Philip Zach Reflects on His Prolific Music Career and Gets Back to His Artistic Roots
Band practice, tour dates and rock songs made up Philip Zach’s first real career. Starting in 1998 from Lincoln, Nebraska, Zach began playing music with his siblings in the alternative rock band, Remedy Drive. At the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Zach studied fine arts before going full time with the band in 2001, signing a record deal with Warner Bros in 2008, and recording seven Billboard chart reaching songs; three that earned number one. Zach sites he left the band shortly after because of bad relationships between members. In 2011, he opened The Grid Studio where he combined his love of music with other arts to start a career in music production. Zach shares that his drive to be a good inspiration — especially through the use of music — to those around him comes from musicians he looked up to as a kid and his father.
Find Your Grind spoke to Philip Zach about his touring and recording days, bouncing back from career and personal setbacks and what his work in the arts means to him.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Tell us how you got to where you are and more about the lifestyle you live.
My whole world now revolves around finding ways to be inspired and to inspire others. I travel a great deal to make music for myself and with other artists, and I also am always trying to connect with people who are unlike me to widen my view of the world. Music has always been a rich part of that journey, which began when I was 15. My brothers and I started a band a played every opportunity we could. After high school, we began to tour in the summers and winter break, eventually over 70 shows a year during college. I studied fine art at UNL, and took a lot of drawing, ceramics, design, and photography. These skills became essential as I began to brand and merchandise the band. We went full time in 2001, after 4 years of art school (dropped out to tour) and toured for a decade, nearly 285 days on the road every year. We signed to a Warner Bros in 2008 and released 8 studio albums. We had 3 #1 singles on the billboard charts and another 4 that charted. I was the online manager and merchandise manager for the band, and generated a few million dollars with my designs. At the peak of our success, I quit the band because of some very unhealthy relationships and started to do graphic design, photography, and produce music for my own solo work and other artists. I opened The Grid Studio in 2011 and started concentrating on music full time, pulling clients from 3 countries and 26 states. From Waka Flocka Flame to Family Force Five, the bands I work with range in style and popularity. I also license my own music to commercials, TV shows, movies, and trailers. These recently include Ford, Chevy, Blackberry, Sony, NBC, Budweiser, and many others. I am constantly figuring out ways to monetize music and stay current so I can continue to make art for a living. It’s a tough road and so inspiring.
What does it mean to you to Find Your Grind? Why is it important?
After touring in a band for a decade, signing a major record deal, living the dream and being on track to achieve some major success, I went through a difficult breakup with the band I thought I would always be in. I had given so much of my life and energy to that music and that brand that I found myself wondering who I was and what my contribution to the world should be. After some serious soul searching and scrambling to provide for my new bride and starting a new venture in producing, I began to realize what I was made for, and my entire life changed. I know for certain that we are built to bring richness to the lives of those around us, and we are most fulfilled when we have purpose. For me, it took a minute to find that purpose and to become an expert in it, a process I will continually be fine tuning. I’m glad I experienced both success and especially failure in this way, because it helps put this journey in perspective for others who are still looking. I’ve found that my failures can be a terrific tool to help others find what their strengths and passions are. To me, Finding Your Grind is the journey of uncovering what you are capable of, and becoming so undeniably good at that thing that others are inspired by your passion for it and your work.
Who did you look up to most growing up?
My father was always an incredible influence on me. His values of hard work and integrity keep showing up in my life and I’m so glad to have had people like him to pattern healthy behavior. After that there were quite a few ‘fallen stars’ in church leadership and at school that had very public personal failings that helped to inform me of how I didn’t want to impact the people around me. I know that I have been truly shaped by all of those role models, both bad and good, and am constantly evaluating the kind of life I am teaching the younger generation around me to lead.
What would you have told your high school self?
It’s hard to look back and have regrets about my story, even with all the pain and work and failure. There are enough triumphs in there to make it all worthwhile. However I would tell myself: love people well, always deliver more than you said you would, and make other people the priority over money. Be so good at what you do that you don’t have to talk about it, and do everything on purpose. The best things in life have to be chased so don’t just expect anything to happen to you.
What’s the most valuable class you’ve ever taken?
The most valuable class I ever took was an English class in high school that focused on British Literature. It wasn’t the books that changed me, it was the outlook of our teacher. He challenged me to think about others, to consider themes like love and trustworthiness and failure and tragic flaws. It wasn’t about these fictional characters that fought monsters, it was about me and my relationships and my attitudes.
What skills do you need to be successful in the music industry?
To make records, I interface a lot with creative people and record labels and music industry professionals. This means I have to be able to deal with eccentric personalities and sometimes egos while chasing an inspiring product. To run the business, I have to be adaptable and excellent, I have to be thorough and dedicated to detail. To survive in an ever changing industry that makes huge promises and rarely delivers, I must walk the tension between inspiration and complete disappointment. I have learned to manage disappointment well and to put my heart and soul into projects that might not pay off, always striving for creative inspiration and excellence.
What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome to get into the music business?
The music industry is complex. I’ve had to learn how to do web design, photography, become an expert in merchandising and run a clothing line for the band just to survive. Because people began to expect music for free, we couldn’t survive only on records, so I had to build an empire out of garments and bags and glider planes. The most difficult thing, besides the constant touring, carrying equipment, branding the band and the studio and the music, fixing broken gear, getting screwed by promoters, never sleeping enough, driving the bus, fighting with management and record labels, and writing connective music, was definitely the relationships. Learning how to create something important with other passionate people can prove to be an insurmountable task at times, especially when there is money involved. Learning this lesson (still today) is one of the most important things that has shaped my world.
What advice would you give to someone trying to produce music?
Making music is easy. Making great music is difficult, and releasing that music in a way that gets people to pay attention is getting harder in the constant noise of this current climate. “Releasing a record is like dropping a penny in a waterfall,” says Thom Yorke. My advice is to make music that is new and fresh and doesn’t adhere to a format. Push the boundaries creatively and collaborate with people who are different than you are, and better than you. Be flexible as well, take advice and learn how to effectively manage disappointment.
How important was a mentor for you?
I’ve had a few short mentors in the music world, and I know I could have had a much quicker journey if I had sought out more. I try to mentor others every opportunity I get because I know how impactful it was and could have been for me. I get to work with so many young artists and I’m always amazed at the kind of life lessons the studio offers. We end up addressing issues of pride and laziness regularly in a healthy way, and I get to speak caution into dangerous relationships because of the ones I had failed at before.
Talk about the importance of networking.
Networking is an essential part of my world because it constantly opens doors to work with creative people and to have my own work challenged. I seek it out and I try to maintain relationships with the people in my past who have been effective in my career or in my personal life.