Like father, like son

By on July 2, 2019

Manheim’s Steven Courtney, 58, and his son Taylor, 29, make their living in the music industry — Steven is a well-known independent singer, songwriter, producer and performer and Taylor is a popular, in-demand, local wedding DJ who sets himself apart with his music knowledge and being ahead of the curve in ways to present popular music.

Both father and son have watched the industry change drastically in the past few years and it has affected them in different ways.

The pair sat down recently at Steven Courtney’s Manheim production studio to try and explain the current music world to a reporter and music neophyte. After nearly two hours, father and son even surprised themselves at how much the music world has been changed in less than a generation.

And they both believe the changes are far from over.

As for the reporter, among other revelations, he finally began to understand how Spotify, a Swedish music streaming service launched in 2008 — offering 100 million subscribers worldwide access to more than 40 million music tracks — makes money and lots of it.

The senior Courtney is a well-known on local, regional and national music scenes. He got started almost by accident in 1991 — at an elementary school assembly — and until recently was doing nearly 200 performances a year. Today he makes about 100 solo appearances or with his Steve Courtney Band annually.

Courtney was formally introduced to music by an elementary school music teacher in Michigan while in the third grade. The teacher Courtney says, “actually rolled the piano into the room for the lesson.” The teacher spotted his interest and talent and encouraged him through the sixth grade. Courtney got hooked in high school when he began to play the guitar, sing and compose; and that’s when he had his first thoughts of “maybe I can make a living this way.”

He continued to play the guitar and entertain through college.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Courtney did music as an avocation while holding a day job to support his family. Courtney and wife Joyce moved to Manheim, Joyce’s hometown, in 1992. With the birth of their daughter Brooke, Courtney began to compose lullabies and children’s music that he would sing to his daughter and it was fortuitous, as it was the start of a life-changing career change.

A cassette of the children’s music Courtney had recorded was shared by friends and found its way to a school teacher in Myerstown in the early 1990s. She asked Courtney if he would do a school assembly. It was a success, and launched Courtney — similar to Dan Zanes years earlier — as a sought-after singer, songwriter and producer of children’s and family music.

In the past thirty years, Courtney has recorded some 30 albums of child and family music and produced 80 others for recording artists. Courtney has done thousands of performances for groups ranging in size from 30 to 20,000. He was the master of ceremonies for the Lititz July 4th celebration several times.

Although Courtney may be known best for his family and children’s music and live performances, he has a deep love for roots music and his Steve Courtney band plays concerts frequently featuring jazz, blues and rock and roll dating back to the 1950s and the Chuck Berry era.

Along the way, Courtney and his wife had a son Tyler, who is certainly musical but not a musician in the traditional sense of the word. Although he played the saxophone as a child and was exposed to his dad’s music from an early age, by his own admission, he was more a student of music than a musician.

Taylor was aware of the growing DJ phenomenon from age 13 and dabbled with some DJ work at house parties at Liberty University where he studied video production. He did wedding video work part-time in 2010 and 2011 after graduation and moving back to Lancaster County.

A friend who knew of Taylor’s music background and knowledge of the wedding industry suggested he consider becoming a wedding DJ. Taylor thought he could give it a go and got started part-time with small weddings in 2012.

Today, Taylor — and his Bring on the Bash DJ business — is sought after for weddings and other events. What separates him from his competition is his knowledge of music and artists and his ability to work with clients to expand their music offerings at events with artists that complement their musical tastes.

Taylor is one of a small group of DJs who are embracing working with live musicians to create a truly unique sound. The younger Courtney worked with Sara Levine and her Vivace classical musicians at the 2018 Lancaster summer Fete en Blanc. They continue to collaborate as Vivace moves toward becoming a classical crossover group to give clients more choices for wedding from pre-ceremony to dinner and dancing music.

And the pair are working together occasionally to refine the partnership and also to find a business model that will work for musicians, DJ and clients.

Father and son are at different stages in their careers, although Steven has no plans to retire anytime soon and Taylor is looking to expand his DJ business. With major changes in the industry in how music is delivered, listened too and how well known artists — like Taylor Swift who recently found herself at the center of the streaming debate — making money affects them both in different ways.

Today, if you listen to music, you probably stream it with a service like Spotify for a monthly subscription rate of about $10. There are similar services with Apple, Amazon and others. For about $120 a year, you can play just about any song on your phone or tablet in any genre, at any time, and not have to deal with CDs, a CD player, computer, storage and the like.

It’s a music lovers’ dream and a singer songwriter’s nightmare especially if performing and recording is your occupation. Steven Courtney has seen a huge income hit and is adjusting to it and doing different things to stay relevant as all musicians are doing.

Performer-songwriter Courtney says, “Today, I may get a check from Spotify every few months for $50 for thousands of streams of my songs where five years ago, at a concert, I might sell 50 CDs at $10 a piece. The industry has changed,” he emphasizes, “and if you are in the music industry, you’d better be adapting or pick another career.”

For Taylor Courtney, it is just the opposite.

He explains DJs got their start in New York City in the 1970s hosting dance parties. And at one time, in his business, DJs actually had to own, catalog, store and play vinyl records. Then it moved to CDs and online downloading the music cuts, for a fee, to your computer. Also for a time about a decade ago, he explains, free on-line music sharing services, like Napster, became popular. Today, these free music sharing services have all closed and been replaced by for-profit companies like Spotify, Apple and Amazon.

DJs too, DJ Courtney explains, also were instrumental in the growth of the Hip Hop musical movement and shared the stage with rappers for several years. Today, in the digital music era, DJs can download songs from the streaming services to make up their musical packages for weddings, parties or club presentations without any additional expense. (Taylor explains all the downloads disappear if you cancel your service but that is understandable as it is the same for unlimited access to book downloading services.)

Both father and son feel performers are recording almost as advertising to build and protect their brand. Much of the top performers’ income now comes from major concert tours where fans, who had at one time, purchased the music in CDs are now buying T-shirts, mugs and other souvenirs of having been at the concert. (Taylor) Courtney says, “There are even performers — like rappers Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper and Macklemore who not only are independent but actually market themselves via YouTube and encourage their fans to download their tracks on streaming services.”

DJ Courtney continues, “They are building their brand for club and concert appearances and creating an income stream with streaming royalties. It’s a different world,” he says.

Even superstars like Tayor Swift who, for a short period, would not allow her music to be streamed, changed her mind as she realized if you couldn’t listen to her on a streaming service and you weren’t buying her CDs, you were listening to someone else.

Father and son are amazed at the changes that have overtaken the music industry and the affect it has had on the record studios who, they both feel, were not prepared from on-line streaming and what it has done to the business.

Says Steven Courtney, “Like all businesses, the music industry is going through a period of change that is making it harder for new singers, songwriters and performers to get started and actually make a living in the business.” He continues, “But everyone is making adjustments and don’t worry, your favorite music isn’t going away, you just need to get use to listening to it in a new way today and maybe even a different way tomorrow.”

Art Petrosemolo is a freelance feature writer and photographer who recently retired to this area from New Jersey. He welcomes reader feedback at artpetrosemolo@comcast.net.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *