One of the beautiful things about the music industry is that as stratified as the upper echelons may seem, there are myriad ways for new talent to break in. It can happen to anyone at anytime -- even, say, to a random guy behind the bar, while one of country music's biggest superstars performed his song on the Grammys.
Joe Ginsberg, 32, is a Los Angeles-based musician and songwriter whose primary concern this past Grammy night was getting to his part-time bartending shift at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A., a few blocks away from the Staples Center.
While Miranda Lambert was lighting up the Grammys with her new single, the song's co-author was bartending at the Ace, rather ironically, for the Universal Music Group after party (Lambert is on RCA Nashville). While Katy Perry, Beck and Sam Smith, alongside some of the industry's most powerful executives -- Lucian Grainge, Michele Anthony, Steven Barnett --mingled, Ginsberg worked the bar with a huge Cheshire cat grin. "I'm just excited that Miranda played the song on the show and was even more excited when I found out she won the Grammy for Best Country Album," Ginsberg said.
Clad in black leather with silver studded epaulets and matching cowboy boots, Billboard described Lambert's incendiary performance of "Little Red Wagon" on the Grammys as "fiery" and mixing "Lambert's country style with bursts of speedy, ferocious rock." The song is the third single off Miranda Lambert's No. 1 album Platinum, and has the potential to top the country single charts.
"When I'm not on the road, I work at the Ace because it's great part-time work to make a little extra cash while I'm home," says Ginsberg who plays upright bass and lately has been gigging with an artist named Chuck Ragan. "I've lived on the road for the past ten years," Ginsberg says, "I was touring six to eight months a year." Recently, however, the musician's personal life has undergone several major changes.
Joe Ginsberg at The Elf House in Cripple Creek, Colorado. (Photo: Amanda Gordon Dunn)
"I just got married last year, and we're expecting," he explains. "My goal now is to be on the road a little bit less and to write more." Ginsberg, who majored in Jazz Studies at USC and played in an "emo-pop-punk" band called Single File (who were signed to Warner Bros by Craig Anderson), has always written songs both alone and with others.
A few years ago, Ginsberg began writing with Audra Mae, an Americana musician he met through a mutual touring friend. Mae lived down the street from Ginsberg when they wrote "Little Red Wagon," a song very much inspired by "the road" -- though probably not the typical okra fielded and switchgrass-lined country road one might expect.
"Audra and I wrote it in her Dodge Dart driving around Hollywood," Ginsberg explained. "I was playing a little tiny Martin guitar and writing down lyrics and she was singing it, while we were literally driving down Sunset Boulevard with the windows rolled down. We had started to write it at her house and got stuck and kind of put it to rest. About a week later, she called me up and was like, 'Hey, I want to finish that song today. What do you think about driving around in Goldie [the car's name] and finishing it?' The song would appear on Mae's 2012 record Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound.
Audra Mae's 2012 album "Audra Mae & The Almighty Sound." Ginsberg, in glasses and suspenders, is to the right of Mae.
Enter musician John Eddie, who toured with Lambert. After hearing "Little Red Wagon," he called Lambert's tour manager to say he heard the perfect song for his client.
"I kind of stalked [Audra Mae] when I heard that song," Lambert tells Billboard. "Finally, one day I mustered up the courage and said, 'Do you care if I cut 'Little Red Wagon,' if I have the balls to do it, of course, because your version is so good?' She said, 'Sure, go ahead.'"
Lambert's strong performance and presence on the Grammys was a powerful introduction to the new single, which has plenty of crossover appeal. Billboard consulted with two major publishing execs on what Ginsberg stood to earn with a 50/50 co-writing split if "Little Red Wagon" were to hit No. 1 on the Country chart, hang around on the Billboard Hot 100 and land a few synchs. "We're looking at least a payout in the low six-figures," said one publishing executive. "But not the lowest six figures."
"I mean don't know if I'd keep working at the Ace," Ginsberg said when asked what he'd do with a six-figure payout, "but I actually enjoy it, it's a lot of fun for me. The timing of this song is really great. I just feel so lucky and stoked to be able to kind of shift my career more towards writing music."
The stoked songwriter/musician/bartender is off to Nashville next week for songwriting sessions with BMG Chrysalis which were set up through Daniel Lee. While Ginsberg handles his own publishing, he is open to looking at both publishing and administration deals.
When asked what he would say to Miranda Lambert if he met her, Ginsberg is humble. "I am honored that she loved this song. It makes me feel so lucky and excited. For her to love the song so much that she would play it at the Grammys -- which is something you dream about winning your whole life -- and is such a wonderful artist -- I'm just honored."
Now, then, can you get me a vodka tonic?