Richard Rudolph (A&S ’68) has transected many facets of the recording industry. He has been a successful songwriter, performing artist, record producer, music consultant, film music soundtrack supervisor, record label executive, and music publisher. All in all, his various contributions have accounted for worldwide sales in excess of 30 million albums and countless song placements in film, television, and commercials. He continues to write and record songs and develop music driven projects for film, television, and new media.
This spring, the liberal arts alumnus has been returning to Tulane as Executive in Residence, a program of Career Services that offers undergraduate students an opportunity to learn from leaders representing a range of industries in a variety of settings on campus. During his visit in February, Rudolph sat down with Liberal Arts writer and editor Emily Wilkerson to talk about his time at Tulane, his career, and continuous forms of inspiration for writing and collaborating.
Emily: Tell me about your time at Tulane. What did you study?
Richard: I came to Tulane initially to be a doctor, but I soon found out it wasn’t for me. So I became an English major and was very happy with that change. I had a great first-year English professor named Edward B. Partridge, and his goal was to “ignite the light of scholarly passion” in his students’ eyes, which I thought was beautiful. He definitely inspired and awoke the love of language and literature in me.
Emily: And what led you to writing music? Was it something you were doing in school or that you were always drawn to? Did being in New Orleans at Tulane influence this?
Richard: Even though I had no idea what I was going to do after school and what my life would bring, I did start playing guitar at Tulane. I didn’t have any formal musical training, but I did love music, and I found out that I really loved lyrics. At first I was playing a lot of folk ad rock songs on the guitar, but then I met some amazing students from around the world who expanded my musical horizons and taught me some great things like altered chords. I also soon found out that I couldn’t sing—I think I was the last one to know! But every time I would learn some new chords, I would make up songs. I still had no idea that was what I was going to do, but that’s how it all started for me.
Emily: Do you remember when you wrote your first song?
Richard: I do. It was in Chicago and was called “The Minstrel Man.” I believe it was Tolkien inspired. It was a song about a wandering troubadour, and I’m sure it was awful. That was one of the first songs I ever wrote, and nothing ever happened with it except it made me believe I could write. Sometimes you’ve got to go through it to get to it. The first song I wrote that got recorded was when I was still in Chicago—“Come to My Garden”—with Chess Records. It was inspired by a dream I had. The producer I showed it to at Chess Records liked it and asked me if I could write lyrics to some of his melodies and I did. Crazy enough one of those songs, “Les Fleurs,” just ended up as the end title song in Jordan Peele’s new movie “Us.” You never know what leads to what!
Emily: I know you’re doing so many things, but can you tell me about what you’re most recently working on? Where do you like to spend most of your time now?
Richard: I’m in the midst of one of the greatest creative periods of my life right now. I’ve been writing and recording with a lot of great young artists lately. One of them is a guy named Maejor—he’s a wonderful producer and writer who has worked with artists from Justin Bieber to Wiz Khalifa, and some great singers and musicians from Brazil and all over the world. We’ve become great friends and collaborators. He’s a true joy... a transcendent talent and a wonderful young man that wants to make the world a better place, and he’s always trying to become a better and more complete person. He’s inspiring just to be around.
And I get to work with a lot of people like that. Can’t name them all but I am blessed. One of my great writing and production partners, Adam Berg, is an incredible young man who is also a magnet and conduit for amazing young indie talent from all over the world. He’s got it all together on both the musical and technical side of things. He’s awesome! His studio is so happening! Technology has influenced art so much, and it definitely has affected the art of songwriting. These musicians are respectful of what came before them, and are so creative with it. I love them for it and love writing and working with them.
At the same time I’m working on what I hope is a new model for the music industry, which has become an incredible mash up of all of the medias. It’s a wonderful way of using music and storytelling together. But all of these things are interrelated. In these projects, and while working with the young artists, I often assume an executive producer role. But I’m always deep into the songwriting. It’s still my great love and passion.
Emily: You’ve written more than 500 songs and worked with a variety of individuals in the music industry and beyond. What continues to inspire your work and music?
Richard: Everything and everybody! I was inspired here when I went through the Ogden Museum of Southern Art just the other day. And of course I was inspired big time by Krewe Du Vieux this Mardi Gras! (Big smile)
For me, collaboration is key. Collaboration is an art for, in, and of itself. It’s important to believe that the ideas are there in order for us to find and experience them.
Emily: What do you hope our students will gain from their experiences visiting with you as a Tulane Executive in Residence?
Richard: I hope they come away from their interactions with me believing they can do something great. I believe energy begets like energy. We always try to do things for the right reasons and I think something good often comes from that. And I hope I can inspire students to gain confidence in themselves—I know the world can seem like a daunting place when you get thrown out in it, but in my experience, very few people are really able to see the end from the beginning. You never know what is going to lead you to what. It sounds crazy, but life really is like a pinball game. You have to start, you have to jump in and believe in yourself, and you can’t always wait until you think you have enough experience or credibility to do something, or you may never get to do it. At the same time, this is the music business, and you have to find ways to survive in that world. You can certainly be creative in business, though. Art rears its wonderful head in many ways.
When I look back on my adventure it looks pretty amazing to me how it all happened. But I don’t expect others to take a similar path. Everybody finds his or her own way. For people interested in working in the music or entertainment industry today, it’s important to know that many great opportunities do exist, as well as a never-ending array of things and ways to do them that people never thought of before. You just have to find the need and fill it. And I do subscribe to magical thinking—the art of doing the impossible is to go and do it.
Emily: What are the ways in which you believe your liberal arts education has affected, and perhaps continues to affect, your career and life?
Richard: This is where I believe I developed the ability to talk to people. And the fact that I could interact well with others helped me create the foundation for what I do today. I believe that, almost without exception, every business or endeavor is relationship based. It’s extremely important to learn the art of communication. To learn what a valuable tool listening is. I had such a broad and interesting education at Tulane and that continues to inform the work I do and the way I approach life. My liberal arts education really broadened my perspective, and got me ready for this amazing journey of life and career that I’m happy to say I’m enjoying to this very day.