Lori Line Interview
(Time Line Productions)

Lori Line's success story is unique in the business of music.

She went from playing piano in a department store in Minneapolis to grossing $3 million a year. She didn't beg some record company to sign her. She didn't perform in bars or restaurants. She didn't do showcase performances.

How did she do it?

She started her own company called Time line Productions. Along with her husband Tim, Lori has five full-time employees that manage every aspect of her career including composing, producing and arranging all the music, recording, packaging, distributing, publishing, marketing, and selling her merchandise. Concert management, including renting venues, running ads, printing concert tickets, and arranging travel accommodations for 21 people are also directly attributed to Time line Productions Inc.

Over the past 6 years, Lori has recorded 11 albums. She has sold over one million copies of her music from her own catalog (Time Line Productions Inc., 222 Minnetonka Avenue, South Wayzata, MN. 55391, Tele: (612) 474-1000).

In 1995, Lori hit Billboard's New Age charts twice as a Top 15 Best Seller with her releases, Heart and Soul, and Shining the Season, Volume III.

Lori encourages her fans to call 1-800-801-LINE to preview tracks from her upcoming albums and receive information on concert dates.

For the past two years, both AC and NAC radio stations have discovered and supported Lori's music. In fact, Heart and Soul ranked as the Number Two recommended Top rotation AC record for Adult Contemporary Music Research last fall.

In fact, Lori Line is the only self-published musician on the record charts in the United States.

In August, Lori will star in her first public television special (seen here in Syracuse on WCNY) -Lori Line Live!

We had the pleasure recently of talking to Lori Line about her career to date.

Q- Lori, you're at the forefront of a revolution here. No record Company. You've done it all yourself.
A- Yeah. I think I might be one of the first, at this level anyway, I'm definitely the first, at doing the level of sales volume we do, the tour schedule we do. I know for sure I'm probably one of the top contenders for running an independent label and hopefully doing it with some grace and style. I'm excited to be a forerunner on it. I really am.

Q- What's the philosophy behind your t.v. appearance on P.B.S.? Are you hoping to gain an ever bigger following? Wouldn't you have been better off by going to say the Fox Network?
A- The philosophy is we are donating this show to public television. Public television has unlimited usage to this program for 4 years. There's a producer and a distributor. They're called American Program Service, and they found me. They're out of Boston. The beauty of finding me was I was not hooked up with a major label, so doing a deal was very easy. It was us and them. (Laughs). It was two attorneys mine and theirs. It was very, very easy to come to a negotiation that worked for both of us. So anyway, they helped to produce this program with Time Line Productions which is the company I own. They have a spectacular reputation for producing shows like this, and taking it to public television, and getting great exposure for artists. Some of their shows are "Moody Blues Live at the Red Rocks", Terry Como's Irish Christmas", and "Chicago Live at the Greek". So they have the experience to pull together a great team for me, first time out of the chute, to do a television special. So, I trusted them because of their background and success stories. They were comfortable to work with. The fit was very good.

Q- When you were playing piano at this department store, Dayton, how did you convince the store manager to let you sell cassette tapes of your own music?
A- You have to have a real corporate attitude when you deal with a retailer. I never sold it by myself. I sold it to Dayton's. I gave 'em a great price. I became a vender as well as a pianist. You know how vendors come in and demonstrate food? Well, I became a vendor. So, I was demonstrating my product at the piano, as well as entertaining shoppers at the same time. So, they bought it from me. It was all very sophisticated in the way it was presented to Dayton. It had a marketing and sales plan. They knew I was gonna be there to help this product sell through. They were gonna do it with a lot of visual presentation. It was gonna be displayed very well. I even bought the display cases. I went all to their specifications. I talked to their people about how we were gonna put it in the store. I worked with them very closely. When I went in to play the piano, I put a few copies on the piano, but main display was always in electronics. That's how I got this to work for me.

Q- Was it a hard sell to these people?
A- Not at all. I came with my merchandise, my first product. I had 500 CDs and 1,000 tapes in a box when I met with them. I said here's the product, do you want to buy it? And they said yes.

Q- Did you have to convince more than just one person?
A- Oh yes. Going through the chain of command is incredible. As soon as one person says yes and you think you've got everybody approved and on line with you, then there's a bigger god that comes along that says I don't want to do this. If she does it, then that means 17 pianists can do it, 'cause we have 17 pianists on board. What’s fair for her, is fair for everybody. We're gonna have a big mess on our hands. And, they did for awhile. They started carrying my product and did very, very well. There was a huge demand for it. My standards were very, very high. I set the pace as far as creating a really great marketable product that sounded good, looked good, presented well, and had a high demand. Some other pianists came along and they didn't have as great of a demand, so it did eventually cause a problem. The way I solved the problem was, after a five year period of time. I quit. Then, it made it very easy for Dayton to carry my product, because I became a vendor alone. Still, there's a great demand for it, but I'm no longer playing at the store, so they can treat me differently, then all 17 pianists.

