It’s no secret that Chris Keup’s White Star Sound studio has a knack for producing stellar tracks for local as well as nationally known musicians. Now Keup is working to expand his purview with a new venture in music publishing: Salinger Songs.
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A musician and songwriter in his own right, Keup’s songs have appeared on television and film projects. With the launch of Salinger Songs, he hopes to offer licensing and commercial placement experience to other artists. He’s primarily focused on musicians and songwriters whom he classifies as emerging or undervalued talent, and is working to support them through a full menu of services. “I am hoping to even the playing field a bit for our roster and make sure that my artists have more of the resources they need to do their best work, and also to serve as an advocate ensuring that they are heard through all the noise,” says Keup.
Salinger Songs has been in development for a few years: “We went around and around with a number of prospective investors for a long time looking for the right fit and structure,” explains Keup. In the interim, he continued to work with local artists to develop their skills and recruit new but also pedigreed talent to the Salinger Songs roster, which includes Sarah White, Sleepwalkers, Adam Brock and others. “I largely have my dream artists,” says Keup. “These are the people who, when I hear what they are doing I get jealous! That’s really my only litmus test.” Eventually, an angel investor came through to support Keup’s passion and the project got off the ground.
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At present, he’s working with 15 artists with the goal of bringing new artists into the fold. “I’ve always enjoyed the development and discovery aspect of working with emerging artists and, truth be told, this is a brutal time for any non-independently wealthy artist who wants to take a run at it,” he says. “There was a time when labels were more willing to incur some risk on the development side.” According to Keup, the artists most at risk from this situation are those who work to be voices of counterculture through independent rock and other genres that exist outside the mainstream. He is trying to give up-and-coming artists an extra foothold in the music business.
In his role as music publisher, Keup’s relationship with artists is different than it’s been at White Star, where he acts as a producer. “At White Star, I’m typically writing and producing,” he says. “With music publishing we are focused on not only making sure we have recorded the best possible version of a song, but also trying to find a meaningful life for that song beyond the studio.” The two endeavors will coexist symbiotically though, as Salinger Songs’ songwriters collaborate with White Star artists, and copywriters and musicians are recruited from one side to the other.
Admittedly, music publishing can seem like inside baseball to those outside of the business. In its most basic form, Keup works with each Salinger artist to find ways to promote and build on his creative work. This might involve meetings with an ad agency that licenses music by a Salinger Songs composer, scheduling in-studio performances for one of the company’s bands or planning tours and recruiting musicians to share a bill. Keup also works with outside partners and boutique PR firms to manage film and television representation, royalties and other support for Salinger artists. He juggles this role with more mundane tasks like scheduling a piano tuner prior to a White Star studio recording session.
At the end of the day, Keup remains a businessman, and Salinger Songs is meant to be a profitable endeavor, both for him and the artists on his roster. The initial proof-of-concept funding that Keup received lasts through the first two years, with up to three additional years of single-year renewals. After that, he hopes the publishing company will have proven its worth and be able to attract new investors. He’s realistic about the challenges but verges on sentimental when he discusses the inspiration for Salinger Songs’ name. “The day I closed on my farm and moved down here from New York City about 13 years ago, I arrived to find a foxhound puppy on my doorstep,” says Keup. “He introduced himself as Salinger and we became fast friends. He was a spectacular dog who led a half-wild life and seemed like the appropriate mascot for a scrappy start-up publisher.” With a bit of luck, Keup’s hard work to establish Salinger Songs will support the careers of musical underdogs near and far in the coming years.