Written by Maria Arroyo
Last Friday, I had the greatest pleasure of interviewing a man that I have learned so much from in such a short amount of time, so forgive me if I seem overly excited! He’s played at Carnegie Hall with Mel Tormé, played live on national TV, had a piece that he wrote that was played at the Kennedy Center for our 44th president Barack Obama, and has been nominated as “New Artist Of The Year.”
I had the chance to have a full hour zoom call with Dr. Louis Anthony deLise, a man of many talents that make him rise to the top of his accomplishments alone.
I’d been kicking myself wondering “What am I going to ask him? What is there to talk about that he hasn’t answered a hundred times already?” I figured the worst that could happen was he would answer those same questions all over again, so what have I got to lose, right? I lined up a series of questions about his life in the music industry, some of his proudest accomplishments, and even had a discussion on just a few things in the music industry that have changed over the years. So first things first, who is Dr. deLise? Well, I’ll just let him tell you.
“I define myself as a composer and have been one my whole life,” He began. “Along the way in order to support that work, I worked as a performing musician playing in theatres, ballets, and bands too. I’ve also worked as a teacher at various levels, most recently in colleges, and also worked as a musical arranger and conductor on recording sessions. I’m an independent composer. You know, when you compose you generally don’t work for a company, oh, but I have done that actually… I did a little bit of time with a company that produced music for advertising and worked as an in-house writer.”
“It was pretty neat,” He finishes with a slight smile.
Dr. deLise also shares that he’s currently involved with two different music publishing companies and continues his work as a writer for concert music, “Or classical music as you may call it,” he wittingly adds. “This past year I also recorded an album for myself.”
“That’s your first one, right?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he exclaims. “How ’bout that? After all these years?!”
I was shocked.
“I was reading another interview that you had done where you shared this, and I had to go back and re-read where you mentioned your first debut album, thinking, “This has to be a mistake, I definitely didn’t read that correctly…”because of how much you’ve accomplished as a music industry professional, and this being your first solo release.” I shared with him.
Dr. deLise then tells me that this solo album made it to the Top 20 on the Ambient and New Age charts, where he then humbly shares “well, that’s kinda fun.”
“I think it’s always a trip and always a really neat experience to hear your music played on TV or the radio.” He says. “I’ve had the experience of walking out late at night getting in my car, turning on the radio and hearing something I arranged, or we hear something playing in a pizza shop and it’s a pretty cool thing!”
“How is this release different from others that you’ve been involved with?” I ask.
“It’s different because in a way,” he shares “I’m really out there. Even at this stage, there’s always that little feeling of ‘Oh God…What if no one liked it?’ It feels even more exposing.”
“Did the reward grow for you?” I ask.
“Yeah, I think so.” he says.”It’s very rewarding to know that another publisher (not my own, of course) or company wants to put my music out and that another company wants to distribute it and that others want to play it on the radio etc. It’s flattering!” He says excitedly.
Dr. deLise also shares some collaborations that happened on ‘Natural Light,’ which includes four other musicians that played on the record, and a writing collaboration for one of the songs.
“99% of the album is an acoustic sound,” He says. “I wanted most of the music to be acoustic, so for the most part, it’s all an acoustic sound and a lot of live instruments. One of my goals was to keep it mostly acoustic with live playing,” he says. “There’s such a difference with live playing compared to sequencing. Everything is mathematically correct to the computer, but it doesn’t necessarily sound good to us human beings, you know? We like to move a little bit, we don’t play exactly in time, we vary things a little bit, and that’s important to me. It’s one of the features that I wanted to keep for the album. I even incorporated some different musical ideas from when I was a child.”
deLise shares that he wanted to keep the stereo sound intact. The movement of sound traveling from one side to the other when you listen to his music with headphones. On top of writing and recording the majority of the album, he gives credit to his mixing consultant, which helped him figure out if a sound was working or not, and worked closely with his mastering engineer as well.
I just had to ask the question, I couldn’t hold it in anymore.
“You’ve been doing this a long time,” I said to him. “What took so long to finally release your first album?”
There’s a slight pause in the conversation.
“I don’t know,” he chuckles. “I was shy I guess. It wasn’t the right time maybe. Everything happens in its own time. Maybe I had to wait to grow up,” he says, as we laugh together.
Now, I have been waiting for about two years to bring this situation up that I’m about to explain.
Back story: Last year, I went to my first music conference in Harrisburg called the Millennium Music Conference and Festival. My then college professor had told our class that it was free to anyone who went and participated in a group “project” so I figured, ‘Okay!’ I had gotten there, and to this day, it has been one of the most influential moments in my life.
