Then, Now and The Future, Stephanie Cooke celebrates golden jubilee – part 2
Stephanie Cooke has gained recognition as not only a talented singer and a writer, but as an all-round artist of exquisite abilities.
Radio-play can get a little political and even costly, meaning without support from source it can get hard even with great songs to get air play.
The same seems to be true with certain DJs.”
In the first part of our exclusive interview with the doyen of heartfelt Soulful House Music, she reflected on her musical beginnings, an undeniable “love for love”, as well as career pinnacles like writing music for luminaries such as Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin.
Join us in this second and last part as Stephanie reflects on the current state of music, establishing her own record label and overcoming industry and personal challenges.
A lot of House Music (and other genres) heads always seem to be nostalgic about how good the music was “back in the day” and how they don’t make “real music” anymore. In all fairness this to some extent is true. What are some of the things that you feel the music of today has “lost”?
Stephanie Cooke: I don’t think music today has lost anything.
“Back in the day” there were great songs and not so great songs.
Today there are great songs and no so great songs.
The problem today is what gets played.
Someone has decided that the music that needs to be heard is this watered down thrown together stuff with either no substance or full of sexual content, like there’s nothing else to sing about.
There are artists who are still doing beautiful music, it’s just not being pushed to the forefront.
Also now that there are so many outlets for regular people to put out their own music, everyone is a producer, artist or DJ.
As you just said artists now enjoy a bit more control of their work and audiences are somewhat easier to reach out to. Given such positives, in what ways would you say the music has become “better”?
Stephanie Cooke: Music is ever evolving, just like the world.
I think it’s great for people who have actual talent that there are ways to get their music out there.
A lot of current music seems to be “cluttered” in terms of producers and artists trying to cram everything into their projects. They are under pressure to produce hits, high radio spins, crossover appeal, performance friendly tracks and so on. What’s your advice for creating music that touches the soul yet still possibly ticks most of the boxes such as radio spins and crossover appeal ?
Stephanie Cooke: My advice is to put your heart into your music and allow (as the Bible says) your “gift” to make room for you.
It’s always been the artists who were like no one else that became the super powers in the industry.
Do You! As I like to put it.
But know who you are.
Sometimes it takes time to find out just who you are as an artist and that alone takes pushing beyond your normal limits at times and trying things you may not normally have tried.
What are some of the things you will never accept about the present day industry?
Stephanie Cooke: Radio-play can get a little political and even costly, meaning without support from source it can get hard even with great songs to get air play.
The same seems to be true with certain DJs.
Which recent (past five or so years) artists have caught your ear and possibly heart?
What is it about these artists that has called out to you?
Stephanie Cooke: In recent years there are not many.
I guess that takes me back to your previous question about what music has lost.
I think there is a passion that is missing in artists.
There was a time when artists put their heart and soul into their craft.
Music doesn’t have the same affect without the passion.
Society has a way of dictating to us what we need to be and how we need to look.
Just the way of the world I guess.
The thing that always keeps me going is my PASSION”
The industry can be said to be a “democratic” beast in the sense that everyone sooner or later gets their turn to be beat down or played. What are some of the “beat downs” it’s delivered to you?
Stephanie Cooke: For me there have been lots of ups and downs through the years.
The hardest thing is dealing with the way the Internet has changed the industry.
On the one hand we can reach the world and on the other, it’s very hard to make a living doing music when everyone is sharing files.
So you need hit records and popular songs to ensure that you can at least do live performances to make money.
Given these and other challenges, what has kept your fire burning to continue producing good quality music?
Stephanie Cooke: The thing that always keeps me going is my PASSION for it.
I am a songwriter.
It’s not just what I do, it’s who I am.
So whether I am received or rejected, richer or poorer for it, I will always continue to create and express myself musically.
There is no question.
It gives me life.
Some years ago you were diagnosed with breast cancer, which is the nightmare that every woman hopes never becomes a reality. What kind of impact did this experience have on you as an artist?
Stephanie Cooke: Well I didn’t record much for about two years but I was always writing and consistently learning life lessons through it all.
The thing that helped me the most was keeping a positive attitude.
I can’t tell you how many days I was alone and had no one with me through the cancer.
It taught me that my journey is just that. “My journey.”
Whether we have family and friends around or not, we still have to keep going.
No one is responsible for you but you.
What helped you come out victorious?
Stephanie Cooke: It’s nice when we are surrounded with loved ones, but the fact is that there are some things that we have to do on our own.
I’m a much better person today because of it.
You are in the process of building Angeltown Recordings, which is your own record label. In terms of challenges and successes, how has this process been?
Stephanie Cooke: Angeltown is my baby.
I’ve wanted to do this for a while.
We are just getting started but it really feels good to control the way my music is presented.
I’m looking forward to many years of success with it.
When signing artists under your label what are you looking for in terms of their abilities and character?
Stephanie Cooke: I have only signed one artist so far to the label and the first single for his project will be available late February or early March.
I hope to sign artists to the label based on their true talent and passion for their artistry.
I also only want to work with people who operate in good energy.
I don’t do negativity in any area of my life.
What advice, which you never got at the beginning of your career, are you giving to the emerging artists whom you are working with?
Stephanie Cooke: I always share with new and up and coming artists the importance of you work ethic. Consistency, dedication, commitment.
These are keys to success.
I wasn’t consistent, dedicated or committed until I saw how not being consistent, dedicated and committed was destroying my career.
Life is what you make it. Happiness is a decision we make.”
Seeing that in 2012 you worked on “Happy Days” with South African producer UPZ, you are probably somewhat familiar with the scene this side. How have you found the House Music being produced in South Africa?
Stephanie Cooke: Actually I’ve done songs with several South African producers.
The style is often different from what is the norm for me as a writer and artist, but have been great tracks.
Are there any prospects of you working with South African producers and artists?
Stephanie Cooke: I am sure there will be many more collabs with SA producers and I look forward to that.
Can we keep our fingers crossed that we will be seeing you sometime hopefully soon around these parts?
Stephanie Cooke: I have been booked to come several times but it always seems to fall through.
One day soon I hope.
We are now somewhat familiar with you as an artist so let’s take a lot at Stephanie the person possibly starting with your home situation?
Stephanie Cooke: I am single living in Atlanta.
My kids are getting old enough to start looking for what they want to do with their lives and they all seem to love creating music themselves.
One day very soon I’m sure you’ll be hearing things they’ve produced.
I actually have four amazing and beautiful grandchildren as well and I’m feeling young, full, free and powerful!
Life is what you make it.
Happiness is a decision we make.
What roles and influence have these personal relationships had on you as a person and artist?
Stephanie Cooke: I love hard and in my big ole family, there’s a lot to love.
My songs are generally written from personal experiences which includes my love for my children.
They are my life’s greatest accomplishment.
Talking of accomplishments, what memorabilia from your career do you treasure and regard as priceless?
Stephanie Cooke: I received so many awards in my earlier years as a writer from ASCAP [American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers].
I think the one I was most proud of was the Abe Oleman Scholarship.
I was awarded the scholarship in 1996 or 97 I believe.
My mom who passed away in 2001 was present at the awards ceremony.
I could see in her eyes that she was so very proud of me that day.
A moment I will always cherish.
WITH STEPHANIE COOKE