• Tips for Entrepreneurs

Turn, Turn, Turn: Roger and Camilla McGuinn's Tips for Entrepreneurs

By Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor & Publisher, Be Inkandescent Magazine

To Everything Turn, Turn, Turn
There is a season Turn, Turn, Turn
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

These words from Ecclesiastes have been immortalized by Roger McGuinn in the popular song, Turn! Turn! Turn! He says that this is probably his favorite tune — perhaps because the lyrics typify the philosophy by which he and Camilla, his wife of 33 years, live their lives.

A Love Story

When the couple met in 1978, McGuinn, who had two sons from his first marriage, had recently begun reading the New Testament and found great peace in the teachings of Jesus. Camilla, although skeptical at first, soon joined him in his studies.

The shift came the day he took her a museum that was showing hundreds of paintings of Jesus, she explains.

“At first I thought to myself that this wasn’t what Jesus looked like, but the longer we spent walking around — the more calm and at peace I felt. By the end, we both felt like we were walking on clouds. It was transformative.”

Soon after, the McGuinns knew they were meant to be together. They married on April 1, and began actively studying The Bible (they still spend an hour each morning reading the Old and New Testaments).

They started on the slow, but steady process of repaying the debt that had accrued during the years that The Byrds were together.

“Everyone seemed to have been making out financially, except for the musicians,” says McGuinn, who acknowledges that the band could have managed its finances better. “It’s simply very expensive to have a big band on the road. Part of the problem was that we weren’t getting publishing royalties, and there were other contractual issues. But also, it costs a lot of money to make a giant, live rock show happen. The bottom line was that I owed people money, and I had to figure out a way to pay it back.”

Life on the Road

By the late 1970s, McGuinn says the life of a troubadour seemed much more appealing than being in a famous band. It didn’t take long for him to convince Camilla that taking their act on the road would be a grand adventure.

“We weren’t married for two years when it became clear that I’d become the roadie,” she says, noting they first began touring the country to get from gig to gig in a Mercedes sedan, but quickly realized that if they needed to sleep in the vehicle, something larger was required. Soon after, they invested in a VW van.

“You can put a couch in there, a TV, and a hot plate,” Camilla explains. “It’s great. We loved the camping life.”

They spent years paying down debt remembers a few cold nights spent sleeping between giant four-wheelers in a dark parking lot. But those days were also packed with fond memories.

One night after a show in New Jersey, they sat on the van’s sofa watching their tiny TV as they drank champagne and munched on lobster tails given to them by the woman who owned the venue where they had just played. “It was fabulous,” Camilla recalls.

In the years since, the couple has also gotten to travel the world. Seeing herself in the picture above, in fact, Camilla says: “A highlight of this trip for me was zip-lining through the trees in Caldera, Costa Rica. Does it get better than that?”

It’s Show Time

The McGuinns know that show time is a demanding time, and the day of the show they take care to be as prepared as possible.

“We eat a steak dinner at 2 p.m., which carries Roger through the entire night,” Camilla shares. “Our goal is to make the audience feel special, and the songs in each show are designed specifically for the audience. We can change the arrangement in an instant, which is why Roger and I stay in constant communication.”

They also take much pride when they look out into the audience and see that some of the guests have come dressed to the nines.

“More than once, people have shown up in tuxedos and ball gowns, and I always make it a point to go up to them and say thanks,” she adds. “They always tell me that Roger’s concerts are special to them, so they felt like dressing up was the perfect attire. I love when it happens. If I wasn’t crawling around on the floor and forced to wear my backstage black attire, I’d dress up, too.”

In fact, the McGuinns are careful about the concert venues that they book. They won’t play where there are a lot of distractions, such as bars, casinos, or country fairs. They also shy away from outdoor events because, McGuinn says, “It never fails — it will rain.”

They also aren’t keen on playing at dinner theaters. “People are always talking through the show,” McGuinn notes. “I am telling a story; I want people to pay attention.”