Anyways, fast forward to that Saturday afternoon where a very excited me walked into this “Songwriting Business Tuneup” lecture with Dr. deLise. After scribbling all of these things spilling out of his mouth as fast as I could, my pen dropped and I looked up. The next sentence out of his mouth was probably the most important, yet brutally honest truth that I needed at that time, and even to this day.
“Remember,” he says. “No one is waiting around for you to put your music out there. So take the time and use all of the resources you can to make it the best that you can make it for that point of your career.”
I shared this memory with him, to which he says, “Did I really say that…?” he shockingly says.
“Yes, yes you did!” I say back.
“That sounds a bit harsh!” he says.
“Yeah, it did!” I responded back. “I didn’t like it at all when you first said it. but that’s something that pushes me to keep honing my craft, my sound, and to absorb as much as I can at this point to make my first release the best it can be.”
“Well, two things,” he says.
“First of all, because I’m always an educator first, let me say to you, be careful with yourself and that, because ‘perfection is the enemy of finished.’ Because at some time, you have to say ‘Enough!’ I need to put this out.” he says to me. “Life is a journey, and hopefully, it’s long and beautiful, and you have to do a lot of things. One of them is making a living, etc. But to do your own album, it takes a lot of time and money, so everything wasn’t in place… and now it is. I didn’t have a clear vision. Now I’ve been creating music that I put on that record for a long time, and I didn’t really think that other people wanted to hear that kind of stuff, but it took me a really long time to find the place where that music belongs, and now I kinda know where that is, and other people like it. So it’s like, wow, look at that, who knew?!”
“The moral of the story,” he says with a smile. “Do what you like, and be true to yourself.”
“It’s so funny,” he chuckles, “because I’ve been in the business for 100 years, but I’ve always been a behind the scenes guy working for other people, and I’m comfortable being that person (a sideman) an extra player with organizations, etc.”
He finishes that story by reiterating that even though it took some time, he’s happy, and very proud that he’s released it.
“So you said you’re an educator first,” I ask. “Did you go into this wanting to be a teacher or did you find it just happened?”
“I always wanted to be a composer who performs or a performer who composed,” deLise says. “Teaching was something I always did. Even in high school, I taught as a music teacher in a music shop. But I think a lot of musicians probably have a sense of wanting to give back. I always wanted to teach in that sense. So much of music is an oral tradition where we are passing things down from one generation to another and teaching was always important to me, but I never wanted to be just the teacher.”
“Yeah, I’m finding that a lot of industry professionals are just naturally sharing everything they know,” I shared. “Which I didn’t think would be the case, but in fact, it’s been nothing but.”
“I’ll tell you I think that’s a newer thing. When I was your age,” he says as we laugh at the very phrase. “When I was coming up, it was not as open. We didn’t have conferences and professional people coming in and sharing what they know. As far as I’m concerned that’s a pretty new thing, maybe the past 10 or 15 years. I think it’s a good thing! I think people were more closed off, more like what you suspected it to be, but there have always been people that would be generous and help.”
“What do you think caused that shift of wanting to share their information, and did you feel like an up and comer in the industry that you could reach out and find those people, or did you just figure it out on your own?” I ask.
He chose the latter.
“I think this is the main thing: communication is so much better now. Look at what we’re doing. Here we are, I can see your face, boom boom boom, you’re where you are and I’m where I am and we can still talk.”
“The music business had really exploded, it’s a lot more democratized. It used to be an old boys club with a few women and pretty closed off, and now, I think it’s a lot more people getting involved in the music field, and I think a lot of that is because of the internet. There are things like conferences and things like that. Someone probably had an idea like ‘Oh, maybe I’ll put this conference thing together, I bet people will come if we do that, it’ll be fun and maybe we’ll make some money, and we’ll bring some people in and let them blab, cuz people like to blab.’”
We then started talking about the ever-changing development that is the music degree in higher education.
“Music curriculum has really grown in the past 15 years,” deLise says. “There are music majors and music business majors. I went to a conservatory where it was 100% strictly classical music, no jazz studies, nothing, and no music business.”
He goes on to say that a lot of these programs have matured and grown up from where they started.
“I remember my degree changing what felt like every six months!” I told him. “We were guinea pigs for the program, but that’s what it took to get the Millersville Music Program to where it is now.”
As we switched gears, I started to inquire about his job as a published author.
“So you’ve published 2 books, correct?” I ask.
“Well, no,” he pauses. “I wrote one book. The second (The Professional Songwriter) is just a revision and rewrite of the first book (The Contemporary Minstrel) with a different title.”
