CMA Close Up 2


CMA Closeup News Service

Issue Date: 10/26/2010  
Bob DiPiero Spearheads the Success of CMA Songwriters Series
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

In 2005, Bob DiPiero was already a giant in Nashville’s songwriting community. The Youngstown, Ohio, native had received two CMA Triple Play Awards — in 1995, for Faith Hill’s “Take Me As I Am,” Reba McEntire’s “Till You Love Me” and Neal McCoy’s “Wink,” and in 1996 for George Strait’s “Blue Clear Sky,” Ricochet’s “Daddy’s Money” and Vince Gill’s “Worlds Apart.” Other honors had come his way as well, including recognition by the Nashville Music Awards in 1998 and Sony/ATV Music Publishing Nashville Songwriter of the Year in 2000.

Even so, a few questions kept nagging at him. “There was a while that I was thinking, ‘Why am I on the CMA Board?’” he remembered. “‘Am I just taking up space? What can I contribute?’”

The answers presented themselves quickly, as discussions began about moving the 2005 CMA Awards to Madison Square Garden in New York City. In reviewing plans for that historic decision, DiPiero noticed that something was missing. “There was no representation for the songwriter. So I picked up the sword for the songwriting community.”

Remembering that epiphany, DiPiero raised his fist heroically and, as he often does, broke into laughter. In fact, though, back in 2005 he did voice his concern to CMA Board Chairman Kix Brooks and President Victor Sansone. They responded swiftly, authorizing DiPiero to work with CMA Marketing Coordinator Kyle Quigley, now CMA Senior Manager of Event Programming and Special Events, to implement something suitable in tandem with the Awards. DiPiero came up with the idea of adapting the “songwriters in the round” format pioneered in Nashville at The Bluebird Café. Quigley, meanwhile, helped DiPiero confirm Tim Nichols, Jeffrey Steele and Craig Wiseman as participants and scouted Joe’s Pub as the venue for what would become the first of many New York installments of CMA Songwriters Series.

“We did two shows that first night,” DiPiero said. “The first was mostly industry people, so we were preaching to the choir. The second show was mostly civilians. And after we’d finished, these people started searching us out and going, ‘I don’t even like Country Music — but whatever this was, I like it!’ From that moment, CMA Songwriters Series started gaining momentum, to the point now where both of our shows in September, with Buddy Cannon, Jamey Johnson, Kendell Marvel and myself, sold out in an hour — and everybody in the audience knows every word to every song we do.”

This momentum carried CMA Songwriters Series to new markets last year, in September at the House of Blues in Los Angeles and two in Chicago during October, at Joe’s Bar and the Chicago Country Music Festival in Grant Park. Even more auspicious was its debut at Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress, during the 2010 March CMA Board meetings in Washington, D.C.

DiPiero played his now established emcee role that night with Kix Brooks, Lorrie Morgan, John Rich, Randy Scruggs and Victoria Shaw participating. “There was a goodly amount of senators and members of Congress there. So where it can get a little smoky and blue when you get to the second show at Joe’s Pub,” he noted, with a laugh, “we were very respectful of where we were.

“But like all the other CMA Songwriters Series shows, it was totally unrehearsed,” he continued. “And personally, I love that. All we did was a soundcheck. I tell the performers, ‘We’ll go around four or five times, so be prepared for that. But I don’t care what you play. If you wrote it, play it.’ I might try and make sure the show is flowing and we don’t get bogged down in three Jack-and-Coke songs, but basically I say the least amount possible, which is very hard for me. I have no clue what’s going to happen, but as the song says, I hold on loosely.”

This spontaneity is appreciated both by writers who also perform as artists and by audiences seeking insight into the creative process. Even DiPiero admits to learning something at each show. “As a matter of fact, that happened just recently,” he said. “Right before Craig Wiseman sang ‘Live Like You Were Dying,’ he started talking about how he learned to play guitar at church camp — and then he sang a real simple church camp song. I guess it really hit me and I could see where ‘Live Like You Were Dying’ came from.”

As of today, DiPiero has cut three albums, won three dozen BMI Country and Million-Air honors and racked up his 15th No. 1 hit with Tim McGraw’s “Southern Voice.” Still, he values what he has achieved through CMA Songwriters Series and looks forward to its return Dec. 4 to Coolidge Auditorium with Brett James, Little Big Town and Lori McKenna (ticket information:, as well as upcoming performances in New York City on Nov. 2 with Eric Church, Luke Laird and Carolyn Dawn Johnson, and Nashville at Limelight, Nov. 9 with Josh Kear, Brett James, Rivers Rutherford and Chris Young. The Nov. 2 show is sold out, but tickets are still available for Nov. 9 at

“We’ve reached a tipping point,” he mused. “The collective consciousness is ready to accept this kind of show. It’s totally unrehearsed and there’s no set list, but it’s real and very authentic. That’s why I’m just as much a fan as a performer at these shows.”

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Bob DiPiero; photo: Ed Rode
Photo: See Caption



CMA Presents Triple Play Awards at Annual Songwriters Luncheon
By Wendy Pearl


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

It was three cheers on Thursday, Oct. 14 for three No. 1s at the annual CMA Songwriters Luncheon with the presentation of the CMA Triple Play Awards, which honor songwriters who pen three chart-topping hits in a 12 month period.

“This is an amazing accomplishment and we are very pleased to honor these talented songwriters, and songwriting artists, for their valued contribution to the format,” said Steve Moore, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “These songwriters captivate fans with stories that sum up the heart and humor of everyday life. They give voice and context to the challenges and triumphs we all face. They each have a rare talent that is a gift for all of us to enjoy.”

The Triple Play Awards were presented at the Second Annual CMA Songwriters Luncheon, which was held at the Pinnacle at Symphony Place in Nashville and attended by several artist/songwriters including Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley, Darius Rucker, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, and Keith Urban in addition to hit tunesmiths from ASCAP, BMI, and SESAC, as well as songwriter members of CMA, NSAI, and representatives of some of the most successful publishers in Music City.   

“As a trade organization, CMA represents every aspect of the Country Music industry and it’s important for us to regularly communicate and reach out to the songwriters with information about what CMA does on their behalf and why it’s important to be a member of the CMA,” said Victoria Shaw, a noted songwriter/producer and chair of the CMA Community Outreach and Education Committee.
Recognizing excellence in the format is at the foundation of CMA’s mission and there were several songwriters on hand to receive Triple Play Awards from CMA Board President Gary Overton, Sony Music Nashville Chairman and CEO, Moore, and Shaw. 

"It's ironic to say that our songwriters are sometimes our unsung heroes," Overton remarked, "but alongside the more familiar names of the writer/artists is an entire community of gifted tunesmiths whose life work is in creating the songs that define Country Music. Today, we're very proud to celebrate all of our Triple Play honorees."
In alphabetical order, the recipients of CMA’s Triple Play Award included:
• Rhett Akins: “Gimmie That Girl,” “All About Tonight,” “All Over Me”
• Casey Beathard: "Find Out Who Your Friends Are," "Don't Blink," "Ready, Set, Don't Go"
• Dierks Bentley: "Feel That Fire," "Sideways," “I Wanna Make You Close Your Eyes"
• Zac Brown: "Chicken Fried," "Whatever It Is," "Toes"
• Kristian Bush: "All I Want To Do," "Already Gone," "It Happens"
• Dallas Davidson: "That's How Country Boys Roll," "Gimmie That Girl," "Rain is a Good Thing"
• Tom Douglas: "I Run to You," "Southern Voice," "The House That Built Me"
• Chris DuBois: "It Won't Be Like This For Long," "Then," "Welcome to The Future"
• Wyatt Durrette: "Chicken Fried," "Whatever It Is," "Toes"
• Ashley Gorley: "All-American Girl," "You're Gonna Miss This," "Start a Band  2009"
• Ashley Gorley: "It Won't Be Like This For Long," "Then," "American Saturday Night"
• Ben Hayslip: "I'll Just Hold On," "Gimmie That Girl," "All About Tonight"
• Alan Jackson: "Small Town Southern Man," "Good Time," "Country Boy"
• Brett James: "It's America," "Out Last Night," "Summer Nights"
• Brett James: "Cowboy Casanova," "The Truth," "The Man I Want To Be"
• Luke Laird: "Hillbilly Bone," "Temporary Home," "Undo It"
• Hillary Lindsey: "So Small," "Last Name," "Just A Dream"
• Kelley Lovelace: "Online," "All-American Girl," "I'm Still A Guy"
• Jennifer Nettles: "Stay," "All I Want To Do," "Already Gone"
• Brad Paisley: "Online," "Letter to Me," "I'm Still A Guy"
• Brad Paisley: "Then," "Welcome To The Future," "American Saturday Night"
• Bobby Pinson: "All I Want To Do," "She Never Cried In Front Of Me," "Already Gone"
• Monty Powell: "Sweet Thing," "Kiss A Girl," "Til Summer Comes Around"
• Darius Rucker: "Don't Think I Don't Think About It," "It Won't Be Like This For Long," "Alright"
• Stephony Smith: "How Was I To Know," "It's Your Love," "Perfect Love"
• Jeffrey Steele: "Love Is A Beautiful Thing," "Everyday," "Here"
• Taylor Swift: "Should've Said No," "Love Story," "White Horse"
• Carrie Underwood: "Cowboy Casanova," "Temporary Home," "Undo It"
• Carrie Underwood: "So Small," "All-American Girl," "Last Name"
• Keith Urban: "Sweet Thing," "Kiss A Girl," "Til Summer Comes Around"

You would expect songwriters to have a lot to say. Here is a sample:

 “The first day I moved to this town, I was 19 years old. I had no problem finding where the bars were but I had no idea how to get a boot into this community or how to get started, or anything. I got a job interning at CMA to try to figure out how to even begin to get moving. So this is really cool. I don’t take for granted anything that involves CMA,” said Dierks Bentley.
 “I’ve been a fan and a student of Country Music since I was a kid. To be up here and be in this room is truly a blessing. I still can’t believe I get to do this for a living,” said Wyatt Durrette.

 “We get to wake up in the morning and write songs for a living. Is that the craziest thing in the world?” said Brett James.

“It’s great to be a part of Country Music. I appreciate you not kicking me out yet…I’d like to thank all the writers and artists in this room. I think I get as much inspiration currently from what’s on the radio as I did from old Country Music. I’m really proud to be a part of it these days,” said Brad Paisley.

“I got a ticket on the way here for running a red light. Three hundred yards after that, a car hit me. I actually had to get out of the car and run to this and leave Anna (Wilson, frequent collaborator) to deal with a wrecked car. So if this is a Triple Play, I hate to think of what the third thing is going to be because I have to fly in about two hours!” said Monty Powell.

“The song is what music is all about. Thank you guys for helping me write some pretty good ones,” said Darius Rucker.

“I absolutely live in awe of all the people in this room. I’ve had the time of my life knowing you over the years of writing with you. I think you guys just make other songwriters better. A lot of times I’ve gone back in my memories of when I started writing songs. I would sit there in my room and write a new song, and the first thing I would feel is, I’d feel proud of this new song. The next thing I would feel was fear because I was afraid that nobody would ever hear it. Then I was fortunate enough to meet people like Jody Williams, Troy Tomlinson, Scott Borchetta, and the team at Big Machine Records. Everyone at CMA has been so good to me. I’m very thankful that I don’t have to fear that no one is going to hear my songs anymore,” said Taylor Swift.

“To all the writers in this room, you guys have the hardest job. I can stand up there all day and sing – and I love that – but you create something out of air. And that is so amazing. I have so much respect for you. I love you guys. Thank you so much. Maybe someday I’ll consider myself one of you, but I’ve got a long way to go,” said Carrie Underwood.

“Thank you so much for this, CMA. I guess the new phrase should be ‘God bless the girls and the boys who make the noise down on 16th Avenue.’ Thank you very much,” said Keith Urban.
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Steve Moore (CMA CEO), Gary Overton (CMA Board President), and Victoria Shaw (songwriter and Chair of the CMA Community Outreach & Education Committee), congratulate this year's recipients of the CMA Triple Play Awards, handed out at CMA's annual Songwriters Luncheon.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


CMA congratulates this year's crop of artist/songwriters on receiving a Triple Play Award at this year's CMA Songwriters Luncheon. Pictured (l-r): Steve Moore (CMA CEO), Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, Brad Paisley, Victoria Shaw (songwriter and Chair of CMA's Community Outreach & Education Committee), Taylor Swift, Alan Jackson, and Gary Overton (CMA Board President).
Photo: John Russell / CMA


Taylor Swift accepts her Triple Play Award at this year's CMA Songwriters Luncheon.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


Keith Urban accepts his Triple Play Award during CMA's annual Songwriters Luncheon.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


CMA Donates Record $2.9 Million to Support Music Education and Aid Flood Relief in Metro Nashville
By Wendy Pearl


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

CMA is donating all net proceeds – a record $2,924,936 – from 2010 CMA Music Festival to support music education and aid flood relief in Metro Nashville, CMA Board member Kix Brooks announced Wednesday, Oct. 6 at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which sustained damage in the May floods.

“When we started this program several years ago, the success of the Music Festival itself and the opportunity to have an ongoing contribution to aid in the music programs of our local schools, was just a dream – today we have a reality that has far exceeded our imaginations,” Brooks said. “It’s working and I can’t thank my fellow artists and all the other CMA volunteers enough. Considering the year our community has had, the faithful support from the fans of Country Music could not have come at better time. Big time thanks to everyone!”

“Every cent of the net proceeds from CMA Music Festival is going right back into this community to support causes important to everyone in the industry – music education and aiding recovery in the aftermath of the floods,” said Steve Moore, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “We are thrilled to make a donation of this size and we have confidence that the funds will be put to immediate and good use reaching the hands of the people who need it most.”

The donation will be split evenly between CMA’s “Keep the Music Playing” campaign and The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

“The CMA Music Festival went on as planned just a month after the devastating May flood, and it was the largest, most successful Festival to date. I think that’s a testament to the strength of Music City and the commitment CMA has to Nashville,” Mayor Karl Dean said. “CMA announced just days after the flood that, in addition to the festival proceeds that have historically been set aside for music education in Nashville, the rest of the money generated by the Festival would go to disaster recovery. This is a tremendously generous gift from CMA and the artists that perform at the Festival. On behalf of all the citizens of Nashville that will benefit from this donation, I give a sincere, heartfelt thank you.”

To date, CMA has contributed $4,774,521 to support music education in public schools. This money has been used to build music labs and purchase nearly 4,000 instruments in Metro Nashville Public Schools through a partnership with the Nashville Alliance for Public Education. The total also includes an annual endowment gift for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Words & Music program, which assists language arts and music teachers with classroom instruction in the basics of songwriting.

“Once again, the CMA performing artists have proven their generosity and commitment to ‘Keep the Music Playing’ in Nashville’s public schools,” said Pam Garrett, Executive Director of the Nashville Alliance for Public Education. “The impact of this program on the lives of hundreds of students is enormous. The academic results make this program an investment in the future quality of our city. CMA, we can never thank you enough. This is so huge!”

The Alliance was established in 2002 by a group of corporate and civic leaders with the goal of improving public education for Nashville’s nearly 78,000 school children. Working in tandem with the Metro Nashville Public School Board and the Director of Schools, the non-profit group identifies areas of need and channels private community resources toward those programs throughout Metro’s 139 public schools.

In 2009, the Words & Music program was showcased at the White House during First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Country Music Celebration,” part of a series celebrating American music. Over the next two years 74 Metro Nashville public elementary schools will participate in Words & Music. During the same period, partially facilitated by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the program will expand through video conferencing to more schools in Tennessee and across the country.

“We are so gratified to have the support of the CMA and our Country Music artists for this important teaching effort,” said Museum Director Kyle Young. “As we watch the program grow, more and more teachers are aided in the ongoing struggle to provide learning experiences that help our youth find their place in the world, see a pathway to achievement and find a route to the blessings that are the promise of America. This work has never been more important, and this endowment gift secures its future.”

Receiving a check on behalf of The Community Foundation was Ellen Lehman, President of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

"Thanks to the kindness of the CMA's fans, performers and the CMA itself, there is now additional money to help our neighbors rebuild their lives," Lehman said. "Through grants to local nonprofits which are counseling, rebuilding homes, and feeding, this gift will assist The Community Foundation and our nonprofit partners as we work toward restoring every corner of our community until the task is completed. Our sincerest thanks to the CMA and its performers and fans."

The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee activated its Metro Nashville Disaster Response Fund in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management to support relief efforts in May.

Grants from the fund are made to nonprofits supporting relief and restoration in the Davidson County area. Millions of people have been affected by the disaster and while some have recovered quickly, others continue to struggle and may take months or years to rebuild their lives and homes. The Community Foundation’s disaster funds will strategically address needs as they emerge and evolve. 

CMA announced the donations during the quarterly Board of Directors meetings in Nashville. The presentation also featured Mayor Dean; Meredith Libbey, Assistant to the Director for Communications with Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools; and Duncan McPherson, a sophomore guitar soloist from Nashville Schools of the Arts.

Hundreds of artists perform at CMA Music Festival each year for free. To show its appreciation for their dedication and time, CMA began donating half the net proceeds from the event to charity on their behalf. When the program began in 2001, it was known as CMA’s “Cause for Celebration!” From 2001-2005, CMA contributed $800,000 to more than 100 worthy causes, which were selected by each participating artist.

In 2006, the CMA Artist Relations Committee decided to channel those financial resources into a single cause – music education – through CMA’s “Keep the Music Playing” campaign and established a partnership with the Nashville Alliance for Public Education to oversee distribution of the funds to the programs with the greatest need. Two years later, CMA announced a $1 million endowment gift spread over five years in $200,000 annual increments (2008-2012) to the Music Hall of Fame’s Words & Music program. 

Supporting music education provides Metro Nashville Public School students with valuable resources and opportunities, providing many of them a strong reason to remain in school. According to Metro schools statistics, students in arts programs have a higher graduation rate than students who don’t participate.

“An oboe in the hands of a child who wants to learn, can set a path to a full scholarship to college as a music major,” said Carol Crittenden, Metro Nashville Public Schools Coordinator of Performing Arts. “What is the cost? $2,295. What is the value to the student? Priceless! Of course, this can really be said about all of the band and orchestra instruments CMA provides. It is proven in our graduation rates among music students, which is always above 95 percent.”

“We could not ask for better support for our schools than we get from CMA,” said Metro Schools’ Libbey. “Music and arts education can be a great way to engage students, support graduation rates, and inspire a lifetime love of music. The artists who perform at the CMA Music Festival each year are putting instruments in the hands of our students. They sing for free so that nearly 800 kids got instruments this year alone.”

CMA Music Festival is an unparalleled music experience celebrating America’s music. The event brings the community together with fans from around the world. In June, the 2010 Festival attracted a record-setting 65,000 fans from all 50 states and 26 nations. For the first time, each night at LP Field for the star-packed nightly concerts sold out in advance. The impact on Nashville was undeniable. According to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, direct visitor spending generate by the Festival totaled more than $23 million.

Celebrating its 40th Anniversary next year, the dates for the 2011 CMA Music Festival are Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12.  Four-day ticket packages are on sale and fans can purchase tickets through Ticketmaster at or 1-800-745-3000. Tickets can also be purchased through or 1-800-CMA-FEST. Ticket prices are based on the level of seating at LP Field for the Nightly Concerts, and range from $115 to $325 plus handling fees. Since the 2010 CMA Music Festival sold out in advance, fans should order their tickets for next year now in order to guarantee their place at what USA Today named “the crown jewel of Country Music festivals.”      

For the latest information about tickets and artists appearing at 2011 CMA Music Festival, and more, visit Sign up for CMA Exclusive, the official eNewsletter of Country Music, where fans get connected to Country and receive exciting updates about your favorite artists, contests, free stuff, and more. Join the free CMA Mobile Community by texting CMAINFO to 66937 (standard text rates apply).

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Images for above article.




CMA is donating all net proceeds – a record $2,924,936 – from 2010 CMA Music Festival to support music education and aid flood relief in Metro Nashville. (l-r) CMA CEO, Steve Moore; CMA Board Member and singer/songwriter/radio personality, Kix Brooks; CMA Board Member and member of Little Big Town, Karen Fairchild; Executive Director of the Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Pam Garrett; Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Director, Kyle Young; Nashville School of the Arts sophomore, Duncan McPherson; Nashville Mayor Karl Dean; Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee President, Ellen Lehman; CMA Board Member and artist, Luke Bryan; and CMA Board President and Gaylord Entertainment Senior Vice President of Media and Entertainment, Steve Buchanan.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


CMA is donating all net proceeds – a record $2,924,936 – from 2010 CMA Music Festival to support music education and aid flood relief in Metro Nashville. (l-r) CMA CEO, Steve Moore; CMA Board Member and singer/songwriter/radio personality, Kix Brooks; CMA Board Member and member of Little Big Town, Karen Fairchild; Executive Director of the Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Pam Garrett; Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum Director, Kyle Young; Nashville Mayor Karl Dean; Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee President, Ellen Lehman; CMA Board Member and artist, Luke Bryan; and CMA Board President and Gaylord Entertainment Senior Vice President of Media and Entertainment, Steve Buchanan.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


Nashville Mayor Karl Dean spoke during today's announcement that CMA is donating all net proceeds – a record $2,924,936 – from 2010 CMA Music Festival to support music education and aid flood relief in Metro Nashville.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


Issue Date: 10/19/2010  
Generations: Publicists Lori Genes Christian, Ronna Rubin and Jessie Schmidt
By Edward Morris


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Record promoters see to it that an artist’s music gets played on radio. Booking agents keep the artist onstage. At the label, the creative staff completes the packaging and the marketing folks make sure the product makes its way successfully to retail. But most of the other ways of gaining visibility for performers are engineered by publicists. They secure TV appearances, jockey for print and online stories, reviews and photos, and publicize individual concert dates — a function called “tour press.” When things go haywire in an artist’s life, it’s also the publicist who steps up to handle damage control. It’s an around-the-clock job.

As independent publicists, Ronna Rubin and Jessie Schmidt have control over their own agencies. Rubin has worked with clients ranging from Keith Anderson and Jamey Johnson to GAC and The Recording Academy since establishing Rubin Media in 1992. Schmidt has headed Schmidt Relations since 1997 and counts Luke Bryan, the Grand Ole Opry, Brad Paisley, Rascal Flatts and Carrie Underwood among her clients. And as Senior Director, Media and Public Relations, Capitol Records Nashville, Lori Genes Christian helps represent the label’s roster, which includes Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, Eric Church, Walker Hayes, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Jennette McCurdy, Kenny Rogers, Darius Rucker, Keith Urban and Emily West as well as EMI Records Nashville artist Troy Olsen and comedians.

Jessie and Ronna, as independent publicists, what criteria do you use for accepting a client?

SCHMIDT I want to listen to the music first because if I don’t love it, I can’t sell it. Often you don’t meet the client until after the manager hires you. But I much prefer meeting the artist first. You want to feel like they kind of dig you and that you like their personality, especially if it’s a new artist.

RUBIN There have been times when I realized that on a lot of other platforms (besides music), the potential client and I were so different, whether it was on political or religious beliefs, that I decided it was not really a good match. That’s happened on rare occasions. But basically, I agree. I have to like the music. Obviously, they’re hiring you as a cheerleader, and you’ve got to be sincere if you’re going to the mat for their music.

GENES CHRISTIAN I’ve always been one who could look at an artist and pick his or her best qualities. That’s kind of how I pitch the artist to media. If a song is not working at radio but this person has amazing depth, I’ll go down that path. I’ve always tried to look at what the whole package is because I don’t get to choose who I publicize.

How do you explain to new artists what publicity is supposed to achieve and how the process works?

GENES CHRISTIAN Capitol is really good about that. I’ve had meetings with all my artists, especially new artists, well in advance of them having music out. It’s more of a team environment; it’s not just me. It’s someone from every department, walking the artist through the process. I physically see my artists constantly.

RUBIN It also depends when you’re brought onboard. Sometimes with independent artists, you can be brought on after their album comes out and they have one of those “Oh!” moments: “Oh, I’m going to need a publicist!” If you’re brought on really early, shortly after the person’s been signed, there is time when you get to know them. You take them out for a meal and ask and further explain the role of publicity in their career.

Is there a minimum length of time you require an artist to contract for your services?

RUBIN After I became an indie publicist, I had one client for nine years, one for seven and another for six. Those were my first three anchor clients and I came to expect that they’d all be multiple-year relationships. But then the industry changed and I had to put my finger on the pulse of reality. First it was like three years was a good run. Then it was, “Oh, a year’s good.” Realistically, I have to entertain all prospects that come to me. But that’s not the best way to approach publicity, with a three-month plan.

SCHMIDT I don’t like accepting an artist with a timeline. I feel like it’s a relationship that has to grow. That’s not to say I haven’t accepted or won’t accept special projects. But usually the special projects aren’t artists. Actually, I’ve never been approached to work an artist who has a timeline, like, “We want you to work six months on this record.” It’s not worth it. You’re just really getting your feet wet at six months.

How do you deal with beginning artists’ unrealistic expectations, such as wanting to be on “The Late Show with David Letterman” or “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” as soon as they have a single out?

SCHMIDT Those expectations don’t just come from the artists but from managers too. It is a lovely thing when you’re all on the same page and you realize what you are up against. If you’re lucky enough to get a new artist that “Tonight Show” booking, you want to feel confident that they have the ammunition to back it up. You will experience artists or teams — label, artist and management — that have huge expectations. It’s daily pressure to produce. There’s almost more pressure these days to get quality print pieces than a national TV booking.

GENES CHRISTIAN It’s been really hard to try to reeducate the artists and their teams to the fact that they’re getting a lot of visibility online. If you do get a review on a Web site instead of in a print publication, you really are getting eyeballs — maybe even more than in print. It’s been a hard transition. People want to see the review or article and be able to hold it.

SCHMIDT Rolling Stone pieces are few and far between. It’s an educational process for everybody in the industry. Five or six years ago, we’d just roll our eyes at an online piece. Now you’ve got to think twice. If I have any gut feeling (about the worth of an online offer), I’m going to go to the new media person at the label and say, “What does this site get? How many hits? Speak to me in my language. Tell me this is worthy.”

GENES CHRISTIAN In the last two years, I’ve had several artists who served as online hosts for major Country Music awards shows. Those things are really, really important now. If your artist has the ability and personality to host, that’s something that can get their name out there and something that I wouldn’t have thought about even three years ago. There are hundreds of thousands of people watching online broadcasts now.

What frustrations do you face as publicists?

RUBIN Craig Campbell (publicist and Owner, Campbell Entertainment Group) and I have had a running joke for years. He says, ‘What do you do for a living?’ And I say, ‘I get rejected for a living!’ The list of outlets where we can pitch our artists has gotten so much smaller. I joke that Lady Antebellum and Lady Gaga are both going after the same slot. We’re competing for attention with all musical genres, unlike in radio, where you’re just competing amongst other Country artists.

SCHMIDT Waiting frustrates me. Sometimes I’ll sit in my office for five hours, waiting on one answer. When that one answer comes, I can do these 17 other things. But, no, I’m not going to get that answer until midnight tonight. It’s not that someone is holding out on you; it’s the domino effect. It’s a 24/7 job.

GENES CHRISTIAN It’s hard to schedule life. There are days when I’m late for everything because I’m constantly waiting for someone to send me an e-mail or respond to a call.

SCHMIDT And there is a high level of expectation that when that call or e-mail does come in, you will be there to get it and that it will be worked out. It does sidebar life, and that’s really hard. When I’m sitting in the pickup line at school and the cell phone reception is really bad, that’s when I finally get the call.

How do you approach damage control when a client has done something — or is accused of doing something — that puts them in a bad light?

SCHMIDT The most important thing is that everyone involved agrees on what you’re going to do. If ever there’s a time to listen to what a publicist has to say, this is the time.

RUBIN There’s got to be a component of honesty and ownership. In some cases, the publicist is told how it’s going to be handled. You can have your opinion and your professional way of doing it, but they’ll say, “No, this is how it’s going to happen.”

GENES CHRISTIAN Ultimately, there’s a certain place where you have to say “no comment” because the matter is just so personal and private that it really isn’t anyone else’s business. We’re that first line of defense for artists. We have to protect them as much as we can.


Images for above article.

Lori Genes Christian, Ronna Rubin and Jessi Schmidt
Photo: Amanda Eckard / CMA



Mary Chapin Carpenter Celebrates ‘The Age of Miracles’
By Donna Hughes


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Gentle textures envelop the listener in the first seconds of “We Traveled So Far,” which opens The Age of Miracles, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s newest album, on Zoe Records, a part of the Rounder Records group. On this track, a guitar strums soothing waltz time, Dan Dugmore’s faraway steel guitar keens, and the melody rises and falls, floating on the vocal’s whispered breeze.

All 12 tracks on the album (as well as “All the Sad Songs,” a bonus track exclusively on the Barnes & Noble release) are written solely by Carpenter. Beautiful and reflective, they make it hard to grasp that just three years ago, Carpenter was struggling to beat a life-threatening pulmonary embolism. After touring behind her previous album, The Calling, she developed blood clots in her lungs and, while recovering at home, sank into what she has described as a painful depression.

“It was a terrible darkness,” she remembered. “At that time, I think it was as dark as it was because there was no guidebook and no one had said anything to me about how to prepare for it. I didn’t understand what was happening. And now, with the benefit of hindsight and the help and support and wisdom of other people, I realize that was a very natural response to that event.”

The fruits of that difficult harvest are the songs that fill The Age of Miracles, on which she confronts the shadows from which she emerged in a kind of therapeutic explosion. “When I started writing songs about six months after I got out of the hospital, I wasn’t writing really to make a new record,” she explained. “It was because I had always done it and it felt like the right thing to do. It felt natural to explore my feelings through song. I think of it as something as an act of faith to have been writing songs because I didn’t know at that time when or if I would ever put them on an album, when that record would ever come out, when I would go back to work. So the act of writing songs made me feel better, and it was just something I wanted to do without a sense of the destiny or the end result in sight.”

A spiritual element permeates the album and its title track, as suggested by their reference to miracles. Still, Carpenter cautioned, “I don’t mean it in a religious sense and I am not claiming that I believe in them. So often we look around and we say, ‘Oh, my God! Look at that iPad! How did those men land on the moon?’ We bandy that word about so loosely and freely, and a lot of people do take it very much to heart as something connected to formalized religion. For myself, I was just posing the idea that if we live in an age of miracles, are we lucky enough to regard our entire lives that way and to believe not so much in the supernatural but in twists of fate and extraordinary luck and sort of reinterpret them as miracles?”

For Matt Rollings, who co-produced Carpenter’s Between Here and Gone (2004) and The Calling (2007) and played keyboards on her sessions as far back as Shooting Straight in the Dark (1990), The Age of Miracles was a true collaboration between two like-minded individuals. “As co-producers, Mary Chapin and I have gotten to know each other more and more over the course of the last three records,” he said. “And I feel like we really hit our stride with The Age of Miracles. The combination of the amazing songs she brought, the band we were able to cast and her willingness to ‘show up’ so profoundly made the process feel somehow as if the record was making itself, like we were all just there to witness its birth.

“Working with Mary Chapin in any capacity, as a sideman or producer, has always been a tremendously satisfying and soulful experience,” he continued. “She’s one of those rare artists who is not content, ever, just to get things done. Instead, she insists on continuing to dig deeper, musically and emotionally, until the truth of it is found. Like all true artists, she doesn’t always know how to get there but she knows when she’s arrived.”

Arms loaded with songs, Carpenter entered Nashville’s Sound Stage Studios in late 2009 to begin work with the excitement of a child at Christmas. “It’s such a beautiful studio, and they had put flowers in the studio for me, and I hadn’t seen everybody in a long time, and I got teary,” she revealed. “It was really wonderful to be there. There was a lot of love in that room.”

Part of the affection shared by Carpenter and other participants in this session owed to the fact that she is only an occasional visitor in Music City. Far more often, she’s at home on her farm in Virginia with her husband Tim Smith and a multitude of pets. “I live here in my little corner of the world,” she said. “I sit at my desk and I write these songs. Years pass and it’s a very solitary endeavor. I have to work hard to be a part of the world.”

Still, coming “home” to the studio, reuniting with musicians and friends she had not seen in quite some time, proved especially pleasurable. “So here are these three years that pass and I have these songs,” Carpenter said. “I go to Nashville, I walk into the studio for a number of weeks, and every day I’m surrounded by these lovely people who are not only helping to create this wonderful project but are giving so freely of their friendship and fellowship. It felt like this balm, this soothing sense, to be in their company. It was as if I had been terribly thirsty and I had much to drink. I felt soothed by it and I felt grateful for it. It had been such a difficult time, and it felt great to be with these people and have this record come as a result.”

Several familiar voices join Carpenter’s on The Age of Miracles, her twelfth studio album. Alison Krauss appears on “I Was a Bird,” and former touring partner Vince Gill harmonizes on “I Put My Ring Back On.” Despite the years of friendship they’ve shared, Carpenter still had to be convinced it was no intrusion to call and ask Gill to sing on her album.

“I was literally in the midst of doing the vocals and I remember thinking, ‘Oh, Vince would be great for this song,’” she said. “But I am one of those people that just contort when they have to call someone and ask for a favor. I know how busy he is, and I just felt shy and I didn’t want to bother him. But Vince and I have a business manager in common, and she came in to give a listen to what we were doing. I played her that song, and she went, ‘Oh, my God! You should get Vince to sing on that song!’ I looked at her and said, ‘I can’t believe you said that. I was thinking the same thing.’ So we called him — but if she hadn’t said that, I don’t think I would have called him. I’m just too shy.”

Gill remembered being “flattered that she asked. That’s the best part about having friends, is they call you from time to time and say, ‘Hey, come and do this with me!’” He added with a laugh, “Once again, the dude gets the high part, reconfirming that I sing like a woman — just trying to keep that out there.”

The Country Music Hall of Fame member was involved with one unforgettable highlight of Carpenter’s career, on the 1994 CMA Awards. Carpenter, who had won Female Vocalist of the Year honors at the 1992 and 1993 CMA Awards, performed a hilarious version of her song “Shut Up and Kiss Me,” being interrupted repeatedly by knocks at a door on the stage set and opening it to reveal Awards host Gill, then Brooks & Dunn and ultimately Little Richard, with whom she smooched theatrically and left as the audience cheered and her band vamped. She had made a strong impact as well with her debut at the 1990 CMA Awards, where she delighted her peers with “Opening Act,” an account of the ignominious trials of having to open for unappreciative headliners.

“Two people come to mind immediately. One is Irving Waugh and the other is Walter Miller,” said Carpenter, looking back on that night and remembering that broadcast’s Executive Producer and Producer, respectively. “Irving and Walter created the opportunity for me to come out and sing ‘Opening Act,’ which was sort of my introduction to the CMAs and seemed to lead to so many other things. And subsequently, Walter would get with me and say, ‘OK, have you got any ideas?’ He was very collaborative. We had a great time coming up with thoughts and ideas of how we wanted to present a song. It wasn’t just ‘stand there and sing it.’ I feel like any chance I had to do something different or special, it was because of that collaboration and the willingness of Walter and certainly of Irving to give me those opportunities.”

Shifting back toward the present and looking toward the future, Carpenter ends The Age of Miracles with one of its more buoyant tracks, “The Way I Feel.” “It was important for me to end the album with that song because I do feel like albums are more than 12 or 13 songs thrown together,” she summed up. “Ultimately, I feel like it’s a record of strength and resilience, and I wanted the last song to reinforce that. It’s a song about how I acknowledge things are hard, things are tough, but I’m going forward. It’s not a perfect world and I’m not a perfect person, but I’m going forward.”


Images for above article.


Mary Chapin Carpenter; photo: Russ Harrington
Photo: See Caption


Mary Chapin Carpenter; photo: Russ Harrington
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MARKETING INNOVATIONS: Tim McGraw Partners with Outback Steakhouse
By Brad Schmitt


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

The Nashville Rising concert, held June 22 at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, owed much to the star-studded lineup of artists who donated their time and talent to raising money to fund recovery from the epic flooding of early May.

But for all their generosity, Tim McGraw brought a little something extra — food from Outback Steakhouse and other OSI Restaurant family members Bonefish Grill and Carrabbas, for everyone to enjoy backstage.

That was one outcome of the year-long partnership between McGraw and the Aussie-themed restaurant chain, along with charity events, VIP catering at McGraw concerts and Outback’s Rewards Program.

Their association began when Outback heard that McGraw’s camp was looking for a corporate partner for his “Southern Voice” tour, which launched Feb. 11 in Omaha, extended through more than 60 shows and ended Sept. 3 in Syracuse, N.Y.

Outback was drawn to McGraw for several reasons, including the fact that he was booked to play for the first time in his career in Australia, with five concerts in September. Beyond that, “we knew Outback customers listen to Country Music, and there was an opportunity to connect with this audience at a local and national level, so there were a lot reasons for us to partner,” said Kelly Parriott, Executive VP, Rally Marketing Group.

McGraw became a big part of the customer loyalty program, which offered everything from concert tickets and music downloads to T-shirts as well as two all-expense paid trips for two to attend a McGraw concert in Australia during September. Outback held listening parties for the Southern Voice album at several restaurants, offered $5 off coupons at Outback in the first 1 million copies of the album and provided catering for the pre-show VIP experience throughout the tour. A Tim McGraw Southern Voice limited-edition gift card, offered by Outback at Wal-Mart, has accounted for about 45 percent of all the company’s gift card sales through that outlet since its introduction in June.

Outback and McGraw also offered a “Have Fun, Give Back” T-shirt for sale at the concerts, with proceeds going to Operation Homefront, which provides emergency assistance to soldiers and their families, and to Neighbors Keeper, a charity founded by McGraw and Faith Hill that focuses on giving back to communities in need with an emphasis on children’s initiatives. Throughout the tour, McGraw and Outback hosted members of our armed forces and their families at part of their military outreach efforts with Operation Homefront. To date, Outback has committed more than $1.5 million in donations as part of their outreach with McGraw.

“There are all the normal tour benefits of a sponsor, and they’ve gone over and above that, offsetting costs on charity events,” said Bruce Eskowitz, COO, Red Light Management, which represents McGraw. “They’ve been tremendous people to work with, and they’ve been supportive of everything we’re doing. They didn’t want to just put their name on it and walk away.”

Or, as Parriott summed up, “Everybody’s in it for all the right reasons.”


Images for above article.


McGraw charity T-shirt; courtesy of Rally Marketing Group
Photo: See Caption; courtesy of Rally Marketing Group
Photo: See Caption


Issue Date: 10/12/2010  
Switching Hats: Country Artists Connect As Radio Hosts
By Vernell Hackett


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For as long as there’s been radio, there have been on-air personalities whose talents centered on keeping listeners tuned in long enough to connect with artists and advertisers. For performers seeking to build their fan base, this formula has worked for decades, especially when encouraged by radio tours, to visit with DJs in as many markets as possible and encourage them to play their new single.

But with media, roles, options and other elements in the business shifting around so quickly, some artists are looking to expand their choices for exposure. And one trend involves artists moving to the other side of the microphone, as hosts of their own radio programs.

In years past, it wasn’t unusual for a singer to hold down a gig at a local radio station before moving to Nashville. Tom T. Hall, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Charlie Walker did it — but Holly Dunn reversed the formula in 1997. Already a recording artist with a string of hits that included “Are You Ever Gonna Love Me” and “Daddy’s Hands,” she accepted a job that year as morning DJ at WWWW/Detroit. Dunn, who had majored in broadcasting at Abilene Christian University, averaged more than 300,000 listeners per day for a year before returning to Nashville.

Today, Kix Brooks is heard nationally as host of “American Country Countdown with Kix Brooks” over Citadel Media. Kenny Chesney has overseen his own online show, “No Shoes Radio,” since August 2009. And in March, three artists — Dierks Bentley, Jim Lauderdale and Pam Tillis — have launched their own weekly, hour-long shows on 650 WSM-AM/Nashville, each one beginning at 2 PM/CT. The shows can also be heard online at or as podcasts via iTunes.

The idea was conceived by Joe Limardi, Operations Manager, WSM Radio. “We have so many artists in as guests,” he explained. “Some are so good and have such good stories to tell and a love for music that’s not their own, I thought, ‘Why not let them be creative on air and offer them the opportunity to do their own show?’”

The first person Limardi asked was Bentley. “When I was approached about doing the show, I jumped on it,” the singer recalled. “I love WSM, I love its history and I love the idea of having my voice broadcast on those airwaves.”

Bentley came up with the name for his show, which airs every Monday. It’s called “The Thread” because it embraces all of the music that has influenced Bentley. He spent a lot of time at the Station Inn after his arrival in Nashville; today, performances from that famous acoustic/bluegrass venue are often featured on his broadcasts. Other hours are dedicated to themes reflected in their titles, which include “Ray Price: Priceless” and “The Thing About Don Williams.” Every now and then something unexpected adds to the mix, including a visit by WSM DJ Eddie Stubbs one day as he was in the midst of taping his show.

“He is a hero of mine and I try to imitate him,” admitted Bentley, who added that while it was challenging to come up with a focus for each show and material to fit that focus, the process has become easier with time.

After “The Thread” started airing, Tillis got in touch with Limardi and expressed interest in doing a show as well. “Pam came up with the name ‘Lettin’ My Roots Show,’ and if you listen to it (on Tuesdays), the show does go back to her roots in music and the relationships she’s built in Nashville,” said Limardi. “She has a genuine appreciation for all styles of music.”

Having grown up in Country Music, Tillis enjoys sharing memories and stories from her childhood in Nashville and on the road with her father, Country Music Hall of Fame member Mel Tillis. Each of her shows also centers on one theme, ranging from Native American music to political Country and The Beatles’ impact on Country Music.

“My first reaction about doing the radio show was that it sounds like fun but I don’t know how I could fit one more thing into my life,” Tillis said. “It would have been easier to just randomly pull songs, but I really like the idea of themes, which is harder to do and takes more effort.”

Though she does most of this work, Tillis credits her radio producer, Shannon McCombs, for helping her pull it together. “Sometimes Shannon will go, ‘Please just let me run with it,’” she said. “But I’m real hands-on with everything I do. I get manic about it, but it’s been worth it to me.”

One of the singer’s favorite shows was about her family. Her brother Mel Jr., known as Sonny, and sister Carrie April had never been on radio before being featured on “Lettin’ My Roots Show.” “My brother wrote ‘When I Think About Angels,’” Tillis said, referring to the Jamie O’Neal No. 1 single that he wrote with O’Neal and Roxie Dean. “So I played some of his songs. And my baby sister is an amazing singer, so I played some of her work. I even found something with her and me in Branson. And I ran across this old audio clip of dad and me, when I was 17 and I was on ‘The Mike Douglas Show’ with him. I was sitting at the computer, programming this for my show, and I was crying because things like that are fun to share.”

Having established the model with Bentley and Tillis, WSM didn’t have to go too far when it decided to look for an artist to host an Americana show. “Jim Lauderdale hosts our weekly roots show (‘Music City Roots: Live from the Loveless Café’), and we thought he would be perfect for an Americana show,” Limardi said. “He has such eclectic taste in music, which you can hear on his show.”

Lauderdale had some background as a radio host as he launched “The Jim Lauderdale Show,” which airs every Wednesday. Along with that experience at a college radio station in South Carolina, he brings a selection of CDs from home for each show that he tapes, which he supplements by going through the WSM library.

“I have a general idea of what I might play, and Shannon (McCombs) is a big help with organizing and suggesting,” Lauderdale said. “I love WSM, and what I try to do on the show is play about two-thirds traditional Country and some bluegrass and then throw in some singer/songwriter stuff. I don’t want to get too way out. The music has to flow with the rest of the songs that day on the station.”

After the Nashville flood in May, Lauderdale tried something a little unusual on his show. “I had the urge to do the show live, which is something I really enjoy doing and will do again as my schedule allows,” he said. “The WSM studio out by Opryland was under water, so we had to go out to Brentwood, south of Nashville, to the studio at the big tower, which is just off of Interstate 65 South. My slot is right after Joe Limardi’s show, so he runs things for me technically. Shannon was there too, and we really had a great time. I hope that comes across on the air.”

Once he had these three artists in place, Limardi needed to fill the 2 PM slot on Thursday. As a result, Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show comes in the third Thursday of every month to play music from his personal collection of recordings from the 1920s and 1930s. The remaining Thursdays feature a rotating list of hosts, which have included Mark Chesnutt, Dailey & Vincent, Billy Dean, Jack Ingram, Jewel, Sammy Kershaw, Lorrie Morgan and Dana Williams of Diamond Rio.

“The coolest part of it all is that it started with the idea of one artist and snowballed, with all these great artists who come in and say they’d like to do a show,” Limardi said.

While all of these artists enjoy dabbling in radio, none is ready to trade the stage for the studio as their top professional priority. “I enjoy this but what I love is performing and touring and writing songs and making records,” Bentley insisted. “That occupies a lot of my time.”

“I love finding out the history of the music, turning up things I didn’t know,” Tillis said. “I’m learning, and I hope the audience is enjoying learning with me. I’ll come up with an idea and think, ‘How am I gonna do a show around this?’ And somehow I find it. I did a cowgirl show — who would think you could do that, but I did!”

On the Web:


Images for above article.



Dierks Bentley; photo: Tyne Whitten
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Pam Tillis; photo: Matthew Spicher
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Jim Lauderdale; photo: Shannon McCombs
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CMA and ABC Score with “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock”
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

On an unusually competitive night of television programming, ABC achieved approximately the same strong statistical results with the seventh annual broadcast of “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” as it had in 2009.

Where figures compiled by Nielsen Media Research for the program in 2008 were 3.3/5, they rose in 2009 to 4.6/7 and reached 4.0/7 for this year’s special, which aired on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 8-11PM/CT. Measured against programming for the week, “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” placed at No. 18 for viewers overall as well as for the coveted Adults 18-49 category. The special was ABC’s third-best performer of the week in total viewers with 6 million.

Talent is the program’s heaviest artillery. Hosted by Tim McGraw, this year’s lineup included Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Uncle Kracker, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban and Zac Brown Band.

More than 65,000 fans from 50 states and 26 nations streamed to Nashville in June to attend the four-day Festival. Nightly performances at LP Field and at select venues in town were filmed by Executive Producer Robert Deaton and his crew, who then tackled the formidable challenge of weaving these special moments into a one-night network TV experience. It began with reference to the flood that had inflicted significant damage throughout Nashville in early May — just over a month before the Festival began, followed by Urban’s tribute to the spirit of Music City as it recovered from the disaster.

“Quite frankly, we hadn’t planned on doing anything,” Deaton admitted. “But it was Keith’s idea to do ‘With a Little Help from My Friends’ as a tribute to the people of Nashville. Then after his performance, I started thinking it was actually about more than the flood; it was about how people responded to it. And Keith’s performance became like an anthem, especially with the flood visuals. So even though we normally start the show big, with lots of tempo, I decided to open with this, because that spirit is what defines us this year.” The public responded. Nielsen SoundScan data reported that for the week ending Sept. 5, current album sales rocketed upward over numbers for the previous week for many of the artists it had featured, including McGraw (47%), Underwood (31%) and Moore (31%). Significant upticks were also measured for featured performers in digital singles of songs performed on the special, including McGraw’s “Southern Voice” (82%), Shelton’s “Hillbilly Bone” (50%), Underwood’s “Last Name” (63%), Moore’s “How I Got to Be This Way” (44%) and Rascal Flatts’ “Summer Nights” (40%).

Interest in the broadcast was kindled through a series of “All Access” Webisodes created by ABC Digital Media and posted on and other Web sites in the weeks before the broadcast. These include a visit with McBride, who describes a special outreach to fans that she hosted in her studio; a trip with Julianne Hough to sign autographs at the Greased Lightning Fan Fair Hall; an onstage “rock, paper scissors” contest between Luke Bryan and Jake Owen to determine who plays next at a Downtown honky tonk; a bus tour conducted by Gloriana; and a sneak preview of Swift’s network premiere of her single “Mine” before an intimate gathering of fans. The complete All Access series can be seen at

And during the broadcast itself, viewers got involved in the second annual CMA Music Festival Tweet ‘n’ Greet. They could monitor Twitter commentaries and Facebook page updates from artists featured in the show (“Are you guys watching? I’m on, jamming out right now” — Urban;) (“Could watch Brad Paisley play guitar all night. Will hit Tivo and watch him again and again” — Dave Haywood, Lady Antebellum) or post their own thoughts (“Don’t bother me. I’m watching CMA Fest.” — @bree621). The Festival broadcast ranked Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 8 on Twitter’s Top 10 Trending Topics for the night.

CMA Music Festival is the ultimate destination for Country Music fans from around the globe, featuring nonstop concerts, autograph signings, celebrity events and more. In 2011, Nashville’s signature music event will celebrate 40 years of providing unique artist and fan interactions since starting as Fan Fair in 1972. Plans are underway for surprises and special events to commemorate the occasion.

2011 CMA Music Festival will run Thursday through Sunday, June 9-12. Four-day ticket packages went on sale in August. Purchase tickets at, 1-800-CMA-FEST, or 1-800-745-3000. Ticket prices are based on the level of seating at LP Field for the nightly concerts and range from $115 to $325 plus handling fees.

“We are excited to celebrate 40 years of CMA Music Festival and Fan Fair in 2011 and look forward to the fans joining us for all the fun,” said CMA CEO Steve Moore. “We were fortunate that the Festival sold out completely in 2010 for the first time. Due to this strong demand, we suggest that fans buy their tickets now rather than waiting until it is too late.”

“CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” directed by Gary Halvorson, will re-air on GAC at 7 PM/CT, Saturday, Oct. 16; 8 AM/CT, 4 PM/CT and 11 PM/CT, Sunday, Oct. 17; 8 PM/CT, Saturday, Nov. 6; and 12 AM/CT and 4PM/CT, Sunday, Nov. 7.

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Lady Antebellum performs for fans. photo: Nick Bumgardner/ABC
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Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley and Jamey Johnson perform "Bad Angel." photo: Nick Bumgardner/ABC
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Kid Rock and Uncle Kracker perform "Good to Be Me." photo: Nick Bumgardner/ABC
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Rascal Flatts hangs out backstage before their LP Field performance. photo: Jon LeMay/ABC
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Issue Date: 10/5/2010  
The Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy: Expanding Resources and Opportunities for Tomorrow’s Tours
By Kip Kirby


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Fresh-cut flowers… chilled champagne in the fridge… turndown service with mints on the pillow…

If this sounds like room service in a five-star boutique hotel, think again. It’s just another day at home — when your home has wheels, a 200-gallon fuel tank and an oversized steering wheel. And for entertainers who spend much of their lives on the road, it’s service as usual, provided by the person who pilots them along highways and back roads.

But what does it take to be a celebrity bus driver? How do you get hired to drive for the Taylor Swifts, Carrie Underwoods and Keith Urbans of the world? Achieving these goals may have just become easier, thanks to the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy, co-founded by Chip Huffman and Tandy Rice, President of the sales and marketing company and booking agency Top Billing.

“This type of training school has never been attempted,” said Huffman, Founder and former President of Nitetrain Coach Company. “We think the timing is great because Nashville is becoming such an entertainment hub. Approximately 80 percent of the buses that move entertainers — I’m talking about every genre of music — are based in Nashville or in close proximity. Also, a lot of veteran drivers who have served the industry so well for so many years are getting close to retirement age, and we want to be part of helping the next generation enter the business.”

From throughout the United States and Canada, 15 certified professional drivers came to the headquarters of Prevost, the well-known coach manufacturer, in Goodlettsville, near Nashville, to attend the Academy’s opening in June. Each met a specific set of criteria before being accepted. Each also had a sense of commitment — and $1,000 for enrollment.

“It’s always been my dream to drive an entertainer’s coach,” said Brian Greenlee of Victorville, Calif. “When I had my first bus, I really enjoyed keeping up the coach and keeping the people on it happy. I’ve raised my family now, and my wife and I have a strong enough relationship that I could be on the road and work with entertainers.”

“I’ve driven everything under the sun except for one of these buses,” said Crystal Schewire of Long Island, N.Y., the only female attendee. “I have been sending in my résumés for the last three years, but I never got an interview for a driver job. All of a sudden this came up and I said, ‘This is perfect. It’s a thousand dollars. I’m gonna do it.’”

Over the next three days, the drivers listened and learned from experts that included artist and tour managers, veteran celebrity drivers and representatives of various entertainment coach and trucking companies. Sessions were designed to provide insights into the industry as well as hands-on experience. “How Do You Become a Professional Driver?,” “Who Rides on the Bus? Why So Many People?,” “What Do You Look for When Hiring a Driver?” and “Paperwork: What’s Expected” were among the workshops in the curriculum. One session let participants train on a Prevost coach converted with equipment that might be found on a typical celebrity bus.

The amount and quality of information impressed even those enrollees who had experience as celebrity drivers. “I came for networking and skills upgrading,” said Ron Doucette of Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, whose résumé already includes driving for Gordon Lightfoot and other artists. “This is the only school of its kind, so I couldn’t stay away. I plan to take the information and skills I learn back to my customers and offer a higher, better level of service than anyone else in Canada.”

Non-students, including expert panelists and observers from the tour bus industry, held similarly positive impressions. “A bus driver for an entertainer is like a landlord,” said Jeff Davis, who has produced and managed tours for Randy Travis and served as well as a part-time relief driver for the artist.

“There’s a whole lot more involved than just sitting in the seat and driving from Point A to Point B. You have to operate and maintain all the systems onboard, from the plumbing to the satellite TV to the Internet to the air conditioning. I think the Academy is going to give drivers a chance to learn what they need to know before they actually get out there and have to learn on the job.”

Even so, completion of this course by no means guarantees employment. “There are three or four thousand drivers and a thousand coaches in this industry,” said Neville Shende, Driver Relations and Safety Manager for Pioneer Coach and author of “The Entertainment Coach Driver: An Inside Look.” “It’s 1 percent of 1 percent of the professional driving industry. It’s majorly competitive, so these companies are going to hire only the best.”

Huffman and Rice believe they have this covered. Once drivers graduate from the Academy’s core training, they can file with its Top Billing Driver Placement Service. It’s a two-tiered operation, designed to give applicant drivers the roadworthiness they need to score a full-time position.

“The first phase is our apprentice program,” said Huffman. “Graduates of the Academy will be available to double-drive with veteran drivers that are in excess of DOT/HOS (Department of Transportation/Hours of Service) rules. They will be paid like a normal driver but at a slightly reduced rate to reflect their apprentice status until they get enough experience to step up to a full-time category.”

Once drivers accumulate enough experience, Top Billing will try to place them with one of many coach companies. Drivers who get placements through Top Billing will pay a percentage of their earnings to the agency, similar to the process at temporary staffing agencies.

“I’ve spent the last several months in contact with most all the bus companies, not just in Nashville but the ones located in outlying areas,” said Huffman. “I’ve not only been in e-mail and phone contact with them, but I’ve visited personally to tell them what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and why we’re doing it. The majority have bought in, absolutely.”

As for Rice, while acknowledging that his longtime high profile in the music industry contributes to establishing the Academy’s profile, he intends to actively apply his promotional and marketing skills to further its success.

“The story here isn’t so much what we’ve done but the fact that we’ve done it,” he insisted. “Hey, in today’s economy, when people have their backs up against the wall, they get real courageous and real ingenious. A lot of drivers are coming to us from big-rig truck driving and they’re just worn out. They’re beat up from all the hauling and loading and unloading freight. Most of them are mature gentlemen; they’ve been there, done that. Our job, as far as I’m concerned, is, instead of looking for a nightclub to book an artist to sing, we’re looking for a bus to book a driver to drive.”

The next Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy session is slated for Nov. 10-12. Visit for registration information.

Essential Advice for Celebrity Bus Drivers
Based on his experience with clients including Lynyrd Skynyrd, Reba McEntire, Bret Michaels, LeAnn Rimes and Dwight Yoakam, celebrity coach driver Eric Smith lists the skills he considers indispensible for completing tours successfully.

Provide Five-Star Service. “Just like at fine hotels, you are the ‘face at the front desk.’ Be the concierge if needed. Look up local restaurants and activities. Do a weather check. Stock the refrigerator. You’re also the maid, making beds, cleaning toilets and taking out endless amounts of garbage. Do it with a smile. Don’t ever make clients feel they’re imposing on you.”

