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How Famed Pop Music Maker Neil Giraldo Mentors Younger Musicians

Why mentorship, through his bourbon company, has become so important to this pro

By Jeanette Hurt

Pop music guitarist, producer, arranger and songwriter Neil Giraldo, 61, was working on a screenplay about local musicians and their struggles in 2016 and one of his partners in the endeavor suggested they find a spirits company to sponsor the movie trailer. Instead, Giraldo told his partner, "Why don't we start our own spirits company to help musicians?"

Neil Giraldo and three other musicians in front of a black background. musicians, music, Next Avenue, Three Chord Bourbon
Neal Giraldo and musicians he mentors   |  Credit: Photos courtesy of Michael Nanula

That's exactly what Giraldo, who lives in Los Angeles with his rocker wife Pat Benatar, has done with his Three Chord Bourbon and its Steel Bending Spirits company's musical ambassador/mentoring program. (Three Chord Bourbon, distributed in 31 states, gets its name because the blues' roots are three basic chords.)

"Neil — he's unmistakable — and he's looking at me, nodding his head in approval."

"The company wouldn't have been built if there wasn't a giveback program," says Giraldo. Though chairman of Steel Bending Spirits, Giraldo is better known for his four decades in the music business, with such hits as "Jessie's Girl" for Rick Springfield and ones for his four-time Grammy-Award winning wife of 39 years, Pat Benatar ("Love Is a Battlefield" and "We Belong," to name two of their tunes).

The way the ambassadorship and mentorship program works is that the local or regional musicians promote Three Chord Bourbon while touring and Steel Bending Spirits sponsors shows in clubs where they perform. The company pays for the stages at the local venues and the musicians can play and sell their merchandise.

Giraldo's Mentorship Program for Musicians

The genesis of the program started with the company's beginnings.

"It's already helped several musicians, but "I think we have five who are really serious," says Giraldo, whose catalog contains more than 100 songs and has sold over 45 million records.

One of the musicians Giraldo has helped is Dave Miller, a singer, songwriter and guitarist who leads the blues band Miller and the Other Sinners in Buffalo, N.Y., where Steel Bending Spirits' corporate headquarters is located (its distillery is in Ann Arbor, Mich.).

Miller was invited to play at a launch party for Three Chord Bourbon and the night before was performing in a club where he met Giraldo. "I'm on this small stage, and here comes the entourage," Miller says. "Neil — he's unmistakable — and he's looking at me, nodding his head in approval."

On his band's break, Miller talked with Giraldo. "He sat me down, and he's like 'We need to talk about doing some shows together, and we gotta figure out how we can help you get better gigs,'" Miller recalls. "I feel like I won the lottery."

Two musicians standing on stage holding guitars. Music, Neil Giraldo, Next Avenue
Giraldo with a musician he mentors, Dave Miller

Being a musical ambassador opened doors for Miller right away.

One Fortunate Musical Mentee

"I was doing a run in northern Kentucky," Miller says. "Normally, when I sent out cold emails [to get bookings], I used to send out fifty to get two or three responses. But I sent out only ten emails, and I got seven emails back. All of a sudden, here's this brand lending credibility to me and my music. Immediately, it made things easier."

Because of the sponsorship, Miller says, "the venues see it as a special event where they could draw more people on an off night, and sometimes they pay you more."

Besides the financial assistance of the brand, Giraldo says the ambassadors also "can reach out at any time about anything" to Giraldo for mentoring. Sometimes, that mentorship is about the music itself.

For Miller, for instance, "Dave might send me songs or ideas for things, and I'll tell him maybe he should consider taking it more in this direction or I might tell him he needs to remix something," Giraldo says.

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Sometimes, though, the mentoring is more about work and life balance, something Giraldo knows a thing or two about.

Giraldo has assisted musicians with young families, advising them to focus on developing their base in their hometown first. Then, once they're more established, he tells the performers, they can travel with their families.

"It's all about having a quality of life," Giraldo says.

Offering Advice on Business and Life

One of the biggest areas of Giraldo's mentorship, though, is as a business adviser. 

"What good is being a great musician and a great songwriter if you can't make a living from it?" Giraldo asks.

Yet, he adds, the music business can be difficult for young performers to grasp.

"Musicians don't always follow the business end of the music business because when you're a musician, truthfully, all you want do is be a better musician," says Giraldo. "That's why so many get screwed by managers and agents and people who rip them off."

Giraldo speaks from experience.

When he was first starting out, Giraldo wrote a song and a music company offered him $500 to buy all the rights to it. He then went to a different company, which offered him $10,000.

"I am extremely grateful my life turned out the way it did, and I want to help as many people as I can."

"I got lucky, but it taught me a lesson that I'd better pay attention to the business side of the music business," he says, adding that he was also fortunate enough to have mentors, including his uncle, who guided him. 

That's why mentorship has become so important to Giraldo.

"I am extremely grateful my life turned out the way it did, and I want to help as many people as I can," he says.

Miller says he and the other Three Chord Bourbon ambassadors are now networking and helping each other out.

As a result of his ambassadorship, Miller says he now has management representing him and his music.

The Future for Neil Giraldo

"We have big plans to push into some other states," Miller says.

And as for Giraldo's screenplay? "I am finishing it, and I'm planning to do the film," he says.

In the meantime, though, Giraldo is looking for more music ambassadors to mentor, just the way his Uncle Timmy did for him years ago.

"If it hadn't been for him, things wouldn't have happened the way they did for me," Giraldo says.

Editor’s note: This article is part of America's Entrepreneurs, a Next Avenue initiative made possible by the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and EIX, the Entrepreneur Innovation Exchange.

Jeanette Hurt is a freelance writer and author. Her most recent books include “The Unofficial ALDI Cookbook” and “Wisconsin Cocktails.” Read More
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