“Well now I have both, so I’m excited!” I shared with him. “Why rewrite the first one?” I ask.
“The first version I published myself, and then a publisher became interested and they said they wanted to release it. I went back and looked at it, and I thought there were sections that could have been explained, amplified better, and modified based on feedback from other people. I lived with it for a while and I saw the blemishes in them.”
“Did you really get both??” he asks, surprised. “Just work in the second book. It’s much better.”
“I already bought the second [book]! It’s sitting here on my shelf.” I say.
“Oh! Did you really? That’s nice. Well, thank you.” He expresses shyly.
As you can see, he’s still shy even after all this time talking about himself!
We then got to talking about his position as a member of the City Of Philadelphia’s Music Industry Task Force, started by councilman David Oh. deLise shares that he was voted into the task force and that the point of the task force is to “try and remove the hurdles and stumbling blocks for professional musicians, and try to create more opportunities and make it easier to do the job for the professional musicians in and around the city of Philadelphia.”
I also asked Dr. deLise what else he’s been working on since the release of ‘Natural Light’ to which he answers “I’m working on a new one!”
Unfortunately, the interview eventually had to come to a close, even though I probably could have spent the rest of the afternoon picking his brain and listening to him speak. After all of my questions, I still had one more.
“What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone coming into the music industry that you wish you would have known, or maybe something you think we should know going into it?” I ask.
There’s another pause, an even longer one than I anticipated, which meant my question was working!
“This is where I’m supposed to sound really important and smart right??”
Another solid five seconds of silence as he thinks about my question even more.
“This is my favorite question!” I share excitedly.
“Is that because people get stumped?” he asks.
“Well,” ready to explain to him. “You’ve all done so many interviews and have heard every question in the book, but then, I see that intense thinking face and I take it as a win!”
“Well I’m happy I can play right into your little spider web there,” he chuckles.
“Well,” he pauses. “I don’t think there’s one thing: I think there are 2 things. Everything that’s coming to mind sounds very corny to me, but I’ll just go with it.”
“I think the most important thing is, to be honest. Be honest about who you are, and what you do, and what you think your music wants to do. Be honest with yourself and the music. It sounds kinda spacey, doesn’t it? But you have to pay attention to the music because it tells you what it needs, what you want to know, and what it wants to be, so you just have to listen. And the other thing that occurs to me is maybe more practical: Try not to do it all yourself. You really do need to have a team around you, and it’s very helpful to have really good, probably older, advisors (more experienced) who have your best interest at heart. Almost as parental figures in a way, that are going to nurture you and your music and help you get from point A to point B without hurting or taking advantage of you in any way shape or form.”
“So… Those are my two if you’ll allow two,” he smiles.
“No, those were so good I think I can accept two,” I laugh in return.
“And the second part of it is,” he elaborates, “is finding someone who has your best interest, but when starting out, even when we have stars in our eyes!”
I look down slightly as I raise my hand because I am so guilty of this.
“You have to be very careful about that. You can very easily be taken advantage of and there’s a lot of nice people in the world, but unfortunately, there are a lot of rotten people too. They tend to gravitate towards easy prey and if you have those stars in your eyes, it’s like being in love, you can just get smacked in the head with that infatuation.”
“Now I have one more question,” I exclaim. “But only because you sparked it! How can you differentiate between the two and get a feel for who’s doing it for your best interest, or if they aren’t?”
“Well do you ever hear that little voice in your head when you meet someone or talk to somebody and you get those vibes like, ehhh…” he asks.
“Yeah,” I answer softly. “I tend to shut him off…”
“Yeah don’t do that,” He says. “Because you know what? Whoever grew you up to this point has probably inculcated that info into your persona and you kinda know. Like if you were to shake hands with someone (you know not that we can do that anymore but anyways… ) you have to look down and count all your fingers to make sure you still have all 10 afterward you know? You get that vibe. So listen to that. And ask!!! Ask around! See what people say! Sometimes people are nasty or not truthful, but if you get a whole mess of people saying the same things, you should probably check it out, it’s probably true,” he chuckles. “Or a good part of it is true.”
As we laugh and talk some more about our lives, I’m satisfied with all the questions I’ve asked, and thank him from the bottom of my heart for sitting down with me. Dr. deLise, thank you for being such an inspiring role model for me, this will be one interview I won’t soon forget.
Listen to his debut solo album ‘Natural Light’ on Spotify
You can also check out his first version The Contemporary Minstrel on Amazon!
Connect with Dr. DeLise