Night is one of the most soulful albums available. Like, Piece it Together, and Just Like That, and This Song is for You still snatch me. And their cover of For The Longest Time? Brilliance! I cannot listen to those songs without stopping what I’m doing, singing along, or going to a place somewhere in my love life.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I write travel stories, specifically for Hawaii. I’ve been 10 times, and the day after my album releases on March 29th, I’m going to Kauai. It’s my favorite island in the Hawaiian Islands, and I’m so excited to be writing for a major publication, but I can’t talk about it until it’s in print!
Best advice for aspiring artists?
Authenticity will always get more attention than talent. Don’t listen to anyone trying to tell you what not to sing, or look like, or what have you. Do what feels authentic at all times in all ways. People will notice you being genuine. Being your authentic self is the foundation for success.
I knew I was in the right work when I was able to stop code-switching. Now, wherever I am, I can speak with my Texas accent, and share my culture, my life, from a place that is assured of my worth. You can’t do that if you’re constantly trying to follow a trend of a suggestion from others.
Be yourself, and let the chips fall where they may. And on the business side, producers before pictures – record professionally regularly, then pay for a photographer. Not the other way around!
Favorite quote or affirmation?
Finished is better than perfect.
What’s next for Music Carolyn?
So much! I’ll be performing in New York City, Houston, and Chicago to support the album, but I’ll also embark on something I never have before – shooting music videos. The first will be released before summer begins and can I just say…it’s magical! I’m looking forward to recording more music as well. I’ll record a gospel album next year, but first Fireworks and Ocean Waves is up for the lovers!
To learn more about Music Carolyn, visit her website www.musiccarolyn.com or follow her on social media:
Instagram – @musiccarolyn
Facebook – @musiccarolynofficial.