Interviewed by Doug Minnick

Where did you grow up?

Houston, Texas.

What was your introduction to the music business?

Playing drums in a rock-n-roll band in Houston. Then I did tape copy at a record pressing plant here in Nashville. That was my first job in the music business. I thought I had it made.

Why did you come to Nashville in the first place?

To finish college. Actually, I visited what is now Belmont University. They had a little recording studio which I was interested in. I looked at the recording studio that was there for students to use and I decided that's where I wanted to finish college.

They actually had a recording program at the school?

Yeah. Still do. It was in its infancy at the time. They had a 16-track Ampex tape machine, and a 24-input MCI console that was donated. It was great to learn on.

Have other people come through that program?

Yeah. A lot people here in Nashville have. Trisha Yearwood went to school there. Doug Howard, who is the Vice President of Polygram, went there when I was there. There's a pretty long list of people that have gone to Belmont that are still working in the music business. Some of them artists. A lot of guys from Restless Heart went to Belmont. Some of the guys from Little Texas, I think, went to Belmont at one point. It's pretty well respected. Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro has the same thing.

Do they have courses in the business aspects of the industry as well as engineering and technical areas?

They have everything. Belmont has "Introduction to Music Business", and "Copyright Law". They have real music orchestration classes. You can get a music degree, or you can get a business degree with what they call a Music Business minor, which is sort of a cross section of production; studio production, studio engineering, orchestration, copyright law, and music publishing. They have courses in all of those.

That's rare. We get asked every once in a while what kind of degree one needs to get into the music business. I've always said there is no such degree.

No, you actually can. From Belmont you can get a degree in Music Business and at MTSU they have what they call the RIM Program, which is Recording Industry Management. And you can actually get a degree in Recording Industry Management.

You went from Belmont to making tape copies?

From there I got hired as a Demo Engineer at United Artists Music, and also made the tape copies. So I was running back and forth from the studio to the tape copy room while musicians were running songs down.

You were engineering songwriter demos for the publishing company?

Yeah.

What next?

I moved from the engineering phase into the creative department , which was pitching songs, and in Nashville that's a huge part of the publishing business. I would call on producers and artists and managers and A & R people trying to get songs that we published recorded. A song plugger job.

How did you end up here at RCA?

I was in publishing for about ten years, then decided that I had kind of topped out where I was at EMI (Music Publishing), left there and went into management for a while. I worked with the guys at Vector Management. We managed Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely and Nancy Griffith. Then we brought in Rick Trevino and David Ball as new artists making their first record. I did that for a while until I got a call from Garth Fundis, who worked here at RCA at the time. He talked me out of the management thing, and into coming over to do A & R. I was at a vulnerable spot. I had decided management was not really the right thing for me to do at the time. He knew that, and hired me to come over here at RCA.

A lot of ups and downs in management.

Yeah.

What's your title now?

Senior Director of A & R.

What's hot here now at RCA?

We've done real well with some new artists. The A & R Department serves two labels, BNA Records and RCA Records. We've got a guy on RCA Records named Ty England, whose first single went Top Five. We have Kenny Chesney on BNA Records whose first two singles have gone Top Five. Which, in today's radio marketplace, is really good.

What else?

Lorrie Morgan's current album is on its way to Platinum. Alabama's going strong. We just had a platinum album certified on Martina McBride, who did "Independence Day" a few months ago. Her current single "Safe In The Arms Of Love" is Top five right now. So we're doing pretty well.

How did Martina McBride get signed here?

I wasn't here but the story goes that she literally sent in a tape. She tells the story that she sent in a tape and assumed that nobody would listen to it if she just sent it in anonymously, so she took a red pen and wrote "Requested Material" on the envelope.

Are you sure you want this published? (laughter)

(laughter) Actually it wouldn't work anymore, 'cause we have code numbers that we use for solicited material. Anyway, she says she sent it in and somebody from the label called her back and got involved with her producer Paul Worley. She did a showcase and was signed that night. So it all happened very quickly from what I understand, but I wasn't working here at the time.

That sounds like a pretty unusual way to get signed. What are some other ways that artists get signed here in Nashville?

Well, there are a lot showcases. There are three or four clubs around town and there's usually a 6:00 o'clock showcase for a new artist at each of the clubs three or four nights a week. That doesn't always help. I think having a good publisher, manager, lawyer or producer involved in your project makes a big difference in getting signed.

Do people move up from being demo singers on publishing demos?

Yeah! Absolutely.

Do you travel out of Nashville to look for talent?

Yeah. We just signed a band this summer in Houston. We traveled to Houston to see them play —saw them, loved them and signed them. They're called the Sisters Morales. But we heard about them through a manager here in Nashville who manages Mark Chesnutt.

Is it essential that you see somebody live before you sign them?

Not every single time, but we like to.

Are there any other Country hot spots besides Nashville?

Texas and Oklahoma. Actually, it seems like a lot artists are getting signed right now out of Tulsa and Oklahoma City. And always Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, Austin and San Antonio. Texas, in general, will always be a good source for Country music because it's really a legacy there. It's not a fad. It's always been there. It always will be.

Are new artists gigging there?

Yeah. They play Cutters in Beaumont and become the house band and they get their chops up and get experience there and start getting a following. A lot of them have gotten signed.

How do you hear about them?

Club owners. Radio stations. We have field guys, or field promotion guys. We have one in Dallas, one in Atlanta. We also have some A & R consultants as well. One of them lives in Austin, who kind of covers all of Texas for us. He let's us know what's happening and who's selling tickets.

