Kara DioGuardi: The Billboard Cover Story
Kara Dioguardi

You kept your own publishing instead of signing a deal with an outside company. Why?

The key was that I had enough money to live. If I hadn't, I probably would have done a publishing deal.

I saved up money from Billboard to leave my job -- I calculated [it would take] about two years so I think at the time I left I had $150,000. Because my mother was ill, I lived at home with her and my grandmother, and I'd been working there almost six years and I really saved money. What I didn't know was that "Spinning Around" would become a hit, so I had that money too, so I had some security.

Since I had worked at Billboard I had some understanding of the business, and I thought, "I'm not going to do a publishing deal. I'm just going to do this myself." It just sort of seeped into my brain through osmosis from being in the magazine.

Back in the day, publishing was very unsexy. It's not as unsexy now because you have record labels doing 360s where they are taking a piece. [But then] it was very much a pennies game and record labels pooh-poohed it, but I figured out very quickly that I was not going to be an artist because I was getting more traction on my songs than I was on my voice.

How did your A&R post at Warner come about?

[Warner Bros. Records chairman/CEO] Tom Whalley saw me on this crazy "Access Hollywood" thing where David Foster and I tried to prove you can make anybody a singer. We took ["Access Hollywood" host] Billy Bush. I guess [Whalley] liked me because I stood up to David Foster and he's like, "Who is that girl? Get her in this office."

I went over there and he said, "I'd like to offer you an A&R position." Me? An A&R position? Why? Why would I do A&R? It makes no sense. But I really liked Tom -- beyond being a really great music guy, he was a good person and I was drawn to that. They are one of the last record labels, I think, that really does support artists and nurture them and keep them out there and keep spending money to break them. I liked his philosophy.

The one thing I don't know about is how to break acts. I know how to write the songs, I know the production, but I never have really seen what happens once I deliver my record. I also liked the fact that Warner doesn't have a huge strength in pop music. I felt like, "Well, this could be really good, because we could help each other." The successful thing we've done together is I brought over the J.R. Rotem deal with Beluga Heights, so essentially we're responsible for Jason Derulo and Iyaz. To have Warner break two pop acts in the fourth quarter of 2009 is pretty crazy.

Are record labels willing to take risks now?

The only risks they will take are very calculated -- and that's going to be a problem for music in the long run if they don't take risks. What's going to happen is that you're going to have every song sound like a single. And when you really think back to those records you love, the more obscure songs, the songs maybe where the melody wasn't as mainstream -- those are the ones that you fall in love with. It's very dangerous, to me, to have that [singles] mentality. You want to have the balance.

The [singles strategy] may be a reaction to the fact that record sales are so down. You had the industry sending the message, "We only have to put two or three good songs on a record, the rest can be shit, but we're going to charge you $16." And people went, "You know what? Fuck you. We're not doing that. Why am I paying $16 for crap when I just want those two songs that I like?"

People will buy records if they are great. For instance, if there are four or five singles, you're going to get people to buy albums. People are going to think, "You know, I can trust that if I buy this record, I'm going to like it." So you better have six singles deep, and if you don't, it better be such an incredible record that people buy it by word-of-mouth. And you can have those records that don't have big radio singles that people buy, whether it's Josh Groban or Michael Bublé.