| Double Take |

Life Sentence

He discovered me and launched my music career — but now I’m ready to move on

Shimon: I got you to where you are. How can you ditch me now?
Yonah: I’m grateful for what you did, but does that mean I’m stuck for life?



I’ve always been fascinated by the music field. I was the kid who stood open-mouthed watching the band at weddings and schemed to get autographs from famous singers. (It helped that my uncle is a well-known producer, who indulged my passion with various signed scraps of paper that I carefully pasted into a notebook).

I don’t sing particularly well, and I had no patience to learn an instrument, but I do have an ear for music and an eye for trends, and everyone in yeshivah knew that my iPod was loaded with the latest songs from all the popular Jewish singers.

So it was only natural that when the time came for me to start working, I wanted to go into music production. Hey, I had my uncle to show me the ropes, and I’d been waiting for years for the chance to work with the greats of Jewish music and make that music happen.

Uncle Pini was happy to help. He even sent me my first singer to work with, a young hopeful with a nice voice. Nothing major, but he was sweet. We began working on creating a brand for him, putting out a single, and so on.

It was a start, but I needed more. Between you and me, this guy — Yossi Baumstein, his name was — was nice and all, but he wasn’t star material. I was looking to take on guys with potential for more, with real untapped talent, to really launch someone’s career — and with that, I’d secure my spot in the field as well.


was at my wife’s first cousin’s wedding that I struck pay dirt.

I hadn’t particularly wanted to attend this simchah, if we’re being honest. I had work to catch up on and I was tired and the wedding was in another city. But Dina insisted we both had to go; she was super close with her cousin Rikki, they were a similar age, and Rikki had been in shidduchim for years and years. In general, Dina’s family were a close-knit bunch; her grandmother would definitely notice if I didn’t show up.

When we arrived at the hall, I couldn’t shake the vague sense of annoyance that I’d lost an evening. I had work to do, and a singer I’d been trying to reach for a while had finally gotten back to me. We’d almost set up a meeting for that evening when my wife had reminded me about the wedding. Now he’d probably go AWOL again and there went my chance to work with him.

With the mood I was in, it took a few minutes for me to notice the music. At some point, the sound penetrated, and I turned to look at the singer — I didn’t think I’d heard him before. He was a young man I didn’t recognize, but his voice… it was something special. Pure and true and well-controlled. And he had the crowd, there was a certain presence there.

An instinct told me this was it. The future star I was looking for.

When there was a break in the singing, I approached him and introduced myself. I explained that I worked as a producer and thought he had a lot of potential. Was he interested in branching out into the world of Jewish music in a bigger way?

He asked me a couple of questions, and gave me his number to follow up. He looked interested, but not overeager.

I took that as a good sign.


onah and I met a few days later. He was a kollel guy moonlighting as a wedding singer, just getting his feet wet in the field. He’d taken some voice lessons, but he knew he needed more, especially if he was going to take things further.

I got straight to the point. “Listen, I work in the field, I think we can work well together. I have a lot of connections, I’d help you get your name out there, get you to perform in concerts, put out a single, you know. You have the potential to really make it, and believe me, I don’t say this to every singer I meet.”

Yonah gave a small smile. He nodded along but didn’t say much as I spoke. After deliberating briefly, he said he’d run the whole idea by his wife and get back to me.

“Sure,” I said. “I hope there’s not too much to discuss, though. You can really go far, trust me.” I really wanted this to work out; I had a good feeling about this.


was right.

It took time — Yonah was a conservative guy, he took things slowly, thought things through for more days than I had patience to count. But eventually he formally accepted my offer, we held a meeting to outline and delineate responsibilities, and I got to work on our first projects: putting out a great single, and at the same time working to get him gigs, maybe even an appearance in one of the big concerts.