Be Confident and Likable. “Trust in yourself and your skills, but don’t seem arrogant or overly confident.”

Be “Vanilla.” “Study your clients and find out how to best fit in with their personalities. Be a chameleon. Learn to be whatever the job requires you to be.”

Be Invisible. “The group or celebrity you’re hauling probably needs 99.9 percent of the bus. No matter how much they tell you they love you and you’re the best, this means ‘Driver, go away!’ Staying out of their way will win you points.”

Make Everyone Feel Safe. “Get the clients where they’re going without them realizing they ever moved. You want a reputation as a smooth driver. Do this and you’ll get asked back again and again.”

Park Closest to the Venue. “This only works if you’re the headliner, of course. If you’re the opening act, be prepared to move your bus quickly if asked.”

Be a Mechanical Genius. “Learn your equipment and how to operate every single device on the bus. Spend the day before you leave exploring the bus, organizing it, test-driving it and cleaning every square inch. Read the manuals or talk with a mechanic. Assume the worst: The satellite will go down. Be prepared so you don’t end up trying to fix things on the side of the road with the artist breathing down your neck.”

Adjust to Sleep Deprivation. “Sleep while everyone else is up and at the show. Don’t be tempted to hang out at the venue for fun. Get to the hotel — and sleep.”

Deal with Time Alone and Far from Home. “A driver’s schedule can ruin relationships because tours can keep you away for a long time. If possible, choose clients you feel you can spend months on the road with and still like each other at the end.”


Images for above article.



Chip Huffman and Tandy Rice; photo: Randi Radcliff
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The Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy’s inaugural session. photo: Toney Cook
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Students from the Celebrity Bus Drivers Academy’s inaugural session. photo: Toney Cook
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By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Keith Burns built his chops through club gigs in his hometown of Atlanta before starting a six-year run on bass with Joe Diffie. He then stepped into the spotlight in 1996 as co-founder of Trick Pony, with whom he recorded and performed all the way to the group’s breakup.

Born in Toledo, Ohio, and raised in Plantation, Fla., Michelle Poe learned the ropes as bassist in the family band, with her father on guitar, her mother on piano and a drum machine providing the beat. After high school graduation, she moved to Nashville and picked up band gigs on bass and harmony vocals with Dierks Bentley, Steve Holy and Hank Williams Jr.

Once introduced, they clicked as writing partners, to the extent that one or both were involved as writers on all but one of the tracks on their debut album. Produced by Burns & Poe and Mark Oliverius, released by Blue Steel Records, Burns & Poe shoots for the stars with a strong single, “Don’t Get No Better Than That.” Within that song, written by Burns and Oliverius, there’s a stomping beat, a chiming guitar riff and a tongue-tripping rap from Burns on the verses and full harmonies, sung over a handclap groove reminiscent of John Mellencamp’s “Hurts So Good,” on the choruses. All of it celebrates the exhilaration of rolling the top down, pointing your car down the highway and being free to drive toward whatever lies beyond the horizon for no particular reason at all.

But for a clear picture of how their talents intersect, check out “It’s Always a Woman.” Written by Burns, Poe and Don Goodman, this ballad features Burns on the verses, recounting the story of a man’s life lost to drink; his husky baritone is answered by Poe’s pure contralto on the chorus, ruminating on the role of a woman in his downfall as well as the promise of his redemption. Each sings thoughtfully, never overdoing the lyric. Unlike their sad protagonist, these two seem to have found their perfect artistic match.


BURNS: “Don Henley.”
POE: “Steve Wariner.”

BURNS: “Can’t say — it’s ‘R’ rated.”
POE: “Keith, watch your language!”

BURNS: “A cross.”
POE: “My two dogs.”

BOTH: “Beef jerky.”

BURNS: “I eat and write with my left hand and throw a ball and play guitar right-handed.”
POE: “I’m a substitute elementary school teacher.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Burns & Poe; photo: Jerrett Gaza
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Issue Date: 9/28/2010  
Vince Gill Makes Time with the Time Jumpers
By Ted Drozdowski


News that Vince Gill had joined The Time Jumpers spread rapidly when it was announced in February. Bu t in fact , the Country Music Hall of Fame member had actually been the group’s “fifth Beatle” since 2007, when he began sitting in with the Western swing ensemble on some of its regular Monday night gigs at Nashville’s Station Inn .

“I love what they do so much that when I had a Monday off, I would sneak down to the club to play a little guitar or mandolin with them,” said Gill. “Then they started calling me whenever one of their guitar players couldn’t make it. Now we’ve just kind of made it official.”

Gill became a full-time Jumper just as the group, long respected by musicians and beloved by a sizable local following, was receiving some long overdue national attention. Released in 2007 by the Crosswind Corporation, their CD/DVD set Jumpin’ Time earned two 2008 Grammy Awards nominations: The Mickey Newbury song “Sweet Memories,” a smoldering tour de force for vocalist Dawn Sears that channels the spirit of Patsy Cline, got a nod for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, and “Fidoodlin’,” a showcase for what was then their three-fiddle section, was in the running for Best Country Instrumental Performance.

Since then, The Time Jumpers’ Monday shows have been consistent sellouts. They’ve also been playing at festivals and inspiring fans to write in from around the globe. An edited version of The Station Inn concert on the Jumpin’ Time DVD was broadcast by 125 public television stations throughout the United States. The band has been featured as well on National Public Radio and on the Grand Ole Opry.

Not bad for a group that started a dozen years ago in a Nashville garage as a side project for a clutch of top session and touring side players as a way to blow off steam and get back to some of the roots of Country Music.

Their repertoire treats the jazz-influenced music that Bob Wills and Spade Cooley made in the 1930s and ’40s as a starting point on myriad musical journeys. Destinations can include almost anything from Gene Autry to Ray Price, Hank Locklin to Nat “King” Cole and brand new tunes by the group’s cast of ace musicians and songwriters. This diversity is hardly surprising, given that these players and singers have done sessions and shows for artists that range far beyond the borders of Country, from Megadeth to Barbra Streisand.

Their lineup has changed over the years but currently includes bassist Dennis Crouch, steel guitarist Paul Franklin, fiddler Larry Franklin, rhythm guitarist and lead vocalist “Ranger Doug” Green from Riders In The Sky, lead electric guitarist Andy Reiss, lead/harmony vocalist Dawn Sears, her husband Kenny Sears on fiddle and lead vocals, fiddler and harmony vocalist Joe Spivey, accordionist and harmony vocalist Jeff Taylor and drummer Rick Vanaugh.

“If you’d asked me if I’d ever join another band, I’d have said you’re crazy,” said Gill, an 18-time CMA Awards winner. “But what they do is so much fun. I grew up in Oklahoma, where Bob Wills was king, so the basis of their sound is in my blood. Really, it’s jazz with a Country accent, like Count Basie with fiddles and a steel guitar.

“In The Time Jumpers, I can play differently than on my own records, using a fatter-sounding hollow-body guitar instead of a (Fender) Telecaster and taking solos that are closer to bebop than the chicken pickin’ or string bending I might do on my own songs,” he elaborated. “Plus, being part of the band’s guitar lineup with Paul, Andy and Ranger Doug is just amazing.

“The bottom line is, it’s fun,” Gill continued. “Every single member of The Time Jumpers is a great player who can easily hold their own on any stage. And so many of them are my close friends that becoming a full-time member of the group was more like getting together with my family than joining a band.”

Gill does share a long history with several of his band mates. Dawn Sears has sung backup and toured with him for 12 years. Paul Franklin has also recorded and played live with Gill, as has another new member of the band, Texas fiddle whiz Larry Franklin — no relation to Paul.

But Gill’s strongest and oldest connection to The Time Jumpers was charter member John Hughey — like Paul Franklin, a member of the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, and for a dozen years a member of Gill’s band before retiring from the road. “John really helped me define the sound of my music, including some big hits like ‘Look at Us,’” Gill said. “To tell the truth, my favorite instrument has always been the pedal steel, and sitting next to John and playing guitar while I watched him play at a little place like The Station Inn on a Monday night was an honor for me.”

Hughey was 73 when he died in 2007; a plaque bearing his photo now hangs on The Station Inn’s wall, to the right of the stage. On a Monday night in April, with that image over his shoulder, Gill sang lead as The Time Jumpers performed “Buttermilk John,” a tribute he’d recently written to his late friend.

Drawing on Dawn Sears’ powerful harmony and the beauty of his own clarion tenor, Gill sang the story of Hughey’s humble upbringing and the magical sounds the master of the “crying steel” style coaxed from his instrument’s assembly of wires, rods, pedals, levers and strings. With the fiddle section providing an angelic chorus, Paul Franklin gently rolled a bar over his own pedal steel and plucked, evoking Hughey’s graceful tones. Gill has recorded this tune with The Time Jumpers for his next solo album.

After an emotional hush followed by a round of robust applause, the band swung hard into Bob Wills’ “Roly Poly,” with Gill swapping licks and smiles with Paul Franklin and Reiss and burning out a fervid solo reminiscent of Charlie Christian’s fiery jazz.

“There are a lot of new musical possibilities for the band with Vince in the fold,” said Paul Franklin. “Besides having another great songwriter, Vince is a great harmony singer and guitar and mandolin player. So we can explore the tradition of the electric mandolin in Texas swing more. Johnny Gimble, who played with Bob Wills, used to swap his guitar for an electric mandolin. Andy, Vince and I are talking about working up three-part guitar harmonies, which I’ve done on sessions but you never really hear live. And between Vince, Dawn, Jeff Taylor, Ranger Doug and Kenny Sears, we can have five-part vocal harmonies if we want.”

Band manager Terry Choate, President of the Crosswind Corporation, said that Gill’s presence “will shine a bright light on the rest of The Time Jumpers, but they’re all capable of holding the spotlight on their own.”

Choate, a music industry veteran who has served as Director, A&R, Capitol Records Nashville, now produces albums and partners with Larry Gatlin as owners of The Magnet Music Group. He had put up his own money as Executive Producer to make 2007’s Jumpin’ Time.

Gill’s commitment is just as serious. “I absolutely plan to be back for every Monday at The Station Inn that I can and look forward to getting on the bus with the band,” he vowed. “I’m probably not the norm for people who have ‘made it,’ but I’ve always been pretty easy about spreading myself around to work on other people’s projects. And I’ve got so much musician in me that when the opportunity to play with great people like this every week came up, well, an opportunity like this is hard to turn down.”

On the Web:;

CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with Country Music’s highest honor. Inductees are chosen by CMA’s Hall of Fame Panels of Electors, which consist of anonymous voters appointed by the CMA Board of Directors.


Images for above article.


The Time Jumpers gather outside The Station Inn. (back row) Kenny Sears, Paul Franklin, Vince Gill, Rick Vanaugh and Andy Reiss. (front row) Jerry Krahn, substituting for "Ranger Doug" Green; Joe Spivey; Dawn Sears; and David Smith, substituting for Dennis Crouch. (not pictured: Larry Franklin and Jeff Taylor); photo: Donn Jones
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The Time Jumpers gather inside The Station Inn. Jerry Krahn, Vince Gill, Joe Spivey, Kenny Sears, Dawn Sears, David Smith, Paul Franklin, Rick Vaughn and Andy Reiss. photo: Donn Jones
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By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

The sound of Blackberry Smoke, as captured on the group’s BamaJam album, Little Piece of Dixie, taps into the pride, defiance, heartbreak and joy of deep-fried Country and Southern rock. That makes it all the more surprising that the group built its reputation as a killer live act in Wisconsin and Michigan before returning to its home ground in Atlanta.

That says a lot about the reach of their songs as well as their stage presence. Fronted by Alabama native Charlie Starr on lead vocals, guitar, pedal steel and banjo, guitarist and singer Paul Jackson from Florida, keyboardist Brandon Still from South Carolina and brothers Richard Turner on bass and vocals and Brit Turner on drums from Georgia, Blackberry Smoke echoes The Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd but also draws from the song craft and blues roots of The Rolling Stones, the star-dusted croon of Gram Parsons, bluegrass and Hank Williams.

Produced by Dann Huff and Justin Niebank, Little Piece of Dixie makes this clear from the top. The first single, “Good One Comin’ On,” written by David Lee Murphy, Gary Nicholson and Lee Roy Parnell, lays out a workin’ man’s plan for a rowdy weekend over a snaky slide guitar line and a drum groove that saunters and slams. Starr drawls through the lyric, with references to “two six-packs of Shiner, 99-cent butane lighter, Lucky Strikes” and other delights, all of them adding up to the promise of “a good one comin’ on.”

With Starr weighing whether to deal with bills or finish his beer, “Bottom of This,” written by Gene Kennedy and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Rickey Medlocke, broadcasts the central theme of these 12 tracks: Everyday concerns can be just as important as loftier issues. There are more reflective moments too, but these come up in the Willie Nelson tune “Yesterday’s Wine” — and as Starr shares the mic with Jamey Johnson and George Jones , those reflections carry the grit of wisdom learned through living with neither compromise nor regret.


“Emmylou Harris.”

“‘Song for You,’ by Leon Russell.”

“Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.”

Ava’s Man, by Rick Bragg.”

“Any song my wife hates. And I try to sing ’em all like Michael McDonald.”


On the Web:


Images for above article.

Blackberry Smoke; photo: Matthew Mendenhall
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Issue Date: 9/21/2010  
Jim Free Stands Up for Country in Washington, D.C.
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Born and raised in Columbia, Tenn., seasoned in the ways of doing business in the corridors of power that thread through Washington, D.C., Jim Free has proven himself to be invaluable as an advocate for a high-powered list of clients, which he serves as President/CEO of the influential lobbying firm The Smith-Free Group, co-founded in 1995 with Jim Smith.

His contributions to CMA specifically and to Country Music in general are perhaps even more impressive, given that he makes himself available to these constituencies at considerably below his normal rate — in other words, true to his name as well as his passion, for free.

“I serve on the CMA Board out of love,” the ex-officio CMA Board member insisted. “In the spirit of that great television series from years ago, working with the Board keeps me close to my ‘roots.’”

It’s hard to imagine anyone better situated to inform CMA’s Board on how Congress, the White House and the nation’s leaders see issues of importance to the music industry in general and Country in particular. Equally important, Free can draw from his extensive background in state and national politics to realistically assess the likelihood of legislation on those issues and offer suggestions on how each member can plan for and possibly influence its development. “I talk to CMA leadership frequently and report on the issues that affect all the players,” he explained. “And I try to provide advice to the Board on how to sometimes interact with different players in public policy.”

As an example, Free pointed to the CMA Board meeting held during March in Washington. Using his long-established contacts, he assembled a list of guest speakers that included administration officials and leaders of both parties in Congress, each equipped with insight into topics of concern to CMA members. “At lunch, we had a preliminary briefing from Julius Genachowski, the Chairman of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), on the national broadband plan, a week before he would address these issues before the public,” he noted. “We had Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, talk to us about intellectual property rights worldwide — and then, in a broader discussion, he talked about Afghanistan and other hot spots. We also had Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), a younger member of the Senate who is becoming a leader in technology policy. You’ve got to keep learning, in any business you’re in.”

Free’s commitment to CMA is fueled by his love for Country Music. “If you are my age and you grew up in Middle Tennessee, you had two radio stations you could listen to late at night. And now that I’m a grownup,” he said, with a laugh, “my two favorite forms of music are Country Music and rhythm and blues, which were what I could hear back then on WSM and WLAC.”

After earning his bachelor’s degree in Economics and Political Science and a master’s in Public Administration, both from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., Free worked at his alma mater until accepting a position as Administrative Assistant to Speaker of the Tennessee House Ned McWherter, who later served two terms as governor, and then as Chief Clerk and Executive Officer of the Tennessee House of Representatives. As Southern Regional Coordinator in Gov. Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign in 1976, he earned an appointment in 1977 as Special Assistant to the President for Congressional Affairs, which in turn led indirectly to his first contact with CMA.

When Carter opened the door toward normalizing diplomatic relations with China, the Chinese sent Chai Zemin as their representative in Washington. Somehow word leaked back to the White House that the Ambassador was fond of Country Music, which cued the President to present Free with an unusual request: Could he arrange a trip for the Ambassador to Nashville? He could and he did, with help from former CMA Executive Director Jo Walker-Meador and former BMI President and CEO Frances Preston.

“The weekend ended with a brunch on Sunday, out at Dixie and Tom T. Hall’s farm,” Free remembered. “Some of our greatest legends were with us: Johnny and June Cash, Miss Minnie Pearl and the list goes on and on. We were getting ready for the meal, and this being Nashville, you gave a blessing. That was awkward for a second, but then from the back of the room Johnny and June started singing ‘Will the Circle Be Unbroken.’ I still get goose bumps when I think about that.”

Cash’s instincts for diplomatic outreach to the Ambassador were instructive in Free’s subsequent work on behalf of CMA. “Nashville is such a harmonious town in the way its players get along,” he said. “A lot of that is because of the Country Music Association. We can’t ever lose that part of our mission, which is that the different commercial interests within the music industry leave their guns and swords at the door for the betterment of Country Music.”


Images for above article.



Jim Free; photo: courtesy of Jim Free
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Jim Free (r) introduces Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick
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Jim Free, President/CEO, The Smith-Free Group; Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington; Bob Schieffer, Chief Washington Correspondent, CBS News; Victoria Shaw; Bob DiPiero; Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.); John Rich; and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.). photo: Mitchell Layton
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CMA and the Library of Congress Build the Future of Documenting the Past
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Strange as it seems, the seeds of CMA’s initiative to facilitate development of the Library of Congress’ Country Music archive were planted on an airplane that carried a Congressional delegation on a visit to the Soviet Union in 1979.

Among those accompanying these dignitaries were Jim Free, at the time President Jimmy Carter’s Special Assistant for Congressional Affairs, and Dr. James H. Billington, Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a distinguished expert in Russian history, culture and contemporary affairs.

During the flight, the two young Washingtonians began an acquaintance that would grow into a close friendship over the years to come. It wasn’t until 2009, though, that an area of common interest inspired them to begin an historic joint initiative.

Since 1987, Billington had been the Librarian of Congress, the 13th individual to hold that high office since it was established in 1800. Free, meanwhile, had co-founded The Smith-Free Group in 1995 and served as President and CEO of the influential lobbying firm. Additionally, he had long volunteered his services as an ex-officio member of the CMA Board of Directors, for which he played an invaluable role in educating and advising on issues of concern to the music industry.

When the Board resolved to hold its March 2010 meetings in Washington, D.C., Free began laying the groundwork, lining up speakers who were authorities in copyright law, radio regulations and other relevant issues. It was obviously important to make use of the resources at hand in the nation’s capital, and he delivered on that challenge by confirming the participation of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, Marybeth Peters, Register of Copyrights at the Library of Congress, along with Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), .Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Still, Free wondered whether something extra might be attempted. “I started thinking, ‘What is something that the Board has never done? What is something that would be unique to Washington?’” he recalled. “And it struck me that the Library of Congress, which of course is our national archive, didn’t have much pertaining to Country Music.”

Free called his longtime friend Billington and arranged a meeting. “I said, ‘You know, there are only two or three really indigenous American music forms,’” Free said. “‘One is the African-American art form — spirituals, rhythm and blues, jazz and so much of the music that we all love. And the other came into the Appalachian region from Scots/Irish immigrants and has developed into what we call Country Music. I think we have a great opportunity to involve the Library of Congress more fully with Country Music.’ Dr. Billington agreed, and we began to talk about whether, when the Board came up in March, we could get more involved with the Library and vice versa.”

A second meeting was arranged for October 2009, involving Billington, Free, CMA Senior VP Bobette Dudley and members of the Library’s Music Division staff and the CMA Board, including President-Elect Steve Buchanan, Senior VP of Media and Entertainment, Gaylord Entertainment. Over breakfast served in the Librarian’s ceremonial office, attendees looked at items from the Library’s archive, including copyright records for several classic Country songs. “That whetted our appetite,” Free said. “But other than sheet music, scores and some historic recorded material, they didn’t have much from our genre.”

On this point, there was agreement and a determination to apply the resources of CMA to address this need. As a result, at the March Board meeting in Washington, Billington and CMA Board Chairman Steve Moore, Senior VP, AEG Live!, announced a project called “Story Tellers and Story Keepers: Creating and Preserving Country Music,” dedicated to expanding the Library’s acquisition and preservation of music collections, online presentations and educational outreach with regard to Country Music. The partnership began with Moore’s presentation to the Library of a leather-bound DVD collection documenting four decades of CMA Awards broadcasts, anniversary television specials and CMA Music Festival broadcasts.

Additionally, Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, Bob DiPiero, Lorrie Morgan, John Rich of Big & Rich, Randy Scruggs and Victoria Shaw demonstrated the magic of the CMA Songwriters Series through two hours of performance and reflection onstage at the Library’s Coolidge Auditorium, with a musical and symbolic peak moment provided as Billington joined them for a performance of the Webb Pierce classic, “There Stands the Glass.” Nearly 400 dignitaries attended the event, including legislative leaders, New Zealand Ambassador Roy Ferguson and many others. The program will return to the Coolidge Auditorium on Saturday, Dec. 4, for an audience of invited guests as well as members of the public.

Looking back at these events and forward toward the Library’s growth as a resource for research in Country Music, Free noted, “As I told Steve Moore, I am proud to be involved in the beginning of a relationship that will benefit Country Music and CMA for a long, long time.”


Images for above article.



CMA Chairman Steve Buchanan; Library of Congress Music Division Chief Sue Vita; Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington; and CMA CEO Steve Moore. photo: Mitchell Layton
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Songwriters perform at the Coolidge Auditorium in the Library of Congress. Victoria Shaw, Bob DiPiero, Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, Lorrie Morgan, John Rich of Big & Rich, keyboardist Mark Oliverius and Randy Scruggs. photo: Mitchell Layton
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Marybeth Peters, Chief of Music Division, Register of Copyrights, Library of Congress. photo: Bill Fitz-Patrick
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Issue Date: 9/14/2010  
CMA Members Receive Discounted Admission to Leadership Music Digital Summit and Next Big Nashville
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For CMA members, the annual Leadership Music Digital Summit in Nashville offers an excellent opportunity to learn about and stay ahead of emerging trends in the music industry.

This is especially true for this year’s Summit, which is partnering for the first time with the Next Big Nashville music festival and conference to add a live music component to the event. The schedule includes daytime panels, interviews, discussion and networking Sept. 29 and 30, with nightly artist performances at a variety of venues Sept. 30 through Oct. 2.

The daily events will be divided into three “buckets” — touring, recorded music and music publishing, each of which will include its own keynote address and examinations of issues related to the broader topic. Among the confirmed highlights is a panel, moderated by Mitch Bainwol, CEO and Chairman of the Recording Industry Association of America, with participants including representatives from Cisco, Verizon and Arts+Labs, a coalition of creative and telecommunications members dedicated to preventing the Internet from becoming “a viral distribution mechanism that will choke off the Internet for consumers and future innovators and creators alike.”

“The Digital Summit is a forward looking event” said Mark Montgomery, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Claritas Capital and a member of the Leadership Music Board of Directors. “We’re going to focus on what's working, and what's next. We’ll look at issues from a 100,000-foot level first, then look at the major segments of the business and the issues and opportunities inside each of them at a very practical level. Great minds telling great stories of the new music business.”

The Summit’s live performances will include two shows dedicated to new Country Music, both at the Hard Rock Cafe, Oct. 1 and 2.

CMA members are invited to purchase their discounted tickets by visiting and entering the discount code CMA2010. Admission for CMA members to the conference, breaks, evening parties and nighttime shows is $179, as compared with the regular price of $250. Check for the latest news and schedule updates.



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Raised in Liberal, Kan., Jerrod Niemann left for Levelland, Texas, after graduating from high school. At South Plains College he studied music for two years; later, in Fort Worth, he self-released an album, Long Hard Road, and learned to win over club crowds not known for being charitable to new artists.

Resettled to Nashville in 2000, Niemann made co-writer connections that led to his songs appearing on nearly 10 million albums sold by Garth Brooks, Jamey Johnson, Julie Roberts, Blake Shelton and other notables. However, a record label deal gone bad and a broken relationship sank Niemann into a depression, during which he lost his motivation as a songwriter.

Encouraged by his friend Johnson, Niemann emerged from nearly a year of inertia, regained his focus and came up with a blueprint unlike any recent Country album. Though packed with a pair of covers, nine co-writes and one solo-written song, Judge Jerrod & The Hung Jury presents each selection as an element in an ambitious 20-track package. A melodramatic “movie-voice” intro, a string of “deep thoughts” muttered through heavy reverb to simulate introspective profundity, a late-night telephone enticement to romantic adventure, an irresistible request for Robert Earl Keen’s “The Buckin’ Song” — these are just a few of the humorous segues that turn Niemann’s Sea Gayle/Arista Nashville release, produced by Niemann and Dave Brainard, into a reminder that albums remain a vital, creatively challenging format.

The real draw here, though, is Niemann. Whether kicking back in the tropics on “Down in Mexico,” which Niemann wrote with Richie Brown and J. R. McCoy, fading into a hazy lounge ambience on the Niemann, Johnson and Dallas Davidson ballad “They Should Have Named You Cocaine” or layering nine vocal parts onto the single, “Lover, Lover,” written by Dan Pritzker of Sonia Dada, Niemann proves he’s well past the hard times.


“Lefty Frizzell.”

“I would love to do something with Jamey Johnson and Randy Houser because we all started out together.”

“I’d rather drive, or ride a skateboard or Segway, than get on another airplane.”

“Being with a major label and having to take care of myself, I’d say I’m entitled to a carrot dangling over a treadmill.”

“Being at Times Square with my parents and my family, watching Garth Brooks singing ‘Good Ride Cowboy’ at the CMA Awards.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Jerrod Niemann; photo: Jeremy Cowart
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Issue Date: 9/7/2010  
James Otto Goes for the Soul
By Phyllis Stark


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For most artists, finding a unique niche and an identifiable sound are the first hurdles toward establishing a career. For James Otto, it’s “mission accomplished” on both fronts.

Otto, who records for Warner Bros. Records, has carved a place for himself as a leading purveyor of “Country Soul.” He mined that sound with the No. 1 single “Just Got Started Lovin’ You,” from his Sunset Man album, which debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s all-genre Top 200 album chart and was the most played Country single of 2008, according to Country Aircheck.

On his new album, Shake What God Gave Ya (set for release Sept. 14), Otto expands on that brand, not only as a singer but also as co-writer of a number of tracks including “Lover Man,” flavored by some Memphis-style funk guitar (written with Al Anderson and Jim Femino), as well as the slow gospel-flavored waltz “Let’s Just Let Go” (Femino, Arlos Smith), the dramatic testimony of “Solders & Jesus” (Otto, Chris Wallin) and the album’s first single, the easy-flowing yet sultry “Groovy Little Summer Song” (Anderson, Carson Chamberlain).

“I’m going to be unapologetic about it, certainly,” said Otto. “We’re definitely doing sexy love songs and sultry songs about one of many people’s favorite subjects. The girls that love ‘Just Got Started Lovin’ You’ are going to have a lot on this album to love because there’s a lot of groovy, feel-good, soulful songs on here.”

While that’s not all that Shake What God Gave Ya has to offer, that Country/soul connection runs deep here, not just in the sound but also in the history of some of this music. Otto actually used a guitar that once belonged to Otis Redding to write “Your Good Thing’s Gone Bad” years ago in Muscle Shoals, Ala. He was with co-writers James LeBlanc, Gary Nichols and Jon Nicholson at FAME Studios, in the office of studio co-founder and producer Rick Hall, when Otto spotted a guitar on the wall and a photo of Redding holding that same instrument. The legendary soul singer had played it on a demo of “You Left the Water Running,” which Hall had co-written with Oscar Franck and Dan Penn.

“Instruments have a soul and carry it with them,” Otto reflected. “Every guitar has a story to tell. I started playing that guitar part for ‘Your Good Thing’s Gone Bad’ while thinking about that kind of stuff because I was trying to capture that kind of mojo anyway.”

This song holds an honored place on Otto’s new album for another reason: When playing it live, he and his band would morph in the middle into Ronnie Milsap’s “Stranger in My House,” which has a similar feel. That mash-up gave Otto the idea for Milsap to guest on “Your Good Thing’s Gone Bad,” which appears on the album without any segues to other tunes.

According to Otto, that track “is one of the things I’m most proud of on the record. To get to work with one of my heroes and hear that voice come out of that man is just incredible. It was an opportunity I’ll always remember the rest of my life. I started listening again to some of the soulful influence of those Ronnie Milsap records and some of the sexier stuff by Conway Twitty.”

Otto describes his genre-jumping sound to “a blending of all the things I loved as a kid and that I’ve loved through my life into one kind of music. I draw from multiple places — rock ‘n’ roll and classic soul — to try to make a sound that is appealing to me and also appealing to my audience. If I could be a Country Music Al Green, that would be exactly where I want to be. I love singing those kinds of songs. I love playing them and writing them.”

That interplay of influences also shapes Otto’s songwriting. “All the people I loved always had more than one element to the music they were making, like the guy who actually made me want to play Country Music in the first place — Hank Williams Jr.,” he said. “He always talked about his daddy moaning the blues, but Hank Jr. specifically went further on to bring in R&B sounds and rock ‘n’ roll sounds and to incorporate real blues and boogie-woogie into Country Music. Those things influenced me very much.

“I look back on Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, a classic Ray Charles album, as a real primer for what I’m trying to do,” Otto elaborated. “And that’s to take the feel of some of those classic R&B songs and sing about things we all understand Country Music is — things from the heart, all the great Country themes of love and loss and heartache. If you can have pop Country and rock Country and all those things, you can certainly have Country Soul.”

Country radio has taken note of Otto’s distinct voice and presentation. Yet mixed with the support he has received from the on-air community, Otto is sometimes perceived as yet to reach his full creative stride. For instance, John Sebastian, PD, WWQM/Madison, Wis., described Otto’s songwriting as “clever and contagious and sometimes amazingly insightful. He’s unique because he really doesn’t sound like anyone else in Country Music.”

At the same time, Sebastian characterized Otto as “underdeveloped. He’s not broken through like he deserves to do. He’s one of the most talented of all our Country artists yet still waits for his big breakthrough.”

Peter Strickland, Senior VP of Brand Management and Sales, Warner Music Nashville, aims to change that perception by working toward more “consistency at radio” for Otto. “If you don’t have that, it’s hard to put him on that pedestal of superstardom.”

To put that process into gear, initial marketing for the new album included some unusual targeting of Country dance clubs for “Groovy Little Summer Song.” The idea, according to Strickland, was to “build a familiarity at the clubs, so hopefully it will connect the dots at radio.”

The record label also shifted its messaging around Otto from the previous “biggest voice in Country Music” to emphasizing the Country Soul concept. “We’re leaning that way because the music is trending that way,” Strickland noted. “That will be our strength in branding him.”

Otto credits co-producing Sunset Man with John Rich for preparing him to share production responsibilities on his new album, this time with Paul Worley. And he benefitted as a songwriter too, from the recognition he’d earned for co-writing the Jamey Johnson hit “In Color,” with Johnson and Lee Thomas Miller, cited as Song of the Year at the CMA Awards in 2009.

“Working with Paul Worley this time around was a huge thing,” Otto said. “He’s been involved in my career at a lot of different points. He helped me get my original record deal on Mercury Records Nashville, and when I left Mercury he signed me to Warner Bros. We’ve always wanted to work together, and this time around it was the perfect opportunity to reach out to him and ask him to be a part of it.

He’s the consummate musician. He’s also the consummate producer, so I can pick his brain. He also has trusted me to take the reins and gave me room to spread out a little bit and room to learn. It’s great to have that kind of ear to work with.”

“James is one of the best singers I’ve ever worked with, especially at delivering that soulful feeling,” said Worley, who met Otto when he executive-produced the singer’s debut, Days of Our Lives, in 2004. “So it made sense for us to gravitate toward that. James can sing anything, so he needed to find his focus. And that Country Soul focus spoke the most to him. I did push him a little outside of that, though, so at the end of the day we had an album with Country Soul at its core but other types of music that color that from out at the edges.”

In contrast to some new artists who have rocketed seemingly overnight to the top of the charts, Otto’s career has been a slower, steadier ascent. That suits him fine because, he insisted, it “keeps you more grounded. I feel like it’s made me more humble but also wanting it more and really digging in. It’s given me time to really focus in on who I think I am musically and try to deliver that every time. I might have had time to overthink it, but I keep hoping that it is going to work out for me and keep pushing forward and keep working.

What it has given me a chance to do, mostly, is write a lot of songs. I would never have had an ‘In Color’ had I been on the road all the time instead of writing songs. The songwriting has really given me more confidence in my abilities than anything else.”

And he appreciates what he calls “a lot of leeway” that Warner Bros. has given him to make the music he wants to make. “They just kind of handed the reins over and said, ‘We love what you’re doing. Keep doing it.’ So I feel like the overall project is very representative of where I’m at musically and what my live show is — and that’s just what I wanted.”

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Images for above article.


James Otto
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


James Otto
Photo: Kristin Barlowe



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Meghan Linsey came to Nashville from New Orleans, where by the time she was 15 she had already opened for Gary Allan, Brad Paisley, Blake Shelton and Travis Tritt, among other headliners. Her future partner Joshua Scott Jones had started writing and performing at 13 before leaving Charleston, Ill., for Los Angeles. He gigged at some of the city’s top alternative venues, though not enough to escape a borderline homeless lifestyle. Eventually, he wound up in Nashville too.

Then, during karaoke night at a club in Printer’s Alley in Downtown Nashville, they met and realized that their styles meshed. This was confirmed when they won top honors on the 2009 season of CMT’s “Can You Duet” as Steel Magnolia. Their prize included a deal with Big Machine Records, who released the duo’s debut five-song Steel Magnolia EP in February.

Written by Chris Stapleton and Trent Willmon, their first single, “Keep On Lovin’ You” peaked at No. 4 and became the highest-charting debut single from a male/female Country duet on the Billboard Hot Country Songs Chart. A catchy guitar lick kicks it off, but the payoff is in the vocals: Jones takes the first verse with an approachable, almost conversational delivery; Linsey sparkles on the second, rising quickly from a honeyed intimacy into an explosive, soulful chorus.

There, as in the lines they trade and thread together on “Ooh La La” and in the buildup from a laconically humorous opening to the emotional finale of “The Edge of Goodbye,” Jones and Linsey blend their vocals artfully without losing the characteristics that make each of them unique. Their writing shines too; in addition to penning these two songs, Jones and Linsey wrote or co-wrote seven of their debut album’s 12 tracks.

Produced by Dann Huff and scheduled for release Sept. 21, this self-titled debut proves that Steel Magnolia can duet — and do it memorably.


JONES: “Cher.”
LINSEY: “Josh, of course — ha ha!”

JONES: “‘My Favorite Mistake,’ by Sheryl Crow.”
LINSEY: “’Girls Just Want to Have Fun,’ by Cyndi Lauper.”

JONES: “Where are we going?”
LINSEY: “Where’s Josh?”

JONES: “I have a huge appetite.”
LINSEY: “When I wake up, I look like a rooster. My hair literally sticks up in all directions. It’s pretty hilarious!”

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Images for above article.

Steel Magnolia; photo: Justin Key
Photo: See Caption






Issue Date: 8/31/2010  
  • CMA Presents the Story on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” on ABC
  • A Day in the Life of a CMA Music Festival Superstar
  • Executive Producer Robert Deaton Reflects on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock”
  • Producer Tony Brown Takes to the Stage at CMA Music Festival
  • MySpace Karaoke: The Ultimate Online Karaoke Experience to Sing Along and Share
CMA Presents the Story on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” on ABC
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

With all the technology at his disposal, meticulous preparations dating back to January and expertise marshaled by the roughly 50 members of his crew, for Executive Producer Robert Deaton emotion is the key to documenting this year’s CMA Music Festival.

All of the footage that ABC will unfurl 8-11 PM/ET on Wednesday, Sept. 1, in “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” was inspired by the fusion of audience and artists that happens at this annual event. This is why Deaton always looks for an opportunity to briefly leave his post in the video truck during the nightly concerts at LP Field and walk through the crowd.

“Normally I can’t do that until we’re on the last artist of the night and we’ve already got the song that we want,” he said. “But when and if I can, I’ll go out by the stage and watch the rest of the performance. It feels totally different than it does in the truck, and I want to be reminded of how awesome an experience it is to be out there.”

The goal of conveying that feeling to viewers took on a new dimension this year. Deaton understood that four months would separate the epic Nashville flood of early May and the ABC broadcast. Yet the story of recovery, unity and celebration would remain vital, which is why that theme surfaces right at the top of the show, with an opening that differs dramatically from those in previous Festival specials.

Without giving it away, Deaton noted, “I love that at the very end a woman is holding up a poster that says, ‘There is no flood that’s going to stop this party.’ That’s really the attitude of the musicians and the neighbors who gave back. That’s why we ended up with that opening.”

Immersion into the spirit of the Festival guided Deaton’s approach. Working for the second consecutive year with a time slot expanded from two to three hours, he was able to feature several artists doing consecutive songs rather than cutting from one artist to another in a more constricted time frame. “There’s more breathing room,” he explained. “And it just feels better to me. It feels like what it is. It’s CMA Music Festival.”

To deepen that feeling, Deaton’s crews went beyond the LP Field shows and into the heat of the action in Downtown Nashville. One spent a full day with Lady Antebellum, tracking activities that included an impulsive, unscheduled visit to the Greased Lightning Fan Fair Hall. There are “Nighttime Nashville” segments too, capturing two all-star performances before a jam-packed crowd at Fuel Bar & Nightclub. Also, “skits” feature artists riffing and ad libbing, often with sly humor. (Note to viewers: Despite what you’ll see in one sketch, Brad Paisley actually does know who Carrie Underwood is.)

To put a final unique stamp on the package, Tim McGraw was brought onboard to debut as host. “If you can get Tim, you get him,” Deaton explained. “It had been years since he played the Festival, so when I invited him to perform and he said yes, I got to thinking how cool it would be for him to host as well. He turned out to be incredibly quick and fast and completely awesome to work with.”

As Deaton’s crews roamed the Festival grounds, so did a five-person ABC Digital Media crew gathering material to produce about 30 one-to-two-minute viral segments to promote tune-in to the ABC on-air special. Beginning Aug. 9, these clips will post on and other Disney Web sites as well as on Hulu, YouTube and other online destinations. Here, too, the goal is to evoke the Festival experience through a “you are there” perspective.

“There wasn’t a lot of pre-production in the sense of scripting and arranging schedules,” said David Beebe, Director of Video Production, Disney/ABC Television Digital Video Group. “A lot was shot on the fly. Most clips focus on single artists, but we’ve got some that put them in skits. We have one with Blake Shelton bringing his dogs and his mom over to Kellie Pickler’s bus and asking her to watch them while he goes onstage. We go to fan club parties with artists. We talk with Martina McBride at her Blackbird Studio. So there’s a wide range, from newcomers to bigger names, all of it with a feeling of exclusivity and intimacy.”

“CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” will also be promoted through multiple media channels, including TV spots on CMT, GAC, Hallmark, Outdoor, SOAPnet, TLC, TV Land and others; on national and local Country radio programs; via print ads in Country Weekly, Field & Stream and Outdoor Life; online through ads on Country Aircheck Consumer E-News, Facebook and YouTube and through targeted keyword searches on Google and Yahoo; through sweepstakes, promotions and ads on mobile platforms; and much more. Editorial coverage of the upcoming broadcast will be provided by print outlets including Entertainment Weekly, OK Magazine, People and TV Guide, and on television with Associated Press Television, “CMT Insider,” Fox News Channel, GAC’s “Headline Country,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” among many others. Also, Tribune Media will syndicate an interview with Keith Urban to more than 300 newspapers and Web sites.

Artists appearing on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” include Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Josh Turner, Uncle Kracker, Carrie Underwood, Keith Urban, Zac Brown Band and surprise guests.

Directed by Gary Halvorson, “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC’s selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.


Images for above article.




Tim McGraw hosts "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock," Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on ABC. photo: Donn Jones
Photo: Donn Jones / CMA


Lady Antebellum will perform during the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” airing Wednesday, Sept. 1 (8:00-11:00 PM/ET) on the ABC Television Network.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


Kid Rock will perform during the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” airing Wednesday, Sept. 1 (8:00-11:00 PM/ET) on the ABC Television Network.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


Taylor Swift will perform during the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” airing Wednesday, Sept. 1 (8:00-11:00 PM/ET) on the ABC Television Network. Swift is pictured performing at her "Taylor Swift's 13-Hour Meet & Greet" at Nashville's Bridgestone Arena during the 2010 CMA Music Festival.
Photo: John Russell / CMA


A Day in the Life of a CMA Music Festival Superstar
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

The world can see what happens when each star featured on ABC’s “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” is in the spotlight. The music thunders, the stage lights blaze, fans dance in the aisles and high in the stands at LP Field.

But what do performers experience before hitting the stage? For the story on how they spend their time from arrival to departure on their night to shine at the stadium, there’s no better source than Carrie Paddock. As Talent Executive, she is involved integrally with scheduling performances, confirming which songs will be played, setting up times for soundchecks, and generally liaising between artists and Executive Producer Robert Deaton on anything that pertains to making sure everything runs smoothly all four nights.

It may sound simple, like putting a puzzle together. But it’s more like working with pieces that fit only at certain times and dates. “For example,” Paddock said, “Tim McGraw and Lady Antebellum were on tour this year together. They were available Thursday night only, and they had to get back on their buses right after they performed and get out of town. So often we can work with certain artists only at certain specific times.”

Even so, once the sets are confirmed, the process streamlines considerably. When it starts and ends depends on when the performance is scheduled, but otherwise the routine is more or less the same, thanks to meticulous planning and the precision of well-prepared volunteers and staff. Based on Paddock’s account, one regimen might run like this:

9 AM The artist’s crew arrives at LP Field to unload equipment for his set.

10:45 AM The artist arrives at LP Field, driving and parking his own car next to his tour bus and being driven to the stage in a golf cart. “Most everybody who performed his year lives in Nashville,” Paddock noted. “Carrie Underwood did arrive with her tour manager, who picked her up. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill drove themselves with their family. Jason Aldean drove himself. So did Kellie Pickler. They’re so self-sufficient.”

11 AM The crew finishes setting up the artist’s gear and begins a half-hour soundcheck with the artist’s band.

11:30 AM The artist takes to the stage, speaks briefly with Deaton and Director Gary Halvorson, and rehearses, with Deaton and his crew taking notes especially for any performances that involve special effects.

11:50 AM After wrapping up rehearsal, the artist leaves for any other events he may have scheduled that day, perhaps an autograph session at Greased Lightning Fan Fair Hall or a fan club party. (Artists whose soundchecks begin later in the day, perhaps from 3:30 PM onward to the last one ending just after 5 PM, will likely stay at LP Field until the shows begin.

5 PM The artist returns to the stadium to have some dinner, relax and hang out with friends who are slated to perform tonight as well.

6 PM Hair and makeup specialists start getting performers ready.

7 PM A golf cart carries the artist to an area designated for interviews. Deaton may conduct an interview with him to air on the ABC special. Escorts will also lead the artist to sit-downs with some of the approximately 10 reporters, from CMT, GAC, USA Today, People and other outlets, each one set up in a space marked off by black drapes on portable stands.

7:50 PM The interviews wrapped, the artist is driven to a private green room, from which he shortly passes through a door onto a small stage and fields questions from another group of reporters in a press conference setting.

8:00 PM A short ride carries the artist to another green room, behind the outdoor stage. Here, he changes clothes, gets a last-minute touch-up on hair and makeup, warms up his voice and hangs out with his crew and members of his band, who have donned their stage clothes on their tour bus.
8:15 PM A knock at the green room door alerts the artist to be ready in five minutes.

8:20 PM Another knock, and the artist and his group are driven to wings of the stage, where they put on wireless microphones and other last-minute essentials.

8:30 PM Show time!

Things wind down quickly after the performance, as each artist exits stage left. Some may choose to visit more with friends in the green room. Others might do a few more interviews or greet fans gathered near the tour bus parking lot. But our artist, like most, has another show to do tomorrow night, in some other town, so most likely he is already on his way before the fireworks explode over LP Field to signal the end of another unforgettable night at CMA Music Festival.

“CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” is a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.


Images for above article.

“CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" logo.
Photo: n/a



Executive Producer Robert Deaton Reflects on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock”
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For Robert Deaton, Executive Producer of ABC’s “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” the intricate preparation for months in advance of the epic LP Field shows and varied daytime activities, the meticulous execution needed for a 50-person crew to capture four days and nights of excitement and the editing required to boil that content down to one three-hour special are offset by two elements: his love for the music and the satisfaction of completing his mission.

Last year, “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” expanded from two hours to its present three-hour length. What did you learn from that transition that you were able to apply to your work this year?

I was worried last year, hoping we could sustain the show for three hours. This year, having done it once, I think the show is better at three hours. There are more performances but also more breathing room. We do have a full show, but by giving certain artists two performances back to back, it feels more like what it is – a concert. We can touch down and stay with Carrie Underwood or Rascal Flatts for a while; that gives us a feeling for who they are as artists and what it’s like to see them in concert.

When does work begin on the production?

I start working in January. The first stage involves booking the artists. Figuring out schedules and who is available when is not easy. By March, I have a good idea of who’s in. We start having the crew come over at the beginning of May – production staff, office staff. During that same six months, we’re designing the new set and picking songs. We do screen content for everybody who’s on the special. There are at least 18 screen content concepts that have to be generated from scratch.

You also executive-produce ABC’s live broadcast of the CMA Awards, which airs this year on Nov. 10. How do those two events differ in how they creatively challenge you?

The rush of the live aspect of the CMA Awards is exhilarating, and the Festival is like a family reunion. We try to put the pedal to the metal in the Festival. It’s a summer show. But there’s more drama involved with the Awards. You never know who’s going to win. You have anxiety leading to the Awards show because you’re live for three hours. But the Festival is just plain fun! You know, Brad Paisley came offstage at the Festival this year and said to me, “That was awesome! How great was that crowd?”

How often can you pull away from your work during the Festival and just enjoy the energy that’s going on during the LP Field concerts?

I try to go out once every night. It feels totally different out there than it does in the video truck. If we’re on the last artist of the night and we’ve already got their song, I’ll go out beside the stage and watch because I want to see the rest of the performance. I want to know what it feels like to be out there. And it’s awesome.


Images for above article.

“CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" logo.
Photo: n/a



Producer Tony Brown Takes to the Stage at CMA Music Festival
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

It’s been a while since Tony Brown worked full-time as a touring and session-playing musician. In those days, whether laying keyboard tracks in Nashville studios or playing on the road with Elvis Presley, Emmylou Harris and other headliners, Brown saw the world mainly from a piano bench, his glory years as a legendary producer and record label executive still somewhere over the horizon.

This year, though, he was persuaded to step out from his headquarters at Tony Brown Enterprises and slip back into his musician guise for a couple of gigs. After all, even Brown would have trouble declining Keith Urban’s invitation to play with him, first on the May 11 broadcast of “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and then a month later on the LP Field Stage during CMA Music Festival.

“I hadn’t played onstage in 25 years,” Brown said. “But he was going to do ‘Tumbling Dice’ on ‘Jimmy Fallon,’ and I think he called me because that’s an Elvis type of song, like ‘Mystery Train’ or ‘See See Rider.’ You just bang away on three chords, which is what I always did best; I always played in that Elton John/Billy Joel/Nicky Hopkins vein. So I went and did it.”

That appearance proved to be so much fun that Urban recruited some of the same players for his CMA Music Festival appearance a month later. (The repeat performers were his regular guitarist Brian Nutter, bassist Jerry Flowers and drummer Chris McHugh, with Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Roads of Little Big Town plus Sarah Buxton on backup vocals.) This time he picked the Beatles classic “With a Little Help from My Friends,” using the Joe Cocker version as the foundation for their own intense interpretation. Then the next day, they took it to the stage at LP Field.

Given his long hiatus from performing, Brown admitted to being a bit concerned over whether he would be able to find the pocket – his place within the groove. So he pared his monitor mix to the basics: kick drum, voices and his own piano. The result? “It was truly a thrill,” he recalled. “To play that particular song with Keith Urban in front of 50,000 people right after the flood in Nashville, that can only happen once in your lifetime.”

That was confirmed by the emotion of the audience’s response. So overwhelming was their reception that Brown joked with Urban as they left the stage, “We should have done ‘Tumbling Dice’ as an encore. After all, we have a two-song repertoire!”

Does this mean that Brown will be putting on his session-player hat again? “No, I couldn’t take the trauma,” he replied, laughing. “But if I can get my musician jones out three or four minutes at a pop every once in a while with Keith Urban, I’m there, man. You know, I became friends a long time ago with Don Was, who plays bass on a lot of the records he produces. He recently told me, ‘Man, you’ve got to play every once in a while. Promise me you’ll do it. It’ll remind you of why you do what you do.’

“I remembered him saying that as we were rehearsing this song,” Brown concluded, with a smile. “So when we’d finished playing, I called and left a message that I’d kept that promise.”

“CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” is a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.


Images for above article.



“CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" logo.
Photo: n/a


Tony Brown; photo: Gregg Roth
Photo: See Caption


Tony Brown (fifth from left) takes a bow on stage with Keith Urban after the rousing performance of “With a Little Help from My Friends.” photo: Donn Jones
Photo: Donn Jones / CMA



MySpace Karaoke: The Ultimate Online Karaoke Experience to Sing Along and Share
By Bobby Reed


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Fantasizing about stardom is a common pastime for many music fans. What music lover hasn’t occasionally dreamed of being famous? One interactive way to indulge that dream, and to practice singing, is to visit MySpace Karaoke at Launched in April 2008 as a channel within the overall MySpace site (, MySpace Karaoke now attracts more than 1 million visitors per month, and it has more than 5 million streams monthly.

Using state-of-the-art streaming and recording technology, MySpace Karaoke allows users to sing, record and play back personalized renditions of their favorite songs to share with friends. Country Music claims a big part of this vast catalog, with more than 1,500 titles ranging from classics including Hank Williams’ “Move It On Over” to dozens of current hits such as the Lady Antebellum chart topper “American Honey” and Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me.” MySpace Karaoke is easy to use and the service is free. Its growing popularity isn’t surprising when one considers how it overlaps with several cultural trends. The channel appeals to a number of user demographics, including fans of karaoke events at nightclubs, online music entertainment, social networking sites, video-sharing sites and/or TV talent competitions such as “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent.”

“Our channel has great content for everybody,” said Mari Bower, Executive Director of Business Development and GM, MySpace Karaoke. “Music is a universal language, and no matter who you are — or how old you are, or what you look like — if you have a favorite song and you want to sing it, then this platform is for you.”

According to the fourth-quarter 2009 follow-up data to CMA’s Country Music Consumer Segmentation Study, 78 percent of Country fans now have home Internet access, 40 percent of online fans visit YouTube to access Country content monthly and 18 percent visit MySpace each month. Trends point to continued growth in online engagement.

One of the primary ways that MySpace Karaoke attracts new users is through contests that encourage users to record and submit their own versions of songs. The grand prize package typically includes concert tickets, airfare to the show, hotel accommodations and the opportunity to participate in an artist meet-and-greet. Participants as varied as CMA Music Festival, Elvis Presley Enterprises, R&B superstar Alicia Keys and the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team have sponsored MySpace Karaoke contests, as have Country artists including Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire and Taylor Swift.

The Lady Antebellum contest launched in late May. “I think our fans will love MySpace Karaoke,” said vocalist Hillary Scott. “We already know how much fun they are! I can’t wait to see their versions of our songs and meet the winner.”

Scott, along with the other members of Lady Antebellum — Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley — announced the contest with a promotional video that was posted online. Users could click on a banner to view the promo clip and to record their own version of “American Honey,” “Need You Now” or “I Run to You.”

MySpace Karaoke’s contest with McBride ran for two weeks in March, and the singer personally selected the grand prize winner. Contestants had the option to record one of three songs from McBride’s latest album, Shine, as well as two of her past hits.

“It was fun to look through the entries and flattering that so many people took the time to enter and sing my songs,” said McBride. The grand prize winner, Jennifer Miera, 32, of Rio Rancho, N.M., who recorded a version of “I Just Call You Mine,” received travel and hotel accommodations, concert tickets and a meet-and-greet with McBride on May 1 at the Gwinnett Arena, just outside of Atlanta. “Martina has always been such an inspiration to me, and meeting her was a real dream come true,” said Miera. “We had such a wonderful time!”

For fans, the appeal of such contests is obvious. From the artist’s perspective, participation can result in a spike in sales, as Bower explained with regard to The Fray, a rock band that used MySpace Karaoke to spread the word about its new album.

“We did a promotion with the band when they were pushing their new album and their single ‘Syndicate,’” Bower said. “Everyone loves their older hits, like ‘How to Save a Life,’ but The Fray wanted people to get to know the new song, which they were trying to get up the charts. We structured our contest so that the only way you could win the grand prize — a trip to see The Fray live, opening up for U2 — was to sing the new song. Users really gravitated toward it, with 75 percent of the entries based on the new song. And through our partnership with iTunes, we added a link so that users could very easily click to buy that song,

‘Syndicate.’ They could listen to it and practice it before recording their own version. The contest was a great success, and it showed that people would sing a song that they didn’t know very well yet. The band was very pleased with the promotion and the engagement around that song.”

MySpace Karaoke contests generate thousands of “viral” videos that fans share with their friends. In addition to being an effective marketing tool, the videos are just plain fun. Bower said, “When we did our program with Dierks Bentley, he loved the first-prize video so much that he actually played it at several of his concerts, projecting it on a video screen for his entire audience.” 

Bower has gained insight into what makes a contest successful. “The more that the artist participates, the better the results we see at the end,” she explained. “For most of our contests, like the Reba McEntire one, we do video promotions where we get the artist to record a message for our users. Then we display that throughout the site. It’s a huge engagement factor because that makes it very personal for the users. The other key is picking a great selection of content. Having a good mix of old and new songs works well because if you just include new songs, it’s a little hard for some users. Also, you want to make sure the songs are melodic and relatively easy to sing, so that users will take them on and share them with their friends.”

The channel’s success is due in large part to its advanced technology and its user-friendly functions. All that a user needs is a computer, a microphone and a Webcam. Professional-quality audio can be achieved through various effects, such as echo and reverb. Users can change the key if they are unable to hit certain notes.

Another reason for MySpace Karaoke’s fast-spreading profile is a feature the company calls “Mikksu,” a playful reference to the Japanese pronunciation of the word “mix.” This allows a user to record a song and then pass it along to friends, who also perform the song. The resulting video is a multitrack recording with a split screen, showing two, three or four users singing simultaneously.

“We created the Mikksu for a promotion with the TV show ‘Glee,’ which is all about group singing,” Bower said. “The idea was to create an online glee club, so that you and your friends could do four-part harmony. But the amazing thing is that individual users started making these mini-movies, where one person sings all the different vocal parts. It’s something that we never even thought of. People will use props, dress up in costumes and choreograph their movements in time to the music. It’s phenomenal.”

Other MySpace Karaoke features include messaging, which allows users to leave feedback for others; ratings, so users can rate performances; fans/favorites, allowing users to add others as their favorites and be notified whenever a favorite performer records a new song; and a recommendation engine that recommends songs and recordings to users, based on what they record and listen to on the site.

More than 15,000 recordings are made each month at MySpace Karaoke, and the average user spends about 30 minutes on the site during a typical session. Country Music is tied with pop as the most popular genre on the channel.

As of April, MySpace had nearly 70 million total unique users in the United States. While many visitors to are males in the 14– 24 age range, the demographic data for MySpace Karaoke reflects a much more diverse audience that skews slightly more female than male.

“Our audience is very broad,” Bower noted. “We have junior-high students on MySpace Karaoke, and one of our favorite users is Sam, who is 78 years old and lives in a nursing home. He’s not a typical MySpacer by any stretch, but he’s very active. Our users can be stay-at-home moms, or people who act in community theater, or people who sing in their church choir. They just love to perform, and they use our product to do that. Then they can share it with anybody in the United States.”

