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A Milwaukee Native Behind the Music

Feb. 2, 2010
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Since heading off to California to move up the ranks of the record biz, Milwaukee native Cheryl Pawelski has worked at EMI, Concord and Rhino Records. Among the projects she has produced include box sets on Miles Davis and John Coltrane, The Band and Big Star. Once again she has been nominated for a Grammy Award, this time for Woodstock—40 Years On: Back to Yasgur's Farm.

Where does post-Rhino find you?

Well, I can't give a lot of details as they're all in motion at the moment. What I can tell you is that I'm most likely starting my own entity with some colleagues of mine. After 20 years working within mostly the corporate-owned side of the music business, I feel like I've learned enough to do something on my own.

What is a greater challenge to the music industry today, the ease of downloading or the ease of home recording?

I'm not sure if either of those are challenges. I see them both as positives. If more people can hear music and make music, it's terrific. I think the greatest challenges to the music industry today are marketing and curation. Marketing, because the digital era has blown everything up. We are no longer a culture that looks to the same places for information. In many ways, the business of music, by necessity almost, is going back to the cottage industry it once was—perhaps for the best, for now. The second challenge is that of curation. Everyone needs someone to tell them that something is cool. You can find things on your own, but most likely you hear, see or read something, or your friend tells you about a track, or a trusted source turns you onto some new tune. Nowadays sources have multiplied exponentially, and they're not all trustworthy. The Internet was touted as the great equalizer, leveling the playing field for everyone, but to me it's a lot of trees falling in an endless forest. It's a real challenge facing the business, and these are issues I wrestle with daily—how can I, as someone who would like to release great stuff that has an audience that may not know about it yet, get to you, the person who would care?

How do you go about working on an archival project as large as the Big Star box set?

Step one is always: Start by building a comprehensive discography. Step two: Run down all the tapes you can find. Step three: Tell the story. Step three is the trickiest part because large projects, ones that are comprehensive overviews of an artist or a thematic matter, require a mastery of the subject so you as producer can pull perspective and context for the listener.

What was your most gratifying project and why?

There are so many different types of projects and so many different reasons why they are gratifying. I guess the most gratifying are the ones that I feel like I accomplished the storytelling the best.

How large is your record collection? Can you foresee the day you would give it up?

Well, it's hard to tell because it grows daily—it's probably around 50,000 pieces across various configurations, not counting memorabilia. I can foresee a day when I give it up, but not until I'm done working in the business—and if I have my way, that would be never. It's a research library on one hand and, on the other, I love it all so much and just want to keep learning and listening.


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