It was a lot of work — and a lot of putting myself out there for him, giving my guarantee to concert producers that they wouldn’t regret it. It’s not easy to break into the industry, there are so many new voices clamoring for opportunities, and I had to be pushy — chase after people, not be deterred after being turned down a bunch of times, put in real sweat (no blood, thankfully, but sometimes it came close to tears, too) to get his career off the ground.

Right at the start, I also hooked Yonah up with the best voice teacher I knew of. He was full but I pulled some strings, called in a favor or two, and managed to get him an early-morning lesson twice a week. It was intense, but that was a singer’s life. And Yonah was fine with it. He wanted to make this work, he seemed excited at the idea of more opportunities, and he even confided in me that it was Hashgachah that we’d met when we did, because he was struggling with parnassah and really wanted to get his name out there so he’d get more offers of wedding jobs.

“This is a whole lot bigger than weddings,” I told him. “Wait till you really get out there; the weddings will be the small things.”

He gave a small laugh. “From your mouth to G-d’s ears.”


took time to find a good song for Yonah’s single; we needed something that would showcase his talents best, but also be hit material. This was his debut, and it could go one of two ways: fall totally flat, or be his ticket to stardom. It took time, searching, lots of chasing down leads and listening to recordings that didn’t pan out.

But when I found it, I knew right away.

It was a beautiful piece, part of a nevuah from Yechezkel talking about the Geulah. The theme was fairly common, but the words, as far as I knew, hadn’t been put to music before, and the melody was tinged with hope, anticipation, and longing.

I called him right away. He didn’t pick up immediately, but then he answered, his voice quiet and a little rushed. “Shimon? Is it important, or I can call you back soon?”

“I have your single,” I told him. “Come over to the studio ASAP.”

“I’m in the middle of seder. I’ll call you back in the evening, okay?”

The evening!

I mean, it wasn’t like we needed to meet immediately. I just wanted to get on things quickly. We had a lot of work to do.

But Yonah was meticulous about his sedorim, and I could respect that.

Still, I just wanted to sign on this song already. I had a good feeling about it.

But Yonah, who managed to slot me into his schedule during bein hasedorim the next day, wasn’t as sure.

“It’s a pasuk from where?” he asked first, when I played him the song. “Yechezkel, you said? Let me look it up with the mefarshim. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with taking a verse from Tanach without running it by someone. And the English lyrics — do they have the meaning right?”

“Forget the words a minute, listen to the tune,” I told him. “Lyrics can be changed, amended, but you hear this — it’s not regular, the three-part melody, and that chorus — it’s perfect for your voice. Sing it, you’ll see.”

Yonah shrugged, hummed the notes of the chorus.

“Not like that. Sing it, I’m telling you, you’ll bring it out beautifully.”

“Let me sleep on it,” Yonah said.

I had to refrain from rolling my eyes. But I was getting to know him, the guy worked like that — slowly, thinking everything through.

Sooner or later, he would come around.

I sent him the song by email, with instructions to listen and learn it before making a decision. A few days later, we met up again, and this time, Yonah took a deep breath, and sang the opening lyrics of the single for me.

It was beautiful. He brought out the words, the tune, the heart of the melody.

I knew it.

“I’m still not sure,” Yonah said, hesitantly. “It’s not exactly my style.”

“Listen,” I said, adopting a patient tone. “Do you have something hashkafically against the words? Or the music?”

“Nooo… I looked into it, the words are fine. And it’s a beautiful tune. It’s just…” He shrugged. “I’m more of a classic guy, you know? And this song is so… different.”

“Exactly,” I said. “That’s the whole point. That’s why people will notice it.”


nd I was right.

It took some more convincing, I even got my uncle involved to meet Yonah, to give him some advice from an expert in the field.

But eventually he came around, and we put out the single. I took on the project, heart, soul, and wallet, too — I was the one to foot the bill for the huge outlay it takes to produce and market a song. I didn’t come by the funding easily and ended up taking a large loan, praying that my instincts were correct and the profits of our venture — when Yonah became a well-known singer, when he was sought-after and in demand at gigs and events — would more than repay the investment.