One of those performers might be a future Country Music star, just waiting to be discovered. “Deepening fans’ loyalty is certainly one of the core things we do, and we’ve been very successful at it,” Bower said. “MySpace Karaoke is a place for artist-fan engagement, but we also see it as an exciting place for talent discovery.”

Dreamers who pose in front of a mirror while singing into a hairbrush now have the technology to feel like superstars, if only for a few glorious minutes. The pop music world currently has top-selling acts that were discovered via, so it’s only a matter of time before future Country Music sensations begin their quest for fame by recording a MySpace Karaoke video. Who knows? Maybe one day that clip will be shown in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. After all, some dreams do come true.


Images for above article.

Martina McBride meets MySpace Karaoke winner Jennifer Miera, 32, of Rio Rancho, N.M., backstage at Gwinnett Arena near Atlanta. photo: Becky Fluke
Photo: See Caption




Issue Date: 8/24/2010  
  • Rascal Flatts Reflects on 10 Epic Years
  • Martina McBride Rises and Shines with SunnyD
  • ABC Web Interviews Build Anticipation for “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock”
  • Story Behind the Song “Southern Voice”
  • Story Behind the Song “Why Don’t We Just Dance”
Rascal Flatts Reflects on 10 Epic Years
By Donna Hughes


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

It’s the year 2000. “Gladiator” is named Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Gas costs around $1.60 a gallon. The Tennessee Titans make it to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the St. Louis Rams by seven points. “Hanging chad” enters the political vernacular. Entertainer of the Year is among the honors extended to the Dixie Chicks at the CMA Awards. And a new group named Rascal Flatts, composed of Jay DeMarcus, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney, releases its debut single, “Prayin’ for Daylight,” written by Steve Bogard and Rick Giles.

Fast-forward a decade. The trio has sold more than 20 million albums, with the latest, Unstoppable, certified Platinum and all the rest achieving multi-Platinum status. They had one of the top-grossing tours over the past few years and hit the top of the charts 11 times. Their six consecutive Vocal Group of the Year triumphs at the CMA Awards tie the record set by The Statler Brothers, who won nine times overall in that category. They have played 400 dates as a headline act, more than 700 since 2000, with a ticket tally of nearly six million. These shows have included three consecutive sold-out performances at Madison Square Garden and the first and only concert by a Country artist to sell out Wrigley Field.

They are also marking their 10th anniversary in the business with numerous celebrations, which included honoring their loyal fans at CMA Music Festival by signing autographs and performing a short acoustic set in the Greased Lightning Fan Fair Hall. Their scorching Festival set at LP Field was a practice run for their “JC Penney Presents Rascal Flatts Nothing Like This Tour.” On this trek, the guys take their fans on a musical journey, spanning their 10 years of hits, from that first single to their most recent smash, “Unstoppable.”

They also entertained attendees at Country Radio Seminar in February by showing somewhat amusing older band photographs and performing some of their hits. That same month they paid tribute to Blair Daly, Marcus Hummon, Wendell Mobley, Jeffrey Steele, Neil Thrasher and the rest of the more than 75 songwriters who have contributed to the band’s six studio albums with a festive event at the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.

“That was a lot of fun,” recalled Rooney. “They’ve been such supporters of ours for the past 10 years. It all starts with a hit song, a great song, so we thought it would be cool to give back to them. It was a wonderful evening, and they all got up and sang their songs that they wrote for us. It was really cool to hear them do their versions of so many great songs.”

There is no sure-fire way to achieve success in the music business, much less sustain that achievement for a decade. But for Rascal Flatts, the formula truly does begin with the music. “We just really concentrated and focused so hard on picking and writing and cutting the greatest songs that we could cut,” said LeVox. “I think our personalities have helped, but it all comes down to the music that we’ve cut and the lives that we’ve touched that way. Being fans of music first, we always, from Day One, put on a live show that we would want to go see. I think all those kinds of things combined really helped get us where we are. But I would say our music has probably been the No. 1 factor.”

Many of the band’s peers agree, especially those who have known them the longest. “The Flatts came to our fan club party with an acoustic guitar and three great voices,” said Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn in a written statement, recalling their first meeting. “Joe Don, Gary and Jay are all blessed with the gift of talent God gave. They can write, play, sing and entertain millions with an ease that is unmatched. … But most importantly, they are great guys who we are proud to call friends.”

Rascal Flatts traveled with Brooks & Dunn on the duo’s “Neon Circus and Wild West Show” in 2003; they also opened shows for Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Jo Dee Messina before they began headlining their own tours. Part of their success over the years stems from watching and learning from those acts who took them on the road.

“We got to steal a lot of their ideas when it came time to headline,” said DeMarcus, with a laugh, as Rooney added, “That’s actually a true statement.”

“It really puts you in a place, in all due respect to all of those acts, because they were certainly instrumental to us,” DeMarcus continued. “But it puts us in a place to learn what to do and what not to do, and you can learn a little bit of both by being out there with big headlining tours like that. And we learned how we wanted to run our crew, how we wanted to treat our people. They were very good tours. They treated their people very well, and they treated us as an opening act very well.”

According to Trey Turner, who co-manages Rascal Flatts with Doug Nichols under the auspices of Turner & Nichols and Associates, there is plenty for upcoming artists to learn from the example of this group in terms of staying successful and relevant. “I think it’s all due to the act,” he suggested. “They have to stay hungry. They have to want to keep going, because you get into making the money that they make, it’s not about where they were 10 years ago. It’s about what the next 10 years is going to be. They have to want it, and they have to want to go do it, because this is a very tough business and it’s so easy to say, ‘I’m gonna stay at the house this year, or two years or three years.’

“The other thing that is so important for a group is the bond between the people,” Turner continued. “It’s so easy for a group to not make it, just personality-wise. It’s like a second marriage, and they have to really be committed to each other, so that’s a big factor in a group. The other factor is the music. It’s not about who wrote what or who publishes what. It really gets down to every album they cut. They look at the best song and the best song wins.”

Summing up, Turner said, “To me, when you’ve got those three things going together, it’s a magical combination because then you’re going to be successful and you can go compete. The business is too hard to put out one bad song after another. So if you’ve got them wanting to be together and wanting to be a group and wanting to cut hit songs, and you still have that hunger to go fight and do what you need to do and get up and do radio and videos and press, now you’re talking about the next 10 years. That’s what they’ve rededicated themselves to do.”

The immediate future for Rascal Flatts includes a new album, Nothing Like This, scheduled to release Nov. 16 on their new label, Big Machine Records. According to DeMarcus, it will complete the 10-year saga by harking back to aspects of the band’s earlier sound. “The first couple of records we did with Dann (Huff, producer), Me and My Gang and Still Feels Good, we went down a path to where we really captured the high energy of our shows — a lot of big arena-rock sound and big massive ballads. It was a bit of a departure for us from Feels Like Today and Melt, which tended to be more rootsy and a little more Country and focused on our vocals more than our big-band presentation.”

“I feel we’ve recaptured a little bit of what the old Flatts records were about, both with being a little more Country and a little more focused on the vocals and not so much on the bigness of things,” Rooney concurred. “We’ve gone back to a little bit more of the heart and soul of what the older Flatts (albums) were about. It feels like a new beginning, like we’re evolving a little bit and showing some growth once again.”

With their former label, Lyric Street Records, shuttered, the group expressed its enthusiasm over joining the Big Machine family at a special media event in a vast open suite overlooking Downtown Nashville from the 22nd floor of The Pinnacle at Symphony Place. Following opening remarks from Scott Borchetta, President/CEO, Big Machine Label Group, Rascal Flatts emerged from behind black curtains at the back of the room to field questions.

The mood was upbeat, as Borchetta and the trio briefly improvised some dance steps as speakers pumped out the album’s debut single, "Why Wait," written by Neil Thrasher, Tom Shapiro and Jimmy Yeary. But consistent with the spirit of their anniversary year, they were thoughtful too.

“We feel like we’re just getting started,” DeMarcus mused. “We keep celebrating 10 years but we feel like there’s so much left to do. Not very many people who get into this industry are able to look back and say they’ve been able to do it for 10 years. That’s what we’re really thankful and grateful for.”

LeVox echoed this point. “When our day is done and it’s time for us to go home and our time on Earth has passed, one thing that we’ll never have to do is to ask ‘what if?’ Never — because we did it.”

“We all feel the same way,” Rooney affirmed. “I’ve learned that you can take chances and make things happen with a leap of faith, as simple as that sounds. If you can dream it, it can be accomplished.”

Rascal Flatts will appear on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special also features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

Visit to view a series of 20 online videos of behind-the-scenes action of the 2010 CMA Music Festival.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.

On the Web:


Images for above article.



Rascal Flatts; photo: Chapman Baehler
Photo: See Caption


Rascal Flatts; photo: Chapman Baehler
Photo: See Caption


Rascal Flatts performs at the Nightly Concerts at LP Field on Saturday, June 12 in Downtown Nashville during the 2010 CMA Music Festival.
Photo: John Russell / CMA



Martina McBride Rises and Shines with SunnyD
By Brad Schmitt


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For a while this year, you couldn’t turn on the TV without hearing Martina McBride sing the “Shine On” jingle for SunnyD. She appeared in national print, retail and digital ads, while SunnyD had photo booths, iPod giveaways loaded with McBride music, beach balls, glow sticks and free bottles of SunnyD at each of her shows during the “SunnyD Shine All Night Tour.” Branded trucks, tents and kiosks appeared at retail outlets, military commissaries and elsewhere, helping fans connect to the campaign. A contest, inviting visitors to “tell us how your kid shines,” drew thousands to the SunnyD Web site.

“In my two and a half years with the brand, this is the largest holistic marketing effort the brand has ever done,” said Mark Ozimek, Assistant Brand Manager, Sunny Delight.

“Shine” is the key word here. It was the title of McBride’s most recent album, which dovetailed with SunnyD’s launch of a “Time to Shine” “Kids’ Shining Moments” campaign to spotlight children’s accomplishments.

“SunnyD shares the same values as I do,” McBride insisted. “And the partnership made sense. The message and campaign is something I believe in, and as a mom I thought it was great that SunnyD was putting the spotlight on kids and rewarding them for working hard and succeeding at their individual talents.”

“Martina is a great fit,” Ozimek said, noting that SunnyD’s research identified many of its customers as Country fans. “First off, she’s a mother of three girls, and she clearly wants the best for her children. And her ensuring message about optimism matches the brand’s positioning.”

Through its “Kids’ Shining Moments” campaign, the company presented the grand prize winner with $10,000 and a VIP trip to see McBride perform at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. All who entered received gifts that included three-month membership in McBride’s fan club and access to exclusive behind-the-scenes footage from the “SunnyD Shine All Night Tour,” thus expanding the artist’s potential customer base. Monthly winners also received scholarships and/or other prizes to encourage kids to continue achieving.

Pictures and essays submitted for the contest were posted online at They ranged from charming to deeply moving, such as one from the mother of a boy named Nathan: “My father became a quadriplegic three years ago in an accident. Nathan heard about the (YMCA) Kids Country Music Marathon the year after and asked if he could run for Papa, because ‘Papa can’t use his legs. I’ll run for him.’”

“Consumers came to our site to not only tell us about their kids, they also read through these stories of others. They spent time reading about other kids. Any brand loves to see people coming and actively engaging in the message we have,” said Ozimek, noting as well that his company’s partnership with McBride has extended to include a SunnyD Book Spree to deliver books to school libraries, beginning in August.

Martina McBride will appear on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special also features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

Visit to view a series of 20 online videos of behind-the-scenes action of the 2010 CMA Music Festival.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.

On the Web:;


Images for above article.

Martina McBride spreads the word for SunnyD's "Time to Shine" campaign. photo: courtesy of Sunny Delight Beverage Co.
Photo: See Caption



ABC Web Interviews Build Anticipation for “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock”
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

With thousands of fans filling the streets of Downtown Nashville during CMA Music Festival, it might have been easy to miss one five-person crew threading through the crowd, hustling video gear to LP Field and back, packing and driving with it to homes and studios around town for interview segments, basically covering an enormous amount of ground and then coming back to do it again the next day.

Their assignment was to repeat what they’d done in recent CMA Fests: Capture the energy, excitement, drama, humor and exhilaration of these four days, and then whittle the results down to a series of short reports or vignettes. Beginning Aug. 9, these have been posted on, as well as other Disney Web sites,, and other destinations, to maximize awareness among visitors and motivate them to tune to ABC on Sept. 1, 8/7c, for “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock.”

David Beebe, Director of Video Production, Disney/ABC Television Video Group, has overseen every one of these online promotions since they began in 2007.

Did you approach shooting for the Web differently at this year’s Festival than in previous years?
BEEBE Rather than shoot very structured, sit-down EPK-style interviews, we used the relationships we’ve grown over these four years to shoot more behind the scenes, where there weren’t any other crews. We shot a lot on the artists’ tour buses or even in their homes. Each interview is a minute to two minutes and focused on a single artist, from newcomers to bigger names. We went to a lot of fan club parties with artists. We talked with Martina McBride at her Blackbird Studio. We did a lot with Darius Rucker. We have Jake Owen and Luke Bryan before a performance, talking. Some artists put together skits – for instance, Blake Shelton bringing his dogs over to Kellie Pickler’s bus and asking her to watch them while he goes onstage.

Were these vignettes scripted?
BEEBE We didn’t want to give people scripts. We just set up an hour before shooting and said, “Hey, we’d like to shoot something fun, that people will want to share virally.” A lot of it was done on the fly.

How much advance work was required?
BEEBE There wasn’t a lot of pre-production. We started planning our coverage about a month before the Festival, setting things up so that we could get what no one else was getting.

Do we see your interviewers on camera?
BEEBE They’re off camera, so there’s no one to distract. It’s all about the artist this year. We cover all the events, we get a lot of stuff on camera that we can put together – but all of it is focused on that artist.

What else is different this year?
BEEBE Rather than keep it exclusive to and our partners, we’re handing out the footage everywhere we can. That’s our game plan: Shoot everywhere and share it wide.

To see the latest ABC Web promos for “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” visit

“CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” is a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.


Images for above article.

“CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" logo.
Photo: n/a



Story Behind the Song “Southern Voice”
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Among its many other attractions, “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” airing Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on ABC, is a cavalcade of amazing songs. But there’s more to a song than how it sounds, as you’ll see from this series of interviews with the writers who created the latest, hottest hits by today’s Country superstars.

“Southern Voice”
Recorded by Tim McGraw
Written by Tom Douglas and Bob DiPiero

Describe the birth of this tune.
DIPIERO This is one of those songs that just sprang to life pretty much from the moment the title was mentioned. It was a title that Tom had.

DOUGLAS Bob and I like to read. I particularly love some of the great Southern writers, like William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty, who seem to write with a unique and particular voice. I just jotted that down and mentioned it to Bob, and we were off to the races.

DIPIERO I had my guitar in my hand and I was playing some changes to this rhythm going on in my head. And we just started giving shout-outs to the South – the writers and musicians, the major people from the recent South and even the past. It came together quickly, the chorus especially. We really worked on the verses, having the right people in the right order. But with the chorus, it was like taking dictation.

DOUGLAS I went out to look something up on the computer because we were trying to list all these iconic Southern images, and when I came back Bob had formulated the structure of the song. I think we wrote it in a day and demoed it that afternoon. It was a joyful collaboration.

DIPIERO The thing I found fun was to turn everything into a verb: “Hank Williams sang it. Number 3 rode it. Chuck Berry twanged it. Will Faulkner wrote it.” There are tons of list songs out there, but this song just started coming out that way and we followed it.

DOUGLAS Bob came up with “Appalachicola.” I wouldn’t have thought of that word in a million years. That was really brilliant.

DIPIERO That’s a place in Florida that I love – and I always wanted to use that word in a song [laughs]. It’s what I call a juicy word. It just laid in there perfectly. The whole thing with the Allman Brothers T-shirt and the gold cross – I can see that guy in my mind. And Tom really refined the verse melody. The melody for the chorus was pretty much there. It was one of those songwriting days you hope for. If I get a couple of those a year, I feel blessed.

“CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” is a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.


Images for above article.


Bob DiPiero; photo: Ed Rode
Photo: See Caption


Tom Douglas; photo: Jim McGuire
Photo: See Caption



Story Behind the Song “Why Don’t We Just Dance”
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Among its many other attractions, “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” airing Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on ABC, is a cavalcade of amazing songs. But there’s more to a song than how it sounds, as you’ll see from this series of interviews with the writers who created the latest, hottest hits by today’s Country superstars.

“Why Don’t We Just Dance”
Recorded by Josh Turner
Written by Jim Beavers, Jonathan Singleton and Darrell Brown

How did this song come together?
BEAVERS This was actually the first time that Jonathan, Darrell and I had written together, all three of us.

SINGLETON Jim and I had done a couple of tunes, and we were trying not to repeat the things we had done.

BROWN Jonathan and I had written together before, so when he asked me to sit down to write with Jim and himself, it was an easy thing to say yes to.

BEAVERS This was back in late 2008, when the economy was going bad. Everybody seemed to be down and depressed and worried. We didn’t have the title, but we were wishing we could write something that lightened everybody up a bit. I think I was the one who said, “Well, everything is basically going to Hell in a hand basket, so why don’t we just dance?” For some reason, that phrase stuck.

SINGLETON It was like, “Hey, let’s not think about all the things that are going bad. Let’s just go crazy for a second.”

BROWN We were all in the mood to write something fresh for ourselves. Somehow we started drumming this shuffle groove out on our knees and strumming chords. We kept throwing out different chords and melodies to each other until it all started to come together.

BEAVERS We all three kept hammering, starting up the wrong road and coming back. I think we ended up with six or seven pages of false starts until we found a way to do the lyrics. We knew we had something special when we figured out that little bridge that seems to come out of nowhere: “Down the hall, maybe straight up the stairs … “

SINGLETON I always try to write within a character, and I think I was closer to that than anybody else on this song because I was still brand new to Nashville. I still had a fresh view of how that Wendy’s 99-cent chili tasted when you couldn’t afford anything else [laughs].

BROWN Hey, I love Wendy’s 99-cent chili too [laughs].

BEAVERS I really knew we were going to have a song when we settled into that slow, slushy groove. It just felt really good and leant itself to the lyrics.

But it doesn’t have the quite verse/big chorus structure that so many hits have today.
SINGLETON We talked about that. You’re supposed to have that giant chorus, and on this one the chorus is the down section.

BROWN Yeah, but the structure of the song lends itself to Tin Pan Alley days. It’s more of a release or a bridge than a chorus.

It actually works well because of the humor and playfulness, especially in the chorus lyric.
SINGLETON We spent a lot of time on what would you actually say if you’re trying to convince the girl to move the couch with you and just dance. You wouldn’t say, “Let’s not go anywhere because we can’t afford it.” My favorite line in the whole song is “my two left feet and our two hearts beating.” That gives the guy a little character: He’s got a good sense of humor about himself. He knows he’s not going to be any good at dancing, but it doesn’t matter.

Did Turner change any key elements of the song?
BEAVERS Three or four times, he sings “the whole wide world has gone crazy.” And we had written it as “the whole damn world.”

SINGLETON My thing about “wide world” was that line from “Blazing Saddles”: “What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on here [laughs]?” But I think Josh heard a little glimmer of hope in that song, with all the bad stuff that’s going on.

BEAVERS I actually predicted to Jonathan and Darrell, when we found out that Josh was interested, that he probably ought to change that line. I’ve never had a song recorded exactly the way it was on the demo. There’s usually something changed, and it’s usually something that makes the singer more comfortable with the song.

BROWN And Frank Rogers certainly did a great job of producing the record and letting the fun of the song shine through Josh’s vocal.

SINGLETON So Josh is probably right. It probably didn’t call for “damn” – but it sure felt good when we wrote it [laughs].

“CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” is a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.


Images for above article.

Jonathan Singleton, Josh Turner, Darrell Brown and Jim Beavers. photo: Rachel Beavers
Photo: See Caption




Issue Date: 8/17/2010  
  • Dierks Bentley Cultivates the Common Ground of Country and Bluegrass with ‘Up on the Ridge’
  • Darius Rucker Plays Ball with LongHorn Steakhouse and Coca-Cola
Dierks Bentley Cultivates the Common Ground of Country and Bluegrass with ‘Up on the Ridge’
By Lorie Hollabaugh


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

On hearing the very first notes of the swampy riff that would become the title track of his new album, Up on the Ridge, Dierks Bentley knew that he and co-writer Angelo (Petraglia) were onto something that wouldn’t be encumbered by genre titles. And so the original plan of writing for two separate projects, one Country and one bluegrass, was shelved; instead of trying to serve two masters, they decided to just let the music come.

“When Angelo played me that riff, that was the turning point,” Bentley recalled. “I remember hearing that, going, ‘Well, that’s a Country thing. It’s definitely a bluegrassy vibe. I don’t know what this is exactly, but it has to be on the record I’m making.’”

Inspired to put together an album that reflects his love for bluegrass and acoustic music, Bentley approached his longtime friend Jon Randall Stewart to produce. “I kept thinking about who I would get to work on this,” Bentley said. “I know Tim O’Brien. I know Alison (Krauss). I know Sam Bush. They’re all friends. But I kept thinking about Jon Randall and how far back he goes. He’s like the Kevin Bacon of Nashville: He knows everybody, he’s played with everybody, he’s one of the most talented overall musicians in Nashville — he’s unbelievable!”

“We were sitting, having some whiskey, and he said he was thinking about making this record and would I help,” said Stewart. “I said, ‘Have you lost your mind? You’re on your seventh No. 1 and you want to make a bluegrass record with your buddy?’ But as we sat there talking, we realized bluegrass is like every other genre: The boundaries have stretched. Dierks and I grew up listening to New Grass Revival, The Seldom Scene, Alison Krauss and all those people, so for us it was, ‘Let’s use that as our template. Let’s incorporate it.’ And the very first thing we thought of, which should tell you how crazy all this is, was the idea of doing a U2 song (‘Pride (In the Name of Love)’) with Del McCoury.”

As they began recruiting a cast of bluegrass heavyweights and guests, it became clear to Stewart that the toughest part of the process involved coordinating schedules for Bentley, engineer Gary Paczosa, and Sam Bush, Vince Gill, Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, Kris Kristofferson, Miranda Lambert, Punch Brothers and Chris Thile, among other invited artists.

“The toughest thing about this record, when you have special guests and a smaller budget, is trying to get people in on the same day,” Stewart said. “It’s ridiculous! Scheduling was a nightmare because you’ve only got so many musicians that know how to play this kind of music. Then there are only so many guys if you step out of Flatt-and-Scruggs bluegrass. These aren’t your normal A-team, Country session guys, because it’s a whole other kind of music.”

From hatching the idea to laying tracks in the studio, Up on the Ridge took shape in ways that have little to do with business as usual along Music Row. Though radio and critics would eventually validate the album as the right project at the right time in Bentley’s career, Bentley did have a few initial concerns about changing things up and going acoustic at the top of his game. But he’s never been one to make his music according to trends or popular opinion — a characteristic that’s affirmed throughout this successful experiment of an album.

“I think the first thing I asked myself was, ‘Do you want to call this a side project and kind of have an out? Or do you believe in what you’re doing and want to stand up for it and act on faith and put your money where your mouth is when it comes to why you go into doing this?’” said Bentley, who co-wrote five tracks on the album. “You get known for a certain sound you’ve established — or you get known for having curly hair and you cut it off. People like to think of you as one thing, and Country is all about having a brand. But as a songwriter, it’s not just about winning the game all the time. It’s about trying to make great music that you will be excited about and taking a chance to veer left or right a little bit. I love playing for large audiences. I love what we’ve built. I don’t want to do anything to take away from that, and I don’t think I am. I think I’m just adding to it. Hopefully my fans that have been asking for me to do this for a long time, they know who I am. My records have always had a bluegrass song on there. This is just me reclaiming part of what makes me who I am.”

Bentley’s record label knows better than anyone what this artist is about, which is why they’ve treated Up on the Ridge exactly as they’ve treated each of his other four studio albums — except, perhaps, with even greater anticipation and excitement. “They totally have been behind it. I know how lucky I am to have (Mike) Dungan and the whole Capitol team. He’s kind of like the Herb Kelleher of Country Music,” Bentley said, referring to the Co-Founder and former Executive Chairman, President and CEO of Southwest Airlines. “He makes a team environment and gets excited and passionate about stuff, and he hires good people.”

As President and CEO of Capitol Records Nashville, Dungan has the insight and experience to know that veering into uncharted musical territory can be dicey. Yet if the artist has talent and vision, and the music is an organic, honest fit, that can more than mitigate the risk. “Mike Dungan was great. He just said, ‘Go make a record.’ Of course, Dierks has had seven No. 1s, and we’re going to make a bluegrass record … great! No pressure on me,” said Stewart, with a laugh.

“It’s always a risk to step out into a side project like this,” Dungan said. “However, the music is so good and this was such a natural fit for Dierks that we were pretty confident that no matter what, we would have quality at the end of the line. And that’s exactly what we got. This is a kid who moved from Phoenix and discovered that whole acoustic world at the Station Inn and became a regular down there, first in the audience and then getting up onstage and playing with anybody and everybody. This is so much a part of Dierks’ general makeup and I think he found this record easier to make than a regular Dierks record. It’s such a natural fit for him and he knows the genre and the players and the music so well.”

Despite the rootsy skew throughout Up on the Ridge, Dungan decided to stick with what has become Capitol Nashville’s established strategy for marketing Bentley’s work. “Everyone who heard the record was flipped out about it,” he explained. “So we just ended up marketing it the way we would a mainstream record with the addition of joining forces with Vanguard Records and leaning on their expertise in the bluegrass world to make sure we have all our bases covered in that area.

“The one thing that’s probably going to be the biggest driver of this is television,” Dungan continued. “The minute the TV bookers saw what this project was about and who the players were and the fact it was Dierks Bentley behind it, they jumped on it. In fact, in a lot of cases, they wanted him to come on the show probably before we would ordinarily want him to come on. We would like a lot of these appearances to hit around street date, but we’ve been doing them ahead of time because the bookers have been so anxious to get Dierks in place. TV bookers in general have an appreciation for things that are authentic, and I think that’s what they saw in this.”

If authenticity does indeed open media doors, then Up on the Ridge, which premiered on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart at No. 65 in June, may achieve the goal Bentley has for bringing the sound and feel of bluegrass and traditional acoustic Country to new markets. “A lot of people who like bluegrass may hear this and go, ‘It’s not bluegrass. It’s got drums and electric bass,’” he reflected. “Then Country fans may hear it and go, ‘That’s hardcore bluegrass.’ Different people will hear different things. I just hope my Country audience gets excited about hearing these acoustic instruments and these songs, and I hope the bluegrass people will love what we’ve done with some of these songs like ‘Bad Angel’ or ‘Bottle to the Bottom.’ There’s a Country circle and a bluegrass circle, and I tried to lay them on top of each other and find common ground in the two worlds. And I think this record really does that.”

Dierks Bentley will appear on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special also features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Darius Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

Visit to view a series of 20 online videos of behind-the-scenes action of the 2010 CMA Music Festival.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Dierks Bentley; photo: Danny Clinch
Photo: See Caption


Dierks Bentley; photo: Danny Clinch
Photo: See Caption


Dierks Bentley; photo: Danny Clinch
Photo: See Caption


On break during sessions for Up on the Ridge at Brooklyn Studios in New York City : engineer Gary Paczos ; Noam Pikelny of Punch Brothers; producer Jon Randall Stewart; Gabe Witcher, Paul Kowert and Chris Thile of Punch Brothers; Dierks Bentley; and Chris Eldridge of Punch Brothers. photo: Jim Wright
Photo: See Caption


Darius Rucker Plays Ball with LongHorn Steakhouse and Coca-Cola
By Bob Doerschuk


Sports lovers would call this a win-win proposition. And Darius Rucker is definitely a sports fan, so a plan that puts him at three major sports events with two household name brands is a slam dunk.

LongHorn Steakhouse, part of the Darden family of restaurants, and Coca-Cola partnered with Rucker and Capitol Records Nashville to create VIP experiences at the PGA Tour Championship, NCAA Men’s Final Four and Coke Zero 400.

This promotion came together under the umbrella of “Live at LongHorn,” an extension of the LongHorn brand that brings its guests and Country artists together. Using this platform, these three companies promoted products by bringing fans and Country Music stars together at top-notch sporting events. The high impact of Country helped seal the deal. “Country Music continues to grow in prominence and popularity,” noted Rich Jeffers, spokesperson for LongHorn Steakhouse.

“Darius has broader reach than the average Country artist,” added Laurie Birnbach, Director, National Sales, Coca-Cola North America Foodservice. “When we took Darius, LongHorn Steakhouse and Coke Zero, there was a match with the demographics and brand positioning of all three.”

The campaign began with the PGA Tour Championship in 2009, a natural for Rucker, who has appeared at dozens of celebrity pro-am tournaments. He began with a visit to a music class at East Lake Charter School and a private performance at The World of Coca-Cola at Pemberton Place. “I’m excited to have the PGA Tour involved, as my fans know I love the game of golf,” the 2009 CMA New Artist of the Year said.

LongHorn also launched a “Tee Off & Tunes” sweepstakes via scratch-off cards for customers who ordered any Coca-Cola beverage at its restaurants. Redeemable at, the winning card offered backstage access to a Rucker show as well as a VIP trip to Atlanta for the premier PGA event. Momentum continued in February and March 2010, as fans registered at LongHorn restaurants to become one of four winners of “An Exclusive Ticket” to the NCAA Men’s Final Four in Indianapolis and enjoy Rucker’s performance along with a VIP party and tickets to the Final Four at the “Coke Zero Countdown” concert.

The partnership intensified in July, at the 52nd Annual Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona, Fla. While Rucker took part in a half-hour Q&A with Kyle Petty, introduced six Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, sang the national anthem and delivered a pre-race concert, David Reutimann competed in his 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota Camry, whose “Come Back Song” decal referenced Rucker’s newest single — which TNT featured twice during its broadcast of the race.

These initiatives resonated strongly enough for the Coca-Cola Darden Account Team to win the prestigious William B. Darden Distinguished Supplier Award. Rucker’s record label also benefited. As noted by Dustin Eichten, Director of Marketing, Capitol Records Nashville, “Coke can take you places that a Country label or any label isn’t going to be able to do.”

Darius Rucker will appear on “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock,” a three-hour television special to air Wednesday, Sept. 1 at 8/7c on the ABC Television Network. Hosted by Tim McGraw, the “CMA Music Festival: Country’s Night to Rock” television special also features performances by Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Billy Currington, Alan Jackson, Jamey Johnson, Kid Rock, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, McGraw, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Rascal Flatts, Rucker, Blake Shelton, Taylor Swift, Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Uncle Kracker, Keith Urban, and Zac Brown Band.

Visit to view a series of 20 online videos of behind-the-scenes action of the 2010 CMA Music Festival.

"CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is executive produced by Robert Deaton and directed by Gary Halvorson. The 2010 CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. "CMA Music Festival: Country's Night to Rock" is filmed in high definition and broadcast in 720 Progressive (720P), ABC's selected HDTV format, with 5.1 channel surround sound.

On the Web:


Images for above article.


Ryan Seacrest interviews Darius Rucker at the 2010 NCAA Men's Final Four in Indianapolis, Ind. photo: Scott Legado
Photo: See Caption


Darius Rucker speaks with Jim Noble of TNT/ at the 52nd Annual Coke Zero 400 in Daytona, Fla., 2010. photo: Drew Brown
Photo: See Caption




Issue Date: 8/10/2010  
  • Music Industry Education at Crossroads: Strategies for Teaching a Vital Subject in Turbulent Times
Music Industry Education at Crossroads: Strategies for Teaching a Vital Subject in Turbulent Times
By Lorie Hollabaugh


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.


With the music business evolving constantly, colleges and universities that offer a music industry curriculum are particularly challenged. Unlike just a few years ago, when standards and practices were somewhat steadfast and dependable, today’s market is like the Wild, Wild West — uncharted territory that is being explored and defined as we move through it.


Even so, several universities seem to have adapted and found ways to educate students about these rapid and sometimes volatile changes and arm them with tools to not only face them but also to thrive.


Belmont University, and its Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business, have long been known for their music industry programs, which offer bachelor’s degrees in audio engineering technology, entertainment industry studies and songwriting, as well as bachelor’s and master’s programs in music business. Graduates of these studies have distinguished themselves not just in offices along Music Row but also as artists, with Brad Paisley and Trisha Yearwood among the alumni.


“The music industry contraction has come primarily at the expense of major labels, publishers and large-format studios,” said Clyde Rolston, Chair and Associate Professor, Music Business, Belmont University. “There are still opportunities for growth, but that is coming from new, smaller businesses. So Belmont recently added an entrepreneurship class to the core of our bachelor’s business administration degree. Not only will this expose all BBA students to entrepreneurial thinking, but it also opens up the opportunity for them to take electives in the area and help prepare them for running their own business one day.”  


On the advice of its advisory board, Belmont has added a course on music business contracts to its core, the goal being to allow instructors to go into more depth on their individual areas of expertise. The school is also introducing a “new media” course that will equip students with the skills to place audio and video on the Internet, cell phones and future technologies, as well as classes in music merchandising and radio programming.


“Although you hear a lot about how terrestrial radio is dying and listenership is down, research indicates that the majority of people, including young people, are still exposed to new music for the first time on the radio,” said Rolston, corroborating similar findings reported in the most recent update of CMA’s Country Music Consumer Segmentation Study. “It reminds me of that quote from Mark Twain, ‘The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated’.”


On the opposite end of the spectrum is a newer and somewhat renegade program at the University of Georgia in Athens, operating in the heart of the city’s fabled alternative music community and headed by songwriter Bruce Burch, Director, Music Business Program. “Our program is very hands-on and real-world,” Burch explained. “Because we are in Athens, which has an incredible ‘do-it-yourself’ music scene, our students get to learn from those practicing the DIY method, which I believe is the future of the industry. It is a great time for indies and entrepreneurs, and Athens is an excellent environment for experimentation creatively as well as on the business side.”


Great speakers are a key part of the curriculum, according to Burch, who can recruit them from the deep resources available in Athens and Atlanta. “We bring in people in the industry to speak to our class who are part of the change and also those who are actively dealing with the change every day — folks like R.E.M.’s manager Bertis Downs and artists like Corey Smith, who has one of the most innovative and successful models in the ‘new music’ business. It helps keep it fresh when you bring in guys like John Bell of Widespread Panic: They were DIY way back in the ’80s and sort of followed the Grateful Dead model but have brought it into the current music industry model and been able to grow their business by building a ‘tribe’ and touring unrelentingly through the past couple of decades. They have built a phenomenal fan base and yet they have never had a true radio hit and haven’t sold millions of records. Yet they are one of the top touring acts in the country and sell tons of merchandise. That’s the new music industry.”


Music industry veteran, award-winning songwriter and CMA Board member Tim DuBois, who serves as VP and Managing Executive of the ASCAP Nashville Regional Office, brings a uniquely comprehensive perspective to his endeavors as Clinical Professor of Entertainment and Media Management at Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Business Management, where he also teaches three classes on entrepreneurial opportunities. Like Burch, he sees guest lecturers as intrinsic to maintaining the currency of music industry instruction.


“I have the best guests in the world. I have more fun with the class because I get to invite my friends and people who are experts in their individual fields to come in — and then I get to play Larry King,” said DuBois, with a laugh.


DuBois helped develop the Owen School program, which examines the music industry’s business model from the past, how the digital age affects it and how it will look in the future. “The business model is in the middle of a really substantial transformation that started at the record company level, but it’s going to eventually resonate through the music industry,” he said. “The record companies have traditionally been the venture capitalists that drove the whole business in artist development. Publishing companies to an extent were in the same situation. Then as the digital revolution came along, everybody wanted to blame it on people stealing music. But it’s a much more complex problem than that. It had to do with consolidation at retail and radio and a change in the way people perceive and use music in their own lives. The very way people discover and purchase and use music has changed drastically as a result of the Internet.


“We’re still going through that change,” he continued. “So the courses we teach are about examining the old model — record companies, publishers, songwriters, artist managers, booking agencies and talent buyers. We break it into those six segments and examine each of those industries and look at how its business model worked in the past and how the model has been affected due to the digital age and what might be coming next.”


The rapid pace at which the industry continues to transform challenges DuBois and every other educator dedicated to examining it academically. “The classic example is, I’m getting ready to teach class and the textbook I’ve used the last two years came out in 2007,” he pointed out. “It was already dated by last year, and this year it’s completely out of date. The industry is evolving so quickly that you almost can’t keep up with it, especially on the record company side but also on the publishing side and songwriter side.”


DuBois and Burch are among the educators who address this problem by complementing texts with daily newsletters and feeds as well as the Internet for access to more current information. The picture that emerges is one of an industry that remains vital and yet is radically revising both the scale and the structures by which it operates.


“Because the digital rights flow is completely in flux right now, it has to be figured out,” DuBois said. “Businesses have to adjust to the fact that income streams are changing. Mechanicals, as we have known them in the past, are going way down. New kinds of digital royalty streams are developing and coming online all the time. We used to say publishing was a pennies business; now it is a micro-pennies business. It used to be about ownership; now it’s moving more toward access. It’s much more of a pull than a push. It used to be if you heard about a new record, you were at the mercy of the radio to play it and then go to the store and buy it. Now, in a matter of moments, you can hear about something, go into YouTube, listen to it, download it and buy it.”


It’s not easy for those who oversee music industry programs to keep up with all of this, much less move ahead and anticipate where events are leading. Nonetheless, thanks to these efforts, their students are at least equipped to pursue their goals with a realistic grasp of what awaits them as they begin their roller-coaster ride.


“It really is changing every day,” DuBois concluded. “And it is exciting be studying this as it happens. I tell my class it’s like having a front-row seat to history.”

A list of colleges and universities offering degrees and tracks in music industry education can be viewed at, on the Web site of the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association.


Images for above article.



Dr. Clyde Rolston teaches "Marketing of Recorded Music," with Belmont University student Evans Smith and Samantha Adams. photo: courtesy of Belmont University
Photo: See Caption


Bruce Burch teaches "Emerging Trends in the Music Industry" at the University of Georgia. photo: Andrew Davis Tucker, UGA Photography
Photo: See Caption


Tim DuBois; photo: courtesy of Tim DuBois
Photo: See Caption



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Tucson, Ariz., was home base for Mason Douglas, but an even broader American panorama opens up in his music. Not so much a regionalist, he paints universal pictures through accessible melodies and lyrics on the four self-penned, five co-written and the two remaining tunes that comprise My Wild Heart, his debut album on Rural Rhythm Records.

Maybe that’s because of the opportunities and trials he faced early in his life. Douglas’ first 11 years were an idyllic balance of social whirl, horseback rides and learning the basics of hard work and persistence. This phase came to an abrupt end when his father, a U.S. Air Force colonel and Vietnam vet, was stricken with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Douglas and his mother provided care during the six years of his decline.

This experience proved transformative in many ways. Douglas has become a strong supporter for the ALS Association and now targets performances for members of the armed services as one of his major ambitions. It affected him artistically too, by sparking the belief that one should enjoy the good times to the fullest as long as fortune will allow.

That message permeates My Wild Heart, produced by Greg Strizek. Over a rollicking groove, toughened by buzzing, edgy horn riffs, he issues a sly, playful warning to objects of his romantic attention on “Big Bad Wolf,” which he wrote with Cory Batten. The heat rises further and the climate turns tropical on “Trabajo Mañana (Fiesta Today!),” a hymn to ocean breezes and “extended vacation,” also written by Batten and Douglas.

But while still savoring the good times, he shows that he can look behind them for deeper messages on his first single, “Anything Can Happen.” Written solely by Douglas, it reminds us that there is more than “living it up down in Malibu” to bring meaning to life. That’s a lesson Douglas learned from his father in more than one way; his ability to communicate it on this well-crafted ballad belongs to him alone.


“Garth Brooks, no question.”

“Patty Griffin. There would be no greater honor.”

“Pearl Jam's Binaural plus some songs by my buddy Ray Sisk.”

“Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story. I just finished up Island by Aldous Huxley and How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill.”

“Anything with four wheels — I don’t have enough hair on my chest to get on a motorcycle.”

“Usually the song that I’m writing that’s stuck in my head and is missing something.”

“Peeved pets.”

“I love to cook – if I’m not singing or writing, I’m probably trying to think of something crazy for dinner.  I think that if the road hadn’t taken me towards music, it would’ve eventually led me to expressing some creativity in food.”

“My first gig was in high school at a place called McGraw’s Cantina in Tucson, Ariz.  My best friend, Brian, and I had formed an acoustic duo called Two Of Hearts and we set up on the patio of McGraw’s.  We played 90 minutes of covers through a teeny, tiny guitar amp and a $30 mixer from Radio Shack that my mom bought us.  It was so much fun looking back – terrifying at the time, but such a great experience to start out.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Mason Douglas; photo: Anthiny Ladd
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Issue Date: 8/3/2010  
  • GENERATIONS: Country Music Journalists Brian Mansfield, Hazel Smith and Cindy Watts
GENERATIONS: Country Music Journalists Brian Mansfield, Hazel Smith and Cindy Watts
By Randy Rudder


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Country Music may still be about “three chords and the truth,” but writing about it has migrated from typewriters, notepads and Wite-Out to a newer world of hourly deadlines, blogs and video cameras. Each era has its hurdles and shortcuts, its perspective on how to best inform the public about the music it loves. And few representing three distinct periods in Country Music journalism are as equipped to share this knowledge as the trio assembled for this Generations feature.

Cindy Watts, 31, is a staff entertainment writer at Nashville’s hometown daily, The Tennessean. Brian Mansfield, 46, covers Nashville for the print and online editions of USA Today. And Hazel Smith, 75, has been a fixture in Music City since she began work in public relations at Glaser Sound Studios. Famous for coining the term “the Outlaws” in the 1970s, she now writes the “Hot Dish” column for, contributes to Country Weekly and reports on Country Music for WFMS-FM/Indianapolis.

How has writing about Country Music changed?
SMITH When I started, I went to all the sessions. I walked in the studio; nobody kept me out. I walked in the offices; nobody kept me out. I knew the first name of every musician and every songwriter. The last issue of CMA Close Up had 45 pictures of artists. I knew two. Where are all these people coming from? I know what has changed the whole scene of the music business is “American Idol.” Carrie (Underwood) and Kellie (Pickler) are two good examples. They did their thing on the show and Nashville signed them and they just let them go out on the road. And more power to them. But there are others, like Sarah Buxton, who just got an album out and she’s waited five years. Josh Thompson is a great act. Are they going to happen? I don’t know. But we can’t write about people that we don’t know.

MANSFIELD The biggest difference I see is the places people get their information. When Hazel started, if you were a Country fan, you got your information from the records, the radio and a few very specific Country Music magazines. The national press wasn’t paying a lot of attention to it. My professional career really coincided with the big explosion of Country Music in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, so there were suddenly lots of places that needed stuff about Country Music. There were all sorts of music magazines. There was always Country Music Parade, Country Song Roundup and Country Music, but then you had Country Weekly, Country America and Country Music Today. You could go into a Kroger in Nashville and there would be six or seven magazines devoted to nothing but Country Music there. Suddenly it was bigger business. Stars were selling more records than they ever had. That’s the way I got work.

WATTS When I got started writing at the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, the only computers that had Internet were the computers that were against the wall. You had to wait in line to get to one of the computers that had Internet. If I wanted to call a record label, I couldn’t look it up in the phone book because it (the listing) wasn’t there. So little things like that — being able to look up Arista Nashville’s telephone number for the first time or being able to go online and pull up a bio of somebody you’re not sure about, having the ability at your fingertips to go and read something about them to help you make the decision as to whether or not this is somebody you want to devote your time to writing about, is a big difference.

What role do blogs and Twitter play in your work?
SMITH I don’t blog. I write my column for CMT online. To me, people that sit around and blog all the time ain’t got enough to do. I’ve got everything I can do. I do a TV show in my kitchen (“CMT’s Southern Fried Flicks with Hazel Smith”) and I also report the news daily to WFMS. And you have to tell them the truth because, just like with everybody else, when I say something, they’re going to check it out. But they know they can believe what I say because I’m pretty much right most of the time.

WATTS It’s a challenge to get your job done and learn all the new technology like Twitter and how to do the new Web updates and build photo shows and run all the links so that when somebody Googles Reba McEntire, The Tennessean story on her shows up near the top. The job at a newspaper now is not just about writing stories. It’s about making all those pieces of technology work together to make a product that we can sell.

MANSFIELD I was probably one of the first music journalists in Nashville that was using the online stuff on a regular basis. This was back in the ’90s. New Country was one of the first major Country Music publications to launch a Web site. Today I do a lot with Facebook and Twitter. I look at all of those as part of what I do, as part of my personal “brand,” for lack of a better term.

How much of being a success at what you do is based on writing and research skills, and how much is based on people skills?
MANSFIELD My people skills are not anywhere near as good as Hazel’s. I’m more of a music geek. And I’m a research fanatic. That’s one of the big differences in the ways Hazel and I approach things. She is coming from that love of people, where my approach is more cerebral. When I got into this, I noticed that there weren’t many people writing about Country Music that really understood it from the standpoint that its audience did. There was Hazel, and there was Bob (Oermann), and there was Ed Morris and people like that. But when you got outside of Nashville, you had rock critics who wrote about Country that didn’t really get why it worked for its audience.

WATTS The thing that Miss Hazel does best is that, when she sits down with people, the people she interviews can relate to her — and her readers can relate to her. When I sit down to interview somebody, that’s what I try to do. Country fans are smart people. They can tell when an artist is genuine and they can tell when the person writing a story is full of it.

Who would you consider to be your mentors?
SMITH There was a man named Roger Schutt — “Captain Midnight.” He was a great writer and he knew everything. He was kind of a hero of mine.

MANSFIELD I learned a lot about who the audience is from reading Hazel and watching how she dealt with artists and fans both. From Bob Oermann, I learned a lot about respecting the music form and the history of the music — and really knowing it, not just knowing who’s hot now but really understanding the broader picture. In Country Music, it’s important to know that history, to see the relationship it has with its audience and to see the relationship it has with the culture and how the stories that Country Music tells have changed as America has changed.

WATTS There is certainly more than one kind of music writing. There are two very clear sides. There are people like Brian who dive into it from the component of the music itself versus what Hazel does and what I like to do. I can do reviews and all that other stuff too, but I really want to tell stories. I want to tell Chris Young’s story or Josh Thompson’s story because I think people can relate to their stories. If Country Music fans don’t like the person singing, they’re not going to buy their CD.

Does that element of liking the artist ever keep you from being objective?
MANSFIELD Even if something is really bad, the reader doesn’t want you to go off on it, the way that rock critics have a habit of doing. They feel so protective of the artist. They identify so strongly with the artist that it’s really considered bad manners to just start heaving brickbats at them. That’s one of the challenges, to find that balance to say the things that need to be said in ways that the audience wants to hear. It gets back to your audience. There’s a difference in writing for The Tennessean or Billboard and writing for a fan-based magazine too.

WATTS The Tennessean builds our business on being objective. We have to be objective. But fans love those singers like they are their family members. They aren’t going to be mad at that singer if that singer cuts a bad song; they’re going to be mad at you for writing about it.

SMITH I really pull for people like Kellie Pickler. That young’un has just bought her a million-dollar house and she was raised in a single-wide trailer in North Carolina. I can’t hardly stand it, I’m so proud of her, so I can’t help but to write about her.

As the media in general and music specifically skew more toward digital formats, how has that affected your work?
MANSFIELD It’s still a matter of filtering, deciding what is worth writing about and who you need to talk to. When Country is selling better, it’s easier to get stories placed in bigger publications. That’s one of the things that I love about being a journalist — being able to stand just far enough removed from the industry and watch it go up and down. And reliable sources are as essential as ever for getting behind the story.

SMITH You’ve got to talk to the makeup people. They know everything!



Images for above article.


Cindy Watts, Brian Mansfield and Hazel Smith. photo: John Russell
Photo: See Caption


Cindy Watts, Brian Mansfield and Hazel Smith. photo: John Russell
Photo: See Caption



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Matt Kennon has nothing against rock ‘n’ roll; in his younger days, he liked to crank up some Skynyrd as much as anyone. He was a member of his high school jazz band too. But being raised in Georgia with Lee Greenwood, Alan Jackson, Randy Travis and Travis Tritt on the family playlist, he knew early on that Country was his home.

Kennon learned as he grew to sing with spirit in church and later to dish up Southern rock and Country in Atlanta clubs. His voice, toughened through three years of band gigs, was sensitized to the nuances in lyric interpretation by coaching with songwriter and producer Chip Martin. After getting the seasoning he needed, Kennon moved to Nashville and picked up a day job at a Harley-Davidson dealer. A chance encounter with manager Gary Falcon on Music Row triggered a series of connections leading to James Stroud, who agreed to co-produce this self-titled debut with Kennon and Julian King for release on BamaJam Records.

Kennon’s history courses through these 12 tracks, eight of which he co-wrote. Some of his early rock heroes, from Slaughter and Survivor, make guest appearances, but the feel of the music stems from Kennon alone. His first single “The Call,” which he wrote with Jeremy Campbell and Noah Gordon, recounts several dramatic stories of how a single phone call can change or even save one’s life; Kennon’s deep drawl, gritty timbre and homiletic intensity convey the message like a sermon preached to a friend over a few whiskey shots. From the righteous growl of “Some People Piss Me Off,” written by Ben Hayslip and Jimmy Yeary, to the soar of the Gary Duffy and Ron Wallace song “Cry Like Memphis” on twin wings of gospel and blues, Kennon plants one foot in the choir loft, the other on the brass rail beneath a honky-tonk bar and keeps perfect balance.


“Ronnie Van Zant.”

“‘Live Like You Were Dying.’”

“I have a Cross necklace tattooed around my neck.”


God Don’t Make Mistakes.”

“A DJ on the radio.”


“Double parking.”

“The Bible.”

“’Smokin’ in the Boy’s Room.’”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Matt Kennon; photo: Kristin Barlowe
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Issue Date: 7/27/2010  
  • Cover Bands: Basic Training for Tomorrow’s Stars, Full-Time Career for Journeyman Pros
  • The Demo Revolution: Technology is Helping Songwriters Expand Their Professional and Creative Option
Cover Bands: Basic Training for Tomorrow’s Stars, Full-Time Career for Journeyman Pros
By Tim Ghianni


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Kenny Chesney needn’t dive deeply into his personal history to recall the frustrations of Mark Heinrich, founder and drummer for Cheyenne, the Austin-based cover band said to be the favorite of Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Chesney remembers his hunger to step out from the shadows of Willie Nelson, Hank Williams Jr. and other barroom favorites. He had a satchel filled with songs he’d written. But reality held him back.

“The bar owners, they wanted to sell beer,” Chesney recalled. “So if I was singing ‘Whiskey Bent and Hell Bound,’ they were happy. If I did one of my own, they weren’t. They’re about moving drinks, not breaking artists.”

Heinrich can relate. He’s been banging the drum slowly or loudly — whatever it takes to keep the crowd happy — in Lone Star State frat houses and roadhouses for a decade and a half. But his hoped-for destination is far removed from the bridal shows, college parties and regional clubs that dot Cheyenne’s gig calendar.

“I want to come to Nashville as an artist,” said Heinrich, 41, an electronics and IT guru for the city of Austin by day and road dog on nights and weekends.

A major step on that journey would be to get crowds to listen to his songs: Perhaps the right ears would hear him and doors might open. On this night, for example, he’s playing a club in Marble Falls, Texas. His band might trot out an original or two, but mostly they’ll draw from well-worn and loved songs by Chesney, Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn and Merle Haggard.

Chesney would do exactly that too, during his cover-band apprenticeship. “I was writing my own songs at the time,” he explained. “I’d throw in one or two a night. You know you want to do your own songs, but you know too that nobody cares. You’re playing for the guys and girls who are there to have fun, so you want to make sure they do.”

To get to his show at Marble Falls, Heinrich tidies his desk at workday’s end in a city office building. He and his band then have about two hours to drag their gear up to the Sports Arena Bar & Laundromat, a wine cooler, beer and setups joint along Farm-to-Market Highway 1431 in Marble Falls. Heinrich views the show at this 3,000-square-foot, 171-capacity club as one more step toward stardom. “If I’m above ground, I’ve got a 100 percent chance of making it,” he said. “All it takes is one song.”

He even thinks he’s written that golden ticket. “It’s been in my head since my dad passed away. It’s called ‘Go the Distance.’ If the right person hears the song, it’s going to be a hit.” But folks in Marble Falls aren’t lining up for Cheyenne to hear introspective singer/songwriter fare. They want to wash away Texas dust by sucking on longnecks and listening to favorites like Chesney’s “How Forever Feels,” Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places” and anything by George Strait.

Brooks remembers exactly how it felt to be anonymous on a bandstand and know that his job was to recreate the songs made popular by stars of the day. “I was lucky enough to be in a band called Santa Fe,” he said. “We played honky tonks around Oklahoma. The time was 1985 and ’86. We all came to Nashville together in 1987. The band was made up of the Skinner Brothers, a freewheeling, play-anything-with-a-bad-ass-groove, three-part harmony group. I wanted to be George Strait and Randy Travis.”

These days, Brooks is still taking requests, though the crowds drawn to his stripped-down show at Wynn Las Vegas holler out for “The Thunder Rolls,” “Ain’t Going Down (‘Til the Sun Comes Up)” and others he wrote or co-wrote. But he remembers when audiences just wanted him to deliver Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live in Texas” or Travis’ “On the Other Hand.”

“We selected our songs by what would get the people on the dance floor,” Brooks said. “The more action on the floor, the more action everywhere in the club — the bar, pool tables, concessions, etc. The more action, the more the club owner was happy; the happier the club owner, the better the chance of getting invited back to play.”

Luke Bryan knows the house rules too. He began performing as a teenager around his family’s home turf in Leesburg, Ga., and then became a college-crowd sensation as the acrobatic and enthusiastic lead singer and acoustic guitarist with the cover band Neyami Road. Even after he’d moved to Nashville and started writing songs, those weren’t the tunes he played on weekends when he returned to the Georgia college circuit.

“We always did songs like ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ (by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) and we did ‘Mountain Music,’ all your old Alabama tunes,” he said.

Bryan credits the exposure he gained on those gigs, heightened with his special EP releases tied to spring break, with helping to lift him toward his present success. But not every artist on the cover-band circuit wants to be the guy whose songs everybody else is singing.

Take Don Kelley, who continues his decades-long stint working five nights a week on Nashville’s Lower Broadway. Playing for tips and tipplers at Robert’s Western World is all the affable Kelley plans to do. His ever-evolving Don Kelley Band has included musicians who have helped flavor the works of Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard; other Kelley alums cash in as part of the Music Row session scene.

“I’ve been playing music since I was 15, and except for a few years in Vietnam, this is all I’ve ever done,” Kelley mused. “I’ve never had a real job. I’ve never wanted to be a singing star. I sing good enough to get the gig. I’ve never been out of work.”

One key to his durability is the care he takes in picking material. “The way I choose a song is, if I like it, I’ll work it up. If I play it, I go a lot by the audience: If they respond real well, then I’ll keep it. And, I stay with the ’60s and ’70s guys — Cash, Buck Owens, Haggard — because they always had those swingy guitar players.”

Brooks had a similar approach to building set lists during his days with Santa Fe. “We always kept the promise of never doing anything anyone in the group hated,” he said. “That made it very enjoyable to play. And any new stuff we had was upbeat. It was suicide trying to introduce slow stuff nobody had ever heard before in a dance hall.”

This helped Brooks develop his “melting pot of all music,” which helped draw new fans to Country Music in the 1990s. Even now, he nourishes his performances by drawing from work he admires by others. “I believe in my own music,” he said. “But this gig at the Wynn in Las Vegas is a road map through my life, playing the artists I was raised on and how those artists have influenced creating and performing the music I now call my own.”

Bryan sums up the benefit of playing covers more succinctly. “It just lets you see what kind of songs people want to hear and what are the songs that get people up and going,” he said. “Years of playing in front of people and playing covers make you more seasoned. It helps you grow and become a better entertainer and performer. You learn what people like and you go from there.”