Is it important to you to sign artists who write their own material?

It's not necessary, but if they're a great writer it helps, because it's so competitive to find great Country songs and great songs in general. It's just so competitive, especially for new artists. If they write, it's an advantage.

Are you always looking for songs for artists?

Yes. We're always looking for songs for artists. Whether they write or not.

How important is image when you're signing an artist these days?

I think image is important, now more than ever, because it's such a visual medium, and people are plastered all over television and videos and there's instant access to what the artists look like. In the past, that wasn't the case. I don't think you have to be beautiful, but I think a professional presentation is helpful.

Where do you get the tapes that you listen to?

Mostly from major publishers here in town. From song pluggers like those whose job I used to have. They're in business to get their songs recorded. They're in business to have the best writers that they can, so the publishers and the songwriters here in town are usually the most consistent in being right on the mark for what we need.

Are the demos that you get fully produced?

It varies. Most of them are fully produced. It's not necessary for us, but they think it's necessary. I think the general consensus is, the less well-written the lyric, the more produced the demo needs to be. The better written the song, the less production that's necessary.

Speaking of great lyrics, what makes a great country lyric?

To me it's an idea that hasn't been said before. Saying something in a way that hasn't really been said before. I really like concrete imagery in songs. I like metaphors that are original and poetic, and not cliché. I've heard about ten-thousand songs in the last month that start off with the line: "Well, I woke up this morning..." That's so typical. People think they're being original sometimes, but from my side of the fence, you realize they don't know that they're not really being original.

Maybe somebody ought to start one with: "I woke up this evening..."

Yeah. (laughter) That's right.

What are the other elements of a great song? Things that attract you and make you cut a song?

In Country music the most important elements are a great lyric, and a great song idea. But it also helps to have a melody that's listenable, but not worn out. We tend to step on ourselves as far as cutting songs over and over again with the same general melody. I love to hear songs that don't have that.

You mean different songs with the same general melody?

Lots of them. You know, the old 1-4-5 Country melody has been used many, many, many, many times. There are a few recognizable Country melodies. But when writers take that and throw in a two-minor chord or a six-minor chord into the melody and kind of spice it up a little bit, it's cool. It helps.

Do you accept unsolicited tapes?

No. One reason is that the volume of material we would get would be more than I can handle. We really only have two people in this building listening to songs. Actually, two of us do it all the time, and two of us do it some of the time. Namely Joe Galante, who's head of the company, does that to some degree. And Tom Schuyler, who's Senior Vice President of A & R, does it to some degree. But for the flow of tapes that come in on a daily basis, that's up to myself and Renee Bell, who's the other Senior Creative Director here.

Do you listen to a song differently if it comes from a writer you know?

I used to think that wasn't the case, but I think it's human nature that you do. At least to some degree.

Especially if they've had a hit?

Yeah. I think it's only human nature but you try not to. In fact, I usually don't look at the lyric sheet until I've made a decision on whether I like the song or not. That way I don't know who the writer is.

That's an honorable approach. If you were an artist in Pocatello, Idaho what would you do to get yourself signed?

Well, first I'd ask myself, "Am I sure I want to get signed?" "Am I sure I want to rip up all of my roots and get ready to travel the country, sign autographs and shake hands 'til 2:00 o'clock in the morning?"

If you make it...

Yeah, if you make it. I think one of the best ways to do it is to get a local following. If you're good enough that you can get a local following in your region, and you get people that come out and pay to see you regularly, then I think somebody that is connected with, or works for a major label will probably pay attention to that.

So it's not necessary to come to Nashville?

I don't think it's necessary to come to here. It could help. I think it's more necessary if you want to be a career songwriter rather than a career artist.

If you wanted to be a career songwriter, would you take a different approach than if you wanted to be an artist?

From my experience at a major record label, if you find an artist you really like, you sign them, and you start working with them. You have to be a little more self-sufficient if you're a songwriter. You have to become connected and work your way into the community and meet other writers and co-writers and gain respect from within, more than you do as an artist.

So is it harder to pitch songs from outside of Nashville?

Yes. But it's not impossible with services like TAXI. It's a pretty good vehicle.

We didn't pay for that!

Plug! (laughter)

Any favorite success stories?

Well, in my publishing days, Jimmie Gilmer and I signed Mary Chapin Carpenter very early in her career.

How did you hear about her?

Larry Hamby was working A & R at Columbia at the time and said: "I've got this artist over here that needs a publishing deal. Would you be willing to meet her and hear some of her songs?" So we heard some of her songs that had not yet been recorded. One in particular was called "This Old Shirt" which we really loved. And I'm not sure she ever recorded that song. But she had some great material, and we loved working with her until I left there.

The record company wanted her to have a publishing deal?

Yeah, she already had a record deal. And she had already put out her first album on Columbia. So she was just looking for a publisher to help her pitch her songs outside and to be another home base for her in Nashville.

Any other advice for the people out there wanting to get into the biz?

I would suggest that you just write the best the you can write and don't necessarily listen to the radio and make comparisons. People listen to the radio and they say: "Well, my song's are as good as that! Why don't they get cut?" Well, there are too many reasons. They just need to write great songs.

They need to remember—especially if they're writing from outside of Nashville—that their songs have to be unanimously thought of as being heads above anything that the producer publishes or the producer writes or the artist writes or the artist publishes or the record company has found. I would suggest writers shouldn't get frustrated if their songs don't get cut immediately, because the competition is so stiff.


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