Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Peter York

Peter York
Brown shoes don't go with a black suit. Oil and water don't mix. Music and business just don't work together. Whoa! Wait a minute. What about a guy like Peter York? Currently President of Sparrow Communications Group, York didn't go to Wharton for an MBA so he could run a fast, growing company. In fact, Peter York didn't start out in business at all. He started out playing the guitar.

"I was born in Warren, Ohio and lived there until I was sixteen. I played guitar from the time I was little," says York. And it was in this little town, not far from Akron, Ohio that Peter York made a lifelong friend who gave him the opportunity to perform music for a living. "There was a concert series called New Life Concerts in our town. I was doing a solo set at this concert, as was another guitarist, {{Phil Keaggy}}." This concert took place relatively soon after Keaggy had become a Christian. "One of the events that had brought Phil to Christ," York says recalling the story, "was losing his mother in a car accident. When I met Phil, I had recently lost a brother to leukemia. We talked about losing my brother and Phil was very moved by that. We started to hang together. And so I started playing with Phil when I was thirteen years old."

After working with Keaggy for three years, York's family moved to California. "When I was sixteen, I moved to L.A. and he moved to Freeville, NY to Love Inn (a Christian community started by former rock and roll DJ Scott Ross)," York recalls. "In California, I was accepted at a seminary before they realized my age. But I got in and completed a degree. After I finished seminary, Phil called and asked me to join him on a tour he was doing with {{Second Chapter of Acts}}. They called the tour "How The West Was One" (which resulted in a three-album live record of the same name). So through Phil, I met the band and after the tour the group asked me to join as a member. For the next seven years, Peter York was the guitarist for the Second Chapter of Acts. "At that time they toured three or four months out of the year," remembers York. "It was a great time and a great thing for me to do. During the other months, I got to produce some custom albums and I got to play with a lot of the southern California Christian bands, Phil (Keaggy), Omartians (Michael and Stormie) to name a few. During that time I played and sang on a lot of Sparrow projects which is how I got to know Billy Ray (Hearn)."

Peter York's relationship with Billy Ray Hearn (founder of Sparrow Records) was the crucial piece in York's transition from musician to mogul. "When he (Billy Ray) decided to expand his A&R staff he asked if I would consider coming and working for Sparrow. He said, 'Peter, you know the artists and we know you. It seems like a natural.'"

But like anyone learning a trade, York didn't start at the top. "I started at Sparrow working with songwriters in developing their songs," recalls York. "Billy Ray started me there to see if I would fit in. About nine months later, after I passed his test, Billy Ray made me A&R Director."

And with that first step Peter York's ascension up the corporate ladder began. "I was A&R Director while Sparrow was based in Los Angeles. In 1987, I moved to Nashville to open a Sparrow office there. I was made VP of A&R at that time. Over the next few years, due to his hard work and vision, York experienced great success with the signing and development of such artists as {{Charlie Peacock}}, {{Susan Ashton}}, {{Steven Curtis Chapman}}, and {{Margaret Becker}} among others. York received a series of promotions that have most recently seen him named President of Sparrow, now one of the EMI Christian music labels, in January of 1996.

Has the path from artist to executive been a difficult transition for York? Can music and business exist together? "There was a period when I wondered if I was selling out on my musicianship; something I had invested a lot of my life into," confesses York. "It was a psychological hump I had to get over. But once I made the move, I realized how invaluable all that experience was in doing what I do now. After that adjustment, it has been a very natural process."

"The challenge for me today," continues York, "is staying focused creatively and not allowing the administrative aspects to overtake what I love--making quality music. Focusing on artistic development with artists and counseling them through the creative aspects of their creative journey is what I love. I love artists and I love making music that matters. And I feel much more comfortable promoting others than promoting myself."

Today Peter York lives in Nashville with his wife, Michelle, and their three sons.