The Demo Revolution: Technology is Helping Songwriters Expand Their Professional and Creative Option
By Fett


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

During the last several decades of the last century, the demo producing and pitching process remained pretty much the same. Songwriters would emerge from a writing session with a “work tape” reference recording on cassette. They’d present the work tape to their publisher, who would provide feedback and determine when the song was ready for a full demo.

The publisher would then fund a demo session, which usually took place at an established studio on Music Row, using experienced, professional session players and singers. The publisher would use the resulting recording to pitch the song to potential end-users — mostly major-label producers, A&R reps and artists.

Over the past 10 years, this process has changed dramatically, driven by universal access to high-quality, low-cost technologies and greatly expanded song markets and marketing avenues. At the heart of these three phenomena are two vital tools: the personal computer and the Internet.

As a result, today’s process for producing and pitching demos looks like this:

Songwriters emerge from a writing session with an MP3 of a reference recording most likely recorded using GarageBand on one of the songwriters’ MacBook laptops. The GarageBand tracks might very well be the starting or “pre-production” tracks for the full demo.

The songwriters e-mail the MP3 to their publisher, but while awaiting feedback they start promoting the song themselves through e-mail and cell phone, social networking sites, online pitching services and myriad other outlets. Whether the publisher pays for it or not, the full demo will probably be tracked, overdubbed, mixed and mastered overtime by a variety of people in different locations, most likely starting with the songwriters’ home studios. In addition to producers, A&R reps and artists on Music Row, film and TV music supervisors, music libraries, small independent labels and countless other artists will likely also be pitched — not just in the United States, but all over the world — via the Internet.

Here’s a sampling of just some of the new demo-related resources that have become available to everyone, from DIY entities to the established, traditional music-industry giants.

Infrastructure and Communication
Laptops and the Internet are ubiquitous in most contemporary songwriting sessions. Nashville-based songwriter Victoria Banks, whose credits include Sara Evans’ “Saints & Angels” and Jessica Simpson’s “Come On Over” and “Remember That,” says that she and virtually every co-writer she works with brings an Apple MacBook to every writing appointment. If they happen to be in different cities while co-writing, they’ll run Skype’s free audio/video conferencing software to see and hear each other in real time. They also often use the Internet to access online rhyming dictionaries and thesauri. “I get really aggravated if there’s no Wi-Fi available,” Banks quipped.

Other writers use the MasterWriter program for near-rhymes, cultural idioms, basic recording and other songwriter-specific features. Some use apps on their smartphones, such as Sonoma Wire Works’ StudioTracks multi-track audio recording program, to capture musical ideas and create work versions.

To share larger, full-resolution audio files with her co-writers as well as recording studios and other parties, Banks uses Internet-based file-transfer services, including Most of these services offer a free option that allows transfer of individual files up to 100MB and a limited number of downloads. Paid options allow for much larger files — for example, up to 2GB — as well as more downloads, longer storage time and file-delivery features.

In addition to e-mailing MP3s, many modern songwriters use multiple social networking sites to pitch their songs. Banks regularly uploads her demos to her Facebook and MySpace sites, which she refers to as “business cards that play music at you.” She finds them to be a convenient place to send potential clients because they can hear her songs instantly, in part because Banks uses iTunes to organize them by style, tempo, male/female vocal and other criteria.

Music Production
Nowhere is affordable, high-quality technology more readily available than in music recording and production. In addition to GarageBand, which is Mac-only, numerous recording programs that run on Mac, Windows and Linux, such as Audacity from, are available for free. Today’s versions of Apple’s Logic, Cakewalk’s SONAR, MOTU’s Digital Performer and Steinberg’s Cubase provide unrivaled power and sound quality to home-demo recordists and professional studios alike.

In addition to loops and beats that facilitate both song creation and song recording, one of the biggest advancements in sonic quality in recent years has been among effects plug-ins and sampled “virtual instruments.” Besides pristine-sounding reverbs, pianos, organs, guitars, basses, horns and strings, users can access high-quality, real sounds of everything from banjos, didgeridoos and exotic Indian drums to full orchestras and choirs recorded in some of the most acoustically perfect spaces on the planet.

Remote Tracks
The Internet is also bursting with sites that specialize in providing remotely-recorded tracks from professional session players. Looking for a real string section to add to your demo? Just click on and check out samples from this Nashville-based musician. How about top-notch drums? Visit or Need killer guitar tracks? Go to What about a great demo singer in any musical style? Visit And for a little bit of everything, there’s This type of collaborative tracking and overdubbing has become so popular that even the Nashville local of the American Federation of Musicians has bought into the idea by creating a very progressive, affordable, sliding-rate scale specifically for tracks recorded over the Internet. (This scale has been cleared for use nationwide as well as Nashville.)

At Your Service
Some people just aren’t comfortable with, or don’t want to bother with, the technical or logistical details of recording a demo. No problem. There are thousands of studios and music producers online, ranging from one-man-band operations to large, well-known commercial recording facilities, that specialize in managing high-quality, affordable song demo projects. In fact, if there’s any piece lacking in one’s arsenal of demo production resources, from custom beat creation through mixing and mastering, you can be sure it’s available remotely via the Internet for a very reasonable price.

Being There
One intriguing, technology-driven phenomenon in recent years is the shift from traditional “mail-in” demos to what Michael Laskow, CEO of the independent A&R service TAXI, refers to as “phone-in” demos. With the advent of cheap or free real-time audio and video conferencing over the Internet, demo clients can now be “present” at a demo session no matter where they’re located, hearing everything as it happens and providing immediate feedback to the demo producer and musicians.

Producer Cliff Goldmacher uses this kind of technology to produce demo sessions at his Nashville studio — in real time — from his second studio facility in New York City via his Web site “I live in New York, but with this setup I can work with clients all over the world who write Country songs and want to demo them with the session musicians and singers who do this every day,” he explained.

It All Ends with the Song
So does universal access to these great tools result in better demos? Not necessarily, according to songwriter Sara Light. As a co-founder of, a songwriting education site offering online courses, feedback, mentoring and pitching opportunities, she believes that while the sonic and production quality of demos — especially home-produced demos — continues to improve steadily, the rate of improvement in song quality and music business knowledge isn’t happening at the same pace. In her view, it’s a given that today’s demos must be “master” or “broadcast” quality, but no matter how much technology one throws at a demo, it won’t help if the song isn’t up to par or the person pitching the demo doesn’t know how the publishing business works.

Luckily, anyone who wants to learn to write, record and promote their songs more effectively can find that information online. “There’s no excuse anymore for anyone to say ‘I didn’t know, I didn’t understand,’ because you can find everything you need by sitting down in front of your computer to research and discover,” Light insisted.

“I think it’s still about the song,” Laskow of TAXI concurred. “If anything, we’ve now come full circle, where people have relied too much on the technology and the ready availability of A-list session players and thinking that that’s going to carry the song, when it really boils down to the same thing that it always has, which is that the song has to be great — ‘good’ isn’t good enough.”

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Issue Date: 7/20/2010  
  • Wearing the Brand and Spreading the Word: Merchandise Pros Tell How to Maximize Product Sales
  • Get Up to Speed with Sequencing: Why Album Song Order Matters Even in the Digital Era
Wearing the Brand and Spreading the Word: Merchandise Pros Tell How to Maximize Product Sales
By Mark Crawford


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For today’s Country artists, merchandise constitutes a revenue source of ever-increasing importance. Sales of T-shirts, hats, CDs and other items help cover the costs of the bus and road crews for emerging artists as they play smaller venues across the country. For established performers, merchandise can generate millions of dollars of annual income.

With so much on the (bottom) line, it’s no wonder that Country artists often hire professionals who understand the art and science of merchandising, from researching trends and analyzing sales statistics, to designing eye-catching products and knowing exactly where to place them at a show.

“The best-selling venue item continues to be the special photo T-shirt with a big picture of the artist, usually from a CD cover or a separate shoot,” said Bill Huntsman, Merchandise Manager for Brooks & Dunn. Josh Brown, Merchandising Manager for Dierks Bentley, agrees. “And it’s not just Country artists,” he added. “Nickelback, Metallica and Bruce Springsteen all have concert tour shirts.

Even when clients have logo-driven apparel that helps diversify their product lines, their merchandise companies know the fans want the concert T, and sales revenues back that up.”

“T-shirts are about 80 percent of all merchandise sales,” said Carl Gibbs, President, Music City Merchandise, which manages the merchandise needs for Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Blake Shelton, various rock bands and CMA, among other clients. “The top three colors for men are black, charcoal grey and medium blue. Pink, lavender and white are most popular for women. The brand of the shirt is also becoming increasingly important — American Apparel is especially in demand.”

While T-shirts with the artist’s image on front and tour cities on the back sell strong in every market, they rack up especially impressive numbers in smaller towns. “For example, Pocatello, Idaho, doesn’t get as many big shows as larger cities,” said Gibbs.

“You can bet Jason Aldean’s tour shirt with Pocatello on the back will sell really well. Shirts that play off big hits are also popular. At a Trace Adkins show, the ladies’ T that says ‘Can’t Blame Me for What My Mama Gave Me’ across the chest and ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’ across the back usually sells out.”

After T-shirts, the next-best selling items are hats and CDs. “Headwear is becoming a great impulse buy at shows,” said Brown. “With the way hats are constructed today, almost any design is possible. If I have seven shirts for sale, my hats outsell at least three of my shirts, which tells me fans didn’t expect to see a hat with multiple design elements at the show. Frayed bills, acid washes, embroidery and screen printing all on the same hat add a lot of value to the product.”

CDs continue to sell briskly, especially among fans of older artists. “Fans are always looking for value. One way of doing this is bundling music with other products. A big seller for The Oak Ridge Boys last year around Christmas was a five-CD set with a Christmas ornament for $85,” said Terry Calonge, CEO, Richards and Southern, a merchandising firm whose clients include Reba McEntire, George Strait and Alabama, for whom the firm created its first bundle in 1984: T-shirt, cap, photo and key ring, all for $20.

Successful merchandisers strive to understand artists and their audiences in depth, as well as to study the selling trends of other performers who play to the same demographic. “We create multiple retail statements for each of our artists,” said Calonge. “For example, the first statement is usually built around the name of the album or tour. The second may focus on the personal side of the artist.”

The challenge, of course, is to design new images and artwork that are both fresh and appealing. Studying current fashion trends is essential to this process: What designs are working for a particular demographic? “My graphic artists do a great deal of in-depth research online,” said Gibbs. “Some of them also work in the rock world and can bring these elements into their Country designs. Today’s young generation listens to a variety of music. It might be metal on Friday night and Trace Adkins on Saturday. Putting a rock twist on Country merchandise works really well — skulls really do sell well in Country Music.”

Accurately predicting the makeup of the audience is one of the biggest responsibilities for merchandising managers. Having the right sizes of shirts, in the right amounts, for each venue is just as critical.

“We put together a merchandising plan for each location at each venue,” said Calonge. “We track sales every day so we know what is selling. This allows us to forecast sales by the number of tickets sold. For example, a factor of .09 means that 100 people have to buy a ticket in order to sell one T-shirt. These metrics tell us how much product we need to provide on a just-in-time basis. On average, we turn over our complete inventory every 3.3 days.” 

Season-appropriate clothing also drives merchandise sales. “Dierks’ song, ‘What Was I Thinkin’,” is about a girl in a little white tank top,” said Brown. “Our white tank top sells well every summer, but sales taper off during the colder months.”

Of course, when it’s 10 degrees outside, impulse buys of tank tops bottom out. But that’s when hoodie sales take off. “If you do an outdoor show where it’s chilly or rains, you can sell sweatshirts, long-sleeve shirts or ponchos as fast as you can get them out of your truck,” said Huntsman.

Fans expect to make their purchases quickly at concert venues. “In order to get large gross sales, a line has to turn quickly or sales will be left on the table,” advised Brown. “A 12-to-15-item product line can make more money than a 25-to-30-item product line because fans have fewer choices to consider and hence make up their minds faster, which means the next person in line doesn’t have to wait as long.”

Merchandise is not just a profit center. It’s also a powerful marketing tool that builds an artist’s brand. Good merchandise numbers, then, can also accelerate an artist’s rise toward better-paying gigs. “Merchandise sales are a good indicator of an artist’s popularity,” said Todd Cayce, Account Manager, Richards and Southern. “When headliners are looking for supporting acts on the road, they’ll always check out their merchandise numbers.”

Artists who pay close attention to their fans tend to sell the most merchandise. Some even get involved in the design process. “Justin Moore came to us in the beginning with the idea of branding himself with a rooster and using the double-O in his last name to look like a double-barreled shotgun,” said Cayce. “Our graphic art team took his idea and made it come to life. Justin’s rooster logo and shotgun barrel can be seen on his backdrop and on all of his merchandise.”

“I’m a hands-on guy in everything I do,” Moore confirmed. “Merchandise is a huge opportunity for emerging artists to build their brand. In the video for ‘Back That Thing Up,’ there’s a rooster crowing in the beginning. I was thinking, ‘How can I use that to be different?’ I’m also a big hunter, and the NRA is one of my sponsors, so the double-barreled shotgun makes a lot of sense.

“Merchandising is a huge opportunity for every artist,” Moore concluded. “It’s cool for the fans to know you designed the shirt or were personally involved in the creative process. Whatever your merchandise is, just be sure it reflects your personality and your music. You don’t want to be endorsing an image that’s not true to who you are.”


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Gretchen Wilson T-shirt; photo courtesy of Terry Calogne
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Justin Moore Merchandise; photo courtesy of Richards & Southern
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Reba McEntire T-Shirt; photo courtesy of Terry Calogne
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Rodney Carrington T-shirt; photo courtesy of Terry Calogne
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Get Up to Speed with Sequencing: Why Album Song Order Matters Even in the Digital Era
By Tim Ghianni


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

The art of selecting the sequence of cuts on an album may seem to be vanishing in an age when downloading singles is the rage. But just don’t tell that to Rory Feek or David Nail.

In 2009, each of the two singer/songwriters issued what many would group among the more intriguing Country albums of the year — not just because of their quality, but also because of the thought that went into placing each in the proper place to set the mood or tell a story.

Nail’s I’m About to Come Alive and The Life of a Song, which Feek recorded with wife Joey Martin as Joey + Rory, are both structured so that the music is contained between bookends. What happens in between enhances listening experiences that can be savored from start to finish.

Built around a theme of growing up and away from small-town life, Nail’s album opens with “Mississippi,” a wistful meditation on places left behind, written by Scooter Carusoe, Dan Colehour and Chuck Leavell, and closes with another ballad, Nail’s self-penned “Missouri,” on which the protagonist sings from home but with a different kind of heartache.

The Joey + Rory album uses “Play the Song,” by Feek, and “The Life of a Song,” by Patrick Jason Matthews and Rebecca Lynn Howard, to frame songs that evoke an older school of Country, with Bob Wills-flavored dancehall drivers, Emmylou-style heartbreakers, cowboy songs and a dash of sass.

This structure suited the concept of Carl Jackson, whose credits as producer include the Grammy Award-winning Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers as well as The Life of a Song. He began work with the duo by culling through song possibilities before settling on the bookend/song cycle concept. From that point, they arranged the cuts according to subject and tempo, with the goal of carrying the listener all the way through.

“There’s a couple of different ways to look at sequencing, but it’s still very important, as far as I’m concerned,” Jackson said. “I look at an album as an event. I like to listen to an album all the way through and be entertained. It starts with great songs and you try to put them in an order that’s very pleasing to the listener.”

Jackson’s approach is informed strongly by his history as a singer and master of the banjo. His résumé goes back to being hired at 14 by Jim and Jesse McReynolds, a brief foray in The Country Store, a bluegrass group with Keith Whitley, Jimmy Gaudreau and Bill Rawlings and a long run with Glen Campbell. Through these and other experiences he learned the importance of pacing, whether onstage or on albums.

“As much as I love ballads — ballads are my favorite things in the world and it wouldn’t bother me to have an album of nothing but ballads — you want to cut some up-tempo things and place them throughout the album,” Jackson said. “You don’t really want to have three or four ballads right in a row any more than you want three or four up-tempo things in a row.”

Mike Wrucke, who produced Nail’s album with Frank Liddell, also puts much thought into the track order. “You try to get a good flow from song to song,” he said, adding that “it’s cool when you are working with an artist who has a vision.”

A vision that appreciates the album format is perhaps rarer than it was just a few years ago. “Today, a lot of people are so single-driven — you know, release this song to iTunes for downloading,” Wrucke observed. Hastening to add that he doesn’t see anything wrong with that, the producer clarified that it just isn’t the way he prefers to work.

“I love albums,” he emphasized. On I’m About to Come Alive as well as Miranda Lambert’s catalog, all of which he also produced with Liddell, “I just wanted to make more of an album, rather than look for the perfect three-minute single that’s safe and easy for radio.”

One of the critical tracks on the Nail album, in Wrucke’s estimation, is “Missouri.” Running a full four minutes, it’s far from the bite-size, happily-ever-after tunes considered ideal for radio, a point Nail seems to underscore by singing the title with the pronunciation “misery.” But why take it even further by framing his album with two down tempo tunes? According to Nail, that idea guided him right from the start. “I had 10 or 15 different playlists with the songs in different order on my iPod,” he said, but those two always remained at the front and the back of the sequence.

To help him arrange the material between those two, Nail kept the album’s premise in mind. “It does take a theme of small-town kid who moves to the city,” he explained. “He couldn’t wait to get out of this small town, felt that small town was holding him back, but when he gets there he kind of struggles and he longs for that small-town way of life again.

“It was very much my story,” he added, noting that this yearning for small-town life has subsided somewhat since his marriage last June to Catherine Werne. “Now we want something in between.”

To document the tale he envisioned for I’m About to Come Alive, Nail assembled a list of songs that included the title track, recorded originally by the rock band Train, as well as his own co-writes with partners including Kenny Chesney and veteran session keyboardist Chuck Leavell, whose Georgia-woods flavored playing augmented the album’s mood.

And then Nail stepped back to reflect more generally on how he likes to listen to music. “I wanted to have it almost come across as a movie to the people listening,” he said. “I wanted it to kind of ease you in and ease you out, with some intense moments in the middle.

“I spent so many days of my life listening to records in cars,” he continued. “I always liked it when someone can put this record in for an hour and drive and get to the end and say, ‘I listened to it from top to bottom a couple of times and it seemed to move effortlessly.’ It always bothered me when people would cut three singles and the rest of the songs on the album were kind of average. I felt that especially in today’s time, if someone is going to spend $10 on a record, you should give them something.”

Nail wasn’t just using Country artists as his models when mulling over his song sequence. As he shuffled his playlists, he kept thinking back to albums from the ‘60s and ‘70s he listened to while riding around in the car with his father, a band director and music enthusiast. In particular, he recalled the work of The Beatles, Glen Campbell and Elton John, who fashioned the “real, authentic, unique, classic-sounding record” he aspired to make.

“I referenced that time period,” he explained. “If you are going to copy something, it might as well be the best.”

Similarly, Feek looked to the classic stylists and even particular albums while working on the song order for The Life of a Song. “I’m extremely Country,” he insisted. “But the album that stood out for me [while sequencing] is Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska. I got to listen to that album a lot on reel-to-reel when I was stationed [with the U.S. Marine Corps] in Japan. I remember falling in love with it. The sequencing and the story line were huge to me.”

Though he wanted “those same kinds of messages and threads” running through his Joey + Rory debut, the stark Midwestern tale spun by the Boss wasn’t the kind of material Feek hoped to emulate. And so he broadened his reference to include another favorite album, The Best of Don Williams, Vol. 2. “You can remember 30 years later what was cut number four on the Don Williams album,” he said, adding that he and his wife “like the old albums and concept albums that you could listen to from beginning to end. So, we spent a lot of time in trying to make the best possible decisions for the record.”

With producer Jackson, they agreed that the sassy “Play the Song” and the to-the-point title track would work as bookends. “The message of the album is that at the end of the day it comes down to the songs, that the song is the most important thing here,” Feek noted. Once that was established, focus shifted to ensuring that the pacing and placing of the rest of the material worked well — in particular because the set included a dramatic rearrangement of a landmark song, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird.” Their decision was to not position it too close to the top.

“The thought process was that it’s a classic song that’s important to people,” Feek said. “When you are remaking something, it feels like it’s something you don’t want to insert early on. We needed to establish some credibility as singers and songwriters before we reached it.” And that credibility was confirmed big-time by positioning the catchy single, “Cheater Cheater,” by Feek, Martin, Kristy Osmunson and Wynn Varble, in the cleanup position at number four.

Looking back on The Life of a Song, Jackson reflected that technology has had an impact on sequencing strategies. Back when his father was a radio deejay, slapping vinyl on the turntable, singles were often the first and last cuts on each side of an album, making it easier to find and spin frequently enough to make them hits.

With CDs, though, Jackson noted that listeners have “instant access" — the ability to jump right to the hit or let the entire album play out. “I think sequencing is just as important now as it’s ever been,” he concluded, “but probably for different reasons.”


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David Nail; photo: Andrew Southam
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Rory Feek and Joey Martin, producer Carl Jackson and mixing engineer Luke Wooten. photo courtesy of Roar Management
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Issue Date: 7/13/2010  
  • Zac Brown Band: The Long Road to Overnight Success
  • Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers
Zac Brown Band: The Long Road to Overnight Success
By Bobby Reed


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

A gourmet, multicourse meal requires a great deal of toil. To someone who has no training in the culinary arts, however, that delicious meal might appear to be something that just popped right out of the oven.

The same is true for Zac Brown Band’s “overnight success.” Most fans probably hadn’t heard of the act until the release of “Chicken Fried,” the lead single off their major-label debut album, The Foundation. But Brown had been working toward stardom since the mid ’90s, when he was a high school student playing solo gigs. In fact, by the time Atlantic Records/Home Grown/BPG released The Foundation in November 2008, Brown had already logged more than 3,000 concerts.

Before assembling his namesake band, Brown attended college on a vocal scholarship and played professionally. The Georgia native also worked as a chef and restaurant manager, recorded a couple of independent albums and toured extensively before signing a recording contract a few years ago. Corporate upheavals eventually led that deal to dissolve, but then Atlantic picked up Zac Brown Band, which had already recorded The Foundation.

Brown fronts the band, singing lead vocals and playing a gut-string acoustic guitar. The other members are Coy Bowles on guitar and organ; Clay Cook on guitar, mandolin, organ, pedal steel and vocals; Jimmy De Martini on violin and vocals; Chris Fryar on drums; and John Driskell Hopkins on bass and vocals.

Upon signing the band, Craig Kallman, Chairman and CEO, Atlantic Records, hailed them as a “self-made American success story.” “They’ve built up a phenomenal grass-roots base with music that cuts across musical boundaries and walks of life to speak to the hearts of people everywhere,” he noted. “They are the perfect band for our times, with the songs, the musicianship and the power to become a major presence.”

Keith Stegall had reached the same conclusion after hearing Zac Brown Band early in 2007 at 3rd & Lindsley in Nashville. The four-time CMA Awards winner was well established as one of Music City’s top producers, with Platinum and multi-Platinum albums by Terri Clark, Alan Jackson and Randy Travis among his achievements. Yet even in this stellar catalog, nothing quite matched the opportunity and the challenge that Stegall imagined he would face in producing this new group.

“The biggest compliment Zac paid me was to let me do The Foundation,” Stegall said. “He could have said, ‘No, you’re part of that Nashville system. I don’t want my music to sound like that.’ But I guess he trusted me enough to let me take a crack at doing it.”

Sessions spread over eight months, with basics laid down at the studio of bassist Hopkins, in Atlanta; Brown’s solos and most of his vocals were tracked in Nashville, with additional vocals cut in Nassau, The Bahamas. From the start, Stegall and engineer John Kelton decided to emphasize the most obvious qualities that uniquely branded this group.

“We felt that one of the biggest hooks was Zac’s guitar playing,” Stegall explained. “Nobody had done that gut-string guitar since Willie Nelson, so you know immediately that it’s Zac Brown when you hear it on the radio. We just felt that if we could build the album around Zac’s voice and that gut-string guitar to the point that people would associate that sound with Zac Brown Band, it would only get bigger from there.” Stegall’s plan proved prophetic. The Foundation became the eighth major-label debut in the Nielsen SoundScan era to propel at least three singles to No. 1. (One of them, “Toes,” was written by Brown, Hopkins, Wyatt Durrette and Shawn Mullins; Brown and Durrette co-wrote the two other chart-topping singles, “Chicken Fried” and “Highway 20 Ride,” as well as “Whatever It Is,” which peaked at No. 2.)

Initially, some radio programmers were unsure about “Chicken Fried.” “There was a bit of early resistance because the song was so different,” explained Michael Powers, Partner/Co-Head of Promotion, Bigger Picture Group, whose clients include Gloriana, Alan Jackson, Tim McGraw and Uncle Kracker as well as Zac Brown Band. “And Zac doesn’t look like your typical Country star, with the wool cap and the fuzzy beard. Zac does things Zac’s way. It started out as, ‘Well, this guy’s really different,’ but that ended up being his calling card.”

Nowadays, of course, Country radio executives are hungry for material from the band. “We had already had four consecutive No. 1 songs (on the Mediabase 24/7 Country Chart),” Powers noted. “And yet I was getting phone calls from program directors who were telling me that ‘Free’ — the single we were just about to work — was their favorite song on the album. That makes you feel very confident about going five singles deep. Zac is making fans from all genres of music, and that proves there’s still an amazing amount of power in the Country radio format.”

Riding the momentum of the band’s Grammy Award for Best New Artist, The Foundation has been certified Double Platinum and generated sales of more than 4.6 million digital tracks, while “Chicken Fried” had sold more than 760,000 ringtones, as of April. In addition to appearances at Bonnaroo and LP Field during CMA Music Festival in June, Zac Brown Band will perform at several stadium shows with The Dave Matthews Band during the summer. Partnering with Sixthman, the band will also host and headline on the Sailing Southern Ground cruise, which travels from Tampa to Grand Cayman in early September.

On its own tours, Zac Brown Band offers one unique element through its Eat-and-Greet gathering, at which up to 75 fans are invited to join them for a cookout featuring Southern cuisine developed by Brown. The recipes incorporate his Southern Ground Grub spice rub and brown sauce. Both products are sold nationwide at Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores, along with Brown’s Southern Ground Cookbook and an exclusive version of The Foundation that features different cover artwork and three bonus live tracks.

“Obviously, we’re always working on our music, but with this tour we’re building an experience that involves all senses to ensure that it blows fans away every time,” said Brown, who launched his Southern Ground record label in 2009 and signed Atlanta-based artists Sonia Leigh, Levi Lowrey and Nic Cowan. “When people come to our show, we want them to smell the food cooking, taste our favorite recipes, watch our home videos of the road, listen to some great new artists and feel our excitement — a full five-sense experience.”

“If there’s a grill around, we’re going to light it up and throw something on it,” added Hopkins, with a chuckle. “It’s one of those things that makes us all feel comfortable and at home, no matter where we are.”

The band’s recent calendar includes more than live music and pre-concert meals with fans. In May, ZBB released Pass the Jar — Zac Brown Band and Friends Live from the Fabulous Fox Theatre in Atlanta on Southern Ground/Atlantic. This package includes a double album and DVD, shot in HD and directed by Darren Doane with 18 performances and appearances by Angie Aparo, Aslyn, Joey + Rory, Kid Rock, Little Big Town, Shawn Mullins and other guests. The concert, which took place October 2009, was a fundraiser for reconstruction of the historic Georgia Theatre in Athens, destroyed four months earlier by fire. The venue’s owner, Wilmot Greene, benefitted from a connection in high school to Hopkins.

“One of the first big gigs I ever played was at the Georgia Theatre,” the bassist recalled. “We feel like those two theaters, the Fox and the Georgia Theatre, have a kinship and a history in terms of being spectacular places to play.”

Pass the Jar features versions of some original songs, including “We’re Gonna Make This Day” and “Who Knows,” that will be offered on the band’s forthcoming studio album, slated for release later this year.

Apparently, the sky is the limit for Zac Brown Band and its tasty music. “This is just a dream come true,” said Hopkins, who met Brown 13 years ago. “We couldn’t have predicted any of this to go nearly as well and as big as it has. Two years ago, we were touring in an airport shuttle that pulled a trailer. We had gutted the shuttle and bolted captain’s chairs to the floor. We were rolling with seven to nine guys then. And now we’ve got four buses and two semi trucks. The growth has been smart, and the growth has been surprising. But it hasn’t been outrageous. I think we’re doing a good job of keeping our heads about us. We just can’t thank the Country fans enough for being so receptive to us and so gracious to us, and we look forward to pushing the envelope further every year.”

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Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Jamie Dailey doesn’t scare easily. Through his long run as lead singer and guitarist with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, he learned to be comfortable playing in front of bluegrass fans equipped with discerning ears and high standards.

Still, standing on the Ford Theater stage in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, celebrating the release of Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers in February with his colleagues, he was, by his own reckoning, about as nervous as he’d ever been in or out of the spotlight. “My knees were shaking,” he admitted.

The source for this rare onset of stage fright was the presence of The Statler Brothers, a group that had significantly influenced the guitarist and high-tenor singer as well as his partner, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Darrin Vincent, formerly with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. More than that, they had been something of a lifeline for Dailey during difficulties he had weathered in his youth.

“My mom and dad divorced when I was 9,” Dailey recalled. “Earlier that year, my dad had bought me one of those new boom boxes that were popular at the time and a cassette tape of Statler Brothers music.

I think I was going crazy, running around the house like kids do. But when I heard ‘Elizabeth’ come on, when I heard that high harmony, I just stopped because I loved it so much. Then when my parents divorced, it was real tough. Every night I’d go to bed crying, but when I listened to The Statler Brothers it helped me a lot.”

That respect was the seed of a project Dailey & Vincent had in mind ever since they put the group together in 2007. They had, after all, already recorded Statlers material, including “More Than a Name on the Wall” on their self-titled debut in 2008 and, on Brothers from Different Mothers from 2009, “There Is You” and “Years Ago” as well as a guest appearance by Statler Brother Don Reid on “Head Hung Down.”

But even before sweeping the 2008 International Bluegrass Music Awards by winning seven trophies and becoming the first act in that organization’s history to win both Emerging Artist and Entertainer of the Year, they were determined to record a more comprehensive homage to the Statlers.

“Shortly after the first record was released, Jamie brought up the idea of doing a tribute to the Statlers,” said Ken Irwin, Co-Founder and Co-Owner, Rounder Records, which has issued all of the Dailey & Vincent catalog including, in April, the gospel collection Singing from the Heart.

“I thought that at the time it was premature to have their next regular release be a tribute to another group while Dailey & Vincent were establishing themselves. We needed to have the next record be more Dailey & Vincent and not take away from that branding. So when the idea came up to do it through Cracker Barrel, it seemed like a win/win situation.”

The artists agreed, especially because their fans seemed open to the idea. “They were almost demanding it,” said Vincent, with a chuckle.

“Just about every night, they would come up and ask for ‘Elizabeth,’ ‘Flowers on the Wall,’ ‘I’ll Go to My Grave Lovin’ You’ — on and on. They said, ‘If you had it out right now, I’d buy it.’ When you have demand like that, it doesn’t take long for your management and record label to say, ‘We’d better give it to them.’”

Since they were playing 140 shows a year and wrestling with the challenges of establishing and maintaining momentum as a new act, Dailey & Vincent didn’t bump it toward the top of their agenda until they’d heard from the Statlers themselves. “They showed up for one of our shows at Staunton, Va.,” said Dailey, noting the hometown for most of the members of the group. “They were sitting out there in lawn chairs, like everybody else. So we were quite taken aback when they came to the bus afterwards and talked with us.”

Finally, when the Statlers asked Daily & Vincent to perform at their induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in June 2008, work was underway. With Rounder wary of issuing a tribute album too early, arrangements were made to release it exclusively through Cracker Barrel.

“It was a little different than what we’ve done in the past,” admitted Peter Keiser, VP, Marketing, Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. “They’re a little bit earlier in their career than some of the other artists we’ve worked with. But bluegrass has a very strong emotional connection with our guests. And The Statler Brothers are both Country and gospel music icons. When you layer that on top of the fact that you’ve got brilliant artists like Jamie and Darrin, it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.”

After confirming his instincts by polling customers on their feelings about Dailey & Vincent, Keiser negotiated approval from Rounder for exclusive rights to sell Dailey & Vincent Sing The Statler Brothers via CD, with logos for Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Rounder on thecover. Rounder reserved creative responsibility for the artists; all other matters, including graphic design, photography, packaging and publicity, were handled jointly by the label and the restaurant/retail chain.

For Dailey & Vincent, there were two essential goals: to obtain the Statlers’ support and to choose and record the material with integrity. Toward the first point, they arranged a meeting in Staunton with the brothers Harold and Don Reid, from the Statlers, to present their plans face-to-face.

“We met at a restaurant here in town,” Don Reid said. “When they ran the idea past me, I said, ‘Do you think our music will relate to bluegrass?’ And Jamie said, ‘Anything we sing will be bluegrass when we’re through with it.’”

In fact, while their arrangements are built on the acoustic instrumentation of their previous albums, as opposed to the electrified pop-inflected settings of the Statlers, Dailey & Vincent strove to preserve the feeling of the original tracks.

“I’ve heard that you need to get away from what the other artists did and try to do your own thing on tribute records,” said Dailey. “In my opinion, no, you don’t. It’s just like doing a Bill Monroe song onstage and trying the same licks on the mandolin. We need to hit the same licks on our guitars as they did on ‘I’ll Go to My Grave Lovin’ You’ because that’s the identity of the song.”

Changes were kept minimal. Details of the vocals may differ, with Dailey’s straight-toned tenor contrasting slightly with the vibratos of the late Lew DeWitt and Jimmy Fortune on Statlers tracks. Two songs, “Flowers on the Wall” and “I’ll Go to My Grave Lovin’ You,” were transposed to other keys, to accommodate Dailey & Vincent’s vocal ranges. But the harmony parts, featuring Dailey, Vincent, guitarist Christian Davis, banjo and guitar player Joe Dean Jr., and mandolin and guitar player Jeff Parker, sweetened by Jesse Stockman’s fiddle, perfectly replicate those of the Statlers, down to some surprising details.

“They did certain things based on the way we sang it onstage and not necessarily the way we did it on records,” Don Reid said. “I’ll give you an example: On the third verse of ‘Do You Know You Are My Sunshine,’ they do a little jolt where they attack the third verse. We didn’t do that on the original record, but we used to do it onstage, kind of as a joke. So these guys didn’t just study the record; they studied everything!”

For all the risks, from the tribute concept to commercial potential, the 12-track album has paid off, peaking at the top of the Billboard Bluegrass chart. The artists have met audience members at their shows who first heard their music while shopping at Cracker Barrel. The Statlers picked up new visibility too, as Dailey & Vincent set aside a segment of their concerts to feature their material. But the sweetest moments came around Christmastime, when Don Reid, having heard the final mixes, called. Dailey remembers the conversation clearly.

“He said, ‘Guys, I’m sitting here listening to it, over and over. How did you do this? You still sound like you but you covered our music so thoroughly! I’m just amazed. I’m in tears!’”

“It was a bigger thing that we were expecting,” Don Reid confirmed. “It’s a salute to us, but they put themselves into it, so it’s a Dailey & Vincent album. That is a credit to them and to their talent.”

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Dailey & Vincent. photo: Jim McGuire
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The Statler Brothers join Dailey & Vincent at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to celebrate the release of 'Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers" in February. Harold Reid, Jimmy Fortune, Jamie Dailey, Darren Vincent, Don Reid and Phil Balsley. photo: Randi Radcliff
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By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

The fifth of six children, Gokey grew up in a Milwaukee family that loved music and valued hard work. Drawn from the start to Country Music, he infused his singing with an element of soul distilled from performances in church. Though he paid the bills as a truck driver, Gokey dreamed of pursuing music, so when his wife Sophia encouraged him to try out for “American Idol” he agreed to give it a shot.

Immediately afterwards, two pivotal events rocked the young artist’s life: Sophia’s sudden and unexpected death in the midst of heart surgery, followed just a month later by his acceptance as an “American Idol” contestant. His ascension endeared him to viewers and impressed the program’s judges, including the notoriously difficult Simon Cowell, who described one of Gokey’s performances as “a vocal master class.”

Not surprisingly, when 19 Recordings/RCA Nashville released his debut album, My Best Days in March, the public pounced. More than 65,000 copies sold during its first week — the strongest sales for that period by any debuting male Country artist in 18 years, launching it at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and No. 4 on the Billboard 200.

On these 10 tracks, Gokey emerges as a unique stylist, combining emotion and craft, insightful and interpretive phrasing, and sensitivity balanced by raw, searing intensity. His first single, “My Best Days Are Ahead of Me,” written by Marv Green and Kent Blazy, opens the album assertively, with a lyric that nods toward past struggles, but affirms his determination to live fully through whatever awaits him — delivered, in contemporary Country fashion, over a power lick played on steel guitar.

Gospel elements add urgency to his delivery on each song, especially in the preaching cadences of “I Will Not Say Goodbye,” by Lari White, Chuck Cannon and Vicky McGehee. But even on this closing track, the spirit of modern Country prevails. Gokey’s best days may lie before him, but with this Mark Bright-produced album he moves toward them decisively.


Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, by Immaculee Ilibagiza.”

“Gary LeVox or Brian McKnight.”

“Whole Foods Market. I love eating healthy.”

“My wedding day.”

Never Give Up.”

“A business man and a philanthropist.”

“A diary of important lessons I learned about life and my CD.”

“My home visit on 'American Idol!'  Around 26,000 people came out to see me perform.”

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Danny Gokey. photo: Andrew Southam
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Issue Date: 7/6/2010  
  • Josh Turner Unveils His Brighter Side and Builds His Brand with ‘Haywire’
  • NEW ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Laura Bell Bundy
Josh Turner Unveils His Brighter Side and Builds His Brand with ‘Haywire’
By Tom Roland


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For all the outstanding talent showcased at Universal Music Group’s lunchtime event at the Ryman Auditorium during Country Radio Seminar in February, Josh Turner’s performance arguably stood out as the most surprising of all.

It wasn’t because of his voice, one of the most identifiable in the business. That tooth-rattling bass was as familiar as it was impressive, prompting Jennifer Nettles to quip during Sugarland’s appearance at that showcase, “I was sitting there thinking, ‘Is there a subway under the Ryman? No, that’s just Josh Turner warming up.’”

The surprise stemmed more from Turner’s stage presence. He had stepped into the national spotlight in 2001 with a stunning performance on the Grand Ole Opry of “Long Black Train,” a Turner composition whose serious, spiritual essence was reinforced by the chilling depth of his resonance and a tendency toward shyness in his early interviews.

But the Josh Turner onstage during CRS was anything but serious. He introduced his upcoming single, “All Over Me,” a summertime romp written by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip, and spent as much time talking as he did singing and displaying a sense of humor with an impression of Ralph Stanley covering Nelly’s hip-hop hit “Hot in Herre.”

When invited several weeks later to reflect on this more expanded persona, Turner replied, seriously, “If you ask a lot of my family, they will tell you that behind the scenes I am very withdrawn and kind of introverted and just real quiet and laid-back.”

Then, with a comic flair, he added, “Normally, it’s because I can’t get a word in!”

“But ever since I was a young boy,” he continued, “my way of expressing myself has been onstage. When I’m up there, I can speak freely. Nobody is interrupting me and it’s kind of a rhetorical conversation in a way.”

Turner’s upbeat side is featured more prominently than ever on his fourth studio album, Haywire. With five of its 11 songs written or co-written by Turner, it debuted in February at No. 2 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart and No. 5 on the Billboard 200. The first single, “Why Don’t We Just Dance,” by Jim Beavers, Darrell Brown and Jonathan Singleton, spent four weeks at No. 1 just as Haywire was released. The album gives plenty of exposure to the upbeat side of Turner’s personality through the chugging title track, a Turner composition, the work-and-love saga “Friday Paycheck,” penned by Turner and Mark Narmore and the tongue-in-cheek romp “Eye Candy,” which Turner wrote with Shawn Camp and Pat McLaughlin.

This move into a somewhat broader spotlight says as much about changing times as the artist’s newer directions. During the period he recorded Haywire, from the fall of 2008 through June 2009, much of America and in particular the Country Music fan base was struggling with multiple challenges: the mortgage meltdown, Wall Street’s near collapse, a contentious election and stubbornly unyielding unemployment figures. Turner had no intention of piling anything with as stern a message as “Long Black Train” into the mix during those uncertain times.

“I wasn’t in the mood to sing any sad songs,” he explained. “I wanted to lift people up. I wanted to get people out of their seats, get them to dance and move around and just forget about all the baggage and all the negativity that’s going on in the world. So that first single, ‘Why Don’t We Just Dance,’ was kind of the song that all the other songs centered around.”

This strategy also made Haywire a perfect candidate for one of UMG’s recently introduced deluxe-packaging albums. In addition to the 11-song standard version, the company’s MCA Nashville imprint simultaneously released a second version with four bonus songs, including live performances of “Long Black Train” and “Your Man,” plus the ability to download the “Why Don’t We Just Dance” video and an on-camera interview with Turner about making the album.

In part because of the shyness Turner exhibited during early stages of his career, the label believed that this bonus material would give fans a firmer grasp on him as a complete artist, much as the crowd at the Ryman experienced during CRS. Ken Robold, Executive VP and GM, Universal Music Group Nashville, felt the interview footage “would entice consumers to get more of a connection with him.”

The live bonus tracks targeted two goals, to cement Turner’s hitmaker status for fans who know his name but had not connected him with those previous singles and to demonstrate his personable, outgoing demeanor onstage.

“We felt there was a bit of a missing link with his live performance,” Robold observed. “Even though you can’t visually see him on these audio tracks, there is a lot of audience feedback on both of these tracks. You get the sense, even from an audio perspective, that he’s comfortable onstage and comfortable interacting with the audience.”

It took some work to achieve that comfort level. Turner was petrified the first time he performed in public, singing Randy Travis’ “Diggin’ Up Bones” at 14 when his mother signed him to perform at a church function. He also never toured the club circuit as a young performer, a proven vehicle for grooming entertainers, though he has certainly made up for that through headlining his own shows as well as opening for other artists, the most recent being Alan Jackson on his “Freight Train” tour.

Perhaps most significantly, Turner admits that he wasn’t necessarily born with an entertainer’s temperament. “I don’t like crowds,” he confessed. “I don’t like being in loud places. When I’m away from the stage and the business, I’m in a quiet place. I love my solitude. I love my alone time, whether it’s cutting grass or hunting or fishing  or whatever it may be. It just gets me closer to the Lord and to the Earth and to myself. It’s time for me to think and look for the inspiration for the next song and pray about things going on in my life.”

Fortunately, there’s a distinction between performing for and being immersed in a crowd, and Turner has learned to take some risks by exposing his lighter side in the one-way conversation that ensues in most concert settings.

“The real, true Country Music fan and the real American are waiting to see the true artist,” Turner said. “They’re wanting to see my art. They’re wanting to see my soul. They don’t want me to get up there and put on a façade and try to be something I’m not or try to be cool. I just try to be real and true and organic and brave.”

That approach certainly worked at his CRS appearance, where he showed off not only his funny bone but also his knowledge of R&B. Written by Shawn Camp, Billy Burnette and Brice Long, “No Rush,” from his 2006 album Your Man, earned him comparisons to Barry White. He collaborated with R&B singer Anthony Hamilton on “Nowhere Fast,” written by Hamilton and Kelvin Wooten and included on Everything Is Fine from 2007. Haywire revisits this territory on the old-school-flavored “Lovin’ You on My Mind,” by Tim James, Kendell Marvel and Chris Stapleton.

“My school system was 50 percent white and 50 percent African-American,” the South Carolina native recalled. “It wasn’t just the white culture I was exposed to growing up. I grew up loving traditional Country Music and bluegrass and gospel music. And then, when I got into middle school and high school, I started listening to all the current R&B sounds that all of my friends were listening to — and I loved it. I knew that it was a different style of music, but at the same time there was a lot of soul in that music too. It was just a different kind of soul.”

With all of these elements in the mix, Country audiences are experiencing insights into more varied elements of Turner’s soul. While the classic Country influences, conservative core values and richly-textured voice are as prevalent as ever, his unique humor, his growing ease in public and the subtle reminders of his appreciation for other types establish Haywire as a transitional milestone as well as a well-crafted and perfectly-timed landmark in his catalog.

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Josh Turner; photo: George Holz
Photo: See Caption


Josh Turner; photo: George Holz
Photo: See Caption


Josh Turner; photo: George Holz
Photo: See Caption


Josh Turner; photo: George Holz
Photo: See Caption


By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Concept albums are rare in Country Music, so from the get-go Achin’ and Shakin’, Laura Bell Bundy's major label debut release, is — as she writes and sings in “Homecoming Queen” — “a little left of the middle.”

But that’s to be expected from Bundy, who wrote that song with Jeff Cohen and 11 of the album's 12 tracks. But that’s not all: Where the usual pattern for Country Music hopefuls is to come straight to Nashville to try their luck, Bundy made the move only after gaining extensive performing experience in New York City.

She earned a Tony Award nomination for originating the role of Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde: The Musical.” She was already a veteran at that point, having appeared at 9 in Radio City Music Hall’s “Christmas Spectacular.” At 11, she won an outer critics award for her starring role in "Ruthless! The Musical.” She also starred in the Broadway musicals “Hairspray" and “Wicked.”

But Bundy’s ambition was to sing Country Music. Between theater shows, the Kentucky-born artist and her roommate Amber Rhodes gigged as a down-home duo in Manhattan. Eventually, trading Broadway for Lower Broad in Music City, Bundy signed with Mercury Nashville and worked with three producers on Achin’ and Shakin,’ released in April.

Why three producers? The first half of the album, produced by Nathan Chapman, offers heartbreak songs and wistful ballads. The second, with Kyle Kelso and Mike Shimshack at the helm, dishes up half a dozen up-tempo tunes, beginning with the first single,

“Giddy On Up.” Written by Bundy, Cohen and Shimshack, it captures her playful side as well as her broad musical background. Stax-style horns punch through a banjo-driven hoedown and foot-stomp, dance-floor beat while Bundy radiates confident vocal chops and infectious humor. A seasoned musical actress with a strong Country spirit — now, that’s a concept.


Who is your musical hero?
“I have a few...Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.”

What CD is in your stereo? 
“Lee Ann Womack’s Call Me Crazy.”

What book is on your nightstand? 
“My headboard is actually a bookshelf so there are tons of books; I read about five at a time.  Currently, I’m reading, The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck and The Help by Kathryn Stocket.”

What song do you wish you had written?
“Journey’s ‘Don’t Stop Believin'’ played at every bar in America at some point every night.”

What word or phrase do you find yourself saying over and over again? 
“’No, Norma Jean, you don’t poo poo there.’ Norma Jean is my new puppy.”
What mode of transportation do you prefer? 
“A convertible.”

What moment in your life would you relive if you could? 
“Taking walks with my dad in the fall when I was 5 yrs old and picking sour apples of the trees.”

Do you have a lucky charm? 
“Yes, my Horseshoe necklace and ring.”

If you wrote an autobiography, what would the title be? 
Born To Entertain — The Life and Times of Laura Bell Bundy.” 

When they look back on your life in 50 years, what do you hope people say about you? 
“They’ll probably say, ‘That girl was CRAZY!’  I hope they say, ‘She was true to herself.’”

If you weren’t a musical artist, what would you be? 
“An Allergist or Nutritionist and I would help people that have food allergies like I do.”

What is your favorite food while on the road? 
“Lays Classic Potato Chips”

What can you tell us about yourself that we’d never guess about you?
“I won the Purdue University physics award as a junior in high school. Also I love 'Battlestar Gallactica.'”


Images for above article.

Laura Bell Bundy; photo: Michael Elins
Photo: See Caption





Issue Date: 6/15/2010  
  • New Avenues Open For Artists Exposure Through Television
  • Too Hot to Drive: New MP3 Devices Raise the Roof on Audio for Automobiles
  • Billy Yates Taps Old-World New Income Streams
New Avenues Open For Artists Exposure Through Television
By Bobby Reed


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Feel like hearing some Country Music? Do what much of America has been doing lately: Turn on your TV.

As documented in the Vol. 1 2010 issue of CMA Close Up, in “The Year in Country Music” review, the list of TV shows that used Country songs or featured Country acts was long and diverse in 2009. Equally bright are the findings of the most recent updates to the CMA Country Music Consumer Segmentation Study, which note that in 2009 Country Music fans 18-24 access Country Music on television frequently, with 80 percent watching CMT regularly and 73 percent tuning into E! Entertainment Television, for example.

It's no surprise, then, that promotional spots on television can be effective at spreading a Country artist’s sound and latest work to a broad audience, particularly for those who are somewhat new to the game. Such was the case for Jypsi, whose “Girls Do It Better,” written by Dave Bassett and Catt Gravitt, pumped out a sassy and playful energy that proved a good fit for ABC’s “Desperate Housewives.”

“To have one of our songs chosen to promote ‘Desperate Housewives,’ one of the most popular shows on television, is so exciting,” said lead singer Lillie Mae Rische. “We’re genuinely thrilled and think the song is a great fit. We love it.”

For more established artists, opportunities to write and record music on assignment can be even more lucrative, as illustrated by Kenny Chesney, who cut “This Is Our Time” to add musical punch to ESPN’s “College GameDay” — whose opening theme, Big & Rich's "Coming to Your Town," packed a Country punch of its own.

Written by Chesney and Brett James, the song sprang from a dinner that Chesney had in Nashville with ESPN producer Bill Bonnell and sports broadcasters Kirk Herbstreit and Brent Musburger. “It was one of those moments of spontaneous inspiration,” Chesney recalled. “We were talking about how much goes into getting on that field, what it means to those guys out there, and Bill Bonnell turns to me and says, ‘You ought to write a song about it.’ I asked for a cocktail napkin and started writing the verses and the chorus.”

A few months later, after recording the song, Chesney stopped by the ESPN offices to let Bonnell hear it. The track was approved quickly for use in dozens of football broadcasts. “The song really captures not just the sacrifice and the full-tilt way these athletes play, but it draws a pretty incredible parallel to what it takes to make it as a musician too,” Bonnell observed. “They’re more similar than you’d guess — and equally intense.”

ESPN used the music of another Country act, Love And Theft, in two programs, “NASCAR Now” and “SportsCenter at the NASCAR Championship,” both of which aired on Nov. 22. Additionally, the trio was among the Country acts whose music was featured in promos for daytime dramas televised on ABC and the cable network SOAPnet. Also included were Sara Evans, Lady Antebellum and Sugarland.

In one promo shown on SOAPnet, Love And Theft’s “World Wide Open,” written by Eric Gunderson and Danny Orton, was remixed into a soundtrack for such attention-grabbing scenes as a character’s marriage proposal and a bedside visit to a hospital patient. In a high octane promo for “All My Children,” the chorus to “World Wide Open” played in the background as a woman in a bridal gown swerved her motorcycle off the road and into the air. The song was also used in promos for “One Life to Live.”

“It was neat to see how they used our music to capture the emotion of the scene,” said Stephen Barker Liles of Love And Theft. “They picked out parts of the chorus and different verses that matched up with what their show was about. It was pretty cool to see how they mixed it for TV with the clips. There’s an art form to doing that.”

For artists whose work is disseminated via programs and promotional items on ABC and its affiliated networks, the benefits don’t stop at the moment of broadcast. The ABC Music Lounge Web site supplements this exposure with biographies of acts whose music appears on ABC, exclusive “Live on the Lot” concert performances, a streaming radio station, interviews, interactive components and links that enable fans to hear and download tracks. Love And Theft is the first Country act to be treated to this online coverage.

“There are so many new outlets for discovering music,” said Liles. “Country radio is still the main one, but it’s also a big deal to get your songs on television. People have their iPhones and TiVo, and if they hear a song, they rewind it. This is what I do: If I hear a good song, I’ll pause it, rewind, stick my iPhone up to it and use a song-recognition app. I find out what song it was and then download it on iTunes. People have sent us e-mails telling us they heard our music on TV, went online and checked us out — and now they’re fans. So we feel very blessed to get those opportunities to have our music on TV.”

This exposure has helped Love And Theft expand its fan base, which gave them extra momentum to build it further as they began a 45-date tour in April as an opening act for Tim McGraw. Other Country acts now featured in the ABC Music Lounge include Brooks & Dunn, Gloriana, Emmylou Harris, Miranda Lambert, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Zac Brown Band.

“Country Music has a huge audience,” said Peter DiCecco, Senior VP, Business and Legal Affairs, Music, Disney-ABC Television Group. “We know that the Country Music fan is a very loyal fan. What we try to do is to match that up with our fans. We know that 25 percent or more of our ABC Daytime viewers listen to Country Music on the radio. That’s why daytime is such a good fit for Country Music. We conduct these musical showcases from time to time, where we bring in new talent to introduce them to our music executives and our production executives. We’re seeking out Country artists because we recognize their appeal and we appreciate it.”

As far as placing songs on TV shows, some music supervisors hope for an “At This Moment” scenario. One of the biggest hits of the ’80s for singer/songwriter Billy Vera, “At This Moment,” became the title track to Neal McCoy’s 1990 debut album. The ballad has also been recorded by jazz crooner Michael Bublé, R&B singer Dimples, bluesman Little Milton, Las Vegas icon Wayne Newton and big-band leader Al Yankee. But perhaps none of this would have happened without the NBC sitcom “Family Ties.”

When Vera released the single originally with his band, Billy Vera & the Beaters, it only reached No. 79. However, when the track was used during the 1985-’86 season of “Family Ties” as a love theme for the characters Alex (Michael J. Fox) and Ellen (Tracy Pollan), viewer response exploded. NBC was flooded with phone calls and letters inquiring about the song. Re-released in 1986 by Vera as a solo artist, it topped the pop charts, lodged in the Top 40 for 15 weeks and peaked at No. 42 among Country singles by the following year.

Today, thanks to, www.TunesOnTheTube.TV  and other Web sites, fans can easily find the artist and title for songs they’ve heard on television. According to Joe Fleischer, Chief Marketing Officer for BigChampagne Media Measurement, pairing an appropriate song with a powerful character or storyline elevates the potential for strong sales.

“The surest thing is to have the track be resonant within the show’s narrative,” Fleischer noted. “There’s a lot of historical support for that, going all the way back to the use of the Billy Vera song on ‘Family Ties.’ That was one of the first instances of a song appearing on a TV show and becoming a big hit out of nowhere. Since then, the trend extends all the way to the use of songs from bands like Snow Patrol in shows like ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’ If the song really underscores the narrative in an emotional scene, there does seem to be a big rush for people to acquire it. The next step is just making sure that the song is readily available and for sale.”

“Placement of a song always comes down to the creative aspect,” DiCecco added. “We want something that’s not going to remove the viewer from the scene. We want something that can carry the action forward. Sometimes we want something that enhances the story, and Country Music does that very well because it’s very lyrical. What you’ll find is that when a Country song is used in a TV series, it’s because the lyrics are right on. They match the scene and the tone exactly.”

Fans were engaged in a different way when Lifetime Television reached out to the Country community in August with an online poll to determine “which Country singer should be on ‘Army Wives.’” Though Jack Ingram had appeared on the show’s Aug. 16 episode, nine other casting possibilities were posted on the network’s “Army Wives” blog (, including Willie Nelson as Frank’s dad and Tim McGraw as Chase’s new commander.

Participants in this non-binding poll chose Reba McEntire for the role of Pamela's aunt. (Country artists had already long proven themselves to be prize candidates for acting appearances, as shown recently by Carrie Underwood on “How I Met Your Mother,” Rascal Flatts and Taylor Swift on “CSI” and Wynonna on “Kath & Kim,” among others.)

With these appearances on the upswing, not to mention the growing musical contributions of artists to theme songs as exemplified by Jace Everett with HBO’s “True Blood,” the story grows more varied, the possibilities more intriguing, for Country Music and its practitioners to make themselves heard through the world of television. With a devoted fan base and a strong presence on radio and the Web, the future for creative and profitable engagement seems even brighter.



Too Hot to Drive: New MP3 Devices Raise the Roof on Audio for Automobiles
By Fett


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

If you’ve rented a car recently – even an economy model – you might have noticed a couple of new features: a USB connector and a 1/8-inch jack with a nearby label that says something like “iPod/MP3 player.”