And it did.

The single took off like wildfire. People connected with the style, the slow soulful longing part, the hopeful twist in the middle, and the resounding chorus that blended heart and spirit so perfectly.

Yonah’s voice had the rich yet sensitive blend that could really carry off the song, and I started getting calls and messages. Big names in the music industry wanted to know who this singer was, there was a cautious interest in scheduling collaborations, maybe concert appearances….

We’d done it. Yonah was on the map.

And, in the behind-the-scenes world of music production, so was I.


tage appearances were the logical next step, but Yonah was wary. I got it… kind of. This was a big change for him, he’d been a two-bit wedding singer and concert singing felt like the big leagues, but really when it all boiled down to it — it wasn’t that different. Heavier spotlight and more hype, but still.

“Pretend you’re at a wedding, okay? Just be yourself,” I told him.

He was hesitant, but I could tell he wanted this, and it really was the way forward. I pushed him a little more — that’s my job, the guy’s fresh out of kollel, I’m the one who knows the industry. And I knew this was the way to go.

Yonah rose to the occasion. At his first concert, I think I was more nervous than he was. After all, I’d been the one who pushed for him to be a part of this show, I was the one who vouched for him and used connections and really put my name on the line for him.

And then he stepped out onstage, and on the first note his voice had a sliiiight shake, but then he got into it and he was — incredible. He blew everyone away, got resounding applause, and I knew from the energy in the room that he’d done it right.

The concert producer messaged me later that night. U were right, he’s a winner, he wrote.

He was. And we were only just getting started.


onah’s career was growing, and mine was, too. I began getting calls, other young hopefuls, and I began working with other singers.

Still, Yonah remained my most successful protégé, developing into a real star. A few years on, he had a steady stream of gigs — more than he was willing to take on, so we had the luxury of choice — and we were working on his second full album.

Albums are stressful; choosing the songs, getting the right talent involved to bring it to reality. There are deadlines and last-minute changes and the song that just doesn’t sound right in real life, even though we loved it when we first heard it.

Yonah also happened to be particularly picky about songs. He nixed a few that I thought would be great, and insisted on having a certain theme throughout the album that really limited our choices. I’m all for themes, but this one… it just seemed to me that it would fall flat.

“Listen, Yonah,” I said to him once, only half-joking. “I chose the songs for your first album, and it was a hit. What’s the deal now?”

I didn’t say it out loud, but I was thinking about that first single. The way I’d put myself out on the line, taking out a large loan and all. He hadn’t loved that song either, but it was the best thing we could’ve done for his career. Why couldn’t he trust me that I knew what I was doing?

“It was a hit, but I didn’t love the songs. Now I can afford to choose the songs I love,” he told me.

“Yes and no,” I countered. “If they’re not songs that will engage your audience, it’s not going to do much for your career.”

Yonah just shrugged and went back to his list of choices.

Somehow, we figured out the song list and moved on to the next part of the process — the actual production. I had a music producer do the actual soundtracks, recording and —  I deal with the marketing and PR stuff — and in the meantime, something else came up: what turned out to be the biggest offer of Yonah’s career to date.

It was an invitation to sing at the annual STAR concert, in aid of an organization that integrates learning-disabled students within mainstream schools. It features the world’s top frum performers, and was an opportunity I could never have dreamed of until now. It was many months away — these things work well in advance — but still, this was major, major news.

Of course, I called him right away. “Let’s iron out the details for this, it’s worthwhile giving them an answer as soon as possible,” I told him.

I knew Yonah too well to expect an over-the-top-excited reaction, but his response was so low key, even I was surprised.

“Ah. That’s… nice,” he said, vaguely. “Listen, I wanted to actually meet up in person — so let’s talk about it then.”

“Sure, but let’s make it fast. Tonight? Tomorrow?”

“I’ll come by this evening.”