Tips for Entrepreneurs from Roger and Camilla McGuinn

While the McGuinns successfully climbed out of their financial hole years ago, they live frugally as they continue to build Roger’s legacy.

As they embark on their 34th year of marriage, these six pearls of wisdom also seem like great advice for couples that work together.

1. Be a team. Camilla says she prides herself on being a good roadie. In fact, she’s the sole member of McGuinn’s road crew. “It’s kind of fun climbing around on the floor making sure everything is plugged in right and that the sound is perfect,” she notes. “I don’t know a lot of other musicians’ wives who would want to do that. A few might, and I’d encourage it. It’s a lot of fun being so involved in the production.”

2. Know how to read a contract. “I remember one negotiation where several people in the room pulled me aside and asked if Camilla was a lawyer,” McGuinn shares. “It made me so proud, because a lot of musicians are clueless when it comes to knowing what they are signing up for — or signing away.”

Camilla explains: “When we first got married, I made it a point to read every contract that was sent to Roger. At first, it felt like I was learning a foreign language. But I kept at it, and made good friends with a very smart woman who is a lawyer and is now my dear pal.

“And I studied the jargon so that I’d understand what was in those legal documents. After all, this is our art. This is our money. This is Roger’s legacy. I’d not be doing a very good job as his business partner, or his wife, not to know how to read a contract.”

3. Start your own label. The McGuinns say that they finally got fed up having others take the lion’s share of their sales.

“That’s one of the reasons Roger was so in debt when we met,” Camilla says. “So we started our own label, and now we’re the boss. Plus, with technological advances, we now can record our own records right in our home. That cuts out a lot of the expenses, and helps us stay in control.

“For too many musicians, controlling their music, money, and future is a big problem. That’s why we decided to take the reins and founded April First Productions. We love being at the helm.”

4. Keep your overhead low. “Never, never, never get yourself into debt,” insists Camilla, who manages the books for the business. “Just find ways to do fun things that don’t cost a ton of money, and you’ll never have to worry about not having enough.”

McGuinn adds, “In my experience, when you get nervous about money, you make bad decisions about your career. You’ll do anything to get out of debt, and that can lead to making bad music. That’s not something I have ever been willing to risk. So we have a serious no-debt policy.”

5. Only work with people whom you know you can trust. “This might be one of the most important lessons that we have learned,” says Roger. “In the beginning of my career, I was a lot more trusting than I am today. But I have found that if you are straight with most people, they’ll be straight with you.”

6. Try not to bite at each other. “This is true for work and love,” Camilla believes. “We don’t usually do it, but sometimes — when we’re mixing a song — well, the biting happens.” Adds Roger, “We just both want our songs and CDs to be perfect. And when we get a little too excited we step back, take a breath, and relax.”

If you missed Roger McGuinn at The Barns at Wolf Trap, click here to view the rest of his tour schedule.


May The Road Rise Up to Meet You

Lyrics and music by Roger and Camilla McGuinn

May the Road Rise (Roger & Camilla McGuinn)

Summertime the sun would shine we’d lay across the field
Sheltered in the shadow of a tree
We’d write our poems to take along
And sing out on the road
And you would always sing this song to me

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your land
May the rain fall soft upon your face
Until we meet again
And may God hold you in the palm of his hand

Autumn leaves would change our tree
To colours on the ground
Swirling patterns beautiful to see
I’d lay my head down on your lap
I wouldn’t make a sound
And you would always sing this song to me

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your land
May the rain fall soft upon your face
Until we meet again
And may God hold you in the palm of his hand

Though the winter days our tree would shiver in the wind
Waiting for the warming touch of spring
I’d hold you in the firelight
We’d stare into the flames
And this is what you always used to sing

May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your land
May the rain fall soft upon your face
Until we meet again
And may God hold you in the palm of his hand

And may the rain fall soft upon your face
Until we meet again
And may God hold you in the palm of his hand

Roger explains that this song was adapted from an old Irish blessing. He and Camilla McGuinn put the verses around it, and he wrote the music.

Click here to watch him perform the beautiful ballad on YouTube.

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