Q- It took what, $2,500 of your husband's money to launch Time line?
A- Yes. Very small. All solo piano. Easy to record, because it's just solo piano. Actually when I first started, I never thought I would go into business for myself. I approached this as a project. I never thought this would grow into a multi-million dollar company. I was just out to make some people happy and to see how I could do and hopefully make my $2,500 back.

Q- I'm curious as to why you chose a department store over say a restaurant or bar to sell your tapes at. Couldn't you have sold more tapes at Happy Hour?
A – No way. On busy days at Dayton 30,000 people walk by you. I lived in Reno, Nevada and played in a couple of bars back then and worked for a couple of groups, back in the old days. When I started my career playing piano, I was 30 years old. I’m 37 now, and I never once played in a bar or a restaurant. Never once. I have seen people die on the bench playing at restaurants and bars, and, I never wanted it. I always tried to get the schedule where I worked on the busiest days. So, I worked every weekend and every night, because that's when the shoppers go out, evenings and weekends. I worked 28 hours a week for the store and I had a really great environment. There wasn't a smokey atmosphere. The people were very upscale, sophisticated. They were from the suburbs. They were out to say, "Hi. How are you? Would you play a party for me? I'll pay you $100 an hour to come out and play a party for me". I was working then for some of the upper end clients, in the Twin Cities here for 5 years. Playing at the department store 28 hours a week and then going, after I got off, working a party 'til 12 midnight. I would be pulling down $400-$500 a night, playing for some really upscale parties.

Q - And not having to share the money with another band member or an agent.
A- Exactly. And that's the other thing I've never worked for an agent either. I did things completely differently. A long time ago I had an agent call and say I want to represent you, and I said 'Why?' (Laughs). I'm so booked. I could be a booking agent with all the work I'm turning away, that I'm giving to other pianists because I can't take all the work.

Q- He probably didn't realize how organized you were business-wise.
A- All I needed was a calendar I kept my calendar on the piano at all times. So, when people came by, I took their card and I put their names in the book. You didn't have to be all that organized. You just had to know how to collect your money and invoice for it, and keep a good system for tax purposes. It really wasn't a mind-boggling business. The funniest thing is my husband encouraged me to audition for the job. He said, ‘this would be great for you, because you can do the two things you love to do the most, under one roof, shop and play the piano’. And, it was really true. I loved my job. I didn't make very much money there. I made $20 an hour. When you're only working two to three hours a day, that's not enough to buy your groceries, so I had to pick the parties up, to be able to survive, and then taking and investing a little money into this tape was really the way for me to start making a little extra cash.

Q- You recorded "Heart and Soul" at a place called the Minnesota Public Radio in St. Paul, Minnesota. Why don't you have your own recording studio?
A- Because to keep up with technology today I would be investing so much money in equipment that that's a business in itself, and I don't want to get into the business of running a studio. That's not what I'm good at. So, for me to go and make one album a year is so much more affordable for me to plop down $20,000 in studio fees and rent it, whereas somebody else has invested $1 million dollars that year to keep up on technology and equipment, than for me to always keep up on that end. Also, I'd have to have a facility, for it and I barely have enough room at 3,800 square feet in our office building for all our product and employees. It's not economical for me to be in the studio business. Then also you have to have somebody to run it. That's another employee. I'm not interested in running a studio.

Q- How do you decide which cities you'll perform in?
A- Its based on CD sales and our database. We have an incredible database that I started back when I played at the department store. I just kept a file. I didn't even have a computer back then. That's how I started, until I got about 500 names. That's what inspired me to make my first album. Now we have about 25,000 people on the database. There's just pockets of fans out there, and so we decide where to go based on the database.

Q- Have you been contacted at all by major labels?
A- We have talked to major labels in the last year or so. People said we're really interested in taking you on. But, the thing about it is we would be telling them how to do this. They'd be getting all the money, and we'd be waiting for the phone to ring, or we'd be calling them telling them exactly how to do things. We just can't do that. We have really enjoyed taking control and making things happen. We're totally excited. I love total freedom. I can't ever see me signing up with a major label, and having to call New York or L.A. and have my conference call every day. I've got this great, unique team. Were so motivated. Even if we don’t make as much money being with a major label, we’re doing better by doing things the way we’re doing them. We’re very happy. I’m at a really good time in my life.

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