Welcome to the world of newly equipped automobile music systems. Over the past couple of years, the methods for delivering music to the automobile have gone through some interesting changes, the most remarkable of which is the gradual disappearance of the car CD player.

Of course, change is constant throughout the music world, including the part that rolls on four wheels. When music playback devices first appeared in automobiles back in the 1940s and ’50s, they were referred to as “car radios” because that’s exactly what they were: monophonic, AM-only home radios that just happened to be installed in cars. For a very brief period, and only in very top-of-the-line models, one could find units that played vinyl 45s. (Elvis Presley famously used one of these gadgets to listen to his own hits in his car.)

In the 1960s, with the advent of stereo recordings and broadcasts, car radios began to be referred to as “car stereos.” The late ’60s and early ’70s brought FM radio, 8-track tapes (remember those?) and eventually cassette tapes, along with higher-quality, audiophile sound and car stereos became “auto hi-fi systems.” In-dash cassette slots were later supplemented, and eventually replaced, by in-dash slots for single CDs and trunk-mounted multi-CD changers.

From the early ’80s to the early 21st century, the standard car hifi system included AM/FM radio, a CD player and multiple speakers situated throughout the vehicle’s interior. Some units also included a 1/8-inch input for connecting a portable cassette player for those who still wanted to play cassettes in their cars. By 2001, these same 1/8-inch connectors were also connecting MP3 players, most notably the Apple iPod, allowing consumers to take thousands of their favorite songs with them in their cars without having to lug CDs around.

Also in 2001, satellite radio started broadcasting commercial-free music and a variety of new radio programming choices and hi-fi components that were originally added to and then integrated into existing playback systems. While the medium hasn’t replaced terrestrial radio, partly because of the costs of both satellite radio hardware and service subscriptions, Sirius XM built a subscriber base of nearly 19 million by the end of 2009 while offering fans as many as seven Country channels, including Willie’s Place, Prime Country, The Roadhouse and Outlaw Country.

Then came the Apple iPhone, followed quickly by numerous copycat devices. Introduced not that long ago, in June 2007, it launched the “smartphone” revolution whose impact on the delivery and playback of music as a whole has been tremendous — and not least in how we listen as we drive. The biggest reason for this is that these units not only have the music storage, organizing and playback capabilities of the iPod and other MP3 devices but also Internet connectivity, giving these devices and those who use them access to virtually any music, anytime, anywhere in the world. Who needs a CD player or an expensive satellite unit when you can access every song you own locally on your cell phone and every radio program (including satellite radio) and every song you don’t own remotely over the Internet through your cell phone?

As a result of this trend, we’re now seeing cars equipped with USB connectors for continuous iPod and iPhone power and battery recharging — formerly a big issue for portable music player and cell phone owners. We’re also seeing in-dash iPhone adapters taking the place formerly held by CD players. That’s right — the latest car stereos are coming to market without built-in CD players. Hard as it may be to imagine, CD players are quickly being relegated to the role of portable add-on devices that must plug into the little 1/8-inch connector to be heard.

Here’s an overview of some of the newer music delivery methods and playback features available in today’s automobiles. Longtime car hi-fi maker Alpine got the innovative ball rolling a couple of years ago with its iDA-X001 in-dash head unit, featuring a built-in AM/FM tuner, a slick iPod interface — and no CD player. Rather than use traditional FM modulation to emulate a radio station and broadcast through the system’s radio, the iPod interface uses a dedicated digital USB input to connect an iPod to the unit, to such a degree that the artist, song title and album artwork stored on the iPod are displayed directly on the head unit’s color screen. The in-dash display system was developed in conjunction with Apple, so it looks and works just like the iPod does.

When the iPod is connected and the car is running, the head unit also charges the iPod’s battery. Alpine now offers a number of iPod- and iPhone-enabled variations on the iDA-X001, featuring touch-screen interfaces (iXA-W404 and IVA-505), Bluetooth connectivity (eX-10) and integration with onboard navigation (INA-W900).

Fusion offers an even more physically integrated solution: the aftermarket CA-IP1500, with a docking port/slot that allows the user to plug an iPod directly into the head unit and use its controls to manipulate the iPod. The system also includes an AM/FM tuner with radio data and SRS Wow. A potential downside here is that if Apple happens to change the body shape of future iPods (which they’ve done more than once since the iPod’s introduction in 2001), they won’t fit into this unit.

To get around this potential problem, car maker Mitsubishi, an early innovator of in-dash iPod docking technology, off ers a docking port for the iPod Nano in its Play Edition system — but the port is an add-on that sits below the head unit on the dashboard, so it could presumably be replaced with other docking ports for different iPod models. The Play Edition is currently available only as a factory installed option on Mitsubishi’s iCar models in Japan, but it’s sure to make its way to the United States in due course.

Mitsubishi also offers an innovative way for consumers to store their music onboard with its Digital Music Server. This 40-gigabyte internal hard-drive-based navigation system automatically records any CD that the consumer plays in the car, meaning that the CD has to be physically used only once.

The system is also tied into the Gracenote online database of album, track and artist info, which it presents on its display. For those few among us who still don’t own an iPod or similar playback device, several car and audio gear manufacturers offer removable storage card interfaces that allow us to take our music from computer to car and play it back without a separate dedicated player. One simply downloads music onto an SD, MMC, Sony Memory Stick or similar card, which can then be plugged directly into the car audio system. Panasonic has been a leader in this trend for several years, as have Blaupunkt and Siemens.

Sirius XM’s contributions to these options include its XM SkyDock, a satellite radio controlled by an iPod touch or iPhone, playable through your vehicle audio system and connected via Sirius XM’s PowerConnect technology through the vehicle’s cigarette lighter. Sirius XM also offers a free app for users of iPod touch and select BlackBerry devices who want to hear satellite radio without satellite-radio equipped hardware. Because the app runs on the user’s smartphone, satellite radio is now available to any driver whose car audio system supports smartphone connectivity — no additional gear required. Music streaming apps are also available from AOL Radio, Pandora, Slacker and other terrestrial radio services.

So where is this automobile trip taking us? Although the ways in which music is delivered to passengers and drivers are changing, the “car stereo,” whose primary purpose is still to play music, isn’t going away anytime soon. With all the choices available in today’s market, one can only imagine what car audio and music delivery systems will offer in the second decade of the 21st century.



Billy Yates Taps Old-World New Income Streams
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Just before going onstage at a festival in Denmark, Billy Yates received some strange news from the promoter. As he remembered it, she said, “‘I have to tell you — they have guns. They shoot them in the air if they like what you do.’ And I said, ‘Well, where do they shoot if they don’t like it?’”

Safe at his office near Nashville’s Music Row, Yates explained what was going on. “They weren’t real guns,” he said, with a smile. “They shot blanks. But some Country festivals in Europe do have saloons and Old West themes. I’ve seen a lot of people walking around them with holsters. And sure enough, when I did the first song, all this gunfire broke out. You wouldn’t get that here.”

Well, maybe in certain venues you would, but exuberant fusillades and rhythmic clapping are just two ways that some segments of the European fan base have shown their appreciation for Yates and other Country artists.

More striking than these differences are the similarities that Yates observes between audiences at home and abroad. That combination of common interests in the real-life content of Country Music, complemented by promises of unique experiences and positive, long-term financial impact, are why he has maintained between 40 and 50 European shows on his schedule every year since his first visit about seven years ago.

For Yates, the path to Europe began in Texas. He had gone through several record label deals with varying levels of success. As a writer, he had placed songs with Kenny Chesney, Sara Evans, George Strait and many others, most notably George Jones’ Grammy-winning “Choices” and “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair,” which was honored with a CMA Award for Vocal Event of the Year in 1993. But when he launched his own M.O.D. Records imprint, Yates decided to play to his strength as a traditional Country artist and market primarily to the Lone Star State. Results were what he had hoped for — chart position, radio play — but there was one unexpected byproduct.

“Unbeknownst to me, a lot of people in Europe were paying more attention to what was going on in Texas than in Nashville,” he said. “One of them was Cor Sanne, an agent in Holland who was responsible for a lot of Country Music tours. So I reached out to him, he came to Nashville and we met at the Cracker Barrel in White House, Tenn.”

Sanne asked Yates to perform at an event he was putting together in Amsterdam. Not only that, he invited promoters from throughout Europe to attend. Yates’ old-school sound, while not the hottest spin back home, fit perfectly with what audiences in the Old World wanted to hear, so bookings followed immediately.

“The people in Europe who love Country Music are very loyal,” he noted. “They don’t care how old, fat or bald you are; it’s about the music.”

It’s also not about formats. Though Country artists can build strong followings in Europe, the format itself doesn’t command a distinctive identity in the broader market. But that actually makes it easier for many artists to transform Europe into a solid source of income. As Yates sees it, that’s particularly true of those who don’t fi t easily into commercial trends back in the United States, as proven most recently when “Famous for Bein’ Your Fool,” from the Yates album Bill’s Barber Shop, lodged for nine weeks at No. 1 on the European Hotdisc chart.

“We’ve played for people who don’t know anything about Country Music,” Yates said. “There are lots of tattoos and piercings. At first they’re scratching their heads, but by the end of the show they’re buying your CDs and wanting your autograph because we present the music in a way that’s professional yet cool. My music is traditional and honky-tonk, and that allows me to put it in their faces a little bit, with a little attitude. And they love it.”

From Italy north to the United Kingdom, Spain to the former Eastern bloc, from house shows before 50 people to a performance in front of 40,000 new fans in Lithuania, Yates has built a career in Europe that may outlast and feed the bottom line beyond what he’s accomplished domestically. Equally important, he has broadened his personal horizons through experiences he could never have otherwise had, whether walking Omaha Beach in Normandy or revisiting the thrill he’d felt years before when breaking into the business.

“Going to Europe is like going back in time in a good way,” Yates reflected. “They’re civilized and modern, but in these small towns people don’t lock their doors and their kids walk to school. And they respond to Country Music because it’s all about life and love, good and bad — the exact same things I talk with them about after the shows. Plus, if you haven’t lost that fi re and the desire to perform, it can be like rebirth to roll up your sleeves and build from the ground up. When I started in Europe, they had no clue who I was — and now we sell out our shows. To do that again, later in life, is really great.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Billy Yates; photo: Johan Lemmers
Photo: See Caption




ate: 6/8/2010  
  • Tomorrow’s Stars at CMA Music Festival
  • CMA Music Festival Kick-Off Parade: New Route, More Stars and Plenty of Excitement
  • Patty Loveless Spreads the Word through Song on Combating COPD
  • Jo Dee Messina Hosts St. Jude Music Fest Road Race
  • Nashville Students Give Thanks to Keep the Music Playing
Tomorrow’s Stars at CMA Music Festival
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Along with superstars and living legends, many fast-rising artists are given their moments to shine at CMA Music Festival. Meet four of the most promising among today’s young performers as they prepare to step into the spotlight and debut at this year’s Festival!

Easton Corbin
Label: Mercury Records Nashville
Web site:
Performing: LP Field, Saturday, June 12

You can’t get more Country than Easton Corbin. The images that flow through his No. 1 hit, “A Little More Country Than That,” add up to a picture of the world he knew growing up in Gilchrist County, Fla. From working on his grandparents’ cattle farm to fishing from the banks of the Suwannee River, Corbin was raised with an appreciation for rural life, to the extent that a trip to the local Hardee’s was considered dining out – until the Hardee’s closed.

The same applied to music. Starting with the albums stored in his grandfather’s living room, Corbin developed a deep love for Country Music and with it an ambition to seek his fortunes as an artist. It proved a short journey from taking guitar lessons at 15 to opening local shows for Janie Fricke and Mel McDaniel, and from pocketing his degree from the University of Florida and moving with his bride, just a month after their wedding, to Nashville.

No stranger to hard work, Corbin worked his connections and nurtured his music to the point of achieving a major-label release with his self-titled debut album. Already he is recognized as a young champion of traditional Country, ready and able to carry on in the styles of George Jones, Merle Haggard, George Strait and Keith Whitley for new generations of fans.

How do you feel about performing at CMA Music Festival?
I’m really excited to play this year because I’ve never played in a stadium before. I’m glad CMA Fest is still going on, especially with everything Nashville has gone through in the past couple weeks with the floods.  And I’m proud to be a part of CMA Festival because 50 percent of the profits are going to help the victims of the floods.

How will you prepare for this performance?
I’m actually out on the road right now, playing as many shows as I can.  I will also be starting on the Brad Paisley Tour in a couple of weeks.  Hopefully being out with Brad, I can get a few pointers from him.

How will you pick which songs you’d like to do in your set?
It depends on how many songs we get to play, but I will definitely be playing my first two singles, “I’m A Little More Country Than That” and “Roll With It”.  And I will pull a few others from my debut album.

Have you ever attended Music Fest as a fan?
I got to go to some of the shows a couple years back, and it was great.  The one thing I remember was sitting at LP Field thinking how awesome it would be to play that stage one day, and now here I am.  As a new artist, it is such an honor to be asked to play the main stage.

Are there any shows or events at this year’s Festival you do not want to miss?
I’m actually jumping off the Paisley Tour to come play the CMA Fest Saturday night, so I won’t get to spend a lot of time here in Nashville.  But I am looking forward to watching all the other performers’ shows that night.

Danny Gokey
19 Recordings/RCA Nashville
Web site:
Performing: LP Field, Thursday, June 10

Danny Gokey debuts at CMA Music Festival with some powerful winds at his back. Raised by a tight family in Milwaukee, nourished by their eclectic musical tastes, he drew from his strong work ethic and sense of responsibility to provide for his wife Sophia as a truck driver while they imagined together that he would someday fulfill his dream becoming a successful musical artist.

Dreams can come true, though sometimes at a terrible price. Just one month before Gokey’s audition for “American Idol,” Sophia died during heart surgery. Devastated, Gokey dedicated his rise through the ranks of “Idol” contestants to her memory. By the time he’d finished in third place, millions of fans were rooting for him and waiting for him to launch his full-time music career.

Gokey did so explosively with My Best Days. Released in March, it sold 65,000 copies in its first week – more than any debut male Country artist had done since 1992 – and broke onto the Billboard chart at No. 3. From a high-profile tour opening for Sugarland to his celebration of his wife through the good works of his Sophia’s Heart Foundation, Gokey is a positive model for young artists and a singer whose talents guarantee long-term success.

How do you feel about performing at CMA Music Festival?
I think it’s such an honor and a privilege. It makes me feel very welcome.

How will you prepare for this performance?
For me, every performance is very important, and I mentally prepare myself to give 110 percent.

How will you pick which songs you’d like to do in your set?
That depends on the atmosphere and what kind of crowd it is. I know this is an upbeat crowd, so I’ll do the most blazing songs from my record.

Have you ever attended Music Fest as a fan?
No, but I watched it on TV.

Are there any shows or events at this year’s Festival you do not want to miss?
Time permiting, I’d like to be a part of as much as I can, because it is such a huge event.

Jaron and The Long Road to Love
Universal Republic/Big Machine Records
Web site:;
Performing: Chevy Music Stage, Thursday, June 10 at 12:30 PM

Fans will remember Jaron Lowenstein from his stint with Evan and Jaron. Sharing the spotlight as well as the name of the group with his identical twin brother, he achieved success in 2001 with three Top 40 hits, including “Crazy for This Girl,” which peaked at No. 4. Their music was also heard on soundtracks for “Runaway Bride,” starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, and “Serendipity,” starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. Jaron has won media attention as one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful People as well as a guest on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” and “Live with Regis and Kelly.”

Since then, this Georgia-born artist has returned to his Southern roots by settling in Nashville and launching a solo project, Jaron and The Long Road to Love. His music draws from traditional roots, including Appalachian music as well as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Yet his career is a thoroughly modern endeavor, making full use of social media, blogs and networking. His debut album, Getting Dressed in the Dark, is scheduled to drop on June 22; “Pray for You,” its first single, has already topped the Billboard Heatseekers Chart on its way up the charts.

How do you feel about performing at CMA Music Festival?
Privileged. I know this is a week of smiles for artists and fans alike and I'm happy to be able to add to some of that. To me, the two things that most define Country Music today are lyrics and fan appreciation.

How will you prepare for this performance?
I have no pre-show rituals and I don't really rehearse because it’s just me playing.

How will you pick which songs you’d like to do in your set?
I will go on Facebook and ask the fans who are coming to the show what they want to hear. I will compile the list and then make changes in real-time from the stage.

Have you ever attended Music Fest as a fan?
I attended last year. I had just moved back to Nashville and was taking it all in for the first time. I have been around the music business for a long time but have never quite seen anything like a "fan convention." It was moving and struck a chord with me because the spirit of the festival so closely aligned with my own reasons for coming back to music after a six year hiatus – the need to share and be shared with.

Are there any shows or events at this year’s Festival you do not want to miss?
I'm just hoping to be able to catch as many shows as I can and remain as coherent as possible throughout the week.

Steel Magnolia
Label: Big Machine Records
Web site:
Performing: Riverfront Park Daytime Stages, Sunday, June 13, 11:30 AM

They captured America’s attention last year as winners of CMT’s “Can You Duet” competition. Their first single, “Keep On Lovin’ You,” featured on the soundtrack for “Valentine’s Day,” made history by charting higher than any other debut by a male/female twosome in the 66-year history of the Billboard Country chart. They’ve been on the road with Brad Paisley’s “H2O World Tour.” Their first album is wrapped and ready to release.

Hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago that fate brought Joshua Scott Jones and Meghan Linsey together when each jumped onstage in a Nashville club for a karaoke romp through Air Supply’s “All Out of Love.” Each had come to Nashville in search of a solo career, Linsey having already opened at 15 for Paisley, Toby Keith and other headliners at shows near her hometown of Ponchatoula, La., and Jones having trekked from Charleston, Ill., to Los Angeles to try his luck in rock before making his way to Music City.

Their voices are complementary; Linsey sings in a soulful, sometimes simmering style, and Jones has an inviting, sometimes humorous way with a lyric. They’ve already proven on television that they can “duet.” They’ll make that clear again, with all the excitement of live performance, at their CMA Music Festival.

How do you feel about performing at CMA Music Festival?
JONES: We are really excited about the show because it is one of the only shows in Nashville where it is all about the fans coming into town to show their love for the music.

LINSEY: It feels great! It’s an amazing opportunity to get out there and meet fans and play some of our new songs! We’re so excited!

How will you prepare for this performance?
JONES: We will prep with a good amount of talking-through our stage show and then hopefully getting ample rehearsal time in with the band to execute.

LINSEY: Just a lot of rehearsal. We just recently put our band together. We’ve been playing acoustically for 10 months, so we can’t wait to start playing full band shows!

How will you pick which songs you’d like to do in your set?
JONES: We’ll choose songs that fans relate to and throw in a few that everyone loves and put them in an order that will hopefully create a fun ride for our audience.

LINSEY: Well, it is an outdoor event, so we definitely want to keep it upbeat and rockin’! We’ll definitely play some stuff from our new record that will be out in September too.

Have you ever attended Music Fest as a fan?
JONES: Last year we sat in the nosebleed section and just wanted to be up onstage as a performer! We loved the show – Miranda Lambert walked out and rocked “Kerosene,” head banging and all!

LINSEY: Oh, yeah – all the time when I was a kid. I actually attended in 2004 right before I moved to town, and I just remember sitting in LP Field watching Martina McBride play and dreaming about doing that one day.

Are there any shows or events at this year’s Festival you do not want to miss?
LINSEY: We always try to make it to some of the big stage shows in LP Field. They’re always full of great artists!

CMA Music Festival is an unparalleled music experience celebrating America’s music. The event brings the community together with fans from around the world. Now in its 39th year, CMA Music Festival will be held Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13, in Downtown Nashville. Dubbed the “crown jewel of Country Music Festivals” by USA Today and winner of the International Entertainment Buyers Association’s 2004, 2006, and 2008 LIVE! Award for Festival of the Year, the event features four jam-packed days of music with concerts, autograph signings, family activities, and more. CMA will be donating ALL proceeds from this year’s CMA Music Festival to charity to benefit music education in Metro Nashville Public Schools and flood relief for victims of the recent devastation. For up-to-the-minute information about four-day ticket packages, single night tickets to the Nightly Concerts at LP Field, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community.


Images for above article.




Easton Corbin; photo: James Minchin III
Photo: See Caption


Danny Gokey; photo: Andrew Southam
Photo: See Caption


Jaron and the Long Road to Love; photo: Peter Dokus
Photo: See Caption


Steel Magnolia; photo: Justin Key
Photo: See Caption


CMA Music Festival Kick-Off Parade: New Route, More Stars and Plenty of Excitement
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For five years, fans who didn’t want to wait for Thursday morning have begun the CMA Music Festival party one day early. The Festival’s Kick-Off Parade does that and more, with veteran and fast-rising new artists riding classic Chevy vehicles through the streets of Downtown Nashville.

This year, though, visitors can enjoy fresh perspectives on the action along a new route. From the corner of Second Avenue North and Church Street, the all-star procession winds two blocks past the restaurants and businesses that line Second Avenue and then turns right. From there, it rolls down Broadway toward an afternoon of great – and FREE – music at the Chevy Music Stage on the Bridgestone Arena Plaza.

Following right behind a huge inflatable musical note, signifying the start of the Parade, Country Music Hall of Fame member Brenda Lee leads the way as Grand Marshal. Dozens of artists follow in an array of vehicles supplied by Chevrolet and members of the Nashville Corvette Club. The lineup this year includes Lynn Anderson, Katie Armiger, Rodney Atkins, Sherrié Austin, Frankie Ballard, The Band Perry, Bo Bice, Ash Bowers, Carter Twins, Diana DeGarmo, Whitney Duncan, Edens Edge, Fast Ryde, Gloriana, Josh Gracin, The Grascals, The Harters, Buddy Jewell, KingBilly, Jesse Lee, LoCash Cowboys, Lonestar, Danielle Peck, Point of Grace, Marty Raybon, Jordyn Shallhart, Stealing Angels, Pam Tillis, Trent Tomlinson, James Wesley and Chuck Wicks (artists participating subject to change).

Many favorites from past parades are back this year, from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to the Nashville Sounds, Nashville Predators and Tennessee Titans mascots. But new participants will join the fun too, among them the Pryme Tyme Athletics cheerleaders, young members of the Nashville Children’s Theater, the Color Guard and Honor Guard from the Metro Nashville Police Department and more. In total, this year’s Parade is more than 10 units larger than in 2009, according to Parade Coordinator Dell Courtney.

“Then we added elements to make the parade a little different – for example, we have a very strong patriotic element this year – without taking away from what the fans come to see, the artists in Corvettes and Silverado trucks,” said Courtney, who owns VisionWorks, a Louisville-based company that specializes in planning major events such as parades, festivals and trade shows.

The Chevy vehicles, the Big Kenny, Luke Bryan and Wrangler/George Strait trucks, the Music City Drum & Bugle Corps, the rowdy Nashville Rollergirls and ever-civilized Geico Gecko and all their parade-mates hit the road at 11:30 AM on Thursday, June 9.

CMA Music Festival is an unparalleled music experience celebrating America’s music. The event brings the community together with fans from around the world. Now in its 39th year, CMA Music Festival will be held Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13, in Downtown Nashville. Dubbed the “crown jewel of Country Music Festivals” by USA Today and winner of the International Entertainment Buyers Association’s 2004, 2006, and 2008 LIVE! Award for Festival of the Year, the event features four jam-packed days of music with concerts, autograph signings, family activities, and more. CMA will be donating ALL proceeds from this year’s CMA Music Festival to charity to benefit music education in Metro Nashville Public Schools and flood relief for victims of the recent devastation. For up-to-the-minute information about four-day ticket packages, single night tickets to the Nightly Concerts at LP Field, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community.


Images for above article.




The 2010 CMA Music Festival Kick-Off Parade will weave through Downtown Nashville Wednesday, June 9. photo: John Russell
Photo: See Caption


Bo Bice is scheduled to appear at the 2010 CMA Music Festival Kick-Off Parade in Downtown Nashville Wednesday, June 9. photo: John Russell
Photo: See Caption


LoCash Cowboys are scheduled to appear in the 2010 CMA Music Festival Kick-Off Parade in Downtown Nashville Wednesday, June 9. photo: John Russell
Photo: See Caption


Trent Tomlinson is scheduled to appear at the 2010 CMA Music Festival Kick-Off Parade in Downtown Nashville Wednesday, June 9.
Photo: See Caption


Patty Loveless Spreads the Word through Song on Combating COPD
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

It’s been eight years since Patty Loveless has performed at CMA Music Festival. Her return this year is reason to celebrate – but the five-time CMA Award winner wants to make sure it’s also a reason to benefit from what she has learned about a killer disease.

Loveless grew up in a musical family – Loretta Lynn and Crystal Gayle are among her cousins – but her main inspiration and role model was her older sister Dottie. “The first time I heard her sing, I was 6 or 7 years old,” Loveless recalled. “My brother was stationed at Fort Knox, and we went to the camp. While we were there, Dottie got up and sang with the band in the officers’ club. She had an amazing voice; to me, she sounded a little bit like a combination of Patsy Cline, Connie Smith and Brenda Lee.  It was just unbelievable how she moved the solders in there, and I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do someday. I want to make people feel through music.’”

She would achieve that goal, but along the way Loveless would suffer the blow of her sister’s death in 1996, at the age of 48. She was a victim of emphysema, which like chronic bronchitis is categorized as a Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). That experience has led Loveless to lend her name and talent to supporting DRIVE4COPD, a movement dedicated to spreading awareness of the nation’s fourth leading cause of death.

The campaign’s hard-rockin’ theme song, “Drive,” was written by Loveless and her husband Emory Gordy Jr. Her performance is available as a free download to everyone who visits to take a brief, five-question screener designed to help them see whether they are at risk for the disease.

“I wanted ‘Drive’ to pick people up, put them in the driver’s seat and take that wheel of life,” Loveless explained. “I was a little more shy than Dottie was; she was very energetic, so this gives me an opportunity to share with the people about her and at the same time to encourage them to get back in control and look where they’re heading.”

On Friday, June 11, Loveless will perform on the Riverfront Park Daytime Stage at 11:45 AM and appear at the Sports Zone Main Stage at 4 PM. But she’ll also be speaking one-and-one with fans, signing autographs and encouraging them to take the COPD test. Those who do can enter for a chance to win a trip to the CMA Awards in November or to a NASCAR weekend in Daytona in February 2011.

“Throughout this COPD campaign I’ve been very talkative with fans, even about their health situations,” Loveless said. “To hear them share with me about a family member, or themselves, suffering with some form of COPD, I feel that if I had been educated about it, my sister might have seen a doctor sooner. That’s why I want everyone to take this five-question screener. It takes a few minutes of your time, but that’s nothing compared to a lifetime.”

CMA Music Festival is an unparalleled music experience celebrating America’s music. The event brings the community together with fans from around the world. Now in its 39th year, CMA Music Festival will be held Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13, in Downtown Nashville. Dubbed the “crown jewel of Country Music Festivals” by USA Today and winner of the International Entertainment Buyers Association’s 2004, 2006, and 2008 LIVE! Award for Festival of the Year, the event features four jam-packed days of music with concerts, autograph signings, family activities, and more. CMA will be donating ALL proceeds from this year’s CMA Music Festival to charity to benefit music education in Metro Nashville Public Schools and flood relief for victims of the recent devastation. For up-to-the-minute information about four-day ticket packages, single night tickets to the Nightly Concerts at LP Field, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community.


Images for above article.

Patty Loveless; photo: MKO Photography, Inc.
Photo: See Caption



Jo Dee Messina Hosts St. Jude Music Fest Road Race
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Jo Dee Messina is a runner. Every day, she covers four to six miles. She’s run marathons in Boston, Chicago, Phoenix and elsewhere. Even during her pregnancy she kept up a modified regimen.

So it’s no surprise that as the St. Jude Music Fest Road Race debuts this year as an official CMA Music Festival activity, this CMA Horizon Award winner would be in the thick of it all, as both host and participant.

This is actually a two-part event on Saturday, June 12, beginning at Nashville Public Square, Second Avenue North at Union Street, with a one-mile “fun run” at 7:30AM. Then, at 8AM, the 5K begins. Prizes including $300 for the overall winner, will be awarded at 9:30AM, also at Public Square.

Registration is available online at  at $25 per participant through June 11. On race day, beginning at 6AM on Public Square, registration will be $30. All proceeds will be donated toward research and treatment conducted at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Participants can become St. Jude Heroes by inviting donations to support their performance in the race. The first 250 Heroes to bring in $250 will win two free tickets to the LP Field nightly concert on Saturday, June 12 – and all who reach the $500 mark will receive a free brunch with Messina. Her fan club is already involved in this effort, having formed a special “Team Messina” to encourage donations together.

“St. Jude is grateful for more than 20 years of support from the Nashville community and Country Music fans and artists,” said Richard C. Shadyac, Jr., CEO, ALSAC/St.Jude, the fundraising organization of St. Jude. “Participation in the St. Jude Music Fest Road Race is a new way for Country Music fans to support children at St. Jude fighting cancer.”

“Jo Dee Messina has supported St. Jude over the years through our annual Country Cares for St. Jude Kids fundraising program,” added Teri Watson, Senior Director of Radio Marketing, ALSAC/St. Jude. “Now, we are so grateful for her support of our new St. Jude Music Fest Road Race. Jo Dee has volunteered to be our honorary host for the race and she will join Country Music fans from around the country who are running in honor of thousands of kids being treated at St. Jude.”

The event has special meaning for Messina, whose nephew battled cancer. But in the spirit of CMA Music Festival, she also sees it as another way to connect directly with fans. “I’ll probably hang out and yap with people at the starting line for the 5k,” she said.

As an experienced runner, what advice does Messina have for first-time racers? “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!” she answered, laughing. “Don’t wear new shoes – never wear new shoes on the day of a run. And don’t drink too much the night before!”

CMA Music Festival is an unparalleled music experience celebrating America’s music. The event brings the community together with fans from around the world. Now in its 39th year, CMA Music Festival will be held Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13, in Downtown Nashville. Dubbed the “crown jewel of Country Music Festivals” by USA Today and winner of the International Entertainment Buyers Association’s 2004, 2006, and 2008 LIVE! Award for Festival of the Year, the event features four jam-packed days of music with concerts, autograph signings, family activities, and more. CMA will be donating ALL proceeds from this year’s CMA Music Festival to charity to benefit music education in Metro Nashville Public Schools and flood relief for victims of the recent devastation. For up-to-the-minute information about four-day ticket packages, single night tickets to the Nightly Concerts at LP Field, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community.


Images for above article.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean joins Jo Dee Messina at the 2009 St. Jude Race in Nashville. photo: Bev Moser
Photo: See Caption



Nashville Students Give Thanks to Keep the Music Playing
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

In 2006, CMA launched its “Keep the Music Playing” initiative with a promise to donate half of all profits generated by CMA Music Festival to music education in the Metro Nashville Public Schools.

That promise has grown into an ongoing process of fostering talent and helping kids enjoy the experience of making music. To date, CMA has donated more than $3.3 million to this endeavor.

At 11:45 AM Thursday, June 10, the fruits of that investment will be on display on the Family Zone Stage at CMA Music Festival, as five students from the Nashville School of the Arts (NSA) perform at a special concert not just to entertain but also to express thanks for the support they’ve received through this program.

 “We have certainly learned in this district that students in performing arts graduate at a rate of 98 percent,” said Pam Garrett, Executive Director, Nashville Alliance for Public Education. “So this is a great investment. Hopefully, others who attend this performance will realize that as well.”

The young musicians – Eli Bishop (senior) on fiddle, Evan Bundy (junior) on bass, Sam Hunter (junior) on vocals and guitar, Luke Munday (junior) on banjo and Austin Valentine (sophomore) on drums – will also participate in the CMA Music Festival Kick-Off Parade on Wednesday, June 10. While each does own his instrument, they generally use equipment acquired through Keep the Music Playing when they appear as a group.

“And typically we move that equipment in a truck donated through Keep the Music Playing,” said Dr. James Satterwhite, Director of Guitar Studies, NSA. “You can’t imagine how much use we get out of this equipment, whether rehearsing, moving it out to shows or taking it to studios to record. Each instrument is played five or six hours a day during school hours. So this has been huge. Honestly, I’ve been here for 25 years and I couldn’t dream that I would have this much facility without CMA.”

CMA Music Festival is an unparalleled music experience celebrating America’s music. The event brings the community together with fans from around the world. Now in its 39th year, CMA Music Festival will be held Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13, in Downtown Nashville. Dubbed the “crown jewel of Country Music Festivals” by USA Today and winner of the International Entertainment Buyers Association’s 2004, 2006, and 2008 LIVE! Award for Festival of the Year, the event features four jam-packed days of music with concerts, autograph signings, family activities, and more. CMA will be donating ALL proceeds from this year’s CMA Music Festival to charity to benefit music education in Metro Nashville Public Schools and flood relief for victims of the recent devastation. For up-to-the-minute information about four-day ticket packages, single night tickets to the Nightly Concerts at LP Field, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community.



Issue Date: 6/1/2010  
  • Blake Shelton’s ‘Hillbilly Bone’: Big Plans in Small Packages
  • NEW ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Brantley Gilbert
Blake Shelton’s ‘Hillbilly Bone’: Big Plans in Small Packages
By Kip Kirby


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.


When Country fans talk, artists listen. So when fans kept asking Blake Shelton when he was going to put out a new album, their hopeful refrain kept hammering away at him. After all, he hadn’t released anything new since Startin’ Fires in November 2008. Before that, there’d been a three year lag between Pure BS and Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill. If things continued at this rate, Shelton half-joked, he might be eligible for Social Security before he’d get many more albums out.


At the same time, Shelton’s producer Scott Hendricks was thinking along similar lines. With singles taking significantly longer to climb the charts (often the better part of an entire year) and album projects being delayed as a result, the Warner Music Nashville Senior VP of A&R wondered: What if there was a better way to market the music? What if there was a way to shorten the time between album releases and get new product into fans’ hands faster? What if artists could release an abbreviated CD each time they came out with a new single? He believed Shelton’s strength with radio and popularity with fans made him the perfect candidate to explore these ideas.


“I remember Scott first talking to me about the idea of an album with only six songs on it when he fi rst came over to Warner Bros. as head of A&R,” Shelton recalled. “He thought we could sell it for $5 or $6. He continued talking about it with me as album sales kept falling and singles were taking longer and longer at radio. I began to see the disconnect and the idea became more appealing. I realized, man, I could release a new album every time I put out a new single. I could constantly have new music out there and not wait. Finally I just said, hey, if it makes sense, let’s do it.”


Shelton’s management team at Starstruck Entertainment saw the value of the gamble and opted in, as did his label, Warner Bros./Reprise Records. With the players in place, the stage was set for Hillbilly Bone, which is slated to be the first of two “Six Paks” Shelton will release in 2010, each hopefully fueled by a hit single at radio.


From an artist’s viewpoint, said Shelton, “There’s nothing worse than cutting an album and knowing it’s gonna be another year and a half or two before you get to record again. By then, maybe you’re singing better or people’s mood is different, or you’ve written stronger songs or you’ve grown as an artist. But you can’t go back and record — you have to live with your current album for the next 18 months. This way, publishers and songwriters can pitch me songs all the time. And a couple of months later I could have them out on a new CD. I wouldn’t have to tie up songs on hold for eight months or longer.”


Written by Luke Laird and Craig Wiseman and released the first week in November, Hillbilly Bone’s title single was an immediate smash at radio, becoming Shelton’s fastest-breaking career single and his sixth to peak at No. 1. The album scored too; spanning an emotional range from the cocky bravado of “Kiss My Country Ass,” written by Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson and Jon Stone, to the sentimental romanticism of Lee Brice’s, Jerrod Niemann’s and Stone’s “You’ll Always Be Beautiful” in just a half-dozen tracks, it debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top 200, making it Shelton's highest chart debut to date, and No. 2 on its Top Country Albums chart.


Adding Trace Adkins to the song and the video was a no-brainer. “Trace and I have talked about recording together for years,” Shelton said. “When I heard this song, it sounded a lot like something Trace would have done on one of his own albums, like ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.’ First we just had him do the harmony part, but then the more we listened, the more we thought that was kind of stupid, that the song had a lot more potential as a duet than with just me singing on it. I don’t know how well you know Trace, but when I called and asked him if he’d come back in the studio, he said in that deep voice of his, ‘Well, hell, man. I’ve already been down there once — you know, you’re getting on my nerves . . . OK, I’ll come back.’ It really made the record. ”


With a hit single on the charts, the next big question was how to position, publicize and promote the Six Pak. It was crucial that Shelton’s fan base perceive Hillbilly Bone as a complete CD, his sixth studio album, with another following behind it by year’s end.


Peter Strickland, Senior VP, Brand Management, Warner Music Nashville, and his team approached digital retailers individually, explaining the concept and asking for support and visibility. With brick-and-mortar accounts, they requested dedicated rack space for the Six Pak. The label also made sure that the CD’s packaging and artwork featured the Six Pak logo and front stickering helped identify it to consumers. The game plan also called for holding back the single from online digital sites so the label could boost video sales first.


“Typically, we like to make our music available to consumers the minute they hear it on a TV show or on radio,” Strickland noted. “We want them to have the ability to go to any of our digital partners and purchase it immediately. In this case, though, we held the single back and released the video first. Based on the music and the guest star in the video, we thought we might get the opportunity to sell through some videos, which usually isn’t a strong point with any digital partner. Videos don’t typically sell all that well. Only a handful do, and they usually aren’t Country unless you’re Taylor Swift. We released the ‘Hillbilly Bone’ video the same week in November that the single went to radio. It worked extremely well. It put us in the Top 5 videos of all genres, which then got us on the main page at iTunes and is Blake's top-selling video to date. We gained visibility where we wouldn’t normally have had any.”


The record company let the video sell all the way up to the Tuesday before Christmas before releasing the digital single just in time to cash in on gift card purchases. The plan worked beyond all expectations, according to Strickland.


“Blake got great visibility across the board with all our digital partners, and his single debuted with more than 71,000 units the very first week. If we’d done it the traditional way, we might have seen 2,000 or 3,000 a week until radio momentum eventually kicked in. But by holding the single off for six or seven weeks and coming with the video first, we saw huge impact. It could have taken an extra five to 10 weeks to get the same results if we’d done it the traditional way.”


By the time the Hillbilly Bone Six Pak was released March 2, Shelton’s single had already cracked the Top 5. The artist had been personally talking up the project with his fans for months through social networking sites, Twitter and his own Web site. In mid-February,  offered fans a limited window of opportunity to preorder the Six Pak with bonus perks. They could purchase the “BSer Hillbilly Bone Premiere Pak” with a one-year fan club membership, exclusive T-shirt and autographed Six Pak CD ($34.99); the “BSer Hillbilly Bone” package with one-year fan club membership and autographed copy of the Six Pak ($24.99); or the “Tee Pak” version which came with an autographed CD and a T-shirt ($18.99).


Nashville record labels have released six-track EPs in the past, but Hillbilly Bone is competing with full length albums and listing on Nielsen SoundScan as a regular Shelton album. “We may be the first ones in the market to try this,” WMN’s Strickland observed, “but other people are watching our effort closely. There are a lot of eyes on this project to see how it works.”


Hendricks likens the Six Pak to giving fans a “Value Meal,” where price is lowered to entice people to purchase more items, more often. “Fans are a lot more apt to let go of $5 or $6 than $10 or $11,” he reasoned. “We’re hoping that rather than only buying the single, they might say, ‘Hey, for a couple more dollars, I can get a value here’ and buy the CD. Even if they’re not already a Blake Shelton fan, for just $3 or $4 more they get to test out this artist and see if they like him. And if they do like what they hear, we can engage them again with another CD in just a few months.”


“The goal here is to sell more albums,” Strickland noted. “If we find we’re selling the same amount of Six Paks as we would a full-priced album, then it becomes a matter of half the music at half the cost. So then we have to sell twice as many to generate the same revenue. The good thing is, we have a lot of flexibility built in — if consumers don’t react right away, we can come out with another Six Pak. Or we could combine both Six Paks and put them out as a full album.”


Meanwhile, no one is more excited — or more focused on success for his Six Pak — than Shelton himself. “I think this could completely change the business model of how we release Country Music and how we sell it,” he said. “This is a way to put out new product continuously and keep it fresh. Publishers are gonna love it. Songwriters are gonna love it. Fans should love it because by the end of a year, they could have three of my albums, which is 18 new songs. I can’t imagine it not working.”


On the Web:


Blake Shelton will be performing on Sunday, June 13 at the LP Field Concert Stage during the 2010 CMA Music Festival, which takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13 in Downtown Nashville.


Artists currently scheduled to appear at LP Field include (in alphabetical order):


Thursday, June 10: Jason Aldean, Danny Gokey, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood.


Friday, June 11:  Julianne Hough, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner, Keith Urban and more.


Saturday, June 12: Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Randy Houser, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, and Zac Brown Band.


Sunday, June 13: Trace Adkins, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, and Blake Shelton.


Four-day, upper level general admission tickets are still available for $110. All other levels are SOLD OUT. Single night tickets to the individual Nightly Concerts at LP Field are on sale for $30 for upper level general admission. To order tickets, call 1-800- CMA -FEST (262-3378); visit to buy online or charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. Tickets are also available at any Ticketmaster outlet. Prices do not include applicable handling fees. Ticket prices are subject to change without notice. All sales are final and non-refundable. Artists appearing subject to change.


For up-to-the-minute information about tickets, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit Fans can visit the “Connect” page to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community, plus link through to CMA’s Facebook (, Twitter (, MySpace (, and YouTube ( pages.


CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. Premiere Radio Networks is the official radio broadcaster. Partners include Barnes & Noble; Bicycle Playing Cards; Blue Bell Creameries; Carl Black Chevrolet; Chevy™: The Official Ride of Country Music; CMT; COMBOS® Snacks; Dr Pepper®; DRIVE4COPD™; Durango Boots®; Farm Boy® & Farm Girl® Brands; Field & Stream®; GEICO; General Cigar Co., Inc.; Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee; Greased Lightning® Cleaning Products; Jack Daniel’s®; Mahindra USA, Inc.; McDonalds®; Ocean Spray®; PEDIGREE® Food for Dogs; Random House Children’s Books; Roper™ Apparel & Footwear; Southern Belle Glamour; Super 8®; Texas on Tour; The Country Network;

United States Marine Corps; VELVEETA® Shells & Cheese; Votre Vu; World Vision®; Wrangler®.


Images for above article.


Blake Shelton; photo: Russ Harrington
Photo: See Caption


Blake Shelton; photo: Russ Harrington
Photo: See Caption



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.


Brantley Gilbert grew up in Jefferson, Ga. within earshot of Athens, home of R.E.M., the B-52s and other alternative rockers. Gilbert never lost his love for music with an edgy spirit, yet as he started exploring his capacity for writing and performing, an ability to document the pleasures and pains, frustrations and triumphs of life asserted itself as well and nudged him closer to Country’s truth-telling tradition.


After surviving a potentially fatal automobile accident, Gilbert resolved to follow his muse into music. He began as a solo act, but as his rock ‘n’ roll side started getting restless, he beefed up his presentation and began pumping out his songs over a bed of slamming drums and snarling electric guitar.


The momentum stirred by his shows bore Gilbert to Nashville, where he signed with Warner/Chappell Music Publishing, scored several cuts with other artists and ultimately inked his own record deal with Average Joe’s Entertainment. The result is Halfway to Heaven, produced by Gilbert, The Atom Brothers, Jonathan Waggoner and Jess Franklin. Each of these dozen songs was co-written by Gilbert and most, including the ballads, delivered with a confident bravado powered by his fusion of Country narrative lyricism and willingness to rock the house hard.


On the album’s debut single, “Kick It in the Sticks,” which Gilbert wrote with Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip, this combination rings loud and true. After a barely audible chuckle, Gilbert cranks the ignition and we’re off into a landscape where AC/DC and George Strait share space on the radio dial, moonshine whiskey pours near barbed wire fences, “jacked up trucks” are “covered in mud,” and “the hippies and the hicks” party with “jocks and bikers.” It’s not exactly a pastoral vision, but as a portrait of what Gilbert dubs “the dirty, dirty South,” it is both exhilarating and totally believable.





“Wynonna Judd.”






“‘I’m Too Sexy,’ by Right Said Fred.”



“Spur on my left boot.”





On the Web:


Images for above article.

Brantley Gilbert; photo: Lyn Sengupta
Photo: See Caption




Issue Date: 5/25/2010  
  • Lady Antebellum: Topping Charts with the Truth
Lady Antebellum: Topping Charts with the Truth
By Tom Roland


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

When Lady Antebellum sat down with songwriter Josh Kear in February 2009 to write a song about a sexually-charged, late-night phone call to an ex, the trio encountered a dilemma centered on a lyric for the second chorus, in which Charles Kelley confessed, “It’s a quarter after one, I’m a little drunk and I need you now.”

They all loved the line but they weren’t sure how it would be perceived by others with a stake in their success. “We were like, ‘Is our label going to get mad?’” Kelley recalled. It’s not like either the alcohol or the desire alluded to in the words was particularly problematic. But outside of Lee Ann Womack’s “I May Hate Myself in the Morning” and “Last Call,” both of which met resistance among crucial radio programmers, it’s tough to find many successful songs that mix love and liquor so blatantly.

Still, it didn’t take much to persuade Lady Antebellum and Kear to agree that the line belonged in the song. “It was just honest to us,” said Dave Haywood. “I mean, who hasn’t been there? It’s late at night and you’ve had a drink or two and you miss somebody. We didn’t over think it more than that. We were like, ‘You know what? Let’s just write what’s honest and what’s true to us.’ And in reality, we’ve been there and so we put it in there.”

It’s clear that they made the right decision. The executives at Capitol Records Nashville surprised the band when they not only gave a thumbs-up to the song but decided to make it the first single and title track from the album, Need You Now. It spent a whopping four weeks at No. 1 on the Country Aircheck singles chart, lodged at the top of the Billboard chart for five consecutive weeks and earned Platinum digital single sales status just before Christmas — all of which set the stage for a spectacular album release in January, when Need You Now premiered at the top of the charts with 480,922 in sales, more than twice the number for the various-artist Help for Haiti and well ahead of runners-up Lady Gaga, Susan Boyle and Barry Manilow. By holding on to the top slot in the Billboard Top 200 in its second week, the group became the first Country act since the Dixie Chicks in 2006 to achieve that cross-format distinction — and only the sixth artist in the previous year to do so, along with Susan Boyle, Eminem, Jay-Z and a few others.

Obviously radio and the public responded to the song — its message as well as its catchy chorus hook and the powerful vocals laid down by Kelley, Haywood and Hillary Scott. In fact, radio programmer Charlie Cook, VP of Country, McVay Media, uses “Need You Now,” including the “I’m a little drunk” line, as his ringtone and as on-hold music for callers to his mobile phone.

“Quarter after one in the morning, the guy’s sitting there, pining for his girlfriend, and he’s had a couple of drinks,” Cook mused. “Pretty good fodder for Country Music, as far as I’m concerned.” Expanding on the impression made by Lady Antebellum with this track, Cook observed, “They’re true to their principles. They’re sensitive because of the audience, not because of their experience, and so they said, ‘You know, we just have to go with what we believe in.’ And that worked. That hooked up with the audience
very comfortably.”

“Comfortable” might not be the best word to describe the life of Lady Antebellum these days. “Hectic” is probably closer to the mark, and that’s exactly how they want it. Following their selection as CMA New Artist of the Year in 2008 with victories in the Vocal Group and Single categories at the 2009 CMA Awards, they went into heavy promotion for January’s release of Need You Now, earned a high-profile live performance on the Grammy Awards and then headed out in February to open on Tim McGraw’s “Southern Voice” tour. It’s no wonder that when they announced their first headlining date at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, tickets were snapped up so quickly that the band added a second date — both of which were sold out in less than half an hour.

Lady Antebellum built this impressive momentum carefully, through lessons gleaned in particular about interaction with fans over the two years since the release of their self-titled debut Platinum album. Much of 2009 was spent on Kenny Chesney’s “Sun City Carnival” tour, with more than 10 stadiums sprinkled into the schedule. On those mega-shows, they performed in conditions far from typical for gigs — a midday slot in sunlight and sweat-inducing temperatures, for example. The fans reacted positively, though the band did take note and learn from the occasional lulls between songs in the languor of a hot afternoon.

That inspired them to join with Monty Powell to write “Stars Tonight,” a bright, fast-paced song on Need You Now that celebrates the interaction between stage performers and their audiences. “You have to have songs that make people in the absolute back row of the stadium feel like they’re part of that experience,” Haywood said, addressing the intention behind the sing-along chorus, tribal “hey-hey!” chant and promise that “we’re all stars tonight.”

From the start, Lady Antebellum has been conscientious about building and nurturing their fan base, especially via online social channels. Scott first became aware of Kelley and Haywood through MySpace; once they committed to becoming a trio, their Web experience empowered them to build and maintain a community of listeners by simply reaching out. Like many other Country artists particularly of their generation, they’ve become heavy users of Twitter. And they’ve maintained their commitment to upload new Webisodes to their site each week on Wednesday, making the event appointment viewing for many followers.

A strong personal connection to their fans is one byproduct of these efforts. Sometimes it’s perhaps a little too personal — “People wait outside the bathroom stall to shake my hand,” Scott confirmed — but it’s also helped build their community in places they barely even imagined when they were starting out.

The reach of their brand became particularly apparent in September, when they opened for Kenny Rogers at Gstaad, Switzerland, in their first European booking. Mostly locals attended the Friday night performance, but on Saturday ticket buyers arrived from countries throughout the continent. The band was particularly surprised to discover that they weren’t just an unknown opening act; some of those fans were intent on seeing them and were singing every word to their music.

“That was an eye-opener,” Kelley said. “We don’t have distribution over there, but through the Internet they found a way to either listen to the album or have it find its way over to them, the physical CD. To know that your music can have that much reach is pretty wild.”

Far beyond American shores, Lady Antebellum has reaped the benefits of a plan whose key components include connecting online and presenting material that’s as honest as it is accessible.

That’s one reason why “American Honey” was chosen as the album’s second single. Written by Cary Barlowe, Hillary Lindsey and Shane Stevens, it’s a laid-back romantic reverie, whose acoustic textures and down-home fiddle create a sound more traditional than one often hears on today’s Country charts.

“We like to keep people on their toes and continue to try to show different sides of us with what singles we put out,” Scott explained. “It’s pretty conscious that we don’t want anything to sound like the one before it.”

“They were trying to make music that people will talk about 30 years from now,” elaborated Paul Worley, who co-produced both of Lady Antebellum’s albums. “When you go back and look at our influences and the music that we love, a lot of that music was made 30 or 40 years ago, and they want to be in that class of people. Now, whether they make that category or not, only time will tell, but that’s what they’re shooting for and it comes across in what they choose to write about and the sounds that they wrap around themselves. Any music that’s ever made it to that category is music that had risk and the possibility of crash-and-burn failure. But by luck and fortune and serendipity and whatever you want to call it, it broke through.”

Appropriately, breaking through a barrier is the theme of the album’s final, moving song, “Ready to Love Again,” written by all three members of the group with Michael Busbee but drawn from Scott’s personal experience at recovering from a gut-wrenching breakup. In contemplating another possible romance, the singer admits her trepidation, reflects on “building walls” and “the fear of how it might end” and then asserts herself with a figurative step forward.

The song might be about an emotional moment in her life, but in a parallel manner it also reflects the uncertainty that Lady Antebellum experiences now as one of Country Music’s signature acts. Instead of going into creative hibernation as Need You Now ascends, they’re already looking for ways to challenge themselves onstage and in the studio. That, they believe, is a central tenet for remaining vital.

“You get to a place where you’re not afraid to risk failing,” Scott said. “You can’t be afraid because you have to stay true to what your heart says and what you believe in and what you want to say.”

On the Web:

Lady Antebellum will be performing on Thursday, June 10 at the LP Field Concert Stage during the 2010 CMA Music Festival, which takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13 in Downtown Nashville.

Artists currently scheduled to appear at LP Field include (in alphabetical order):

Thursday, June 10: Jason Aldean, Danny Gokey, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood.

Friday, June 11:  Julianne Hough, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner, Keith Urban and more.

Saturday, June 12: Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Randy Houser, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, and Zac Brown Band.

Sunday, June 13: Trace Adkins, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, and Blake Shelton.

Four-day, upper level general admission tickets are still available for $110. All other levels are SOLD OUT. Single night tickets to the individual Nightly Concerts at LP Field are on sale for $30 for upper level general admission. To order tickets, call 1-800-CMA-FEST (262-3378); visit to buy online or charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. Tickets are also available at any Ticketmaster outlet. Prices do not include applicable handling fees. Ticket prices are subject to change without notice. All sales are final and non-refundable. Artists appearing subject to change.

For up-to-the-minute information about tickets, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit Fans can visit the “Connect” page to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community, plus link through to CMA’s Facebook (, Twitter (, MySpace (, and YouTube ( pages.


Images for above article.


Lady Antebellum; photo: Miranda Penn Turin
Photo: See Caption


Lady Antebellum; photo: Miranda Penn Turin
Photo: See Caption



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

Growing up in Lenexa, Kan., during summer idylls at the Lake of the Ozarks, between performances as a member of the Kansas City Youth Choir and at various school, church and community events, Matt Gary kept one dream front and center — to move to Nashville the instant he got his high school diploma and pursue a career in Country Music.

But being loyal to his family above all else, Gary put his plans on hold and honored his parents’ request that he first go to college. Good thing too: Armed with two bachelor’s degrees, in Computer Information Systems and Digital Art with Concentration in 3-D Animation, from the University of Tampa in Florida, he swooped into Music City, his enthusiasm undiminished and even better equipped to handle the demands of a modern music career.

After a year-long apprenticeship with producer Kent Wells, filled with demo sessions and concentration on focusing his vocal style, Gary bursts into the spotlight with his self-titled CD, released on his own 17 Music Entertainment label and produced by Frank Meyers. Though he writes as well, the 26-year-old artist chose to record 10 tracks by outside writers because, in his words, “I’m a fi rm believer in ‘the best song wins.’”

Even so, his easy-to-recognize style personalizes each track. From the slow-rockin,’ sing-along groove and wistful lyric of his debut single “The Days You Live For,” written by Wade Kirby and Myers, to the flirty, sly humor of Mike Mobley’s and Dave Turnbull’s “Can’t Take Her Anywhere,” the raw, fiddle-droned rumination on life’s lessons in “Not Every Man Lives,” by Myers, Lee Brice and Billy Montana, and the romantic beckoning of his second single, Jennifer Adan’s and Patricia Summers’ “Too Far,” capped by an unexpected and dramatic high note at the top of the bridge, Gary radiates a sunny, good-time optimism that’s bound to tease a smile and set the stage for the originals he promises for his sophomore album.


“Derek Sholl’s Here. It’s an awesome album.”

Pop Goes the Weasel, by James Patterson.”

“I usually practice my own songs in the shower — the acoustics are great.”

“Definitely a motor vehicle — I like driving, especially on a sunny day and you can roll the windows down and crank the stereo.”

“I’m a rock climber and a singer who has asthma. It’s a condition I’ve had since I was 4 years old.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Matt Gary; photo: Michael Gomez
Photo: See Caption




Issue Date: 5/18/2010  
  • Tim McGraw: The Pursuit of Excellence in Song and On Screen
Tim McGraw: The Pursuit of Excellence in Song and On Screen
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.


Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium was quiet and dark on this cold January afternoon. The only sounds were hushed conversations among technicians as they scrolled through images that blazed against a curtain drawn across the T-shaped stage, which stretched nearly the width of the room and projected a runway outward across the arena floor.


This stage would soon be seen by thousands of fans gathered to experience Tim McGraw’s “Southern Voice” tour, which opened mid-February in Omaha and is set to wrap later this summer. But movie fans would see it too, at a climactic moment of “Love Don’t Let Me Down” to be filmed in just a few days, with local extras filling the stands to cheer the performance of Kelly Canter, played by Gwyneth Paltrow.