By the time he came, I had some other questions about the tracks on his upcoming album — something we needed to tweak, a change to the lyrics of the English song. We discussed those quickly — I was eager to get on to talking about the concert.

He seemed eager to get to the point of the meeting, too.

But when I started saying something about the call I’d received, he broke in.

“Shimon, wait, I have to tell you something.”

He was nervous, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. I knew this guy; I was the one who’d taken him from unpolished newbie to up-and-coming star on the music scene. And I could tell that something was seriously up. Maybe he wanted to take a break from the singing world? Some sort of midlife crisis, work taking too much time from his family? I’d heard of this happening. If this was the case, I would encourage him to scale back but not give it up completely, not now, on the cusp of the greatest—

“It’s time for me to move on,” Yonah said. He wasn’t looking straight at me, his eyes darting back forth from me to the table and back. “I’m really grateful for everything you did for me, and for taking me up to this point, but at this point I want to take my career in another direction. So after this album is released, I guess, we’ll part ways for now.”


actually took me a full minute or two to understand what he was trying to say.

Moving on.

He meant going to another producer.

Of course, they would all grab him now, he was a Name, an up-and-coming star, easy to work with, great personality, great vibe, well-liked brand.

The brand that I created.

The months and years that I’d worked on building him up reeled through my mind, movie-trailer-like. Getting him singing lessons, producing his first single. Begging for collaborations and promoting him for concert appearances, putting my name on the line because I believed in him. Putting my money where my mouth was, taking out a loan to invest in his product, his career.

Did he even know about the hours upon hours upon hours I’d worked on finding him songs, pushing for him to get those earliest opportunities, promoting his single — his brand — his whole career, giving it all I had and then some, in order to give him the best chances he could get?

It was my job, and I knew that it would pay off if — when — he would become famous, and I’d be able to cement my own career as a producer.

But if he left me now — now, just when we were at the pinnacle of all we could’ve hoped to achieve — he would continue to stardom, and I would be left in the cold.

The chutzpah… the sheer audacity of it… slapped me in the face. I took a nobody and turned him into a star. And he threw it all back at me, and went with another producer when the fame and fortune I’d worked for had finally arrived.

If I could tell Yonah one thing, it would be: I launched your career, and took you to where you are today — how can you ditch me and go with a competitor now?



Costco was the worst place for it to happen.

I was juggling an overflowing cart and an armful of soda bottles when a young couple passed by, stopping to blink and stare and then engage in a furious whispered conversation, that ended with the husband approaching me.

“You’re Yonah, right?”

I gave a small smile. “That’s me. And you are…?”

“Meir Zweibel.” He blushed — blushed — and said in a rush, “I just wanted to tell you that my wife and I are huge fans of your songs! We have your latest album on repeat in the car. It’s the type you can never get bored of.”

I wondered what would happen if I told him that I was very bored with that album.

I knew my lines, though.

“Thanks, Meir, I appreciate the feedback.” I shook his hand with my free one and turned firmly back to my list.

“Yonah? Oh, there you are.” My wife, Ruti, hurried over with a bunch of packages of diapers. “We nearly forgot these.”

“Oh, that would have been bad news.”

When the Zweibel couple turned to the next aisle, Ruti lowered her voice. “They recognized you from your albums? You’re famous.”

I shrugged. I wondered what she would say if she knew it was the third time that something like this happened — in the past week.

It was crazy, really. How did it even happen?


few years ago, I was just a no-name wedding singer, trying to get into the simchah industry as a way of paying the bills. It had been at one of those early weddings that a guy approached me, young, short beard, trendy glasses. A producer.

He wanted to work with me. Help me “break into the industry,” something I’d never really thought of doing before. I hadn’t been sure at all — was this the direction I wanted to go in? — but we were struggling with parnassah, even with the occasional wedding gig, and after discussing it with Ruti and getting hadrachah from our rav, we decided to take the opportunity as a gift from Hashem and see where it would go.

