In 2001, on the heels of a successful seventeen year career in Investor and Public Relations, Donna Nichols changed direction and turned her considerable talents to the music business. Why? “Music has always been very important to me, it’s one of life’s greatest joys,” Donna revealed. When she met Bradley Leighton, the flutist/educator, he needed help jumpstarting his career so he turned to her. “It just seemed like a perfectly natural, totally organic fit. Even though I was new to the world of music, I had a lot of business acumen, so knew I could help him.”
Working at the top levels of the pharmaceutical, bio-tech and graphics industries, she gained invaluable experience managing people, coordinating events and marketing products. When she made the commitment to develop Bradley’s career, and launch a record label, Pacific Coast Jazz, she found that her skills were transportable. “Like anything, the music business is about relationships. Of course there was a learning curve but my persistence and attention to detail were really helpful in properly focusing my energy.”
Driven by her belief in Bradley’s talent, Donna made an important decision when she decided to start a label, that she would never settle for second best. “Because I worked, for so many years, with investment and health care professionals who refused to compromise quality in any situation, I knew that even though I was in a new business, that could not change.”
When Bradley was ready to record his first CD as a leader, 2003’s Groove Yard, Donna quickly found herself multitasking twenty four and seven, serving as Executive Producer, coordinating the production of the CD itself, creating and executing a marketing plan, interfacing with publicists, radio promoters, club owners and the press.
“Starting a new record label isn’t for the faint of heart,” she’s quick to explain, “especially these days. But if you really believe in the music, and enjoy interfacing with a diverse group of people, it can actually be fun.” Donna’s hard work paid off in the form of radio play, and a lot more performing opportunities for Bradley.
Although he had always given flute lessons, it was Donna who decided to put more emphasis on that aspect of his creativity in conjunction with his performing. “Bradley’s a natural teacher, he is just great with people because he has the unique ability to zero in on exactly what they need, and present it to them in an easy to understand way. Nevertheless, I knew he wanted to perform, first and foremost. But my intuition told me he could use his teaching to market his music. So we have developed a successful series of clinics he’s done over the past few years.”
A native of Seattle, Bradley was a relatively new arrival in San Diego and Donna recognized that he needed to build a new core local audience as the foundation for national exposure and eventual success. Under Donna’s supervision, as Bradley’s profile was elevated from his debut on Pacific Coast Jazz, he began a series of local appearances and quickly become a fixture on the San Diego scene, working at clubs and concerts, as well as leading jam sessions. Donna was also successful in developing a relationship with radio stations nationwide, garnering essential airplay long after Groove Yard was released to keep Bradley in the public’s ear.
“This is just the beginning,” she promises. “With everything I’ve learned, I’m anxious to help other artists as well.” However, there’s a caveat: “They must share our commitment to the highest professional standards. After all, the music deserves that.” And now, 67 recordings later and several in the wings, it’s a real record label getting national attention. “We’re both very proud of that.”
NUU Interview with Donna Nichols, founder of Pacific Coast Jazz:
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