Paltrow does her own vocal in this story of a faded Country performer in the midst of a comeback. So do co-stars Leighton Meester and Garrett Hedlund. The only one of the fi lm’s four headliners who doesn’t sing is the one who actually does it for a living — but there’s a good reason why.


“The minute Tim starts to sing, he steps out of character,” said Shana Feste, who wrote and directed “Love Don’t Let Me Down,” scheduled for a late fall release by Screen Gems. “We’ve been very careful to make sure that didn’t happen. It’s kind of bizarre when we step outside of the set and you see Tim, this gigantic Country star, with everybody swarming around him, because I see him only as an actor. In these intimate environments where we work together, he is an actor first. That’s how I treat him.”


McGraw plays James Canter, Kelly’s husband and manager, whose challenges include guiding his wife’s career at a pivotal time while coping with overtures made toward her by Hedlund’s character.


“He’s three-dimensional,” Feste explained. “His character is very complicated. Out of all the actors we initially discussed for the role, Tim is best able to play shades of gray really well. He’s a very subtle, nuanced actor. I don’t want anybody walking out from the movie dismissing him as either just a good guy or a bad guy, and I knew Tim could deliver that.”


That skill has served McGraw well through a series of film appearances the past six years that include “Friday Night Lights,” “Flicka,” “The Kingdom,” “Four Christmases” and “The Blind Side,” in which he co-starred with Sandra Bullock, whose performance earned her an Academy Award in 2010 for Best Actress in a Leading Role. But it also draws from the discipline involved in making listeners connect quickly with the narrative and protagonists of a song.


“That’s where the similarities are,” McGraw confirmed as he relaxed in a bare storage room at Municipal Auditorium, awaiting his first look at the stage his crew had just fi nished assembling. “In an album, you’re actually creating 10 or 12 mini-movies. You’re asking people to go along with you through these movies, so when you’re in the studio and you’re closing your eyes and you’re singing, you’re trying to find this guy that’s walking through the song and give him a voice. It’s sort of the same thing you do in a movie. Empathy is the main thing you’re looking for, as a singer or as an actor.”


“Tim has incredible instincts at storytelling,” said Feste. “We shot a three-page scene today. It all took place in bed, where he was having a late-night conversation with his wife. My experience as a director is that you would get bored just seeing people talk in bed for three minutes. But because he’s such a storyteller, he did unexpected things and changed the scene with every beat of the story. Right now, I’m thinking it’s going to be one of the best scenes in the movie.”


Country Music fans can testify to McGraw’s ability to tell a story. Having won 11 CMA Awards, sold upwards of 40 million albums and lofted 31 singles to the top of the charts during the past 15 years, he is indisputably one of the industry’s top communicators. His 10th and latest Curb Records studio album, Southern Voice, peaked at No. 1 on the Country chart and No. 2 on the Top 200 in Billboard. His performances take the listener from a private inner world on the current single “Still,” written by Lee Brice, Kyle Jacobs and Joe Leathers, to the inspiration, celebration and unapologetic pride of Bob DiPiero’s and Tom Douglas’ Dixie anthem, “Southern Voice,” the album’s second single and track played during “The Blind Side” credits. It’s not just the song, compelling though it is; it’s McGraw’s immersion in the tune that makes listeners feel that “hickory wind that blows from Memphis down to Apalachicola.”


“One thing about music is that you have to be believable at all times,” McGraw said. “People have to really, sincerely feel your honesty when you’re singing to them. That’s true in acting to a certain extent, but it’s easier for a musician to try to act than it is for an actor to be a serious musician. Even if an actor is being sincere and honest, if they’re trying to play a musician, it’s hard to buy into that; people think they’re acting as a singer. But it’s hard either way. For a singer, the hard transition is that you’re so used to presenting yourself in a certain way, which is to be cool. That’s how you sell your music and your persona as a singer: You’re on … and you’re yourself. When you go to do a movie, a lot of times it’s quite the opposite: Your character is not cool. Nothing you do is cool. It’s a tough transition either way, but it’s very interesting, that’s for sure.”


Other differences distinguish cutting an album from mastering a film role, though in the end both processes lead toward the same goal of reaching the public.


“There’s actually less pressure with the movie,” McGraw said. “When you’re doing an album, you’re finding the songs, you’re in the studio recording, doing vocals and overdubs — it’s all fun. With a movie, once you start shooting, you’ve read the script, you know your character and you’ve done your research on what you want this guy to be. Now that we’ve started shooting, I’ve found my character, I know my lines when I show up on set and we spend the day creating the moments. It’s a lot of fun to create something that’s raw and real and that people can watch and believe.”


That’s the plan for his new tour too. Though impressive, the stage is scaled down from the spectacular setup that McGraw and his wife Faith Hill carted on their “Soul2Soul” and “Soul2Soul II” treks in 2006 and ’07. “I like bells and whistles as much as anybody,” the father of three daughters said. “Sometimes I’ll feel like that’s what we need. But it’s not about trying to outdo — or underdo — my last stage. It’s about what I feel at the moment. I just want people to get back to our music. I mean, it’s tough to say that with a straight face because this is no wallflower stage; it’s very modern and even spectacular. But it has the ability to take it way down and being intimate with the audience is the key to this tour.”


In that sense, the show is structured to reflect the emotions that course throughout Southern Voice. Produced by McGraw, Byron Gallimore and Darran Smith, it addresses themes that span a wider range than on any of McGraw’s previous albums.


“I’m going to have songs that are fun and light and songs that are heavy. As you mature in your life, that does make you think about things. It does make you want a broader palette to paint with. You don’t want to lose the carefree feelings you had when you were a kid but you don’t want to give up the knowledge you’ve acquired along the way. I’m at the perfect age to marry both of those things and not lose either one. I can still go out and do the things I did in my 20s and 30s — except for the partying,” he added, with a quick laugh. “I still have the fun and energy onstage that we’ve always had. And I’m old enough to bring a weight and some insight to it.”


Do his insights include any advice to share with other artists who might consider acting? “The best thing you do is to put really good people around you, people you trust, people who make good decisions and know what they’re doing,” he suggested. “And make your artistic decisions with your heart. Successful artists have to do both of these things. They have to think with their head when the time is right, and they have to cut that off and use their heart when that time is right. But if there’s any advice to be given to artists who want to do movies, I’d say go with your heart. If you find something you’re passionate about and you feel you can relate to it, then do it. You never know until you try.”


On the Web:


Tim McGraw will be performing on Thursday, June 10 at the LP Field Concert Stage during the 2010 CMA Music Festival, which takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13 in Downtown Nashville.


Artists currently scheduled to appear at LP Field include (in alphabetical order):


Thursday, June 10: Jason Aldean, Danny Gokey, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood.


Friday, June 11:  Julianne Hough, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner, Keith Urban and more.


Saturday, June 12: Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Randy Houser, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, and Zac Brown Band.


Sunday, June 13: Trace Adkins, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, and Blake Shelton.


Four-day, upper level general admission tickets are still available for $110. All other levels are SOLD OUT. Single night tickets to the individual Nightly Concerts at LP Field are on sale for $30 for upper level general admission. To order tickets, call 1-800- CMA -FEST (262-3378); visit to buy online or charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. Tickets are also available at any Ticketmaster outlet. Prices do not include applicable handling fees. Ticket prices are subject to change without notice. All sales are final and non-refundable. Artists appearing subject to change.


For up-to-the-minute information about tickets, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit Fans can visit the “Connect” page to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community, plus link through to CMA’s Facebook (, Twitter (, MySpace (, and YouTube ( pages.


CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. Premiere Radio Networks is the official radio broadcaster. Partners include Barnes & Noble; Blue Bell Creameries; Carl Black Chevrolet; Chevy: The Official Ride of Country Music; CMT; COMBOS Snacks; Dr Pepper; DRIVE4COPD; Durango Boots; Farm Boy and Farm Girl Brands; Field & Stream; GEICO; General Cigar Co., Inc.; Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee; Greased Lightning® Cleaning Products; Jack Daniel's; McDonalds; Ocean Spray; Random House Children’s Books; Roper Apparel & Footwear; Texas on Tour; VELVEETA Shells and Cheese; Votre Vu; World Vision; Wrangler.


Images for above article.




Tim McGraw; photo: Danny Clinch
Photo: See Caption


Tim McGraw; photo: Nathaniel Goldberg
Photo: See Caption


Tim McGraw; photo: Nathaniel Goldberg
Photo: See Caption


Tim McGraw; photo: Danny Clinch
Photo: See Caption


By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

On “Wildflowers,” from her debut album Blossom in the Dust, produced by Derek Bason, Mallary Hope sings with an intensity of expression that doesn’t just evoke the romantic languor of the words; it also conveys the mix of experience and innocence that defines this honey-voiced artist.

Hope penned this song with Luke Brown and Melissa Peirce, but it’s just one of 10 among these 11 tracks that she co-wrote, each suggesting that there’s a lot of soul embedded in these lyrics and melodies, which she delivers with a deft phrasing that sometimes recalls Patty Griffin. The picture ranges from frivolous and flirtatious on “I’m a Girl,” which she wrote with Shane Stevens and Matthew West, through the sense of adventure that comes from the combination of nostalgia and freedom woven by Hope and co-writers Leah Crutchfield and Jennifer Schott throughout “Times Like These.”

A peak experience on the album is its first single, “Love Lives On.” Written by Hope, Stevens and West, its message drawn from real-life experience and buoyed by sweeping counterpoint from the Nashville String Machine, slashed by electric guitar, with dramatic dynamic shifts and vocals alternately intimate and impassioned, and selected last August as an iTunes Single of the Week, this performance would shine on anyone’s album. As a debut single, it’s no less than astonishing.

And yet she isn’t really a newcomer. Hope began singing as a child at her father’s church in Cohutta, Ga., sat in at The Nashville Palace at 9, formed her fi rst band at 12, wrote her first song at 15, won a talent contest and was doing 150 shows a year by her sophomore year in high school. Her family moved to Nashville when she was 17 to give her the start she deserved and leading to her signing with MCA Nashville. As a harbinger of a strong career and evidence of Country Music’s capacity to nurture tomorrow’s best talent, Blossom in the Dust offers Hope in more ways than one.


“Dolly Parton.”

“‘Always on My Mind.’”

“Does Starbucks coffee count?”

“When I was a little girl, my grandma would spend summers with us. Every night, I would sneak into her room to watch ‘I Love Lucy.’ She passed away a few years ago, but I would love to go back and relive those summers. Then my mama could have her mama again.”

“Thank you, God.”

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Images for above article.

Mallary Hope; photo: Kate Powers
Photo: See Caption




Issue Date: 5/11/2010  
  • Two for the Show: The Art and Business Behind Country Vocal Duets
Two for the Show: The Art and Business Behind Country Vocal Duets
By Bill Friskics-Warren


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Duets have long been a staple of Country Music, and whether it’s Kitty Wells and Red Foley crooning their 1954 smash “One by One” or Taylor Swift and Colbie Caillat teaming up on “Breathe,” most great singers make it look easy.

A lot of thought and planning, though, go into bringing two acts together to record a duet, particularly when the artists are signed to different record labels. Everything, from agreeing on what song to sing and what key to do it in to negotiating how their record companies are going to market and promote the single, needs to be worked out in advance.

More serendipitous than most inter-label pairings was “Bare Skin Rug,” a collaboration between Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert, from Shelton’s album, Startin’ Fires. “They wanted to present the song as they’d written it, which was around a campfire,” said producer Scott Hendricks, Senior VP, A&R, Warner Music Nashville. “I have a farm with a fire pit where we’ve done quite a few acoustic shows. I thought it would be a great opportunity to pull everyone on Blake's team together, which included the label, his management and booking agency, to have a barbeque party/recording session to capture the song in the spirit of how it was written.

“It was a magical evening that ended up being an hour-and-a-half concert, with Miranda singing harmony on practically every song. When you hear those crickets chirping on the record, it’s real. It sounded exactly like that around the campfire at my farm that night.”

This collaboration was facilitated by the fact that Shelton and Lambert, who records for Columbia Nashville, have been dating since 2006. It was nearly as organic a process to arrange BBR artist Jason Aldean’s remake of Alabama’s breakthrough single “My Home’s in Alabama,” done as a duet with the group’s lead singer Randy Owen and available only as a bonus download track with purchase of Aldean’s CD Wide Open at Wal-Mart.

“I’d always wanted to record one of Alabama’s songs and just brought it up one day,” said Aldean. “It just so happened that Randy had just signed a deal with Broken Bow. The next thing I know, the head of the label (Benny Brown, BBR President/CEO) had talked to him about it and he was all in favor of it.”

“I thought it was really something neat, to take a song that launched the career of Alabama and to be able to sing it with somebody that I genuinely thought loved the song,” said Owen. “If it had been something that the record company or manager wanted to happen, I don’t think I would have done it, unless it was a contract thing that I couldn’t get out of.”

Rather than try to put his own spin on the song, Aldean had his band learn and record it as close to the original as they could. “We learned it lick for lick how they played it, right down to the guitar tones,” he said.

This approach to arranging posed unique challenges for producer Michael Knox. “I had to go in with my engineer and find old tones and elements from the ’70s,” he said. “We had to imitate the strings and we used a vintage snare sample on the song. We probably spent more time cutting that duet than we did any other song on the album.”

Homage or not, Knox still wanted the updated version of “My Home’s in Alabama” to bear Aldean’s stamp, which is why he had him sing most of the song. “The key was finding that right spot for Randy,” he explained. That turned out to be the second verse, the portion of the song that Owen “remembered as his most personal.”

He applied a similar approach when Aldean and Lambert recorded the song “Grown Woman” for Aldean’s previous album, Relentless. “We had to find a sweet spot so that Miranda’s voice was recognizable, a spot where Jason’s vocal wouldn’t get too low and hers wouldn’t get too high,” Knox remembered.

Sometimes, though, getting two voices to mesh on a recording can mean changing keys from verse to verse or even tweaking the melody a bit, as in the case of “Beautiful World,” a track from Capitol Records Nashville artist Dierks Bentley’s Feel That Fire that features Credential Records artist Patty Griffin on guest vocals.

“The key stayed the same,” said producer Brett Beavers, who also co-wrote the song with Jim Beavers and Bentley. “But we changed a couple of melody lines because they weren’t in the greatest key for Patty to take the lead on. We didn’t want her to be a slave to the original melody. In fact, we wanted her to do things with it, because she’s got that kind of voice that when she gets in a certain spot, she really sells the song.”

Conveying the message of his song, one that acknowledges the planet’s problems but ultimately affirms its beauty, was key to Bentley, who performed “Beautiful World” in 2008 with full orchestral accompaniment and Norwegian pop vocalist Marit Larsen as his duet partner at the annual Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo, Norway.

“Adding Patty’s voice to the mix, it just helped cement the gravity of the lyrics,” said Bentley, who admitted that he’d always hoped to have Griffin sing on one of his albums. “She really added an earthiness, a weight, that wasn’t there when I sang it by myself. I can’t imagine hearing the song now without her voice on it.”

The stories behind “Beautiful World” and “My Home’s in Alabama” suggest that duets are often driven more by artistic than commercial concerns, though this isn’t necessarily always true. “Duets are funny,” Beavers acknowledged. “Sometimes new artists need them to help them get up the charts for the first time. Somebody’s struggling and they do a duet, and all of a sudden they’re up there in the Top 20.”

That sort of push wasn’t necessary either for Aldean or Bentley. Even so, a match to an established artist can enhance the stature of performers who continue to grow their reputations. That was especially true in the pairing of Owen with Aldean, whose admiration was clear when he interviewed his older labelmate on an installment of the interview program “One to One,” shown on GAC. “The younger guys get credibility by bringing the older guys in,” said Knox. “Jason grew up on Randy’s music. ‘My Home’s in Alabama’ is the first song he learned to play.”

This quid pro quo can work both ways by giving the careers of proven acts — even Country Music Hall of Fame members like Owen — a boost as well. “It was kind of cool for the label,” Aldean said of his collaboration with Owen. “Not that Randy isn’t an established act, but as far as being a solo act, that’s kind of new territory for him.”

Duets also tend to fare well when it comes time for annual award shows. “It would have been a cool thing to sing ‘Beautiful World’ at the Grammys this year,” said Bentley, who was nominated in the Best Country Collaboration with Vocals category. “I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and talked about this song. It’s a powerful song, the voices together. It’s not just two singers: We’re bringing two worlds together.”

Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Alan Jackson and Blake Shelton will be performing on the LP Field Concert Stage during the 2010 CMA Music Festival, which takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13 in Downtown Nashville.

Artists currently scheduled to appear at LP Field include (in alphabetical order):

Thursday, June 10: Jason Aldean, Danny Gokey, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood.

Friday, June 11:  Julianne Hough, Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner, Keith Urban and more.

Saturday, June 12: Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Randy Houser, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, and Zac Brown Band.

Sunday, June 13: Trace Adkins, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, and Blake Shelton.

Additional artists will be announced soon. Surprise guests have also become a hallmark of the Festival, enriching an already star-packed lineup.

Four-day, upper level general admission tickets are still available for $110. All other levels are SOLD OUT. Single night tickets to the individual Nightly Concerts at LP Field are on sale for $30 for upper level general admission. To order tickets, call 1-800-CMA-FEST (262-3378); visit to buy online or charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. Tickets are also available at any Ticketmaster outlet. Prices do not include applicable handling fees. Ticket prices are subject to change without notice. All sales are final and non-refundable. Artists appearing subject to change.

For up-to-the-minute information about tickets, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit Fans can visit the “Connect” page to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community, plus link through to CMA’s Facebook (, Twitter (, MySpace (, and YouTube ( pages.

CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. Premiere Radio Networks is the official radio broadcaster. Partners include Barnes & Noble; Blue Bell Creameries; Carl Black Chevrolet; Chevy: The Official Ride of Country Music; CMT; COMBOS Snacks; Dr Pepper; DRIVE4COPD; Durango Boots; Farm Boy and Farm Girl Brands; Field & Stream; GEICO; General Cigar Co., Inc.; Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee; Greased Lightning® Cleaning Products; Jack Daniel's; McDonalds; Ocean Spray; Random House Children’s Books; Roper Apparel & Footwear; Texas on Tour; VELVEETA Shells and Cheese; Votre Vu; World Vision; Wrangler.


Images for above article.



Miranda Lambert, photo: Randee St. Nicholas; Blake Shelton, photo: Russ Harrington
Photo: See Caption


Jason Aldean, photo: Kristin Barlowe; Randy Owen, photo: Joe Hardwick
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Dierks Bentley, photo: Jim Wright; Patty Griffin, photo: Tracie Goudie
Photo: See Caption



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

The trio Due West — Tim Gates, Brad Hull and Matt Lopez — radiates enthusiasm through its robust harmonies and rock-solid song craft. Even the slow waltz “When the Smoke Clears,” written by Lopez and Don Rollins, addresses the issue of infidelity with a lead vocal that impresses through the drama of its delivery as much as its immersion in the lyric. Their first single, “I Get That All the Time,” by Lopez, John Bettis and Jason Deere, touches on similar topics, but the positive spin of the chorus transforms the narrative into a celebration of making the right, if less tempting, choices. (The album includes only one cover, a foot-stomping take on Craig Wiseman’s and Brad Crisler’s “County Fair.”)

Born in Sheridan, Wyo., Lopez moved to Arizona, where he and Thatcher, Ariz., native Hull became friends. In 2003, they relocated to Nashville, where Hull began his studies at Belmont University. Attending a party together, they met and started singing with Richfield, Utah, native Tim Gates; just like that, the seeds of Due West took root. They clicked from the start — so well, in fact, that they were inspired to document their union with “Due West,” written by Gates, Hull, Lopez, Jason Deere and Sonia Deere, a mini-autobiographical tune with a sing-along exit chorus, rousing melody and breezy beat, all of which reflect their camaraderie onstage and gratitude at having been brought together as friends and colleagues.

After making their bow at a VFW gig, the threesome charted a course that began with a residency at the Alabama Grill, where Gates happened to work as a manager. When a development deal with RCA Nashville terminated in the wake of the Sony/BMG merger, Due West took full control of its fortunes, booking shows as far off as Australia and recording their self-titled debut album for upcoming release on their own imprint, Bigger Than Me. Produced by Jason Deere and released in April, Due West testifies that persistence, patience, friendship and talent can better the odds for every artist with plenty to offer.


HULL: “‘I’ll Be Over You,’ by Toto.” GATES: “‘Drive,’ by The Cars.” LOPEZ: “‘6 8 12,’ by Brian McKnight.”

GATES: “20 Greatest Hits, by Don Williams.” HULL: “Twang, by George Strait.” LOPEZ: “Revolution, by Miranda Lambert.”

LOPEZ: “Fresh salmon and sushi.” GATES: “Health shakes (I carry a blender in my suitcase).” HULL: “Ice cream and peanut butter M&Ms.”

LOPEZ: “A hit songwriter/producer.” GATES: “A social worker helping people with disabilities get jobs.” HULL: “Depressed.”

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Images for above article.



Issue Date: 5/4/2010  
  • CMA Announces Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees
  • CMA Releases Critical Follow Up To Consumer Research Study
  • CMA Honors International Broadcasters
CMA Announces Country Music Hall of Fame Inductees
By Scott Stem and Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up News Service® / Country Music Association ®, Inc.

On Feb. 23, as a highlight of CMA’s seventh annual Artist Luncheon, it was announced that Jimmy Dean, Ferlin Husky, Billy Sherrill and Don Williams have been elected as the newest members of the Country Music Hall of Fame. The announcement was made before 185 artists and industry executives at the Luncheon, which took place appropriately in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Rotunda, where bronze plaques display the likenesses and summarize the legacies of each member inducted since the Hall was launched by CMA in 1961. The new inductees will bring the total number of members to 112.

“These four gentlemen broadened Country Music immensely with their talents, exposing millions of fans around the world to our format,” said Steve Moore, Chairman, CMA Board of Directors. “Their contributions to the genre and to popular culture are immeasurable, and we are proud to award them the highest honor in Country Music.”

Due to a tie in the voting, both Dean and Husky will be inducted in the “Veterans Era” category, Williams in the “Modern Era category” and Sherrill in the “Non-Performer” category, which is awarded every third year in rotation with the “Recording and/or Touring Musician” and “Songwriter.”

These categories, as well as the voting process for Hall of Fame membership, were updated in 2009 and took effect this year. Replacing “Career Achieved National Prominence Between 1975 and the Present,” the MODERN ERA category is open to artists 20 years after they’ve first achieved national prominence and they remain eligible for the next 25 years. Combining “Career Achieved National Prominence Between World War II and 1975” with “Career Achieved National Prominence Prior to World War II,” the VETERANS ERA category becomes available to artists 45 years after they’ve first achieved national prominence. ROTATING CATEGORIES include three groups, designated “Non- Performer,” “Songwriter” and “Recording and/or Touring Musician,” each of which becomes open to new membership every three years.

The Veterans and Modern Era categories have separate Nominating Committees, each made up of 12 industry leaders who serve three-year terms. The Modern Era Committee also oversees the Rotating Categories. Final nominations are submitted to two separate Panels of Electors, made up of historians and industry professionals that have a historical perspective on Country Music. One panel votes for both Modern Era and Rotating Categories, while a second panel votes for the Veterans Era. Both panels are updated annually by the CMA Awards and Recognition Committee. Individuals can serve on both panels. All panelists remain anonymous.

Inductions will take place with the Medallion Ceremony, an annual reunion of Hall of Fame members, later this year at the Museum.

Veterans Era Artist

Jimmy Ray Dean was born in Olton, Texas on Aug. 10, 1928, and raised by his mother in Plainview. She taught him piano when he was 10, which led him to pick up harmonica and accordion in his teen years. Dropping out of high school at 16, Dean joined the U.S. Merchant Marines for two years before enlisting in the U.S. Air Force. Stationed at a base in Washington, D.C., he first performed publicly with a band called The Tennessee Haymakers at nearby clubs. He remained in the area after he left the Air Force in 1948 and created a new band, The Texas Wildcats, which performed both in clubs and on radio with his own show on WARL in Arlington, Va.

In 1952, Dean toured the U.S. military bases in the Caribbean before returning to Washington, D.C., to record his first single for 4 Star Records. “Bummin’ Around” was released in 1952 and hit No. 5 on the Country singles chart. Broadcast pioneer Connie B. Gay offered Dean the opportunity to host “Town and Country Time,” a three-hour weekly TV show broadcast every Saturday night on the local ABC affiliate, WMAL. Roy Clark and Patsy Cline were among the artists who regularly appeared on the show. The popular Dean was later hired away to the CBS affiliate in the nation’s capital to host a live Country show. In 1957, he moved to New York, signed with Columbia Records and hosted “The Morning Show,” an early morning TV variety show for CBS TV.

In 1961, Dean wrote and recorded his signature song “Big Bad John” in Nashville. The song, which established his flair for spoken narratives, went to No. 1 on both the Country and pop singles charts. It also earned him the 1961 Grammy Award for Best Country & Western Recording. Additional popular singles followed in the next few years: “Dear Ivan,” “Little Black Book” and “P.T. 109” (about John F. Kennedy’s military adventure) all reached the Top 10 on the Country singles charts, while “To a Sleeping Beauty” and “The Cajun Queen” charted in the Top 20. All five of these songs also hit the Top 40 on the pop singles charts, with “P.T. 109” making the pop Top 10 as well.

During the early ’60s, Dean became Johnny Carson’s first guest host of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” for the NBC Television Network. From 1963 to 1966, “The Jimmy Dean Show” aired on ABC TV and its host earned the nickname “The Dean of Country Music.”

This variety show regularly featured Country Music artists as guests, introducing George Jones, Roger Miller, Buck Owens, Charlie Rich and many more to a national mainstream audience. The show also featured frequent appearances from puppeteer Jim Henson, which made his piano-playing dog Rowlf the first Muppet to become a household name.

In 1966, Dean signed with RCA Records and placed “Stand Beside Me” in the Country Top 10 that year. Additional hits followed, including “A Thing Called Love,” “Born to Be by Your Side” and “A Hammer and Nails.” By now a top name in Hollywood, Dean was also a headliner at the Hollywood Bowl, Carnegie Hall, the London Palladium and other major venues, and he became the first Country performer to play the Las Vegas Strip.

He was a frequent guest on the talk show circuit, appearing often on “The Merv Griffin Show,” “The Dinah Shore Show” and “The Mike Douglas Show,” among others. He became a recurring character on the “Daniel Boone” TV series in the late ’60s, acted in several TV movies-of-the-week and in 1971 appeared as reclusive billionaire Willard Whyte in the James Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever” with Sean Connery. That same year he and Dottie West achieved a Top 40 duet on the Country singles charts with “Slowly.” His final hit was in 1976 with “I.O.U.,” a narrative tribute honoring his mother that reached the Top 10 on the Country charts.

During the late ’60s, Dean broadened his interests after buying a Texas hog farm and transforming it into the Jimmy Dean Meat Company in 1969. While he continued to record and act during the ’70s and ’80s, he spent much of his time on this new business as his sausage recipes, inspired by his grandfather, achieved mass popularity. The company soon became the most successful sausage company in America. Sara Lee Corporation acquired the Jimmy Dean Meat Company in 1984, but Dean continued to be company spokesperson and Chairman of the Board for nearly 20 years.

Dean married former Mercury/Polygram recording artist Donna Meade in 1991 and moved to an area just outside Richmond, Va. The couple co-wrote his autobiography, Thirty Years of Sausage, Fifty Years of Ham, which was released in 2004. The Deans recently wrote the song “Virginia,” which is slated to become that state’s next anthem. He was appointed by former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore to the Board of Game and Inland Fisheries in 1998. Dean was inducted into the Virginia Country Music Hall of Fame in 1997, the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Meat Industry Hall of Fame in 2009.

Veterans Era Artist

Born Dec. 3, 1925 in Cantwell, Mo., and raised on a farm, Ferlin Husky learned to play guitar as a child from his uncle. He later moved to St. Louis and worked odd jobs.

From 1943 into 1948, he served in the U.S. Merchant Marines, U.S. Army and U.S. Coast Guard. During the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944, he fought under more than 48 hours of gunfire at Cherbourg. He also occasionally entertained the troops aboard ship.

After the war ended, Husky returned to St. Louis and worked in radio alongside Gene Autry’s sidekick, Smiley Burnett. He moved to California in 1949 and acted in some bit parts in several Western movies before settling in Bakersfield, where he worked as a radio disc jockey. He also regularly hosted and performed a family-style show at the Rainbow Garden and other area clubs that featured musical performances, talent shows for kids and more.

Changing his name first to Tex Terry and then to Terry Preston, Husky signed with 4 Star Records in 1950. Although he had little success at 4 Star, he did meet Cliffie Stone, a performer who also managed Tennessee Ernie Ford, served as an A&R executive at Capitol Records and hosted the “Hometown Jamboree” show each Saturday night on radio over KXLA/Pasadena and on TV via KTLA/Los Angeles.

Stone signed Husky to Capitol Records with Ken Nelson as his producer. Although his first few singles were released under the Preston name, Husky soon reverted back to his birth name under Nelson’s urging. Before long he moved to Springfield, Mo., where he performed often on the “Ozark Jubilee.” In 1952, he moved to Nashville to be closer to the Country Music industry and became a frequent guest performer on the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1953, Husky performed a recitation in the song “A Dear John Letter,” sung by Jean Shepard. The song went to No. 1 on the Country singles chart and No. 4 on the pop singles chart, launching both artists’ careers. The two reunited later that year for the follow-up answer song, “Forgive Me John,” which went Top 10. In 1955, Husky returned to the Top 10 with “I Feel Better All Over” and “Little Tom,” and achieved Top 20 with “I’ll Babysit with You.” He also had a No. 5 hit, “Cuzz Yore So Sweet,” under his comic alter-ego name Simon Crum.

Husky’s “Gone” topped the Country singles chart for 10 weeks in 1957. The song also reached No. 4 on the pop singles chart. A year later, he had a No. 2 hit as Crum with “Country Music Is Here to Stay.” Back as himself in 1960, Husky released his signature hit, “Wings of a Dove,” which was once again No. 1 on the Country singles chart for 10 weeks and reached No. 12 on the pop singles chart. He hit No. 4 on the Country singles chart in 1966 with “Once” and had his final Top 10 hit in 1967 with “Just for You.”

The singer remained on Capitol Records until 1972, continuing to have success with songs including “Every Step of the Way,” “Heavenly Sunshine,” “I Promised You the World,” “Sweet Misery,” “White Fences and Evergreen Trees” and more. Husky then signed with ABC Records, remaining with them through 1975. His last Top 20 hit was “Rosie Cries a Lot” in 1973.

Husky made appearances on several of the top TV variety shows of the time, including “The Steve Allen Show” and “Toast of the Town,” and also served as a summer replacement host for Arthur Godfrey on his self-titled CBS show in 1957. That same year, Husky branched out into acting, beginning with a role on an episode of “Kraft TV Theater” and an appearance as himself in the film “Mister Rock and Roll.” One year later, he acted in the movie “Country Music Holiday.” After a few years break, Husky returned to the movies in 1965, appearing as himself in “Country Music on Broadway” and acting as Crum in “Forty Acre Feud.” He portrayed the character Woody in “Las Vegas Hillbillys” (1966) and “Hillbillys in a Haunted House” (1967). His last film role was in “Swamp Girl” (1971).

In 1960, Husky was among the first Country artists inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Throughout his career, he toured in more than 62 countries. In 2005 at the age of 80, he released the album The Way It Was, featuring both old and new material, on the Heart of Texas record label. Leona Williams, who wrote the title cut, performed with him on two tracks.

Non Performer

Born Nov. 5, 1936 in Phil Campbell, Ala., Billy Sherrill was the son of an evangelist preacher. As a child, he learned piano and performed at his father’s revival meetings. After learning saxophone, he formed the rock ’n’ roll/R&B band The Fairlanes with his friend, Rick Hall. Although he was briefly signed as a solo artist to an independent record label in the late ’50s, he concentrated on songwriting. Sherrill co-wrote “Sweet and Innocent” (a hit for Donny Osmond) with Hall, with whom he created a publishing partnership — Florence Alabama Music Enterprises (FAME Publishing).

Sherrill moved to Nashville in 1962 after receiving a royalty check in the mail and learning that an unknown Country artist had recorded one of his songs. Sam Phillips hired him to manage Sun Records’ Nashville studios. One year later, Sherrill moved to Epic Records as an in-house producer and was assigned to record any artist that the label’s other producers had rejected. He created his own production style based on his gospel background and the influences of producers Owen Bradley and Phil Spector. He broadened the Nashville sound of the 1950s by adding a modern, sophisticated sensibility while often using a generous amount of strings and background vocals.

In 1965, he achieved his first big success when David Houston hit No. 3 with the Sherrill-produced “Livin’ in a House Full of Love” (written by Sherrill and Glenn Sutton). One year later, Sherrill produced Houston’s “Almost Persuaded” (by Sherrill and Sutton), which spent nine weeks at No. 1 and was recognized with three Grammy Awards in 1966. The song became a standard and was recorded more than 100 times by artists as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Merle Haggard and Etta James, among others.

In 1966, Sherrill discovered the woman who would later be known as the First Lady of Country Music when a hairdresser named Wynette Byrd knocked on his door and asked for an audition. He signed the singer and suggested she change her name to Tammy Wynette. Under Sherrill’s production, Wynette’s first single “Apartment No. 9” was released in 1966. Her second single, “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” (by Sherrill and Sutton), reached No. 3 and launched a string of Top 10 hits.

Wynette’s duet with Houston on “My Elusive Dreams” became her first No. 1 hit in 1967, and earned Sherrill and co-writer Curly Putman their first CMA Awards nomination. Sherrill’s and Wynette’s partnership continued as he produced her hit songs including, “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” “Take Me to Your World,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and her signature song “Stand By Your Man,” which Sherrill and Wynette wrote in the studio in 15 minutes. That song earned them a CMA Awards nomination in 1969, and the recording was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.

Wynette continued having hits under Sherrill’s production in the ’70s, most notably “Til I Can Make It On My Own,” written by Sherrill, Wynette and George Richey, which received a CMA Awards nomination in 1976. Sherrill brought Wynette’s then-husband George Jones to Epic in 1971 and produced his solo albums for two decades, which featured the hits “We Can Make It,” “The Grand Tour,” “These Days I Barely Get By,” “Memories of Us,” “If Drinkin’ Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will),” “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” and the legendary “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” He produced the Jones/Wynette duet projects. The couple would record together through 1980, even after their 1975 divorce, delivering such Sherrill-produced classics as “The Ceremony,” “We’re Gonna Hold On,” “(We’re Not) The Jet Set,” “Golden Ring,” “Two Story House” and more.

Sherrill signed Charlie Rich to Epic in 1968. This pairing resulted in huge success in 1973 with Behind Closed Doors, which propelled Rich to superstardom and contained three hit singles including the title track, “I Take It On Home” and “The Most Beautiful Girl.” The latter song, written by Sherrill, Norro Wilson and Rory Bourke, spent three weeks at the top of the Country singles chart and two weeks atop the pop singles chart and received a CMA Awards nomination in 1974. In addition, Sherrill and Wilson received a Grammy Award in 1974 for “A Very Special Love Song,” recorded by Rich.

After signing Barbara Mandrell to Columbia Records in 1968, Sherrill produced and wrote many of her early hits, including her first single “Playing Around with Love,” before she left the label four years later. By this point, Sherrill had become one of the most reliable hitmakers in Nashville. Throughout the ’70s, he wrote songs and/or produced for a wide variety of artists including Johnny Cash, Janie Fricke, Johnny Paycheck, Marty Robbins, Tanya Tucker, Bobby Vinton and Andy Williams.

In 1980, he was named VP/Executive Producer of CBS Records Nashville, the parent company of Epic and Columbia. He produced Elvis Costello’s Country album, Almost Blue, in 1981. Three years later, he produced Ray Charles’ Friendship, which featured Charles performing duets with Chet Atkins, Cash, Jones, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, The Oak Ridge Boys and others. After leaving CBS, Sherrill continued as an independent producer.

Sherrill was inducted into the NSAI Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984, the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2008. He has 84 BMI Awards (66 Country, 17 pop, one R&B), more than any other Country songwriter. In 1999, Sherrill was named the BMI Country Songwriter of the Century.

Modern Era Artist

Don Williams, the man who would later be known as “The Gentle Giant” for his warm baritone and laid-back manner, was born May 27, 1939 in Floydada, Texas. Williams learned guitar from his mother during his childhood and performed in a variety of Country, folk and rock ’n’ roll bands during his teen years.

Living in Corpus Christi after high school, he partnered with Lofton Kline to form a musical duo called The Strangers Two. In 1965, they added Susan Taylor to the group and renamed themselves The Pozo-Seco Singers. The folk-pop group signed with Edmark Records, a local record label, and had a regional hit with their single “Time.” With that success, Columbia Records signed the group in 1966 and re-released the song nationally, where it entered the Top 50 on the pop charts.

The threesome had two additional Top 40 pop hits with “I Can Make It with You” and “Look What You’ve Done.” They disbanded in 1970 after releasing their fourth album. Williams moved to Nashville and signed as a songwriter with Jack Music, Inc., owned by legendary producer/publisher Jack Clement. In1972 he signed with JMI Records as a solo artist. While his first single “Don’t You Believe” did not receive much airplay, the 1973 follow-up “The Shelter of Your Eyes” reached No. 14 on the Country singles chart. He released a few more singles to varying degrees of success before hitting No. 5 with “We Should Be Together” in 1974. This success led to a recording deal with ABC/Dot Records. His debut single on the new label, “I Wouldn’t Want to Live If You Didn’t Love Me,” topped the Country singles chart in the summer of 1974.

During the 1970s, Williams grew into one of the most popular Country artists in the world with No. 1 songs such as “I’m Just a Country Boy,” “It Must Be Love,” “Love Me Over Again” (written by Williams), “Love Me Tonight,” “Say It Again,” “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” “Till the Rivers All Run Dry” (which he co-wrote with Wayland Holyfield), “Tulsa Time” and “You’re My Best Friend.” In addition to his American success, he gained a huge following in the United Kingdom and Europe. He was named CMA Male Vocalist of the Year in 1978. Williams also appeared in movies including “W.W. and the Dixie Dancekings” and “Smokey and the Bandit II.”

Williams wrote several of his hits, including “I’ve Got a Winner in You” (with Holyfield) and “Lay Down Beside Me,” both of which hit the Top 10 in 1978. But he also frequently recorded songs written by Roger Cook, Holyfield, Dave Loggins, Bob McDill, John Prine and Allen Reynolds, who produced several of Williams’ early albums. For more than 17 years beginning in the mid ’70s, Williams co-produced his albums with Garth Fundis.

In 1980, Williams released his most successful single, “I Believe in You,” which topped the Country singles chart and reached No. 24 on the pop singles chart. The following year saw two more No. 1 singles (“Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good” and “Miracles”), a No. 3 duet with Emmylou Harris on “If I Needed You” and the CMA Album of the Year Award for I Believe In You. Additional No. 1 singles in the ’80s included “If Hollywood Don’t Need You,” “Love Is On a Roll,” “That’s the Thing About Love” and “Heartbeat in the Darkness.” He switched labels, moving from MCA (which had acquired ABC/Dot) to Capitol in 1986 and then to RCA in 1989. His last Top 10 single was in 1992 with “Lord Have Mercy on a Country Boy.”

Williams announced his “Farewell Tour to the World” in early 2006 and performed around the globe before wrapping up with his sold-out, final concert in Memphis, Tenn., at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts on Nov. 21, 2006. He then retired from live performing, recording and public life. Among his many career accomplishments were 17 No. 1 hits and 13 CMA Awards nominations. He and his wife Joy celebrated 50 years of marriage on April 10, 2010.


Images for above article.




Jimmy Dean is announced as one of the 2010 inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame under the “Veterans Era Category” category. Photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.
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Ferlin Husky is announced as one of the 2010 inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame under the “Veterans Era Category” category. Photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.
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Billy Sherrill is announced as one of the 2010 inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame under the “Non-Performer” category. Photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.
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Don Williams is announced as one of the 2010 inductees of the Country Music Hall of Fame under the “Modern Era Artist” category. Photo courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.
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CMA Releases Critical Follow Up To Consumer Research Study
By Wendy Pearl and Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up News Service® / Country Music Association ®, Inc.

Continuing its mission to serve as an educational resource for the music industry, CMA has released key findings from its fourth-quarter 2009 follow-up to its original 2008 Country Music Consumer Segmentation Study.

In partnership with The Right Brain Consulting, LLC and Chicago-based Leo Burnett Company, CMA spearheaded a multi-year series of research projects that involved interviewing a sample of nearly 10,000 adults to provide vital insight into the Country Music fan base as a means of driving industry vitality in challenging economic times.

"As company budgets for research are reduced, or eliminated, it is more important than ever that CMA assumes a leadership role by providing this timely and in-depth look at our consumer as a benefit to our stakeholders," said Steve Moore, Chairman, CMA Board of Directors. "As an industry, we can't ignore the facts in front of us. Information is critical to the decision making process for any business."

Unveiled in summary form in February during a presentation at the annual Country Radio Seminar in Nashville, the complete report is available to CMA members at, with PowerPoint graphics and narration by Jana O’Brien, Principal, The Right Brain Consumer Consulting LLC.

The full multi-year research initiative is the largest and most comprehensive consumer investigation in the 50-plus-year history of CMA. The effort was undertaken to define the Country Music consumer: to identify their behaviors and tastes and to closely examine what motivates them to invest in the artists and music.

The effort began in the summer of 2008, with the CMA Country Music Fan Discovery and BrandProspect Segmentation. The results were culled from a phase one sample of nearly 7,500 individuals, a second callback sample of 1,850 and 10 focus groups from three regions of the country, which included Charlotte, Chicago and Phoenix.

In November 2008, a follow-up study, focused on the economy and Internet connectivity, was conducted to determine the impact of the growing economic crisis on the fan base. A quantitative online and telephone survey was conducted among 542 Country Music fans ages 18-54.

The CMA Prime Prospect Study was fielded in May 2009 with a quantitative online and telephone survey among 712 Country fans ages 18-54 in the four most lucrative fan segments, identified as CountryPhiles, MusicPhiles, Today's Traditional and Pop Country consumers.

The current CMA Country Music Fan Tracking Study took place in November 2009, with a quantitative online and telephone survey among 1,087 Country Music fans ages 18-54.

"The project is the most far-reaching and comprehensive study of the Country Music consumer ever undertaken by the industry," Moore said. "The large sample of nearly 10,000 consumers gives the study statistical reliability and provides a foundation for industry dialogue as we prepare for the future."

Overall, the impact of the U.S. economic downturn is impossible to ignore. The Country Music industry is facing revenue pressure from a range of consumer-based fronts including the economy, a decline in the Country fan base, reduced consumer Country Music spending and a continued move away from buying full albums to single songs or acquiring "free" music.

The size of the Country Music fan base relative to the total Adult 18- 54 population dipped slightly in 2009 from 2008, from 39 to 37 percent, including a drop in the size of the lucrative CountryPhile and MusicPhile segments, which together account for the bulk of Country Music category spending. These segments’ percentage of spending dropped from 70 percent in 2008 to 55 percent in 2009. As a result, total Country fan spending on CDs, legal music downloads and concerts declined an estimated 28 percent since 2008.

At the same time, there is positive momentum in fans' attitudes toward the Country genre with increased engagement in free pipelines including radio and the Web. Consumers' overall attraction to Country Music is due to the music's personal relevance and uplifting nature in good times, and bad.

Two in five fans feel better about Country Music than they did in 2008. And they are more optimistic about their own economic future. Twenty-eight percent of fans now rate their personal finances as "Excellent/Very Good" vs. just 7 percent in 2008.

The Country fan remains an attractive consumer segment for potential sponsors. Income levels are in line with average American adults, with strong gains in those who are college-educated (64 percent vs. 34 percent in 2008).

From the beginning of the study, CMA sought to establish a Consumer Definition as a baseline for current and future study. Based on this imperative, it has been documented that the industry's "bread and butter" is the so-called "Core Fan" base; they are music lovers who drive extensive revenue and they can be divided into two groups: CountryPhiles and MusicPhiles.

CountryPhiles are passionate fans of Country Music. They appreciate the core values of the format and the artists. And their commitment translates to both significant engagement time and industry revenue. MusicPhiles are extremely hip, high-tech, engaged music lovers who happen to include Country Music in the mix. The MusicPhiles are "music ambassadors" who spend as much or more on buying Country Music CDs for others as for themselves.

Today's Traditional and Pop Country consumers are CountryPhiles and MusicPhiles in training. They have a fair amount of engagement with the format but aren't spending nearly as much in the category as their Core Fan counterparts. With that in mind, it is important to maximize and grow the potential spending of these two groups.

The role of Country radio has been strengthened by the challenged economy. Usage and average hours spent listening are up significantly. Not surprisingly, the study identified radio, along with word-of-mouth from friends and family, as the No. 1 influencer in fans' music taste and behavior.

Monthly Country Music radio listening — i.e., listening measured as at least one tune-in per month — is up from 79 percent of fans in 2008 to 93 percent today. Weekly Country radio listening hours are up to an estimated 9.9 hours per fan from 6.4 in 2008.
With Americans economically stressed and working harder to make ends meet, radio is potentially a strong performer due to its portable, free and "workplace-acceptable" nature, which allows fans to take it wherever they go.

Fan responses did indicate a strong desire for radio improvements that testing shows would strengthen the fiscal health of the Country Music industry. There is consistent feedback from year to year with one third of the fans tested saying that they would listen to Country Music radio more if there was less repetition and a wider variety of songs.

New product concept testing among the prime Country fan segments showed strong industry-building potential of "deep cuts" radio programming. Thirty-seven percent of these fans rated such a "go deep" idea "Extremely Relevant/Relevant." The consensus was that playing a wider, deeper variety of cuts by an artist would influence genre investment, with 44 percent of fans saying it would increase the likelihood that they would buy more CDs.

Country fans are adopting new media and technology at a brisk pace. An estimated 18 percent of Country Music radio listening is via online streaming, podcasts or cable TV "radio." Nearly one in four visit Country radio station Web sites on a monthly basis.

Fully 78 percent of Country fans now have home Internet access and 61 percent of fans go online monthly to explore Country content. Access for CountryPhiles is up from 48 percent in 2008 to 60 percent in 2009. And four out of five of those CountryPhiles without home Internet access go online at another location, including at work or through friends and family.

YouTube has become the dominant Web destination for Country content, with 40 percent of online fans visiting monthly. This is likely the primary destination for viewing music videos. While the Web is increasingly important, the frequency of fan Web engagement with Country content should not be overestimated.

Only four online destinations attract one in four Country fans in an average month — YouTube, iTunes, artist Web sites (as an aggregate) and Country radio station sites (as an aggregate). Only YouTube and Pandora achieve weekly visitation by more than one in 10 fans; all other measured destinations are 10 percent or less. Though growing as Country content destinations, social networking sites are still visited monthly by only a minority of fans: Facebook (20 percent), MySpace (18 percent) and Twitter (10 percent).
By comparison, 93 percent listen to Country radio, 55 percent watch CMT and 25 percent watch GAC monthly.

Key retailers and e-tailers are becoming more important. With fewer brick-and-mortar retailers carrying CDs and physical product, Walmart's domination and Target's No. 2 status are solidifying. Walmart was the source for 48 percent of fans' last CD purchases (up from 44 percent in 2008), and Target was up to 16 percent from 12 percent in 2008.
iTunes accounted for 72 percent of last year’s Country Music downloads, up from 56 percent in 2008., and all other sources showed relative declines of 28 to 46 percent as last purchase source for digital music. Nearly half of last "free" downloads were acquired through legal methods including free from iTunes, company promotions or artist Web sites.

Building industry partnerships with these key purchase pipelines appears to be vital to ensure the future health of consumer spending.

The Country Music fan landscape is a combination of change, challenge and a glimmer of cheer:
• The change is the continued shift from paid to free engagement and  consolidation in retail pipelines.
• The challenge is the economy, the downsizing of the Country fan base,  with fewer lucrative Core fans, fewer units purchased, and a desire  for more variety at radio.
• The glimmer of cheer? An attractive fan demographic, positive genre  attitudes, higher fan purchase penetration, growing fan Web access,  and Country radio as the No. 1 source and influencer.

"With this information, we have a platform for continued growth and an opportunity to layer in additional studies as questions arise and our fans continue to evolve," Moore said. “It is our responsibility as the trade association for the format to respond to changes in the marketplace by providing fact-based information to support industry growth.”

CMA Research Available Online Now
new insights into the Country Music fan base.

CountryMusicFanBull's-Eye:  A ProfileofCountryPhilesandMusicPhiles
know your most responsive customer.

BrandProspect Segmentation Algorithm
an Excel-based tool to maximize response from your customer database.

Country Music Prime Prospects Study
understand the current economy’s impact on today’s and tomorrow’s fans.

Brand Shelter Survival Guide
nine dynamics that can help your brand prosper in challenging times.

All of this and more at

For more information on
• CMA’s consumer research study or future agendas, contact CMA (615) 263-3696 or
• use or integration of the Excel-based segmentation algorithm into  a new or existing customer survey for information collection,  contact Elizabeth Knapp (312) 220-4225 or 
• database overlay approach to typing an existing customer database,  contact Carol Foley (312) 220-4205 or 
• focus group or CMA’s consumer research study, contact Jana O'Brien (708) 383-5794 or



CMA Honors International Broadcasters
By Scott Stem


© 2010 CMA Close Up News Service® / Country Music Association ®, Inc.

In two far-flung corners of the world, two outstanding on-air personalities were surprised when presented with a CMA International Country Broadcaster Award.

In January, Casey Clarke received his Award from CMA Board member Ron Sakamoto, President, Gold & Gold Productions, during a CMT Canada party in Toronto. Clarke’s name is familiar throughout Canada, where “The Casey Clarke Show” is syndicated nationally over radio. “The Casey Clarke Country Countdown” launched recently as a weekly four-hour radio show, and CMT Canada has featured him for a dozen years in various roles, including host for the past seven years of “Cross Canada Countdown.” He has also served for three years as Director of Programming and Production at both CMT Canada and Country 95.3 (Hamilton/ Toronto).

“First off, I am ever so humbled by this incredibly gracious honor,” said Clarke. “And beyond that, I am grateful to CMA and to those who voted for me. I would like to thank Canadian radio for their continual support and CMT Canada for all the years that they’ve let me have a desk and a chair and have allowed this face for radio to grace their airwaves.”

Two months later, during their appearance on Grant Goldman’s morning show on Sydney’s 2SM radio station and syndicated on the Super Radio Network, CMA Board member Rob Potts, CEO, Rob Potts Entertainment Edge, and singer Jasmine Rae unveiled his CMA International Country Broadcaster Award.

Though he plays a variety of musical styles, Goldman devotes nearly a fifth of his program to Country Music and has been known for 30 years as a champion of the format in Australia.

“I am truly surprised and thrilled to receive this Award,” said Goldman. “It’s a real boost for me to realize the industry does recognize what I’m trying to achieve — and now I’m even more motivated! Thank you, CMA!”

The CMA International Broadcaster Award recognizes outstanding achievement by radio broadcasters outside the United States who have made important contributions toward the development of Country Music in their country. Previous winners are listed at


Images for above article.


Canadian radio and television personality Casey Clarke was surprised with the CMA International Broadcaster Award during a CMT Canada party in Toronto, Ontario. The Award was presented to him by CMA Board member Ron Sakamoto, President of Gold & Gold Productions. Pictured: Clarke (left); Sakamoto (right)
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(l-r): Rob Potts, CMA Board Member and CEO, Rob Potts Entertainment Edge; Jasmine Rae; Grant Goldman. Photo courtesy of Rob Potts.
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Issue Date: 4/27/2010  
  • Trace Adkins Taps the Comic Market as Luke McBain
  • Alan Jackson: Cracker Barrel Offers a Country Boy’s Collection
Trace Adkins Taps the Comic Market as Luke McBain
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

There’s something familiar about Luke McBain. You may have seen his image at your local comic book emporium, where one cover in the four-installment series depicts the tall, black-hatted hero wielding an axe handle like a personal sword of justice.

Or maybe you thought you saw McBain onstage at CMA Music Festival, declaiming on the pleasures of “honky tonk badonkadonk” over a snarling, low-down groove.

It’s easy to confuse this righteous avenger, as drawn on each cover by Brian Stelfreeze and on the inside pages by Kody Chamberlain, with Show Dog-Universal Music recording artist Trace Adkins, the multi-Platinum-selling Country giant and co-headliner on the “Sunny D Presents the Shine All Night Tour starring Martina McBride and Trace Adkins.”

That’s been true ever since 2008, when David Tischman produced “Trailer Park of Terror,” a horror film in which Adkins played a character known as The Man who was in fact the Devil. After wrapping the movie, Tischman discussed it with his friend Keven Gardner, publisher of 12 Gauge Comics and, it turns out, a fan of Adkins.

“I said, ‘This guy has such a magnetic personality. We should find something for him,’” Tischman said. “And Keven came up with this ‘Billy Jack’/‘Walking Tall’ revenge idea. From day one, we always had Trace in mind for this: the cowboy hat, the ruggedness, yet always with that wry smile and sense of humor about life.”

They ran the concept past Gardner’s agent, Scott Agostoni, who heads the Graphic Novel and Comic Division at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. Agostoni in turn contacted Rick Shipp, co-head of the agency’s Nashville office. Though WME Entertainment no longer represented Adkins, Shipp forwarded the information to his former client as a gesture of friendship. “We had everybody looking for things for Trace,” he explained. “And this idea was right for him.”

Ken Levitan, Adkins’ manager and Co-President, Vector Management, agreed. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to brand our artists,” he said. “To me, Trace Adkins is a big brand. He’s a big guy. And I love that there are 4,000 comic book stores and Trace is now carried in them all.”

12 Gauge floated the McBain concept at Comic-Con, the annual comic book industry convention, last year. When feedback proved positive, work began. Adkins offered details that enhanced his character’s credibility. That axe handle on the first issue’s cover? It’s there because Adkins really does keep an axe in the back of his pickup. And the scene where McBain comes back to his hometown after a long absence and stumbles into a robbery in progress is drawn from another real-life experience.

Discussion is underway to bind all four issues into book form to further expand readership. 12 Gauge recently released a Luke McBain iPad app. There’s also talk of piloting the project for TV or film. All that is still in progress, but one thing is sure: In terms of impacting the public and getting attention, Adkins is, like the cover says, Luke McBain.

Trace Adkins will be performing on the LP Field Concert Stage on Sunday, June 13, during the 2010 CMA Music Festival, which takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13 in Downtown Nashville.

Artists currently scheduled to appear at LP Field include (in alphabetical order):

Thursday, June 10: Jason Aldean, Danny Gokey, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood.

Friday, June 11:  Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner, Keith Urban and more.

Saturday, June 12: Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Randy Houser, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, and Zac Brown Band.

Sunday, June 13: Trace Adkins, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, and Blake Shelton.

Additional artists will be announced soon. Surprise guests have also become a hallmark of the Festival, enriching an already star-packed lineup.

Four-day, upper level general admission tickets are still available for $110. All other levels are SOLD OUT. Single night tickets to the individual Nightly Concerts at LP Field are on sale for $30 for upper level general admission. To order tickets, call 1-800-CMA-FEST (262-3378); visit to buy online or charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. Tickets are also available at any Ticketmaster outlet. Prices do not include applicable handling fees. Ticket prices are subject to change without notice. All sales are final and non-refundable. Artists appearing subject to change.

For up-to-the-minute information about tickets, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit Fans can visit the “Connect” page to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community, plus link through to CMA’s Facebook (, Twitter (, MySpace (, and YouTube ( pages.

CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. Premiere Radio Networks is the official radio broadcaster. Partners include Barnes & Noble; Blue Bell Creameries; Carl Black Chevrolet; Chevy: The Official Ride of Country Music; CMT; COMBOS Snacks; Dr Pepper; DRIVE4COPD; Durango Boots; Farm Boy and Farm Girl Brands; Field & Stream; GEICO; General Cigar Co., Inc.; Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee; Greased Lightning Cleaning Products; Jack Daniel's; McDonalds; Ocean Spray; Random House Children’s Books; Roper Apparel & Footwear; Texas on Tour; VELVEETA Shells and Cheese; Votre Vu; World Vision; Wrangler.