Putting out that first single was an experience. On the one hand I loved the singing, the musical part of it. On the other hand… well, I never really connected with the song, and I definitely didn’t enjoy the feeling that I was being “branded” — that Shimon, the producer, was packaging me up with a logo and an picture and defining who I was.

One thing led to another. First it was the single, “Lev Echad,” then some collaborations on albums and even concert appearances. My name picked up; there was a steady stream of gigs, and the money was really, really good.

But often, especially when people would request my “signature song,” the single came back to haunt me — I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d been set up as something I wasn’t. That the branding Shimon kept going on about was the reason I was being offered certain opportunities — and not others.

I remember my first appearance onstage at a major concert, a couple of major names and me, the new kid on the block. I’d wanted to sing something new as my opening song, something meaningful, a song I’d chosen for my upcoming album, but the producer waved it away.

“Sing your song. You know, ‘Lev Echad,’ your first song, the single, it’s what everyone wants and expects from you.”

I went along with him. Just like I kept going along with Shimon, even when I wasn’t sure about something. Listen, he was the producer, the expert, right?

And it was clear he was doing something right. I mean, look where I am today. Look at the fans in Costco, huh?


himon might have known what he was doing, but as time went on, I was less and less sure that I liked his approach.

Over the years, we worked on albums, got more gigs. Shimon had found me a voice teacher, way back when we started, and I went religiously twice a week, doing the exercises in between. I never really liked his method but I stuck with it, gamely following his instructions. They worked, they helped, but eventually I had this niggling feeling that I wasn’t taking my voice to its full potential. I did some research — by now, I had my own contacts in the field, all that time hobnobbing around studios and backstage at concerts — and everyone kept mentioning the name of a Russian voice teacher who was supposed to be top of the field. I looked into him, took a trial lesson, and saw immediately that he was much more on my wavelength. He understood my concerns with my training so far, the goals that I wanted to achieve.

I switched over and mentioned it in passing to Shimon a while later.

“What?” He looked disturbed. “You didn’t tell me you stopped seeing Andrew.”

I blinked. I was supposed to tell him? He was my producer, why should my preference about voice teachers make a difference to him? I get that he set me up in the first place, but things are different now. I know my voice better, I have a style, and I’m a lot more industry-savvy today.

Maybe I was supposed to keep him more in the loop? Okay. I had no problem telling him where I took voice lessons.


did have a problem with some other things, though.

Like the song list on my second album.

My first had been an overwhelmingly new experience, and I’d let Shimon make most of the decisions, seeing him as a lot more knowledgeable in the field than I was.

I didn’t love the lineup; it was more of the style that he seemed to peg as “just right for me,” disregarding that I really wanted to sing something a little different.

The album was great — if we’re talking popularity as a success measure. Me personally? I didn’t like it all that much.

The second time around, I decided, I would have more of a say.

I had a vision for what I wanted in an album. Firstly, a running theme, something to hold all the songs together. Nechamah. Yeshuah. Eretz Yisrael. Ahavas Yisrael. I didn’t mind what, I just wanted a cohesive set of songs, one that could really uplift people, centered around a particular, meaningful topic.

Of course, Shimon didn’t go for that idea.

“People want a nice mix, and that’s what they’re expecting from you — something like the first album,” he said.

But I didn’t want something like the first album. And didn’t my preferences count for something?

“Your first album was a hit. Why go in a whole different direction and risk losing that?” Shimon asked me.

“I don’t think I’ll lose by being me,” I said. “And if I can’t be myself, I’m not even sure I want this. Why make myself out to be something I’m not?”

“You’re taking this too seriously. It’s not about who you are, it’s about your career, and the best songs that will highlight your skills. And ones that your listeners will enjoy! You know how many people told me they cry when they hear your ‘Hinei k’einei avadim’ song? Doesn’t inspiring people mean something?”

Of course, it meant something. But surely I could inspire people and stick to songs and a style I personally connected with?

