Troy Carter visits campus as part of McCloskey Speaker Series.
On the evening of Friday, October 6, Troy Carter, founder, chairman and CEO of Atom Factory and famed music manager stepped foot on Thacher’s campus. He was brought to the School as a speaker for the McCloskey Speaker Series, a visiting lecturer program that was established by the McCloskey Family Charitable Foundation in an effort to bring inspirational speakers to the Thacher and Ojai communities. In his speech to the Thacher community, Mr. Carter outlined his arduous, fulfilling journey through the music industry, and received a standing ovation for the wisdom and passion he presented in his talk. Afterwards, I was lucky enough to be able to briefly interview Mr. Carter.
Mary Yan: To start off, I just wanted to know how you stepped on the path of being a music producer. What was it about music that drew you to it?
Troy Carter: You know, I was always a fan of hip-hop culture. It was everything from the music itself to break dancing to the actual clothes, the graffiti. The whole culture was just always something I was attracted to, and music was always a really big deal in my house, whether it was my mom playing music when she was cleaning the house or us going to church. We grew up in a Baptist church so there was always music in church, as well. It was always something I was drawn to.
M: What are your favorite and least favorite parts of what you do?
T: I guess my favorite part is watching creativity happen in its early stages. Seeing a songwriter write a lyric. Seeing John Legend write “All of Me” or Lady Gaga write “Bad Romance.” I always say that songs are like the downloads from God. Where does it come from? So watching the process of it has always been great. I think the worst part of it is probably the politics of the business at times. Sometimes we can forget what we’re in it for. Sometimes you gotta deal with some of the political things in the business. That would probably be the downside.
M: What inspires you in your everyday life, in your music?
T: I’m really inspired by all types of art and creative expression. So, whether it’s dance, music, seeing people at the top of their game perform does something for me. So whether it’s an athlete playing basketball—seeing LeBron James or Kobe play—it does something for me. Last night I went to see John Mayer. John Mayer is the second best guitar player on the planet and seeing him do it so effortlessly is so inspiring. It’s this sort of spiritual thing that kind of takes over people when they’re in the zone. Like you hear about people being in the zone and I feel like everybody, no matter what field you’re in, you kind of tap into that same zone. So I get inspired by people in the zone.
M: When I hear about your story, including everything you’ve said tonight and all the questions you answered, I see someone who did everything to chase after his dream. What advice would you give to those aspiring artists who want to chase their dreams but are afraid to?
T: Well, I think you have to work very hard. That’s the really big piece of it. You gotta work really, really hard. People are going to tell you [not to chase your dream]. And most of the time, it’s the closest people to you. So forget about people who are in the business, things like that. It’s parents, it’s friends, it’s that first sign of rejection that might extinguish that flame and you gotta tap into something. But I do think that it’s a lot of hard work. A lot of hard work.
M: Is there anything you’d like to say to the musicians in the Thacher community? Anything at all.
T: Make art. I didn’t know you could make money in the music business. It wasn’t about money, it was actually about the culture and doing something I love. The best artists, the artists I know, that we consider the greats, are just perfectionists at their crafts, and the one thing all of them, without exception, have in common? They all studied the greats. They all studied the greats. Michael Jackson studied James Brown. They all studied the greats. They watched tapes like athletes watch tapes. I can’t tell you how many live concerts and DVDs I watched with Gaga. Like, she knew every single reference to stage lighting. She could tell you this person’s stage lighting and these cues. That studying of the greats pushes you to a certain level. Then, you make sure that the people around you don’t settle. You drive the people around you to be great, so a lot of it is learning about lineage. I showed my daughter, who is a big Beyoncé fan, a Tina Turner video after she showed me a Beyonce video on YouTube. I said, “I’ll show you exactly where Beyoncé got it from,” and my daughter got put onto Tina Turner. So part of it is understanding the lineage and the history and getting out of just the contemporary set of musicians to understand where certain things came from.
Learn more about Thacher’s visiting scholars programs.