On the Web:;


Images for above article.

Cover for Issue 3 of Luke McBain. photo courtesy of 12 Gauge Comics
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Alan Jackson: Cracker Barrel Offers a Country Boy’s Collection
By Melissa Coker


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Alan Jackson fans know he likes bologna on white bread now and then. What they may not know is that some of his other likes — such as his personal Hot and Barbecue blends, a signed cast-iron skillet and much more — are available at Cracker Barrel Old Country Store.

With more than 40 items marked from $1.99 to $199.99, the popular restaurant and shop chain offers memorabilia of this Country icon for buyers at nearly every budget. Selections include salt and pepper shakers, modeled directly from Jackson’s hat and boots; a music box; a Jackson-style hat; a new slew of songs on CD; and plenty of jewelry and clothing options for men and women. There’s also a cookbook, Who Says You Can’t Cook It All, packed with favorite recipes as well as family photos. Speaking of dinner, that $1.99 will fetch a cowboy hat-shaped tin of mints, while the $199.99 product is a limited-edition rocking chair, complete with Jackson’s etched-in autograph. A number of items from this collection are available as well at

“Alan was the first artist we approached with this concept of a collection centered around Country heritage, family and traditions, all of which are important to the both of us,” said Peter Keiser, VP of Marketing, Cracker Barrel. “In our music program, we conduct research on an ongoing basis. Alan is a phenomenal star and he scored very, very well in our research.

“We really tried to keep the products as much in tune with Alan’s lifestyle as we could,” Keiser added — so much so that they literally took the shirt right off Jackson’s back. The selections in The Alan Jackson Collection were based on details as meticulous as the material and thread count of the shirts actually worn by the artist. Just the same, pricing was kept to a real-world level, with the value of the clothing scoring high in comparison-shopping tests undertaken by Cracker Barrel.

In one area of their partnership, Jackson followed in the footsteps of other Country luminaries who are selling their albums exclusively through the store. Thus Jackson’s Songs of Love and Heartache joins a list of CDs by Dailey & Vincent, Sara Evans, George Jones, Montgomery Gentry, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Josh Turner, Zac Brown Band and others that can be found only via Cracker Barrel.

Still, Jackson and Cracker Barrel share demographic appeal. “Cracker Barrel has been a part of my family since I was a young man,” noted Jackson. “I was really flattered when they came to me. I’ve been very impressed with the variety and quality of the items we have put together.”

“Cracker Barrel customers are Alan Jackson fans and share the small-town family sensibilities expressed in his music,” added Jackson’s manager, Craig Fruin of HK Management. “That’s a connection that can’t be manufactured. The strength of it was reflected in the first-week sales, when all of our projections were surpassed.”

The bottom line came from Keiser: “It’s done well enough for us to continue with him and possibly other artists in the future.”

Alan Jackson will be performing on the LP Field Concert Stage on Thursday, June 10, during the 2010 CMA Music Festival, which takes place Thursday through Sunday, June 10-13 in Downtown Nashville.

Artists currently scheduled to appear at LP Field include (in alphabetical order):

Thursday, June 10: Jason Aldean, Danny Gokey, Alan Jackson, Lady Antebellum, Tim McGraw, and Carrie Underwood.

Friday, June 11:  Miranda Lambert, Reba McEntire, Josh Turner, Keith Urban and more.

Saturday, June 12: Easton Corbin, Billy Currington, Randy Houser, Martina McBride, Rascal Flatts, and Zac Brown Band.

Sunday, June 13: Trace Adkins, Justin Moore, Brad Paisley, Kellie Pickler, Darius Rucker, and Blake Shelton.

Additional artists will be announced soon. Surprise guests have also become a hallmark of the Festival, enriching an already star-packed lineup.

Four-day, upper level general admission tickets are still available for $110. All other levels are SOLD OUT. Single night tickets to the individual Nightly Concerts at LP Field are on sale for $30 for upper level general admission. To order tickets, call 1-800-CMA-FEST (262-3378); visit to buy online or charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000. Tickets are also available at any Ticketmaster outlet. Prices do not include applicable handling fees. Ticket prices are subject to change without notice. All sales are final and non-refundable. Artists appearing subject to change.

For up-to-the-minute information about tickets, travel information, schedules, artist appearances and more, visit Fans can visit the “Connect” page to sign up for CMA Exclusive e-news and join the CMA MOB mobile community, plus link through to CMA’s Facebook (, Twitter (, MySpace (, and YouTube ( pages.

CMA Music Festival is organized and produced by the Country Music Association. Premiere Radio Networks is the official radio broadcaster. Partners include Barnes & Noble; Blue Bell Creameries; Carl Black Chevrolet; Chevy: The Official Ride of Country Music; CMT; COMBOS Snacks; Dr Pepper; DRIVE4COPD; Durango Boots; Farm Boy and Farm Girl Brands; Field & Stream; GEICO; General Cigar Co., Inc.; Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee; Greased Lightning Cleaning Products; Jack Daniel's; McDonalds; Ocean Spray; Random House Children’s Books; Roper Apparel & Footwear; Texas on Tour; VELVEETA Shells and Cheese; Votre Vu; World Vision; Wrangler

On the Web:;


Images for above article.


Part of The Alan Jackson Collection on display at a Cracker Barrel Old Country Store. photo: Kevin Neely
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Alan Jackson autographs items from his Cracker Barrel collection in Downtown Nashville. photo: Frederick Breedon
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Issue Date: 4/20/2010  
Brenda Lee: Lessons from the Archetype of Modern Country Stardom
By Bill Friskics-Warren


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Before “Star Search” gave us Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, before “American Idol” brought us Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood and MySpace gave us Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift — decades before any of these female teen idols was born — there was Brenda Lee.

As attested by “Brenda Lee: Dynamite, Presented by Great American Country Television Network,” an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum through July, none of these young megastars, despite their staggering success, has yet to eclipse the magnitude of the former Brenda Mae Tarpley.

The only woman inducted into both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame, and a member of the CMA Board for eight years, Lee was, according to rankings compiled by Billboard chart guru Joel Whitburn, the most commercially successful female singer of the 1960s. To date, she has sold more than 100 million records worldwide.

She also has the distinction of being the youngest headliner (12) on the Las Vegas Strip and of being a regular teenage guest on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Red Foley’s “Ozark Jubilee” and other nationally syndicated television shows. Nicknamed “Little Miss Dynamite” for her diminutive stature, big voice and electrifying stage presence, she has performed internationally since the 1950s, including 30 separate trips to Japan and a 1962 tour of England with The Beatles as her opening act. In 2009, Lee, who still does about 20 shows a year, was feted with the Recording Academy’s highest distinction, a Lifetime Achievement Award.

“It still staggers me,” said Lee, standing before a glass case displaying a few of her many trophies as she recently walked through the Hall of Fame exhibit.

“When I look at these awards, it’s like they’re not mine,” she elaborated as she graciously accommodated the steady stream of fans that approached her for an autograph. “It’s like somebody did really good, but it’s not like that person is me because this was not my goal. I didn’t have an agenda to win a lot of awards or to make a lot of money or sell millions of records. I just wanted to sing and I’ve been blessed to do that. And then, along the way, I’ve been blessed to be recognized for it. But still, this is unbelievable. It absolutely is.”

Coming from another performer, such comments might come off as disingenuous or, at the very least, pat. But not coming from Lee, who went into business to help her mother and her sister after her father died. The exhibit’s most telling remembrance of this period of her career is a photo of Lee, not quite 10 years old, performing at the Biltmore Hotel in Atlanta shortly after her father’s passing. Accompanied by a clarinetist and an accordion player, she’s dressed in kiddie cowgirl boots and Western wear.

Two years later, the family moved from Augusta, Ga., to Springfield, Mo., so that they wouldn’t have to make such a grueling commute for her to appear on the “Ozark Jubilee” each week. “Otherwise,” she explained, “we had to take a Greyhound bus after school on Friday, ride all night, get there at some point on Saturday, do the show, get back on the bus, ride all night, get home Sunday and go back to school on Monday. That got old after a while.”

Alluding to these less glamorous days during her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she acknowledged, “It’s been a long way from the Georgia cotton fields to the Waldorf Astoria.” Video footage of her speech, which lavished praise on her producer, the late Owen Bradley, and on the A-team of studio pros who played on her sessions, is included in the exhibit, along with clips from each stage of her career.

“Owen was wonderful,” Lee recalled. “He knew his artists so well, not just professionally but personally. He knew what each was capable of and made sure that he got that out of them.”

He also didn’t limit his imagination, or that of his artists, to the artificial boundaries between Country, pop and rock ‘n’ roll. “Owen’s theory was always ‘if it’s good, it’s everything,’” Lee said. “So we would always try to choose the best song that we could. The A-team guys, Buddy Harman, Bobby Moore, Floyd Cramer, Boots Randolph, Ray Edenton, Harold Bradley, Grady Martin, Hank Garland — who am I forgetting? — and of course the Anita Kerr Singers, we’d all sit around and they’d say, ‘Well, I think when she sings this line, we’ll come in with this scooby-dooby-do.’ And then Grady would say, ‘I’ll play this lick,’ and Boots would say, ‘How about I do this on the solo?’ And that’s how it came about.”

The “it” of which Lee speaks includes some 250 songs recorded for Decca, a company that’s now part of the Universal Music family, by the time she was 21. Some 30 of these were Top 40 pop hits; another 20 or so, most of them recorded in the ’70s and ’80s, reached the Country Top 40. The biggest, from “I’m Sorry” and “I Want to Be Wanted” to “Dum Dum” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” have long been regarded as classics.

Learning of the exhibit in Nashville, Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards sent Lee an autographed photo with a note saying that he listens to her growling 1959 hit, “Sweet Nothin’s,” on his iPod before every show he plays. Elton John, who has said that he wrote his 1972 smash “Crocodile Rock” with Lee in mind, sent her a blinged-out pair of sunglasses.

These and other celebrity connections pop up throughout the exhibit, including a photo of Lee with the Queen of England and video footage of her cutting up with Bob Hope on one of his TV specials. But maybe most inspirational, amid all her accolades, are the items that testify to how steadfastly Lee has balanced family and show business over the course of her nearly 60-year career.

“We wanted to tell the story of this phenomenal family, of Brenda’s incredible focus as a mother and a wife and, now, a grandmother,” explained the exhibit’s curator, Carolyn Tate, VP of Museum Services, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “She works around her grandkids’ schedule every day. It’s amazing, and she’s been doing that sort of thing from the beginning.”

She has also been married to the same man, Ronnie Shacklett, for the better part of five decades. More than just her childhood sweetheart, Shacklett has guided Lee’s career since the death of Dub Albritten, who managed her during her formative years. He even made a note on the back of their marriage license, which also appears in the exhibit, that his brand new bride had a 3 PM rehearsal that day for her May 12, 1963, appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

“I’m like, ‘Wow, Ronnie, how romantic,’” Lee recalled, laughing.

Her personal and professional accomplishments are a matter of record, as is her position in history as something of a prototype for contemporary female teenage idols. Still, Lee admitted, “I’m not sure that I could make it starting out today. Back when I was starting out, the main ingredient was talent, but today it’s the complete package. It’s the whole look, the whole image, the whole demeanor, the whole attitude. You’re a product. You’ve passed the line of being unique.”

That said, Lee does follow and genuinely enjoy many of the young stars of today. For those who are now following the path she blazed as a very young phenomenon, her advice is straightforward: “Commit yourself wholeheartedly to your dream and be prepared to believe totally in yourself, even when no one else believes in you.

Sometimes it can be a very long haul with a lot of heartbreak before you see any form of success with your music. I often have young artists come to me and say, ‘Well, I’m going to give it a few years and if things don’t work out, I’ll go back to whatever I was doing before.’ I think to be successful in this business, you have to block out that there was a ‘before.’

“Meanwhile,” she continued, “If you can be happy doing something else other than having a career in music, do it. Music careers are not for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged or for those who can easily resort to a Plan B. Music can be a very tough vocation. It’s a career for those who could never be happy doing anything else.”

As for today’s young stars, Lee singles out Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift among other favorites. “They’re real people singing about real things,” she said. “That’s why people are responding to Taylor Swift. It may be teenagers. It may be young adults. I don’t care. But they are responding in millions and millions and millions of ways. She’s outselling everybody in the industry right now. It’s phenomenal. “

Swift fully reciprocates the respect Lee shows to her. “One of the things that I’ve been so thankful for this year is the support of my fellow artists, and Brenda Lee has been so wonderfully gracious toward me,” she said. “She’s not only a great artist, but also a great role model for other artists who start their careers at a young age.”

As Lee sees it, she and Swift share one trait that has proven indispensible to their successes: “She is who she is. She’s just being her. She doesn’t have a record company saying, ‘You have to cop an attitude because you’re smiling too much. You need to be a little bit more sullen because that’s what’s happening right now.

“I had a record company one time tell me, ‘Don’t smile. You smile too much.’ I said, ‘Are you joking? That’s me. That’s what I do,” concluded Lee — with, of course, a smile.

CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with Country Music’s highest honor. Inductees are chosen by CMA’s Hall of Fame Panels of Electors, which consist of anonymous voters appointed by the CMA Board of Directors.


Images for above article.




Brenda Lee; photo: courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
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Brenda Lee records "Fools Rush In" in 1961. photo: courtesy of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
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Brenda Lee visits her exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. photo: Donn Jones
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Brenda Lee performs in Las Vegas in 2004. photo: courtesy of the Brenda Lee Archives
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Issue Date: 4/6/2010  
Faith Hill Builds a Country/Coty Connection
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.


What does it take to launch a new fragrance for Coty? The qualities are as hard to find in one person as they are easy to list: beauty, elegance, intelligence, confidence, a high public profile … all of which and more are easily associated with Faith Hill.


And so it was no surprise when, in October, Coty Inc. unveiled Faith Hill Parfums, named for the three-time CMA Awards winner and Warner Bros. recording artist, adding her to a distinguished list of recording artist/ sponsors that includes Victoria Beckham, Celine Dion, Jennifer Lopez, Kylie Minogue, Gwen Stefani and Shania Twain.


Research pegged Hill as an ideal partner, according to Steve Mormoris, Senior VP of Global Marketing, Coty Beauty. But beyond her many positive attributes and active interest in beauty products, her identity as an artist was an added plus.


“Country Music is the biggest genre of music in the United States,” Mormoris said. “And so Faith has become a much broader cultural force than she might have been when she was starting her career. This surge in the appeal of Country Music showed us that it could be a legitimate segment in which we can find celebrities who could create beauty products for all women, not just women who like Country Music.”


Talent brand manager Michael Flutie helped bring Hill and the perfume company together. As founder and owner of Michael Flutie’s Office (MFO), he had already facilitated Coty’s launch of McGraw, the eau de toilette selected for the Fragrance Foundation’s 2009 FiFi Awards for Best Fragrance and Packaging of the Year, Men’s Popular Appeal. “Tim and Faith represent the intelligence of the American family — or at least the intelligence that every American family would like to believe they have,” he explained.


Hill worked closely with Coty in every step of development, from designing the bottle to fashioning the fragrance itself, whose light, floral bouquet was inspired in part by her Southern upbringing. “One of the reasons we chose Coty was that they were insistent on my involvement,” Hill confirmed. “It was fascinating to learn about the world of fragrance."


Beginning with a Christmas-season campaign and a budget of more than $10 million, Coty advertised the product online and in ads with Elle, InStyle, People and other magazines, depicting Hill in reflective moments designed to communicate her values to customers 25 and above, even to those who were not familiar with her music. Hill also took it directly to the public through five live chats on, on which she answered questions submitted by fans. (Examples included: How can we influence our daughters about beauty and self-confidence? And how has your perception of beauty changed as you’ve gotten older?)


There was also one unexpected burst of publicity at the CMA Awards, when co-hosts Brad Paisley and Carrie Underwood bantered humorously about wearing the McGraw and Hill scents. “I was thrilled,” Mormoris said. “That moment alone showed me that people embrace Country stars making beauty products. They’re fun, they’re sexy and they add a lot of dimension to this industry.”


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Images for above article.

Faith Hill Parfums print ad; photo: Michael Thompson
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Billy Ray Cyrus Spreads the Word in Hellmann’s Sandwich Swap 'n' Share Campaign
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.


What could be more evocative of growing up in America than memories of trading homemade sandwiches with friends at school? And what format celebrates American ideals more than Country Music?


These rhetorical queries actually answer a larger question pondered early in 2009 at Unilever — namely, how can they best represent their upcoming campaign to raise money for Feeding America, the nation's leading domestic hunger-relief charity?


Their Hellmann’s brand of mayonnaise — known as Best Foods west of the Rocky Mountains — would be the vehicle for this effort, which would combine the nostalgia of sandwich swaps with the technology of our era. The Sandwich Swap ‘n’ Share program launched just before the school year, exclusively on Facebook. Visitors to Hellmann's page on Facebook were invited to build a virtual sandwich and share it with a friend on Facebook. For every sandwich created and shared, Hellmann's donated seven lunches to Feeding America which provides food to more than 25 million low-income people throughout the United States.


As with all such initiatives, a celebrity spokesperson would have to be recruited — someone whose image was consistent with traditional values yet who also had a sense of humor and, if possible, might be known widely as the kind of dad who would happily pack his kids’ lunchboxes with sandwiches to carry off to school.


That road led directly to Billy Ray Cyrus, whose album Back to Tennessee was released in April 2009 on Walt Disney Records/Lyric Street Records.


“Billy Ray fit perfectly with our Real Food message,” explained Jamey Fish, Senior Brand Manager, Hellmann’s. “He’s a very real guy, very down-to-earth, great personality, very friendly — and he’s also a dad. Plus, he loves sandwiches! The man loves sandwiches, as does most of America.”


Cyrus spread the word via Twitter. “In fact,” Fish recalled, “during the press event in New York where we announced the program, we had computer stations set up where you could log onto Facebook and try it out, and I watched Billy Ray doing that himself.”

“This program ties together one of my favorite foods with a creative virtual application that will hopefully inspire folks to join the effort to end hunger by supporting Feeding America,” Cyrus confirmed.


The Sandwich Swap ‘n’ Share program reached its goal of donating 700,000 lunches very quickly. Bids were also placed via an eBay charity auction, with the highest bidder winning an opportunity to swap actual sandwiches with Cyrus backstage at his concert in Niceville, Fla. The winner, Carolyn McKelvy, accompanied by her son Zachary Plastina, 8, ended up trading their turkey and cheese with a nearly identical concoction created by Cyrus. The cheeses differed — but both sandwiches definitely included Hellmann’s mayonnaise.


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Images for above article.

Billy Ray Cyrus shares sandwiches with Sandwich Swap ‘n’ Share eBay charity auction winner Carolyn McKelvy and her son Zachary Plastina. photo: courtesy of Hellmann's
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Issue Date: 3/30/2010  
CMA New Artist Winner Darius Rucker
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music association®, Inc.

One of the most surprising moments at the 2009 CMA Awards last November came early in the evening, shortly after Darius Rucker had launched into “Alright,” which along with “Don’t Think I Don’t Think About It” and “It Won’t Be Like This for Long” adds up to three consecutive No. 1 hits released from his Platinum-selling debut album, Learn to Live.

As if unable to confine his enthusiasm to the stage, he jumped down to the arena floor and, still singing into his wireless microphone, strode past the front row seats, slapping or locking hands with his fellow artists. That was entertaining enough, but when he then climbed up into the stands to greet his fans directly, accepting their back slaps and embraces without missing a note of his vocals, the moment took on an additional and special meaning.

“I just have so much respect for all the artists and everybody that was there,” Rucker said, looking back on that exhilarating performance. “But I wanted to play to the people, to the fans. To do that, I had to go up there. Radio has been amazing to me, and if those people weren’t calling into radio and asking for my songs, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”

That, in a nutshell, is the story of Rucker’s rise to success as a Country artist, an ascent confirmed by his announcement later that night as CMA New Artist of the Year. Like all who have earned this distinction through the years, Rucker was recognized for the unique talent that he brings to the table an artist — yet in several significant ways, he stands out even in this stellar company. Unlike previous winners, he came to Country Music as a performer already familiar to the general public. And not just familiar: He had earned worldwide recognition as lead singer with Hootie & The Blowfish, who parlayed years of working the Southern bar circuit into a supernova exploding with sales of their album Cracked Rear View topping 16 million copies in the United States alone.

“That was certainly a double-edged sword,” admitted Mike Dungan, President and CEO of Capitol Records Nashville, which released Learn to Live in September 2008. “What was really attractive about it was that Darius has always had an immediately recognizable voice. That is such a valuable commodity in anything, to know what it is right away. The difficult thing was, when you come from another format, and especially when you have the kind of magnificent sales that Hootie & The Blowfish had, there were a lot of skeptics in the world of gatekeepers — Country radio. Several applauded and cheered, but many more did not think we would be able to deliver the kind of music that would get his career up and running. In the end, I think the music itself made fans out of all the skeptics in the radio world.”

“That was a big thing because a lot of program directors were saying, ‘Darius is coming out with a Country record,’” Rucker agreed. “But it was really just an industry thing. I’m sure these people were expecting to hear ‘Hold My Hand’ or ‘Only Wanna Be with You’ with a lap steel or a fiddle.”

But instead of refried Hootie hits, Learn to Live delivered 14 songs, all but one written or co-written by Rucker with a complete and real Country aesthetic, drawn from his eclectic listening tastes while growing up in South Carolina. “In the ’70s you had one or two AM stations in your town that played The Beatles and early Stevie Wonder,” he remembered. “They played it all. And I sang along to it all. I was in my early 20s before I realized that everybody who sings can’t sing everything. I mean, even now I put together a 20-piece orchestra and do all Sinatra songs once a year for the (Medical University of South Carolina) Children’s Hospital in Charleston. But I can’t get out of my brain this old Kitty Wells song called ‘Will Your Lawyer Talk to God?’ I’m cutting it!”

For years Rucker felt the call to draw more Country into his music, especially when it became clear that this wasn’t an option for the band he had helped take to the top. “The last three or four Hootie records, I said to the band, ‘Look, let’s do the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band thing. Let’s go and play Country Music,’” he recalled. “I always thought we were pretty close to it. We listened to it on the side. But they all wanted to play rock ‘n’ roll. I understand that; that’s what we were. But I just wanted to make a record I wanted to make.”

He shared this thought with Doc McGhee, whose client list over the years has stretched from Hootie, Bon Jovi, KISS and Mötley Crüe to Chris Cagle and Jypsi. The legendary manager expressed skepticism at being able to find a major record label that would sign the singer as a Country artist. But as Rucker remembered, that changed during a conversation with Dungan.

“Doc was bragging about how great the Hootie tour was doing, and Mike said, ‘How do you know that?’” Rucker recalled. “Doc said, ‘Well, I manage those guys.’ And out of the blue, Dungan went, ‘I always thought the black guy was a Country singer.’”

“That’s exactly what I said,” Dungan confirmed, with a laugh. “I don’t know if it was so much from the music that I heard them do on the radio, but when I saw them on television Darius felt like he had the sense and sensibility of a Country singer in the way he emoted. The feeling, the phrasing, everything about him felt very comfortable to me, like one of the greatest singers.”

Negotiations led briskly toward Rucker’s welcome to Capitol Records Nashville. The search for a producer ended nearly as quickly, right after his introduction to fellow South Carolina native Frank Rogers. “He came out to meet me on the road in the middle of the Hootie tour,” Rucker said. “Fifteen minutes after we met, we were talking about what kind of record I want to make. I remember saying, ‘I want to make a record that, whether the people like it or not, they have to admit that it’s a Country record.’”

With that assurance, they went to work, beginning with a title that Rogers had come up with: “All I Want.” Forty minutes later they had built a song around it; recorded with Brad Paisley sitting in on guitar, it would make the final cut for Learn to Live.

These performances, and these co-writes that teamed Rucker with Dave Berg, Chris DuBois, Ashley Gorley, Clay Mills, Rivers Rutherford, Chris Stapleton and other celebrated Nashville composers, connected emphatically with Country fans. Specifically, the songs tapped into his urge to tell stories through lyrics. “A Country song is a story song,” Rucker said. “If you have a hit on the radio, it’s a song that says something in its lyrics. You can’t just make up words and have funky chords; it’s not going to work that way. You’ve got to move people.”

Equally important, these songs eased his access to the airwaves with help from Rucker’s willingness to meet PDs and fans face to face on radio tours. That connection, symbolized in the outreach of his CMA Awards performance, was as good a fit for Rucker personally as his talents are to the format that has returned his embrace.

“It’s my personality!” he insisted. “I love talking to people. It’s not a chore for me to go out after a show and meet people. I still can’t believe they want my autograph! Everybody used to say to me, ‘How could you be so happy here? You were in the biggest band in the world!’ But in all that, there were peaks and valleys. All you guys remember are the peaks; we remember the valleys.”

Relationships with fans and peers are central to Rucker’s plans as he starts on his sophomore album, with sessions that began in January and a release scheduled tentatively for the fall. He is, for example, in no great hurry to battle up toward top billing on arena tours. “I’m not interested,” he said, looking ahead to opening for Rascal Flatts on the road. “Sure, don’t get me wrong. I will be headlining arenas, but it doesn’t have to be this year. I just don’t need yet to get excited when we sell out and not excited when we’re half full. I just play.”

“Besides,” he continued, “Country Music is a whole different platform. Country Music fans are going to love you until you give them a reason not to. Pop fans are looking for the next big thing; they’re in awe of you. Country fans want to be your best friend. They walk up to you in Nashville and go, ‘Hey, let’s go have a beer!’ And I say, ‘Well, come and take my picture,’” he said, laughing. “And that’s awesome.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Darius Rucker
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


Darius Rucker
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


Darius Rucker
Photo: See Caption


Darius Rucker
Photo: Kristin Barlowe




Issue Date: 3/16/2010  
  • Big Kenny Sows Seeds of Solo Success
  • NEW ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Michelle Turley
Big Kenny Sows Seeds of Solo Success
By Vernell Hackett


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Big Kenny Alphin is known almost as much for the causes he champions as the music he makes, as well as for spreading the gospels of “Love Everybody” and “Music with No Boundaries.” It should come as no surprise, then, that when he released his first solo Country album, The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy, in November 2009, these themes would surface in his tunes.

“Getting to this point was an amazing journey for me,” said Big Kenny. “I’m finally able to speak to everyone in song and lyric about where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, where I come from, the great lessons I’ve learned and the great glory that music has brought to my life and this place where I am now. I feel I’ve been blessed with this music, that I can entertain tens of thousands or millions of people but that I can do good things with it too. We can all do that. Music is this great common denominator that allows us all to come together and express ourselves in a good way and be respected for it.”

Big Kenny was born and raised in Culpeper, Va., where he worked on the family farm and ran his own construction company. When the recession of the late 1980s set in, he was forced to cut his payroll from 75 employees to two — himself and one other man. Luckily, at the same time, someone noticed him singing along to the radio and informed him that people got paid to write songs in Nashville.

“I laid my hammer down and said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. People get paid to write songs?’ And he said yeah,” Big Kenny remembered. “So for the next year I contemplated it. It was like, ‘What an idea. I’ve got to see this.’ I had never considered moving outside my state at that point in my life. I stayed in Culpeper long enough to make sure everything was running smoothly on the farm. Then I told my dad, ‘I think I want to go to Nashville and try the music business.’ I know that must have surprised him, but he said, ‘Son, go right ahead. I can still take care of this place.’ Now when he sees me, he always lets me know he’s proud of what he and I have done — and he also lets me know that at 80 he can still run that farm. He’s been a tremendous influence on me.”

In leaving Culpeper, Big Kenny brought with him the seeds of a musical style that would blossom fully on The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy. “I grew up with AM radio, where they mixed Merle Haggard, Pink Floyd, George Jones, Queen, Bill Withers, Willie Nelson, The Beatles, Bob Marley, Kansas and Steve Miller Band alongside each other,” he explained.

This background primed Big Kenny to react immediately on arriving in Nashville in 1984. “I stayed in a hotel on West End for about a month,” he recalled. “I saw music the first night I came here and my jaw was on the floor. I couldn’t believe it. Nashville is such a great beacon of creativity, and I want everybody to know that so they can come here and be inspired as I was inspired and maybe they can go around the world and inspire others.”

That privilege came Big Kenny’s way through his writing credit on Jason Aldean’s “Hicktown,” Tim McGraw’s “Last Dollar (Fly Away),” Gretchen Wilson’s “Here for the Party” and other successful songs. It was amplified onstage and in the studio through Big & Rich, his duo with John Rich. But their travels brought him face to face with the sorrows as well as the beauty of the people and countrysides they visited. Those impressions, tempered by the influences of his diverse musical heroes, paved his path toward The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy. In fact, the album takes listeners on a vivid tour through Big Kenny’s imagination.

Consisting of 10 songs co-written by Big Kenny and two with his credit alone, it starts with the electrifying chant of the Blackfoot Confederacy that kicks off the opening track, “Wake Up,” written with Brad Arnold and Jon Nicholson, dances through a hymn to down-home cuisine with "Fried Corn and Chicken Bread (Be Back Home)," written with Adam Shoenfeld and Judson Spence, and closes with a good-vibe, solo-written sing-along called “Share the Love.”

“With this album, I feel like it is the first time I got to the place where I was going to do it no matter what,” he said. “This record is an expression of music I love. I wrote 150 songs, recorded 50 and then started honing them down into what I wanted to say in this one record. The songs come from a lot of places, so I let them keep coming. I knew I was finally finished with it when everybody around me told me I was finished — ‘just put it out.’ I was like, ‘I want to cut a few more songs.’ I love the creative process, but I love performing, so when it got to the point where I wanted to get out and perform the songs, I knew they were right.”

Knowing how important it was to recruit a strong team to support his solo excursion, Big Kenny brought CAA (Creative Artists Agency) onboard as his booking agency, Bigger Picture Group for radio promotion, distribution, sales and marketing, Red Light Management to help direct his solo career and Wortman Works, which had also worked with Big & Rich, for publicity.

For each member of this team, a primary goal was to utilize the impressions Big Kenny had already made through Big & Rich while transitioning him toward a solo career. “We started early on, building Kenny’s Web presence with BigKenny.TV, a social networking site to build more direct connection with Big & Rich fans and to get them engaged in Kenny’s solo work,” said Bob Cahill, Partner, Bigger Picture Group. “We had the benefit of John (Rich) already having his solo album out (Son of a Preacher Man, on Big & Rich’s record label Warner Bros.) and being able to provide his perspective on things. Kenny is a different individual and has his own unique point of view. The thing that makes them unique as a duo gives their solo work its special perspective as well.”

Big & Rich toured this past summer, which not only put Big Kenny in front of the duo’s fans but also gave him and Rich the opportunity to perform selections from their individual albums. “This reinforced them as a duo but gave them a viable vehicle to also show that they are unique individuals with their own messages and talents,” Cahill said. “We did tap into existing e-mail lists that John and Kenny share access to. Warner Bros. has also been very supportive and helpful in moving the ball forward.”

For Big Kenny and his colleagues, The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy is a long-term and ongoing project, with horizons beyond the life of the singles released from it. “When we released the album, we expected the first single, ‘Long After I’m Gone,’ to be in the mid 20s on the chart, and that’s not what most record labels would do,” Cahill said. (Released in August, “Long After I’m Gone,” written by Big Kenny, Marc Beeson and Richie Supa, debuted at No. 57 and peaked at No. 34.)

“We view the project as a whole and unusual piece of work,” he continued. “While we hope for multiple hit singles, we think it’s important to get the album out there early on. We didn’t want to wait until it peaks in February. We think the album has a story to tell, and we want to give fans the opportunity to recognize that. So while we’re very happy with where we are, we think it’s important that we have an 18-to- 24-month kind of perspective, and the industry can expect us to stick with it long-term so that the various messages the album contains get out there.”

The album’s most innovative marketing move may be the CD packaging. “Those who know Kenny know the causes that are important to him, and one of those is to leave the planet a better place than you found it,” Cahill said. “In light of that, Kenny had the vision to do something different than what had been done before. A lot of people use recyclable materials in their package, but this package is compostable and plantable.”

Twenty-seven varieties of seeds for some of the singer/songwriter’s favorite wildflowers are embedded into the cardboard that contains his CD. “You can keep the sleeve or load the music into your iPod and throw the sleeve out in your garden or flower bed, and it will grow,” Cahill said. “It is a good message to get out there, and we hope it will gain some attention so maybe other manufacturers of packaged goods will consider this kind of approach.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Big Kenny
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


Big Kenny
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


Big Kenny
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


Big Kenny
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Produced by C.F. Turley and released on Victorio Records in October, Dance With Me Tonight establishes Michelle Turley’s Country cred. There’s a boot-scoot, honky-tonk vibe on the up-tempo tunes while her ballads, as well as the mournful waltz “I Can’t Cry,” recall something of Tammy Wynette’s wounded eloquence or, on the buoyant “Now I Know,” the confectionary appeal of Olivia Newton-John. Sometimes her references are nearly literal, as in the first line of each chorus on “I Can’t Help Lovin’ You,” not to mention the quotes in the fiddle breakdown alluded to in the title “Caroline (in Orange Blossoms).”

Yet all of these 14 tracks are new, and each was written by a Turley — seven by Michelle alone, three with one or the other of her brothers, C.F. and Kelly, and the rest by C.F. And though she’s grounded in traditional Country, Michelle has traveled a circuitous route from the family ranch in Deming, N.M., through their later home in Phoenix and into a more glamorous world as a Ford Agency model for Armani, Donna Karan, Valentino and Versace, among other clients.

Obviously, years spent closer to the land rather than on the runway left a more lasting musical impression. She inherited a love for music from her mother, a singer and piano teacher, and from her father, who fronted a local band called the Playboys. That’s apparent throughout Dance With Me Tonight, with its strong Country flavor evident from the first notes of her debut single, C.F.’s “Hard Times.” A catchy vocal hook cycles through the verses, takes a high-impact break at the top of the chorus and then keeps rocking all the way to a climactic final chord. The lyric warns that bad luck may lead to “living in a tent” and munching “road kill” for supper, but thanks to this spirited debut Turley will surely see brighter times ahead.


“‘I Walk the Line.’”

“‘Stand By Your Man,’ written by Tammy Wynette and Billy Sherrill.”

“Darius Rucker or Stevie Nicks.”

“My first piano recital when I was 8. My piano teacher allowed me to play my own compositions — six songs. All the other kids performed maybe two. I learned very quickly that performing is not about quantity but quality.”

“We performed Heart’s ‘Barracuda’ so loudly, the audience was covering their ears and many left the building.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Michele Turley; photo: Helen Ashley
Photo: See Caption




Issue Date: 3/23/2010  
Internet Loves the Video Star: Opportunities Abound for Exposure Online
By Ken Tucker


© CMA Close Up® Close Up News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

CMT and GAC are as essential as ever in any Country artist’s strategy for the latest music videos. But alongside these two familiar highways, alternate routes are opening that multiply the ways in which videos and viewers can connect.

They’re proliferating so much, in fact, that finding and exploiting these outlets is part of Heather McBee’s job description as VP of Digital Business, Sony Music Nashville. “I am tasked with finding new opportunities for our content,” she said. “Part of my team’s role is to go out and experiment with these other outlets, like the MySpaces and YouTubes of the world, and find out what kind of activity and excitement you can build out of participating in one of these new channels.

“We’ve never been shy about experimenting,” McBee added. “Every video presents a new marketing opportunity. It’s not about taking anything away from our traditional partners like radio, CMT and GAC, which we know are the main drivers for our business. It’s about how we build on the excitement that’s out there for an artist.”

Regardless of the outlet, video premieres are a priority for any record label’s plan. Arista Nashville, for example, premiered Carrie Underwood's video for "Temporary Home" on iTunes with a two-day exclusive for purchase and download. Its TV debut took place the third day. And Lyric Street Records has gone to AOL’s to premiere videos by Love And Theft and Rascal Flatts, for Rascal Flatts and Yahoo! Music ( for Bucky Covington and Rascal Flatts. “Every video release from Lyric Street has a premiere partner, whether it’s CMT, GAC, AOL or Yahoo,” insisted Ashley Heron, Senior Manager of Marketing, Lyric Street Records. “It’s a marketing tool. It’s impacting the consumer as quickly and effectively as possible. And there are probably 10 or 15 Web sites that would be open to promoting.”

AOL and Yahoo Music, as well as iTunes, VEVO and Web sites in general, can provide an impressive launching pad. “If it’s on the Yahoo homepage, it’s in front of 100 million visitors a day,” Heron noted. “You can easily reach upwards of 100,000 to 200,000 streams a day by premiering on Yahoo, whereas you might not get that kind of streaming on a or any other partner site.

“We receive more unique impressions online,” he added. “The redundant impressions, the cumulative impressions, are exponentially larger for video channels just because of their reach and frequency, but we receive more unique views online.”

All of this explains why, in Heron’s words, “Online is just as important as our video channel partners.”

Not surprisingly, Beville Darden, Editor,, agrees. “We’ve scored some great video premieres,” she said, citing video debuts for Kris Kristofferson’s “Closer to the Bone,” the title track to his latest album on New West Records, and several live Dolly Parton performances as examples. (In most cases, after a video’s initial and exclusive push, it is then released to other outlets, typically after a window of 24 hours.)

Why are video premieres important to The Boot and other Web sites? “They generate outside interest,” Darden explained. “We’re trying to make The Boot a brand name. When Kris Kristofferson premieres a video on The Boot, he’ll promote it on his Web site and his social networking, and his fans may discover The Boot for the first time and hopefully become habitual readers.”

From the label and artist perspective, the numbers accumulated by the top online video portals sweeten that pot., for example, claims 3.9 million unique visitors per month, as measured by Comscore Media Metric. This helps explain why Universal Records South elected to premiere the video for Joe Nichols’ “An Old Friend of Mine” on The Boot a month prior to release of his album, Old Things New. It was also featured on the AOL Music homepage, which attracts 26 million unique visitors monthly, according to the company.

“It was about where we could get the biggest bang,” insisted Fletcher Foster, former Senior VP and GM, Universal Records South. “A lot of it is just negotiation to see what you can get out of an outlet. If I give you this, where am I going to be placed? Can I get on the homepage? How long am I going to be up there? It comes down to the real estate that you’re going to get on those properties.”

One component offered by AOL was an interview with Nichols in which he could discuss his struggles with addiction. “We know that people are going to go to CMT and GAC to watch a video, and to watch a video on demand, so we really don’t try to compete with them for video consumption,” Darden said. “But we try to do something different. Joe really wanted to editorialize the video. He wanted to tell why it was so personal to him. He wanted to tell his story about being a year sober and going to rehab and kicking his habit.”

There were elements in Nichols’ song that helped persuade Foster to launch it on AOL, a cross-genre platform. “‘An Old Friend of Mine’ wasn’t just a Country song, it was a lifestyle song,” he noted. “It dealt with a lot of personal issues. I thought if I could get more of a cross section of people to watch it, more than just a Country consumer, I could expand the audience base a little bit.”

Timing was a factor too. “From a business standpoint, you look at where am I going to get the most eyeballs on this thing the quickest,” he said. “We wanted to get it out quickly, and it would have taken a little longer to get it on CMT or GAC, so it really came down to or AOL.”

CMT and GAC don’t immediately add every video they get, so alternate release points can give labels quicker exposure. “We have the ability to expedite our pipeline,” Heron said. “Once the video is delivered, we have the ability to reach a wide variety of customers immediately.”

Noting that more videos are being produced than ever, Jay Frank, Senior VP of Music Strategy, CMT, confirmed that “the amount of placement that we have doesn’t increase, so that means there’s a lot more opportunities to premiere videos elsewhere. We couldn’t possibly premiere every video that came out.”

But that doesn’t diminish the value on the traditional cable channels. “With a new artist, the CMTs of the world may want us to prove ourselves somewhere or bring them a story,” McBee said. “It gives us a chance to work with some of these other partners to build that story and then deliver it to one of our traditional partners who can then make it bigger.”

Other platforms can be effective in efforts that involve simultaneous releases on more than one channel. Jessica Harp’s “Boy Like Me,” on Warner Bros. Records, was unveiled at the same time on The Boot and, for sale, on iTunes. Premiering a video or song on iTunes is “invaluable,” said Kelli Cashiola, VP of Marketing, Warner Music Nashville. “Knowing how popular New Music Tuesday is on iTunes, you cannot purchase the kind of advertising a homepage placement brings.”

Balance is equally important in seeking video exposure, between new and established channels as well as between competing sites online, given the advantages that each option offers. “We go into it with a pretty clear head about what our expectations are,” said McBee. “We recognize what the limitations may be if we give one partner exclusivity over another. It’s just about weighing the pros and cons of every opportunity.

Does the exposure from that exclusivity offset what you may lose by not going somewhere else? You’ve got to find that balance. And it’s important to have a willing partner that can build a promotion with you that really supports the release and the overall marketing plan of a project.”

Even as the jockeying for video exposure heats up, other outlets are on the way. Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment have partnered to launch, a destination site for music videos with its own dedicated channel on YouTube. Similarly, Warner Music Group is establishing branded channels within YouTube and other video aggregators in an effort to drive more traffic to and monetize its artists’ Web sites; it also partnered recently with Outrigger Media to sell these opportunities to brands and ad agencies.

Despite the growing number of options for video exposure, Sarah Trahern, Senior VP of Programming, GAC, doesn’t see them as competition. “The more places Country artists get exposed, the better it is for all of us in the genre,” she said. “Would I love to be the only place Country fans had to go? Sure, but at the same time that’s just about my business, and my business is successful if Country is successful overall. The more exposure, the better.”

Clearly, there’s more competition than ever on the video front, with odds growing stronger that artists will prosper as their visibility proliferates. “There’s such a habit of premiering on CMT and GAC, and now we’re competing with MySpace and iTunes and YouTube,” said AOL’s Darden. “It’s disappointing when we don’t get something. I always want to know why — what’s their reason for doing it somewhere else when we can give them this and this and this? I’m sure other outlets are saying the same things when we get it, but it’s friendly competition.”


Images for above article.




Behind the scenes of Joe Nichols' "An Old Friend of Mine" video. photo: Natalie Moore
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Carrie Underwood films the video for "Just A Dream." photo: Jen Bates
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Jessica Harp on the set of "Boys Like Me." photo: Becky Fluke
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Randy Houser filming the video for "Boots On." photo: Natalie Moore
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Issue Date: 3/9/2010  
  • Let the Game Begin! Country Stars Score with Sports Events Performances
Let the Game Begin! Country Stars Score with Sports Events Performances
By Kip Kirby


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

The request is simple: “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the national anthem.” Seventy thousand fans shuffle respectfully to their feet. The stadium falls silent. The opening notes of “The Star-Spangled Banner” soar out over the sound system, delivered by a Country artist who, battling nerves, the glare of the spotlight and the intensity of the moment, works through the performance until the final crescendo triggers a roar of applause and cheers.

It’s game time!

Whether singing the national anthem or doing a halftime mini-concert or post-game show, Country artists can be found frequently onstage in sports venues throughout the United States. The reasons are obvious: They draw well among sports fans and they benefit in turn from the local and national exposure that comes with the territory.

“Our goal is to give the fans the best entertainment value we can,” said Scott Cunningham, Director of Game Entertainment, Atlanta Braves. “They aren’t just coming for the game; they’re coming for an entertainment experience. Our fan base falls into five groups: families, corporate, casual fans, avid fans and entertainment seekers. And being here in the South, a lot of these groups share a common interest in Country Music.”

This is good news for artists, especially given the crossover appeal of sports and Country Music, as documented in CMA’s BrandProspect Segmentation Study, which found a higher-than-average interest in sports among adults 18-54. It’s good as well for some of the franchises whose budgets might not allow them to book the giants of the genre to perform a halftime, pre- or post-game show.

For example, Watkins Glen International, a premier road course in upstate New York, draws a core NASCAR crowd that camps out regularly for race weekends. So Brett Powell, Special Events & Partnerships Manager, International Speedway Corporation, doesn’t bother going after big-name entertainment. “Booking the developing acts works out best for us financially,” he said. “We look for somebody who’s a quality singer but can also appreciate the national and international coverage they’ll get while they’re here.”

Some artists enjoy another advantage from these bookings, in that franchises often help maximize exposure by setting up pre- and post-game acoustic sets for them to showcase their music, coordinating promotional tie-ins with team sponsors and local media, providing mentions and write-ups on team Web sites and arranging interviews with local Country radio stations. At Watkins Glen, acts who sing the national anthem even get help finding gigs in nearby clubs. “We try to help them create a small tour here in this market,” Powell said. “Obviously we have a lot of radio station and venue contacts that can be lucrative for the artists.”

Sports franchises can also offer ways to reach fans that are otherwise unavailable. The NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers promotes their musical guests through pre-game e-mails to their million-plus fan database as well as through the team’s popular “in-bowl texting system,” which allows fans in the stadium to receive a personal videotaped message from the artist on their cell phones. At halftime, the artist is invited to visit one of the texting booths to sign autographs, photos and CDs. “We have a very passionate fan base,” said John Wodarek, Marketing Manager, Pittsburgh Steelers. “And Country Music is very popular here in Pittsburgh. We can create a lot of exposure for the artists who play here.”

Television exposure is another plus. Because most major sports events are carried live on national broadcast networks as well as local media, TelluRide’s performance of the national anthem at a NASCAR race was televised over ESPN. Of course, performing live on TV can be as much a challenge as an opportunity, in this case because the group had to synchronize with an F-18 flyover: When the planes ran late, the group had to stretch. Apparently their performance scored, as they were subsequently booked to do four pregame songs at home plate during the Chicago White Sox’s final pre-playoff game; that performance was videotaped by Major League Baseball and posted at

TelluRide entertained as well during Derby Week. The Art of the Game, a Nashville-based marketing and entertainment production company, booked them there as well as Megan Linville and LeAnn Rimes, whose rendition of the national anthem was the first in the Kentucky Derby’s history by a nationally recognized recording artist. Though Rimes is a headliner, Doug Fraser, President of The Art of the Game, maintains that sporting events are especially beneficial for new acts, including those who, like Linville, have yet to sign a recording deal.

“When she plays one of these events, she’s creating a new fan base for herself, not only through people who hear her sing for the first time but through the publicity and promotion and online activity that she generates,” said Fraser. “Emerging artists aren’t expensive to book and they provide strong entertainment value. In the sports world, acts have to appeal not only to the fans but to the VIPs and corporate sponsors as well. Country acts who do well benefit even without a major label.”

To find these acts, sports organizations maintain relationships with record companies, managers and booking agencies and monitor download activity on iTunes, MySpace and other sites. That’s how the Atlantic Coast Conference discovered James Otto. The college football conference chose his “Ain’t Gonna Stop” as the theme song for its 2009 marketing campaign, “Ain't Gonna Stop on the Road to Tampa Bay.” Otto’s involvement with the ACC put him in front of hundreds of thousands of college football fans throughout the season, in person and online, culminating in a live concert and national anthem performance at the championship game at the Dr Pepper ACC Championship Game, televised live by ESPN from Tampa.

“This is the first time that the ACC has partnered with a Country artist,” said Michael Kelly, Associate Commissioner for Football Operations, ACC. “We looked at a lot of different songs, but when we found a willing partner in James Otto and his management, we zeroed in on making this work. The song has the right feel for college football, not dissimilar from what ESPNdoes week in and week out with Big & Rich’s ‘Comin’ to Your City.’”

Particularly for emerging artists, exposure of this magnitude can compensate for the fact that these engagements, particularly if they only involve singing the national anthem, are often unpaid. “We’ve had budgets of $60,000 to produce postgame shows — and we’ve had budgets of zero dollars,” noted Fraser. “We put Lady Antebellum at the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR race at Daytona on the Fourth of July in 2008 for their first national television appearance. The race was carried live by TNT with a viewing audience of about 16 million. A few months later, Lady Antebellum broke through big time. We helped Jimmy Wayne launch his album (Do You Believe Me Now) through The site streamed videos from an acoustic in-studio performance, which helped introduce Jimmy’s album to around 11.3 million daily viewers after we’d posted it in August 2008.”

Veteran agent Rod Essig of Creative Artists Agency advises considering several factors before booking a free sports show. Does the artist have a new single or album to promote? Will there be TV exposure? Is there a major Country station in the market? Can the act route through on the way to another gig or pick up a paying venue in the vicinity? And will the appearance help their career down the line?

“Sometimes just hanging with the PDs (radio program directors) and being able to take them to the game to see you sing can build support for an artist’s music,” said Essig. “The PD remembers you later and says, ‘Do I want to play this record? Sure — I hung out with them and they’re cool.’”

“Early on, almost everything we did was without pay,” said TelluRide manager Jeff Catton of InTune Entertainment. “We’ve driven through the night to sing for 60,000 fans at one of these events. We went in the hole. But we looked at it as an opportunity. We know we’re going to be here for the long haul. We’re building a career. And we decided if it means one visit at a time, one station at a time, one sporting event at a time, so be it. Sometimes it costs you money, but it gives you the opportunity to make a valuable impression on somebody that will help you in your career later on.”

Then there’s something else that’s not so easily quantified: the thrill that artists get from singing before athletes they’ve long revered. Just ask Jason Michael Carroll. When he performed at a Chicago Cubs game, several of the players ended up coming to his show the next night. And after singing the national anthem at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at Las Vegas in 2008, Carroll was delighted to later learn that just as he hit the “really, really high note,” Ronnie Dunn leaned over to Kix Brooks backstage and said, “Now, that right there was a good job!”


Images for above article.




Carrie Underwood sings at Game 3 of the World Series in 2007 at Denver's Coors Field. photo: Rich Pilling
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David Nail, with drummer Erich Wigdahl and Keyboardist Eric Kinney, performs on Country Music Night at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field in 2009. photo: Ron Vesely
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Lady Antebellum performs at the Coke Zero 400 NASCAR race at Daytona in 2008. photo: Adam Boatman
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Sheryl Crow and Sara Evans between performances at MLB All-Star Game in St. Louis in 2009. photo: Stephen Navyac
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By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Here’s a twist on a familiar story: Julia Burton was born in Nashville but ended up leaving to seek her fortunes far beyond its border. Enamored with singing Country songs as long as she can remember, she began competing in talent contests at 8 and developed her expressive contralto to the point of performing nationally as Miss West Virginia in the Miss America Pageant of 2005.

It wasn’t all glamour on the way up. In addition to singing in her high school choir and at churches, fairs and festivals, Burton earned a degree in public relations at West Virginia University, punched a clock at Wal-Mart and even worked for the West Virginia Department of Transportation, Division of Highways. The allure of music eventually led her back to Nashville, where she began to develop her stage craft at Tootsies Orchid Lounge on Lower Broadway.

The fruits of her labor blossom throughout Burton’s debut album on Emerald River Entertainment. Produced by Biff Watson, Woman from the Country showcases her ability to infuse her positive, upbeat energy into her covers of these 10 songs. Though she handles ballads with unusual sensitivity, she’s especially strong when tackling swampy, down-home stomps, epitomized by the title track, written by Steve McEwan and Craig Wiseman and “Hillbilly Love Song,” by Adrienne Follese, Keith Follese and Buffy Lawson. She also flaunts a playful humor in the mock-solemn intro to “Party Down,” by P.R. Battle, Anthony Smith and Michael Garvin, and on her first single, “What a Woman Wants.” Penned by Debra Bradshaw, Tamika Tyler and Willie Mack, this good-time wish-list anthem makes it clear that Burton deserves a share of the spotlight back home in Music City.


“Creedence Clearwater Revival, George Strait, Dave Matthews Band, Shania, Elvis and Kid Rock.”

“My Bible and the last of a five-book series I am finishing by Karen Kingsbury.”

Hope Floats, which is also the title of one of my very favorite movies.”

“Peanut butter is my favorite food on and off the road.”

“Something I heard my Grandma Hartman quote throughout my life: ‘When life has got you down and things don't seem to be going your way, you gotta get up and put on your red lipstick, because this too shall pass.’”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Julia Burton; photo: Jennifer Bopp Cady
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Issue Date: 3/2/2010  
  • Chris Young Sings His Life and Counts His Blessings
Chris Young Sings His Life and Counts His Blessings
By Deborah Evans Price


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Chris Young will be the first to admit that patience isn’t one of his virtues. Still, the RCA Records artist has learned that good things do come to those who wait, as he recently scored his first No. 1 single with “Gettin’ You Home.”

It’s been out for a long time and it almost died on the charts a couple of times,” he said of the song, which he wrote with Cory Batten and Kent Blazy. “It’s an ‘anything can happen’ business. I don’t know what it is about this song that has connected to people so well. I’m sure glad it did.”

The 24-year-old native of Murfreesboro, Tenn., achieved his success by working hard since he first roamed Music Row, looking for a record deal while still in his teens. “If you were to ask me when I was 17 if I was mad because I didn’t have a deal, I would have probably said yeah,” he admitted. “Now I’m so glad I got it when I got it. People tell you to be patient and wait. I’m not a patient person, but I think everything definitely happened the right way for me.”

Sitting in the Music Row office of Lytle Management Group, Young exudes a youthful enthusiasm tempered by a hard-earned appreciation for having claimed his place in the spotlight with a chart-topping single and an album, The Man I Want to Be, that rose to No. 6. It’s a goal he’s pursued for a long time, beginning with his performances as a teenager. By the time he had transferred as an undergraduate from Belmont University to Middle Tennessee State University, Young was doing 150 shows per year.

“I like talking to a crowd,” he said. “I’m not going to stand up there and talk for an hour, but I like doing a little lead-in on songs and making people laugh and making it entertaining. I thoroughly believe that if you set up a song right, it will make a difference if somebody listens to it or not. I think it matters.”

Young’s reputation as a great live act earned him an offer to perform regularly at Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, where he fronted a seven-piece band three nights a week. “It was a great learning experience for me,” said Young, who also used his time there to watch and learn from the major artists who headlined at the famed honky tonk. “I’d watch their shows and see how they worked the crowd.”

Like many young artists anxious to get a record deal, Young turned to television for an opportunity to be seen and heard. As part of his prize for winning the 2006 season of “Nashville Star,” which aired at that time on the USA Network, he was signed to RCA. His self-titled debut album, produced by Buddy Cannon, spawned two chart singles and made him the best-selling new male Country artist of 2006.

However, it was through recording The Man I Want to Be that Young feels he really hit his stride. “I really love every part of that record,” he said. “I made a record where I can honestly say I love every song. As an artist, that doesn’t always happen, but I love all the songs on the record. They could call me up and say any track is going to be the next single and I’d say, ‘Go ahead!’”

Young was thrilled as well to have James Stroud at the controls as producer. “I love that man!” he insisted. “I’d jump in front of a train for that guy, I would. In the studio, I have so much respect for him. We work really well together. I’ve found what every artist looks for in a producer.”

That respect and affection are mutual. “Several years ago, Chris interned for my wife Laura at her publishing company,” said Stroud. (Laura Petty Stroud, owner of Big Alpha Writers Group.) “So I had been fortunate enough to get to know him and hear him sing. I was amazed at the quality and richness in his voice and was extremely honored when he asked me to produce his sophomore album.”

Young’s sound is rooted in the new traditionalist school, fueled by his respect for Alan Jackson, Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins and Keith Whitley, among many other artists. “Chris has been a fan and student of Country Music and its artists,” said Stroud. “He has a vocal range and sound that is needed in our format today. I was thrilled for Chris, his family and RCA Records. I am proud to have been a part of his first No. 1 single and positive there will be more to follow.”

“I just love Country Music,” Young concurred. “I think what I grew up listening to — the Keith Whitley stuff and Alan Jackson stuff — that’s what you get out of me. It’s not all of who I am, but it’s a part of who I am.”

The album includes “That Makes Me,” Young’s upbeat ode to doing things old-school, which he penned with Batten and Blazy, as well as poignant ballads “The Shoebox,” written by Tom Hambridge and Jeffrey Steele, and a Monty Criswell composition, “The Dashboard.” In total, Young co-wrote three of the album’s 10 tracks.