Somehow, we figured out a song list that neither of us were overjoyed with, but both of us could accept. I was grateful to Shimon, he knew how to get projects off the ground like no one else, he had endless energy and was super savvy in the industry, but still, these disagreements were starting to bother me more and more.

At some point in the middle of the album project, I had a concert appearance scheduled. Small, a couple of singers and a men’s choir doing background vocals, but during the intermission, I noticed another producer, Motti, backstage. We struck up a conversation, and right away, I felt like he got me.

We could work so well together, I thought.

I didn’t say anything right then. It wouldn’t be fair for either of us to start discussing such a change, with Shimon right nearby, in the middle of a concert that he arranged for me.

But the idea wouldn’t leave me, and I discreetly reached out to a couple of singers I knew who had worked with Motti.

“Motti? He’s one of a kind,” one of them told me right away. “If it’s not working so well with your producer, he’s your man.”

I trusted these guys, I knew them. They were straightforward and menschlich, not the type to advise doing something underhanded.

“What about my current producer? He’s the guy who’s worked with me from the beginning. We don’t agree on everything, but l’maaseh, he’s good at what he does. I hate to let him down.”

“It shouldn’t be like that, you should have a producer who you can generally see eye-to-eye with,” was the consensus. “Look, it doesn’t feel so nice to leave, but what can you do, it has to work for both of you. Sometimes it’s simply time to move on.”

“If you want to change the way you’re being branded and presented, either your producer has to come around to your point of view, or it’s time for a change,” was another singer’s blunt take.


decided to give Shimon another try first. I owed it to him to at least see if he would come in my direction a little.

He didn’t.

“Trust me, Yonah, I know what I’m doing,” he said, flashing me a confident smile. “I know you’re starting to think more about your image and everything, but look where you are now — it’s because of the branding. Look.” He opened his phone, clicked through to one of my songs. “Remember how you didn’t like this one, you thought it was too much, too repetitive, you didn’t love the rhythm? Look at it, it’s literally your highest-rated song.”

He was right that that song had been a hit. But who said something else couldn’t work just as well?

And even if not, even if my all-important rankings fell a little — maybe the price I’d pay for authenticity and being congruent with who I am would be worth it?


was the hardest conversation of my life — and I’ve had a few. First date. Disastrous client. Meeting a world-famous singer for first time and stumbling awkwardly over my words.

And yet nothing prepared me for this.

I sat across from Shimon and felt genuinely sorry.

Despite the disagreements and my frustrations, we shared a history. We’d shared years and years of hours and hours of working together, huge projects and first concert appearances and gigs and singles and more.

But now it was time to move on.

I’d come to an agreement with the other producer; we’d be starting after Succos. Right now, I had the second album coming out, then I wanted to take a break for a couple months, aside from a few weddings or events that were already booked. After a summer with my family and the Yamim Tovim, I would jump back into things — hopefully in a new way, more aligned with my dreams.

I was looking forward to the fresh start. But first, the hard part.

Shimon wasn’t big on emotions, but I could tell that he was shocked at my bombshell — and hurt. It took him a few moments to reply.

“I’m — extremely surprised,” he said. His tone was measured, a little cold. “It’s not really the ‘done’ thing to switch producers like that. We worked together from zero to where you are now, you know.”

The implication hung in the air. You owe me everything. How can you dare to go with someone else now?

I heard that. And yet, and yet.

I thought back to the past few years. Incident after incident, the insistence on branding a certain way, the choice of songs, the way I’ve been put into a certain box, pushed out of my comfort zone, and not always in a good way.

Am I not allowed to move on, work with someone whose personality meshes with mine better?

Do I truly have to be stuck for life because of a partnership made at the age of 25, when I was clueless about the field and had no knowledge of what other opportunities might be out there?

If I could tell Shimon one thing, it would be: I’m so grateful for everything you gave me, and that’s why I stayed working together until now. But our partnership has never worked well for me, and I need to move on. 


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 996)

Oops! We could not locate your form.