“Our thought process on this record was we’re going to cut a serious record,” Young said. “The rule was, ‘No tongue-in-cheek funny songs, no drinking songs.’ When we made this record, we wanted to make a record that was similar to the first Clint Black record (Killin’ Time from 1989, also released on RCA), where every song was just a great, great song. That’s all we were looking for — songs that you gave one listen and you loved them. We were really just trying to make a serious Country record for somebody to pick up and listen to all 10 songs and think every song on there was a good one. I think it led us to a lot of things that were more serious and more me as a person.”

As an example, he cited “Voices,” which he wrote with Chris Tompkins and Craig Wiseman. “‘Voices’ is talking about how big family is to me,” Young said. “I’m real close to my dad, mom and sister and my grandparents. If you come to enough shows, you’ll probably see them at some of them. I think there are a lot of people that are real close to their family.”

“The Dashboard” is another of Young’s favorites. “It’s about a guy going away to war — and I picked that song because at the end he comes back,” he said. “There’s a happy ending to that song. Everybody always writes the sad endings. This song has a happy ending to a serious subject and it’s something that a lot of people don’t choose to talk about. My cousin is over in Afghanistan right now. It’s a real dangerous place to be. He’s over there and serving, and he loved this song when he heard it. So it’s cool to be able to play that and talk about him.”

Young believes that art should reflect life. “The title of the record is The Man I Want to Be because it shows you who I am as an artist and then who I am as a person too,” he said. “We wanted to say a lot on this record.”

Two seasoned covers mingle amidst the album’s newer tunes. Young needed just one take to nail the soulful version of Tony Joe White’s classic “Rainy Night in Georgia.” It was another story on “Rose in Paradise,” the Jennings hit, written by Stewart Harris and Jim McBride, but he had a good reason to be nervous, since Willie Nelson came in to join on duet vocals. Stroud remembered that the legendary artist eventually put Young at ease by saying, “Drop that, man. Come here and let me tell you how good your voice is.”

That session was a dream come true for Young — another example, he admitted, of life seeming almost too good to be true these days. “Even sitting here right now, it has not fully hit me yet that I’ve had a No. 1 song,” he confessed, shaking his head and smiling. “I’m just going to freak out one day. I did a duet with Willie Nelson. I’ve been playing the Grand Ole Opry. I played the Ryman last night and I remember thinking, ‘Man, I always wanted to get to play this stage.’ There are just so many things that I’ve been able to do — I’m counting myself as lucky.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Chris Young; photo: Marina Chavez
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Chris Young; photo: Marina Chavez
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Chris Young; photo: Marina Chavez
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Chris Young; photo: Marina Chavez
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By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Easton Corbin looks back warmly at Gilchrist County, Fla., where he spent his boyhood fishing in the Suwannee River, participating in FFA and 4-H activities and aspiring to a career in Country Music. As a child, he nurtured that dream through hours spent watching “Hee Haw” and “The Grand Ole Opry” with his grandparents and playing vintage Country albums he discovered there while exploring the collections his father and aunt had assembled in their early years. By his late teens, he had developed his guitar chops through lessons with former Nashville session player Pee Wee Melton and was opening for national acts as they passed through his area.

2006 was a milestone year, as Corbin graduated from the College of Agriculture at the University of Florida and, five weeks after marrying his sweetheart Brinn, moved with her to Nashville. Both found day jobs but Corbin also used his contacts to set up an audition with Joe Fisher, Senior Director of A&R, Universal Music Group Nashville. That led quickly to a recording contract, an introduction to producer Carson Chamberlain and work on his self-titled debut album, set for release March 2 on Mercury Nashville.

On these 11 tracks, four of them co-written by Corbin, the feeling is deep Country, from the twang of his guitar to the raw appeal of his vocals. His writing draws from that same well; when he baits his lady’s hook on “The Way Love Looks,” which he penned with Chamberlain and Mark D. Sanders, you know it’s a sign of his affection. But the message rings clearest in his first single: Written by Rory Feek, Don Poythress and Wynn Varble, “A Little More Country Than That” combines an easy-going beat with a melody woven around a catchy motif that lends itself to a litany of images both rustic and romantic. Add that to Corbin’s relaxed way with a tune and you’ve got more than a good song — you’ve got a vivid intro to this promising artist.


“Keith Whitley and Merle Haggard.”

“Merle Haggard.”

“The Suwannee River Jam. It was just me and my guitar in front of thousands of people. It was an awesome feeling.”

“I would probably be doing something in the agricultural sector.”

“That I was an artist that recorded music that was pure and timeless for all ages.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Easton Corbin; photo: James Minchin III
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Issue Date: 2/23/2010  
  • CMA Industry InSite Plugs Into Publicity, PROs and Radio
  • Country Cruises with NASCAR at Sprint Sound and Speed Presented By SunTrust
CMA Industry InSite Plugs Into Publicity, PROs and Radio
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Publicity, PROs and Radio are the topics of the three latest installments of CMA’s ongoing Industry InSite series of instructional Webisodes, each one posted at on the third Monday of the month and dedicated to demystifying a specific area of the music industry.

Episode 8, “Publicity — The Portal to the People,” went online Dec. 21 with a look into the purpose and the practice of publicity. Whether working with new or established artists, the publicist needs to make sure that their unique qualities, personal as well as musical, stand out before the public. Equally important, the artist often needs to be taught how to communicate those traits through interviews and other contact with the media.

This is a potentially touchy area. While acknowledging that many reporters suspect that media training transforms artists into idealized images of themselves, Wes Vause, VP Media, Sony Music Nashville, added that it is actually about “helping the artist become comfortable on camera” with who they really are.

Jeff Walker, President, AristoMedia/Marco Promotions, cited more effective communication as a goal of media training. As an example, when his clients are asked when their next album comes out, he encourages them to reply not just with the date but in a complete sentence: “My new album comes out on Oct. 21.” This makes it easier for “national television shows to utilize this footage in three or four different shows” as a sound bite, Walker said.

The necessity of reaching out toward the public forces artists to go beyond the old paradigm of print publications. “Times have changed a lot,” said Dixie Owen, Senior Director, Media and Public Relations, Capitol Records Nashville. “A lot of artists are having to do a lot more work.”

Owen therefore insists that her clients learn how to use Twitter to connect directly with fans. But this can be risky. “It’s more important than ever to control your appearance,” said Mary Hilliard Harrington, President, The Greenroom. “There is always someone with a digital camera phone, and that photo will be up and circulated within five seconds of being taken.”

This makes the publicist’s role more crucial than ever. “You’re the go-between for the artist and media,” Owen concluded. “Their dreams are in your hands.”

Episode 9, “Getting to Know the PROs,” targets a dream that’s common to songwriters: getting paid for performances of their material. Posted on Jan. 18, this Webisode examines how the three major performing rights organizations — ASCAP, BMI and SESAC — collect approximately $2 billion per year, about 89 percent of which goes to the writers.

Like publicists, PROs face hurdles and opportunities posed by new technology. Some, such as watermarks and fingerprints, allow more accurate tracking of performances. Traditional measurements continue to work well in established media. For example, cue sheets document uses of complete or fragments of works in television shows. And “blanket licenses” ensure compensation for music played in settings that range from restaurants to aerobics classes.

However, the Internet has emerged as a kind of wild frontier through which music streams freely. In this unstable medium, PROs issue short-term “experimental licenses,” capped perhaps at six months with a blanket charge to be renegotiated depending on whether each Web site enjoys greater traffic, loses popularity or even goes offline. It’s less than precise but, as Jody Williams, VP, Writer/Publisher Relations, BMI, insisted, the Internet is “the future of the music business. It’s the future of the performing rights organizations.”

The question that none on the panel could answer is the one posted most often by prospective members: Which PRO is right for me? That can be determined only by the songwriter, based above all on human connections with PRO staff. On this point, agreement was universal among Pat Collins, President and COO, SESAC, Williams, and Connie Bradley, Senior VP, and Vince Candilora, Senior VP, General Licensing, both with ASCAP.

Episode 10, “The Rhythm of the Radio Charts,” went live Feb. 15 and features interviews with Lon Helton, Publisher/CEO, Country Aircheck; Wade Jessen, Senior Chart Manager, Nashville, Billboard; Jon Loba, VP Promotion and Artist Development, The Valory Music Co.; and David Ross, Publisher/CEO, Music Row.

This latest installment discusses why chart success is crucial to an artist’s career as well as the methodology behind the Billboard, Country Aircheck and Music Row charts. “Chart position is the primary measurement of success that everyone in the departments outside of promotion look at,” said Loba.

CMA Industry InSite was created by CMA’s Artist Relations Committee under the leadership of its Chairman, Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn, and Vice Chairman Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts. Produced by the digital marketing firm Hi-Fi Fusion, it will examine radio charts, venues/talent buyers and merchandisers among other topics in months to come. CMA members are invited to submit questions to the experts appearing in each episode, with replies posted when received.


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CMA Industry InSite logo
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Country Cruises with NASCAR at Sprint Sound and Speed Presented By SunTrust
By Ted Drozdowski


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

If the roar of a cranked-up guitar and the growl of a revved-up engine sound like music to your ears, Sprint Sound & Speed Presented by SunTrust might be your idea of nirvana.

The two-day event in January marked its fifth annual Nashville run by bringing stars of Country Music and NASCAR together to raise money for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and Victory Junction, a charity founded by Kyle and Pattie Petty that offers year-round camping experiences for children 6 through 16 who suffer chronic medical conditions or serious illnesses.

To date, Sound & Speed has raised approximately $800,000 and drawn more than 40,000 fans. But this gathering serves another purpose: to celebrate the deep ties between the worlds of Country and NASCAR.

“The people that love Country Music and NASCAR are the same,” observed Jason Michael Carroll backstage at the Municipal Auditorium, after sharing a Q&A session for fans with drivers Kyle Petty and Carl Edwards and the group Love And Theft. “It all boils down to this: The fans love and respect things that are real and have heart, and both of those apply to Country singers and racecar drivers. When you see somebody on the track, it’s real. When you hear somebody tell a story in a Country song, it’s real. That’s why we’re all one big family.”

“People that work in the worlds of Country Music and racing value fan relationships and understand how important they are,” added CMA Board President Steve Buchanan, Senior VP of Media and Entertainment, Gaylord Entertainment, and a member of the Sound & Speed Board as well. “But this isn’t just an event for fans. The drivers and the artists who participate enjoy the opportunity. There is a mutual admiration that exists between the Country Music and racing communities. Many of the drivers love Country Music, and many of the musicians love racing. This is a unique opportunity for them to interact and build friendships.”

“I grew up on Country Music,” said racing icon Kyle Petty, son of NASCAR legend Richard Petty. “I spent my childhood beating it up and down the highway with my father, on the way to races all around the country, listening to Johnny Cash, Floyd Cramer, Merle Haggard and Loretta Lynn on the 8-track. We’d come to Nashville to see Marty Robbins, who drove a racecar, and he’d bring us backstage at the Opry. They were heroes to me.”

That union of interests fed a carnival atmosphere at the Auditorium. Fans lined up for autographs. A silent auction collected bids for memorabilia that included CDs signed by Hank Williams Jr. and Trisha Yearwood as well as framed pictures and model cars signed by veteran and up-and-coming drivers. A tire-changing station gave fans a chance to spin wheel lugs and replace rubber like pit-crew members. In the hall that ringed the circular Auditorium, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s white-and-blue No. 88, David Reutimann’s gleaming No. 00 and many other celebrated cars were available for inspection. And of course celebrities were easy to spot, including Carroll, Bucky Covington, members of Diamond Rio, Fast Ryde, Danny Gokey, Nathan Lee Jackson, Kate & Kacey, Danielle Peck, Brady Seals, Ashton Shepherd, Josh Turner, Hank Williams Jr., Holly Williams and Chris Young on the artist side, and Justin Allgaier, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin, Kasey Kahne, Brad Kesolowski, Jamie McMurray, Reed Sorenson, Tony Stewart, David Stremme, Michael Waltrip and many others joining Petty among the drivers.

One highlight was the debut of the Sound & Speed concert as a Grand Ole Opry broadcast, with two shows on the night of Jan. 8 that brought the Country/NASCAR connection more tightly together than ever. They were intertwined as NASCAR stars Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Waltrip joined Miss Sprint Cup Monica Palumbo to announce performers, including Young, Hank Williams Jr., Vince Gill and his fellow Country Music Hall of Fame member Bill Anderson, who sang his 1983 hit “Southern Fried,” complete with its lyrical reference to Richard Petty.

But the most dramatic example of the intersection between Country and NASCAR came with Kyle Petty’s Opry debut. After displaying solid vocal and acoustic guitar chops with his first song on the historic Ryman Auditorium stage, the champion driver remarked, “I’ve never played with a band before. It’s cool!”

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Jason Michael Carroll speaks with GAC personality Suzanne Alexander. photo: Donn Jones
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Miss Sprint Cup Monica Palumbo with Chris Young. photo: Chris Hollo, Hollophographics, Inc.
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Kyle Petty makes his public performance debut on the Grand Ole Opry during Sprint Sound & Speed. photo: Chris Hollo, Hollophotographics, Inc.
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Josh Turner and Dale Earnhardt Jr. take questions from the audience. photo: Donn Jones
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By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Josh Thompson’s future seemed written in concrete — specifically, in his father’s concrete business in Cedarburg, Wis., where he began working at 12. Years would pass before Thompson dared to dream about making music as a livelihood. In fact, he was 21 when he got his first guitar.

“I really just intended to play some of my favorite Merle Haggard songs around the campfire,” he explained. “But I began writing about six months later. Then it just got into my blood and controlled my life.”

By the time he got to Nashville in 2005, Thompson was nurturing a knack for capturing the nuances of life in a lyric and a tune. After landing a music publishing deal and making an initial impression by co-writing “Growing Up Is Getting Old,” the title track of Jason Michael Carroll’s latest album, with Jeremy Campbell, he built a reputation strong enough to earn a record deal with Columbia Nashville, which released a four-song, self-titled digital EP in November 2009.

On his album debut Way Out Here, set for release Feb. 23, Thompson unveils a double-threat talent as a writer and performer. Produced by Michael Knox, the album features 10 tracks, nine co-written by Thompson. The last, “Sinner,” he wrote on his own as a profession of repentance tempered by a hint of stubborn pride. Articulated over an understated but dramatic backup, it rings with a quality of honesty that goes beyond craftsmanship.

Other sides of life emerge vividly on Thompson’s first single, “Beer on the Table,” which he wrote with Ken Johnson and Andi Zack. Using a technique familiar to Country composers, the song is built around a play on words that uncovers a new level of truth: Over a stomping, dance-floor beat prickled by bits of banjo, Thompson runs down his working-man credo, which adds up to “workin’ hard all week puts the beer on the table.” And you know from the grin in his voice that this artist writes and sings from first-hand experience.


“Lee Ann Womack or Norah Jones.”

Satisfied by Ashley Monroe.”

“My Jeep.”

“A bar in Marinette, Wis. It was horrible … long story!”

“I love cantaloupe.”

“Merle Haggard.”

“Waylon Jennings’ autobiography and Lone Survivor.”

“Lazy people.”


Images for above article.

Josh Thompson; photo: Christian Lantry
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Issue Date: 2/9/2010  
  • Jo Dee Messina Broadens Marketing Outreach with “Music Room Series Tour”
  • Brooks & Dunn Go Sweet on M&Ms
Jo Dee Messina Broadens Marketing Outreach with “Music Room Series Tour”
By Bob Doershuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Many artists have their own music rooms — places to relax and maybe entertain a few friends. Jo Dee Messina has two: one at home and another that she takes on the road.

Since breaking into the spotlight as winner of the 1999 CMA Horizon Award, Messina has consistently gone the extra mile in reaching out to her fans, even releasing her mobile phone number and inviting the public to give her a call. So it made sense for her to book a series of intimate shows in smaller venues, where she performs with a trimmed-down version of her band, takes requests and otherwise welcomes the audience from a stage set modeled after her music room at home.

But why not take the idea a step further and add more value to the experience for both the artist and those who attend her “Music Room Series Tour” of concerts? That was the question asked — and answered — by Stephanie Orr-Buttrey, President, CountryWired Inc., which does Web site promotion, marketing design and maintenance for Messina and other artists.

“We decided to give everyone who bought a ticket to these shows free membership for six months in Jo Dee’s fan club,” she said. “That allowed us to know everyone that bought a ticket and to put together a large database of information about people who enjoy seeing her live. With the new single and album coming, that gives us a much larger database to market to.”

Annual dues for the Jo Dee Messina Fan Club are currently $15. The free six-month membership extended at each “Music Room Series Tour” show includes most of the standard perks, such as access to her live post-concert “Nightcap with Jo Dee” meet-and-greets on and invitations to fan club parties. A few extra privileges act as incentives to sign up for full membership once the complementary period has elapsed.

“You know my history: I’m a hard-core appreciator of my fans,” said Messina. “They’re dishing out a little piece of their household income for tickets, and I always want to give them more for their money, so the ‘Music Room’ show is based on interaction. We don’t wear ear monitors; we use floor monitors so we can talk back and forth, make jokes, take requests and answer questions. But giving them fan club membership lets them follow me beyond just that night. They come to hang out, we spend the evening visiting and then they get to see what I’m up to afterwards.”

The benefits work both ways: As fan club members enjoy their special access through meet-and-greets, Twitter and other channels, Messina’s people will be able to reach back with targeted marketing for concerts, music and merchandise. This gets the promotional ball rolling even before Messina’s single, “That’s God,” written by the singer and Brent Rader, drops in January, with her Curb Records album Unmistakable set to follow in the spring.

“I don’t have product in the stores, so I can’t tell you how it’s going to affect numbers. All I’ve got is me,” she said, laughing — but for her fan club members, that’s a great start.

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Jo Dee Messina greets a young fan during a “Music Room Series Tour” Concert at Parker Playhouse in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., in October. photo: Stephanie Orr-Buttrey
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Jo Dee Messina performs during a “Music Room Series Tour” Concert. photo: Stephanie Orr-Buttrey
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Jo Dee Messina performs during a “Music Room Series Tour” Concert. photo: Stephanie Orr-Buttrey
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Jo Dee Messina performs during a “Music Room Series Tour” Concert. photo: Stephanie Orr-Buttrey
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Brooks & Dunn Go Sweet on M&Ms
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Ever wonder what color M&M matches your personality? There’s one way to find out: Visit the company’s Web site,, click on “Become an M” and follow the steps. Or do what Kyle Busch, Enrique Iglesias, Magic Johnson, KISS and others have done: Become a “shell-ebrity.”

Alas, fame is a prerequisite for that route toward self-awareness. In particular, one’s features need to be recognizable when caricatured on an individual M&M and displayed in print ads. Any number of Country artists would meet these standards easily, but two of the most easily identifiable, Kix Brooks and Ronnie Dunn, a.k.a. Arista Nashville recording artist Brooks & Dunn, were the first to make the cut.

The shell-ebrity campaign grows from a playfully mystical concept called the Inner M. “M&Ms are colorful chocolate fun,” explained Ryan Bowling, Spokesman for Mars Snack Foods U.S. “‘Fun’ is the key word. Everybody has a fun side to them. So why not look at that fun side as their Inner M?”

After running with this idea through a series of television commercials in 2007, Mars moved it forward by recruiting well-known personalities to be represented as M&Ms for ads in Entertainment Weekly, People and other general-interest magazines. The promotion is ongoing today, but by early 2009 Mars decided that something had been missing.

“We hadn’t done anything with any musical acts,” Bowling said. “And when we thought of the relevant genres and personalities, Country Music came to mind. Now, we’d had express interest from Brooks & Dunn that they were very passionate about M&Ms, so we called them up and proposed them to be part of the campaign, which they found very exciting. It turned out to be a great match.”

Brooks & Dunn didn’t have to put themselves out too much to get involved. They just sent in their signatures and some hi-res portrait shots and filled out the same questionnaire that anybody could access at The staff artists at Mars then got to work.

The result was a print ad in which the duo — the first duo featured in the campaign — confessed their M&M habits to the world and proudly revealed their Inner M's.

“It comes down to the artist, the backdrop and what the celebrity would like to be,” Bowling said, describing the blue hue of Brooks’ character and Dunn’s green coating. “We worked with their clothing, their facial features, their hair, the hats, their guitars and even the gold on their boots.”

From the Mars perspective, the pair’s participation in the Inner M effort was a resounding hit. “We want to do more with the Country Music industry and its artists,” he said. “Brooks & Dunn are household names and we’re very mindful that everyone in the U.S. knows who they are.”

But what do their Inner Ms say about them? “Well,” Bowling replied, “we consider blue as a cool cat — and green is more flirtatious.”

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Images for above article.

Ronnie Dunn and Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn show their inner Ms. photo: courtesy of M&Ms/Mars Snack Foods
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Issue Date: 2/2/2010  
Steve Wariner Celebrates Chet Atkins
By Ted Drozdowski


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

“Knock it off!” Steve Wariner told Chet Atkins when the legendary guitarist, producer and record executive called him one day in 1976.

“I thought it was my brother Kenny, who is a prankster,” Wariner remembered. “He’d called many times pretending to be someone else.”

But it really was Atkins. And that phone call began a friendship of 25 years, which has culminated in Steve Wariner c.g.p., My Tribute to Chet Atkins. Released on his own label SelecTone Records and produced by Wariner, this album offers 11 beautifully guitar-driven tunes inspired by and plucked from the catalog of the late six-string master, innovator and Country Music Hall of Fame member, who died in 2001.

Tackling a set devoted to Atkins is no lark, even for a musician of Wariner’s high caliber. Atkins remains one of the world’s most revered guitarists. His technique was rooted in the classic Country finger picking of Maybelle Carter and Merle Travis and extended to include jazz, classical, pop, funk and rock as well as the folk styles of France, Italy and Spain.

All of that was enhanced by a pure tone and remarkably clean articulation on the fretboard that seemed to come naturally. It helped that Atkins’ long, elegant hands allowed him to grab bass notes by reaching his thumb around the guitar neck to form chords physically impossible for many other players.

Still, Wariner was undaunted. “I’ve wanted to do this ever since Chet passed,” he explained, sitting in a tan leather chair in his home studio, just outside Nashville, where he recorded Steve Wariner c.g.p., My Tribute to Chet Atkins. “He was funny and fatherly and a great teacher, and I feel in many ways I owe him my career.”

Indeed, that phone call opened an important door. Atkins was impressed with a cassette of Wariner’s demos, received from Paul Yandell, a member of Atkins’ band. Yandell, a distinguished guitarist in his own right whose catalog also includes a tribute to Atkins, Forever Chet, had met Wariner on a Johnny Cash-produced session for Alive and Well, by one of the younger picker’s employers, singer/guitarist Bob Luman. Atkins soon signed Wariner to RCA Records and also tapped him to play bass in his band.

“Chet saw something in me, I guess,” Wariner said. “And he knew I needed the money, so he hired me to play, signed me to a record deal and took me under his wing.”

These two opportunities ensured that Wariner would be able to pay the bills while developing his own career. His first three singles, all produced by Atkins, failed to hit the Top 40. (“As Chet said, they started out slow and tapered off from there,” Wariner said, chuckling.) And when his first Top 10 hit came along with “Your Memory,” written by Charles Quillen and John Schweers, he continued, “Chet called me into his office and fired me from his band. He knew that I enjoyed it so much that I would never have gone out on my own otherwise.”

Since then, Wariner has made 27 albums and won three Grammy Awards, most recently in 2008 for his contribution to “Cluster Pluck,” a guitar-hero throwdown on Brad Paisley’s Play. He also co-wrote and played with Paisley on Play’s “More Than Just This Song,” another tribute to Atkins. And he has taken home four CMA Awards, winning Vocal Event of the Year in 1991 for his appearance with Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs on Mark O’Connor and the New Nashville Cats, Single of the Year as artist and producer and Song of the Year in 1998 for “Holes in the Floor of Heaven.”

Thanks to the more than 30 Top 10 singles Wariner has celebrated, his warmly soaring alto-to-tenor voice has become as familiar to fans as his instrumental prowess. He has had many No. 1 hits including nine on the Billboard charts: “All Roads,” “I Got Dreams,” “Life’s Highway,” “Lynda,” “Some Fools Never Learn,” “Small Town Girl,” “The Weekend,” “Where Did I Go Wrong” and “You Can Dream of Me.” He has also co-written No. 1 hits for Clint Black (“Nothin’ But the Taillights”) and Garth Brooks (“Longneck Bottle”), as well as “Where the Blacktop Ends,” which peaked at No. 3 for Keith Urban.

“Steve is such a great singer, with so many Country hits, that people tend to forget what a great guitar player he is,” said singer/songwriter Bill Lloyd, half of the duo Foster & Lloyd and the former stringed instrument curator of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. “When Radney (Foster) and I shared bills with Steve, I was always impressed with his playing. He had a light, wonderful touch, and his picking hand was capable of all of the delicate and complex things Chet was known for.”

That has become even truer now, thanks to Wariner’s preparations for his latest album. “Some of these songs required serious woodshedding,” he admitted. “‘Blue Angel,’ which is rooted in classical music, was really tough. It has these crazy intervals, and Chet played it so pure, precise and fast.”

That track, written by Brazilian guitar virtuoso Natalicio Lima, was the first that Wariner cut for the new album. “Having my own studio, I was able to take my time with it,” he said. “So I analyzed ‘Blue Angel,’ tried three different classical guitars and experimented with all kinds of microphones and microphone placements until I was happy. After that, I felt like I was ready to go ahead with the project.

“I look at Chet’s career as three-tiered,” Wariner observed. “He was a great guitarist, an amazing producer and a record executive who revolutionized Nashville by building RCA Studio B and drawing on his background in jazz to change the sound of Country Music and take it to a bigger audience. Chet even had a home studio in the ’50s that was like a mini Studio B, where he’d work with artists and hone his own music. Nobody else had anything like that at the time, except Les Paul. But for me, what was most important was Chet’s own music.”

Atkins had influenced Wariner long before the two first met. “My dad had all of Chet’s records he could get,” Wariner said. “I’d sit for hours when I was a kid, slowing down the turntable and setting the needle back, trying to figure out Chet’s licks.”

Steve Wariner c.g.p., My Tribute to Chet Atkins began with an erasable marker board in Wariner’s studio, on which he listed songs from Atkins’ repertoire that he wanted to record for the project. He also enlisted Yandell, who is now retired, to brainstorm that list and the intricacies of how Atkins would have approached the tunes that made the final cut.

“To really get a handle on the project, I decided to organize the album so the songs would represent the chronological evolution of Chet as a guitarist,” Wariner said.

Steve Wariner c.g.p., My Tribute to Chet Atkins illustrates the guitar wizard’s development from traditional Country picker to jazz-influenced sophisticate to classical experimenter to collaborator with Lenny Breau, Les Paul, Jerry Reed, Doc Watson and many others to consummate master. Some tunes embrace nearly all of those elements, including “Chet’s Guitar,” which Wariner wrote with Rick Carnes and recorded on a mid-’80s Gibson Country Gentleman he had received from Atkins.

“I also used that guitar for ‘Leona,’ which is named for Chet’s wife,” Wariner added. (He and Leona Atkins remained close friends up until her passing in October.) For authenticity, the gentle but boldly chiseled melody of “Leona,” written by Wariner, is framed by lush strings arranged and played by Atkins’ collaborators D. Bergen White, who had also done string charts for Wariner as far back as his self-titled 1982 album, and Carl Gorodetzky, leader of the celebrated studio ensemble The Nashville String Machine.

The album’s first three tracks nod to Atkins’ roots. Wariner’s “Leavin’ Luttrell” captures Atkins’ early playing in its thumb-and-fingers juxtaposition of delicate melody with heavy bass, inspired by Merle Travis, and fleet runs that channel jazzman George Barnes. “John Henry” is a traditional number that Atkins played when he toured with The Carter Family in the late 1940s. And Wariner used to play “(Back Home In) Indiana” as bassist in Atkins’ band.

“I think one of the reasons Chet bonded with me was our common rural roots,” Wariner said. “Chet’s brother lived not too far from Noblesville, Ind., where I was born, and my people came from central Kentucky, not too far from where Chet came from.”

Yandell stepped out of retirement to join in on Wariner’s “Reeding Out Loud,” which recalls Atkins’ freewheeling duets with the late Jerry Reed. “Steve and I were both really lucky to work with Chet and be his friend,” said Yandell. “Chet was a wonderful person and a musical genius, and Steve plays Chet’s stuff so well. He can even play ‘Blue Angel,’ which is extremely hard — and play it great. Like Chet, Steve is one of those musicians who can play anything.”

As for Wariner, his love for Atkins and his music resonates in the closing track, the elegiac “Silent Strings,” which he wrote with Kent Blazy. But despite this reflective performance, Wariner harbors more cheerful memories of his friend and mentor, who bestowed upon him his personal honorific “c.g.p.,” for “Certified Guitar Player,” a title Atkins extended only to three others: Tommy Emmanuel, John Knowles and Reed.

“When I was recording these songs I kept hearing Chet’s voice in my mind,” he reflected, his mouth curling into a smile. “‘Nice try, son,’ he’d tell me with a straight face. ‘I appreciate what you’re attempting to do.’”

On the Web: 

CMA created the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961 to recognize individuals for their outstanding contributions to the format with Country Music’s highest honor. Inductees are chosen by CMA’s Hall of Fame Panels of Electors, which consist of anonymous voters appointed by the CMA Board of Directors.


Images for above article.



"Steve Wariner c.g.p. my tribute to Chet Atkins;" photo: courtesy of SelecTone Records
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Chet Atkins welcomes Steve Wariner to RCA Records in June 1977. photo: courtesy of RCA Records
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Steve Wariner; photo: Jim McGuire
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Issue Date: 1/26/2010  
Terri Clark Takes Control on ‘The Long Way Home’
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Toughness and tenderness are two sides of the same coin. The mistake is to think that either view gives us the full picture.

It was the tough side of Terri Clark that the world saw first. She burst into national view in 1995 straight from a grind of gigs on what was then a risky strip of Nashville’s Lower Broadway. Already she was impossible to ignore, not only because of the hat she wore like a cowgirl’s crown but more so because of the impact she made with “Better Things to Do,” the first in a string of 10 singles that cracked the Top 10, including two — “Girls Lie Too” and “You're Easy on the Eyes” — that peaked at No. 1. Rather than play it safe with songs crafted on Music Row, she packed the 12 tracks of her self-titled debut album with 11 originals, many of them edgy with a honky-tonk feel that dared skeptics not to listen.

Since then, Clark has released three Platinum albums — Terri Clark, Just the Same and How I Feel. She has been nominated for four CMA Awards and won eight Fan’s Choice Entertainer of the Year Awards from the Canadian Country Music Association. Through respect earned from her peers, the loyalty of fans and a stage presence centered on her beauty, guitar-hero charisma and that iconic headwear, Clark reinforced the impression she had made as a survivor.

But circumstances have broadened that image. In recent years, Clark has faced two challenges. One was professional, through the end of her long association with Mercury Nashville and the subsequent cancellation of a deal with Sony Music Nashville. Far more difficult was the news that her mother Linda had been diagnosed with cancer.

“My doctor gave my mom an expiration date,” she recalled. “You’re told when you’re going to lose this person. I don’t think there’s any part of you that can’t be affected by that, and that feeds over to your creative output as well. It made me stop and look at my whole life, where I was headed. It also brought to light what you’re willing to accept and what you’re not willing to accept in your life anymore because you realize it’s all temporary.”

For Clark, her approach to The Long Way Home could not differ more from the ambitions she carried with her at 18, when her mother drove her down to Nashville from Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada. “Getting a major-label deal was all I could think about,” she said. “That was my quest. And here I was on my second major-label deal, trying to fit into this tiny little box, chasing these cars they call hit songs. I wasn’t even sure what I was chasing after a while; we were just recording and recording, spending money and trying to find a single that would drive sales for the album so they could put it out.”

With blessings from Joe Galante, Chairman, Sony Music Nashville, Clark left Sony and headed back home to Canada, where she stayed with her mother during treatments. The experience helped flip that coin toward the other side — not so far that initial perceptions disappeared but enough for Clark to present herself with unprecedented candor on The Long Way Home.

This album, released independently in Canada and distributed in the United States by EMI, has plenty of swagger as well as a more reflective stance that comes to those artists who learn from the harder lessons as well as the pleasures of life. “When you are faced with the worst thing you could probably face, it’s going to come out in your songs,” Clark said. “Singing and playing and writing songs have always been my emotional release and escape — a healthy one. So there’s no way you could not see that coming through as a songwriter. It challenged me to dig really deep and write what I’m feeling instead of thinking so much about it.”

The fruits of her labor bloom throughout The Long Way Home, in the raw honesty of “A Million Ways to Run,” which Clark wrote on her own but, she mused, “I think it came from God;” the defiant bravado of the first single “Gypsy Boots,” written by Clark, Jon Randall and Leslie Satcher and presented twice, with full band and in a swampy, down-home acoustic version; and on “Merry Go Round,” whose whimsical waltz-time feel belies the thoughtful message of the lyric: “The trick is to know when to let go.”

“I wrote that with Bobby Pinson and Tom Shapiro,” Clark said. “We did a work tape and kind of forgot about it. About six months later, Tom had a demo session. He was looking for a fourth song and he came across this work tape. Something about it hit him. He put it on this demo session and hired Mallary Hope to sing it because I was on the road. He played it for people — and they’d be in tears by the end. So Tom called me and said, ‘I don’t think we realized what we had here.’”

“‘Merry Go Round’ was certainly a personal song,” said Shapiro, who shared writing credit with Clark on four of the album’s tracks as he had on her first hit single, “Better Things to Do.” “It’s about where you’re at in your career: Do you let go or do you continue? Through the years my tastes have been very commercial; Terri likes songs that have a commercial structure too. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve wanted to say things in my songs too, so we’ve hit at a good place.”

One of the most personal songs on The Long Way Home is “The One You Love,” featuring Vince Gill. Her co-writer, Gary Burr, remembers Clark bringing the idea for the song to him. “She was like ‘I know this is probably deeper than you want to go. It’s probably dooming it to never be on the radio. But this is important to me,’” Burr said. “I’m not sure that art and commerce are ever mutually exclusive, but I assured her that if it was important to her, it was important to me. That was how we started that song, from a position of her being almost embarrassed to ask me to dive in this deep.”

Combining honesty with professional craftsmanship, they came up with a soul-wrenching ballad about loved ones receding beyond the reach of those who ache to help them. “When you write a song that’s close to the heart, my philosophy is that you don’t want to get too specific because you want a song that’s about one thing but you write it in a way that’s about everything,” Burr reflected. “Because of that, I was more interested in the feelings than the details. But we carved as close to the bone as we could without coming up with something she would be totally unable to ever sing.”

As one might expect from Clark, the sensitivity that distinguishes The Long Way Home is balanced by her enduring independence of spirit — again, the other side of the coin. Though she has co-produced before, this marks her first sole credit as producer. And in releasing the album in Canada on her own Baretrack Records label, she assumes more business responsibilities while also exerting greater creative freedom. “I’ve handed over a record that didn’t get A&Red to death,” she said, proudly. “I really made the record I wanted to make.”

And she’s turned an important corner as a writer. “If you look at writers like Bob McDill or Mac McAnally, it’s raw,” she observed. “It’s life experience. A lot of it is adult stuff. Our format is changing; our audience has gotten younger. But a lot of people do want to hear stuff that’s got a little more depth, that’s a little more real. There’s an audience for everything, and if you’re willing to seek it out, you’re going to find it.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Terri Clark; photo: Margaret Malandruccolo
Photo: See Caption


Terri Clark; photo: Margaret Malandruccolo
Photo: See Caption


Terri Clark; photo: Margaret Malandruccolo
Photo: See Caption


Terri Clark; photo: Margaret Malandruccolo
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Issue Date: 1/19/2010  
Luke Bryan: Telling the Truth on ‘Doin’ My Thing’
By Bobby Reed


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Luke Bryan has remained true to himself. From his days as a struggling musician, he has consistently created music that reflects his love of rural life. When he isn’t on tour, he can be found hunting, fishing and driving around back roads in a pickup truck. In short, his offstage activities are often the very things he sings about onstage.

Even the titles of Bryan’s two Capitol Records Nashville albums convey how important it is for the singer to present himself honestly: I’ll Stay Me, which was released in August 2007, and Doin’ My Thing, which arrived in October.

Bryan won legions of fans with I’ll Stay Me, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Country Albums chart in its first week of release and yielded two Top 10 hits, “All My Friends Say” and “Country Man,” as well as the charting single “We Rode in Trucks.”

Complementing his success as an artist, Bryan has also earned respect for his talents as a writer. Billy Currington’s No. 1 single “Good Directions,” composed by Bryan and Rachel Thibodeau, was named the 2008 ASCAP Country Song of the Year. That same year, Music Row magazine honored him with its Breakthrough Songwriter Award.

Both sides of Bryan shine throughout Doin’ My Thing. Produced by Jeff Stevens, who also helmed I’ll Stay Me, this sophomore album features even bigger hooks and stronger melodies than its predecessor. Steady touring, including stints with Trace Adkins, Dierks Bentley and Kenny Chesney, allowed Bryan to hone his craft before cutting these 11 tracks.

“The learning curve, across the board, has been pretty massive for me,” he said. “It’s important to make music that is relatable to your fans by showing them who you are as an artist. I’ve done that better on my second album than I did on my first. There are a couple of songs on the first album that I would never play live. That told me something, that maybe there was something flawed about those songs. With the new album, I could do a concert and literally play every song on it. That’s how I made this album. If I had a song that I felt I would not play in a live setting, then I re-thought it and went back to the drawing board.”

A theme of celebrating rural life runs through the album — a familiar topic to Bryan, who grew up as the son of a peanut farmer in Leesburg, Ga. “I made this album with the thought in mind that guys riding around on the farm or in their trucks can put it in and not skip any tracks,” he explained.

This subject is addressed on “I Did It Again,” “Rain Is a Good Thing,” the bluesy, fiddle-sweetened “What Country Is” and “Welcome to the Farm,” a bracing brew spiked with organ, pedal steel and a dynamic lead vocal. Bryan wrote that one with Stevens, as well as the catchy “Someone Else Calling You Baby” and, with Lonnie Wilson joining them, Bryan’s first hit from I’ll Stay Me, “All My Friends Say.”

“Luke is able to project that thing that is uniquely Luke,” said Stevens, whose songs have been recorded by Alabama, John Anderson, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley and George Strait, among other artists. “‘Welcome to the Farm’ was incredibly easy to write because of Luke’s inner direction. When two or three songwriters are in a room, there’s usually one writer that day who is really on. And Luke is like that always when he’s writing. I’ve written lots of songs with folks who second-guess themselves. Luke never does that. He has no doubts about who he is. If people were to go down to his hometown, like I have so many times, they would see that this music is Luke’s life. It’s not something that a couple of songwriters in a room helped him make up. It’s him.”

The album’s lead single, “Do I,” is a ballad composed by Bryan and a couple of his Capitol label mates, Dave Haywood and Charles Kelley of the CMA Awards-winning trio Lady Antebellum. Hillary Scott, also of Lady Antebellum, contributed harmony vocals on the recorded track.

“Charles, Dave and I had been threatening to write for a couple of months,” Bryan said, with a chuckle. “With them being from Georgia and myself being from Georgia, we just wanted to see where that would take us. So I called them up one day and they came over to my house. We sat on the front porch, drank a couple of beers and threw some ideas around. The idea of ‘Do I’ came up and we knocked it out right there on the front porch. We knew we had something cool and pretty special right when we wrote it. Hillary just loved the song, so we got her to sing background vocals. It’s been fun to experience that song with all of Lady A.”

“Do I” showcases Bryan’s skills as a balladeer — skills that may not be apparent to the casual fan who knows the singer only from his humorous music videos. “We wanted to show that side of me right off the bat,” Bryan explained. “I had been flirting with getting a ‘party boy’ image. We wanted to show that I was able to sing a little more than people may have realized. You don’t ever want to be labeled a one-trick pony. Capitol’s motto is ‘You lead with your best stuff,’ and everybody at the label was very excited about ‘Do I.’”

Perhaps the most unusual track on the album is a moody version of “Apologize,” an international hit for the rock band OneRepublic in 2007 written by the group’s lead singer Ryan Tedder. “We started playing that song about a year and a half ago,” Bryan said. “Fans really responded to it. We had so many fans commenting on it on MySpace, just begging for me to record it. Blake Shelton heard me do it one night at Oakland’s Oracle Arena, and he met me at the side of the stage and told me that if I didn’t record it he was going to whup my butt. So Blake pushed me over the edge on it.”

Like many Country artists, Bryan has boosted his profile via corporate partnerships. His sponsors include Carl Black Chevrolet of Nashville, Lucchese Boot Company and Miller Lite. “For most artists, it’s important to get sponsored by a brand that you like and by something that’s a part of you,” Bryan noted. “I’ve bought Lucchese boots my whole life, I’ve always drunk Miller Lite and I’ve always driven Chevrolet trucks. I have great relationships with all my sponsors and I hope that they continue for a long time.”

Bryan has also propelled his career via digital releases on iTunes. In March he released Spring Break with All My Friends, a three-track iTunes EP with exclusive content. “We had two songs we really liked but we felt like they were for more of a niche market, especially ‘Sorority Girl,’” said Bryan, who co-wrote that song with Dallas Davidson and Jim McCormick. “We knew the songs had a place somewhere, and we wanted to do a spring-break concert run, so we put them out in that format. I’ll do another EP next year. It frees my mind up creatively. If I want to write a song that’s a little left of center, that gives me the mindset to do it.”

Bryan’s growing stature as an artist is reflected in his invitation to join the CMA Board of Directors in 2009. “I’ve always been a Country Music fan, and the fact that I’m a Country Music artist and now part of the CMA Board is really an honor to me,” he said. “To have the opportunity to do it is something that I take a lot of pride in. And I love the charities that CMA is a part of, like the ‘Keep the Music Playing’ program, which donates instruments to (Metro Nashville public) schools.”

As a star on the rise, Bryan can take comfort in knowing that his triumphs have come through expressing himself honestly as a songwriter and singer. “When you hear me talk or when you hear me sing, you know pretty soon where I’m from,” he noted. “When you see artists dive into who they are and find music that reflects who they are, success usually follows.”

Stevens concurs. “All you have to do is listen to Luke’s music a little bit,” the producer said, “and you can tell that this is a guy who is telling you the truth.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Luke Bryan
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


Luke Bryan
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


Luke Bryan
Photo: Kristin Barlowe


Luke Bryan
Photo: Kristin Barlowe




Issue Date: 1/12/2010  
Miranda Lambert Packs More Than Heat on ‘Revolution’
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Revolution was in the air at the Ryman Auditorium on the night of Sept. 24. The capacity crowd, filled with Nashville music glitterati, roared as the house lights darkened. Cameras flashed, as if pictures of the solitary microphone stand in front of the stage curtain could capture the moment. Music blared over the P.A. — the lazy stroll of The Beatles’ “Revolution,” the growling promise of Steve Earle’s “The Revolution Starts Now.”

And then the curtain whipped open and in a blaze of lights Miranda Lambert and her band blasted into “White Liar,” the second single and first of 15 tracks on her new Columbia Records album, Revolution. They played each one in sequence, the joyful snarl of her Natalie Hemby co-write “Only Prettier” slipping easily into the slow-motion intensity of “Dead Flowers” and so on. On the faster tunes, during instrumental breaks,

Lambert stepped back to join the musicians, pounding her guitar, whipping her head back and forth, immersed in the beat. On the ballads she stood still, eyes closed, caressing each word in the lyric — or, during her reading of Tom Douglas’ and Allen Shamblin’s “The House That Built Me,” she sat on a stool, just a few feet before her parents in the front row; as she sang the line “Daddy gave life to Mama’s dream,” her father could be seen wiping away a tear.

So it went all the way to the closer, “Virginia Bluebell,” a wistful ballad written by Lambert, Hemby and Jennifer Kennard, delicate in texture and hopeful in tone. As she finished, the stage lights dimmed, the audience seemed to hold its breath — and suddenly Lambert stood again in the light, proclaiming with disarming directness, “That’s it! That’s Revolution, y’all!”

“She is so accessible,” said Joe Galante, Chairman, Sony Music Nashville, recalling that moment and the ovation that followed. “That was a very emotional night for all of us. It was a very bold step for her to go, ‘I’m going to play my entire new album, which I delivered a couple of weeks ago, in front of the most important audience of my career, and cross my fingers.’ But as she went through it and then jumped into the hits she’s had, you got a complete picture of Miranda Lambert. You think of her as this angry chick, ready to blow somebody’s head off. And then you see her and what she puts into the music, how careful and thoughtful she is about it, the reverence she has for everything that’s involved — and she’s a sweetheart!”

Certainly it was clear to all at the Ryman that night that Lambert has come a long way since she nearly made it to the top of “Nashville Star” in its first season. Her first album, Kerosene, would break the Platinum barrier; the follow-up, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, debuted on the charts at No. 1. On tours with Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, George Strait and Keith Urban, she proved that she could rock it in stadiums as hard as she had done on the Texas club circuit in her teens.

Revolution, though, is a revelation, revealing an insight into subtler emotions and an elevating technique as a vocal stylist that match her celebrated ways of conveying the romance of danger — or, perhaps, the dangers of romance.

“I think Revolution is more diverse than the other two,” Lambert mused. “It’s a lot the same too; we use the same musicians and the same producers, so there’s still that element of the Miranda Lambert sound that I’ve had throughout the other records. But it has a lot more elements about different phases of life because that’s what I’m living. This is definitely my favorite album that I’ve done.”

“The first album was fun,” recalled Frank Liddell, who co-produced all three of Lambert’s albums with Mike Wrucke. “There was an element of feeling each other out in a good, positive way. With the second one everyone was excited but tentative, if that makes sense, like, ‘Wow, can we do it again?’ This one was like, ‘Hey, we’ve done it twice. Let’s go and have that much fun again.’”

With the same two producers and core lineup of musicians including guitarists Richard Bennett, Jay Joyce and Randy Scruggs, bassist Glenn Worf, drummer Chad Cromwell and percussionist Eric Darken, each of Lambert’s albums represents a collective as well as individual growth. They also reflect the spontaneity that has become essential to their process. “I never listen to demos on her stuff,” said Wrucke. “I don’t want to hear someone else’s vision for a song in a quick demo and then try to get that out of my head. I only want to hear her play and sing the song acoustically and then we make it up from there.”

“I love working with these guys because they build tracks around my lyrics instead of making a track and I sing over it,” Lambert explained. “I don’t have anything in mind when I go into the studio. I play my song and say, ‘Y’all go and do what you think it should sound like.’ It’s like ‘White Liar,’ which I wrote with my friend Natalie (Hemby). I just sat down and played the song for the musicians, they went in and noodled for about an hour and it started coming together. And the original of the John Prine song, ‘That’s the Way That the World Goes ’Round,’ is obviously very different from our version. It was definitely a surprise to all of us, the shape that song took on. We had so much fun letting it go, with everybody getting out of control. It was a blast because there were really no rules, and that gives everybody such creative feeling.”

The sonic range of Revolution goes beyond the limits of her previous work, pushing even into territories that Wrucke characterizes as “Country punk.” Galante concurred, noting that the album “has edge and power, with the soulfulness of what comes out of the Country side. If Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings were able to conceive a child, it would have been Miranda Lambert; that’s what this sound is to me.”

Yet Lambert, who wrote or co-wrote 11 of these songs, considers this to be her most Country-oriented album to date. “I love steel guitar and it has tons of steel,” she pointed out. “And it’s more lyrically Country.”

She cites two songs as examples: “Maintain the Pain,” one of the three tracks she wrote on her own, and “Airstream Song,” among four collaborations with Hemby featured on the album. “‘Maintain the Pain’ is definitely a rocker but the lyrics could be sung in a totally different way because it’s a Country song,” she said. “And ‘Airstream Song’ is 100 percent Country. Maybe I say that because I’m a Country girl and I wrote the song from a Country girl’s perspective. It’s up to everybody else to interpret what they think about the lyrics. But almost every song on here, at least the ones I wrote, has a Country element, not only because of my influences and roots but because of the way I sing them.”

The reference in “Maintain the Pain” to shooting her radio and her swaggering cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s “Time to Get a Gun” fit easily withthe image established by “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Gunpowder & Lead” and “Kerosene,” but Revolution also highlights a poetic quality that seems likely to add dimension to her writing and vocal interpretation from this point. Listening to the imagery unfold throughout “Dead Flowers,” for instance, is like studying a still life and finding new layers of meaning with each passing minute.

“That came from a vase of flowers I had gotten for Valentine’s Day,” she said of this song, which she wrote solo. “I had to throw them out because I was leaving town and I thought, ‘Wow, what a waste.’ Also, I leave my Christmas lights up all year, so they were kind of hanging down and some of them were broken. That started the entire song. I wanted to write it so that when people listened they could see what I was seeing.”

It also helped her reach deeper into her resources as an interpreter of lyrics. “I definitely had to put myself in character for songs like ‘Dead Flowers’ because I’m happy right now. I’m in a great place in life. But I like songs that are about reality, so I have to remember the pain and remember being angry when I write from that perspective. When I wrote ‘Dead Flowers,’ I was hanging out at the farm with the animals. Blake (Shelton) was over. It was actually a really great day — but I wrote this sad song. So I guess I’m reinventing myself a little bit lyrically and breaking out artistically. It’s all about reinventing yourself while staying true to your originality.”

That, according to Galante, is the key to what he sees as Lambert’s arrival as an artist with true staying power. “She has strength and power but she also has vulnerability and sensitivity. On this record, we’ve gotten the balance between the two. That’s what draws people to her — and that’s why it’s important for the format to have her.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.




Miranda Lambert; photo: Randee St. Nicholas
Photo: See Caption


Miranda Lambert; photo: Randee St. Nicholas
Photo: See Caption


Miranda Lambert; photo: Randee St. Nicholas
Photo: See Caption


Miranda Lambert; photo: Randee St. Nicholas
Photo: See Caption



Issue Date: 1/5/2010  
  • CMA Welcomes New Board President Steve Buchanan
  • Clarence Spalding Honored with CMA Board President’s Award
CMA Welcomes New Board President Steve Buchanan
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

For an indication of how broad the appeal of Country Music has become, look no further than Steve Buchanan, the new President of the CMA Board of Directors. In some respects, his story exemplifies that our format benefits more than ever from the diverse talents of its leaders — and, in turn, that listeners respond both to the tradition and innovation that drives Country Music today.

As Senior VP, Media and Entertainment, Gaylord Entertainment, Buchanan oversees management of Gaylord Program Services, the Grand Ole Opry, the historic Ryman Auditorium and the company’s radio station, 650 WSM-AM Nashville. But his path into the garden of Country Music began in a place seldom associated with its most beloved institutions.

He was raised in Oak Ridge, Tenn., founded as a center for atomic energy research and still populated to a large extent by scientists and academics from around the United States and abroad. Buchanan’s family reflected this demographic; his father was a nuclear engineer and his mother a chemist. Music played an important role in their lives, with the emphasis on classical and folk music and a calendar that included attendance at concerts by the Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra.

At that time, Country Music had yet to make an impression on Buchanan. “I was like most other kids growing up in the ’60s and ’70s in that I was primarily interested in rock ‘n’ roll, whether it was Southern rock, British rock or the L.A. sound like Poco, Linda Ronstadt, the Eagles and Jackson Browne,” he recalled.

That began to change after he moved to Nashville as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt University. His ambition initially was to become an environmental engineer but after a while he switched to a dual major in sociology and psychology. More presciently, he got involved in various student committees responsible for scheduling films, coffee house performances and concerts. That experience persuaded him to reexamine his long-term career plans.

“I loved music and concerts at all levels, whether it was being done in a club or a coffee house, the little theater or the gymnasium,” Buchanan said. “It’s where I started getting some basic sense of the business.”

The foundation of his future endeavors with CMA took shape early. Future artist manager and CMA Board member Ken Levitan was in the same freshman hall as Buchanan. Levitan obtained a position with Buddy Lee Attractions, and when he was getting ready to leave for law school he persuaded Tony Conway, another of CMA’s volunteer leaders, to hire Buchanan as his replacement at the booking agency.

“Going to Buddy Lee, I developed a much better understanding of the basic economics of the business on the touring side,” said Buchanan, who worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Monroe, Johnny Paycheck, George Strait, Porter Wagoner and other artists during his tenure there from 1980 through 1984. “I also started to have an even better understanding of artist relations and the dynamics of the relationship between artists, managers, labels, booking agencies and publishers.”

Buchanan eventually left to earn a master’s degree at Vanderbilt’s Owen School of Management. By this time he was open to exploring any number of career options, but because of his experience in the music industry as well as his attachment to Nashville, he decided to accept an offer in 1985 to become Marketing Manager at the Grand Ole Opry. “I had a strong feeling that this was a place where I could flourish and enjoy what I was doing,” he said.

Buchanan became GM of the Ryman Auditorium in 1993 and President, Grand Ole Opry Group, in 1998, before rising to his current position at Gaylord Entertainment. He benefited along the way from the opportunity to expand his areas of expertise to include directing the $8.5 million reconstruction of the Ryman, serving as Executive Producer of several notable musical productions including “Always...Patsy Cline” and “Lost Highway — The Music and Legend of Hank Williams,” producing two Bill Monroe albums (the Grammy-nominated Live at the Opry and Cryin’ Holy Unto the Lord) and several television specials including “Grand Ole Opry’s 75th: A Celebration” for CBS and “Grand Ole Opry: 75 Years in the Making” for A&Eand organizing the Opry’s 80th anniversary festivities, culminating in a broadcast from Carnegie Hall in New York City.

These and other accomplishments have equipped Buchanan with an unusually varied insight into the industry. But they also enhanced his understanding of something more ephemeral yet just as critical: the relations between artists, fans and music business professionals. “Probably what I enjoy most about the Opry is going to the shows and interacting with the artists and teams that are around them,” he said. “Some of the more emotional things we witness are when artists make their Opry debuts and step onto that stage for the very first time. It’s also interesting to watch how that lingers for them as their careers grow.”

This recognition of what one of the enduring institutions of Country Music has to offer affects Buchanan’s approach to working as well with CMA. “I hoped that someday I would have the opportunity to serve as President or Chairman of the Board,” he said. “I feel like I’ve gone through an apprenticeship of sorts over the past year in working with Randy Goodman and Steve Moore and attending committee meetings and regular weekly leadership meetings to get a better understanding of what’s involved, what the important issues are and hopefully what will serve me in the coming years to do a better job of helping make the right decisions for the organization.

“CMA is a trade organization,” he continued. “We always need to reflect back on that and not lose sight of the fact that we are here to serve the Country Music industry and do everything we can to take that industry to new heights. We accomplish that through a couple of primary vehicles, one being the CMA Awards and the other being CMA Music Festival. As well, professional development and engaging CMA’s membership should be an important part of what we do for those within the industry.”

“Steve has already proven himself as an important player in implementing the Board’s initiatives this year as CMA’s President-Elect,” said outgoing President Steve Moore, now Chairman of the CMA Board and Senior VP of AEG Live! “He steps into his new role as President with his sleeves rolled up, ready for what’s ahead.”

A trombone player in middle and high school, Buchanan also played piano and guitar, so it comes as no surprise that he dedicates much of his time to groups and causes that support music education, including CMA’s “Keep the Music Playing” program. In addition to being a member of the CMA Board since 2003, he serves on the Boards of Crescendo Music Community Fund, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean’s Music Business Council, Nashville Alliance for Public Education, Opry Trust Fund, Sound and Speed, W.O. Smith Community Music School and other organizations. He is married to Ree Guyer Buchanan, owner of Wrensong Music Publishing.

Four Directors also serve as Officers of the Board:
Steve Moore, Senior VP, AEG Live!

Steve Buchanan, Senior VP, Media and Entertainment, Gaylord Entertainment

Gary Overton, Executive VP/GM, EMI Music Publishing

Erv Woolsey, CEO/Founder, The Erv Woolsey Company

Directors by Membership Category

Carryover Directors, who are serving the second year of a two-year term, are followed by newly-elected Directors (indicated in bold).
Advertising Agency/PR/Marketing
Jessie Schmidt, Schmidt Relations
Jeff Walker, AristoMedia/Marco Promotions

Connie Bradley, ASCAP
Steve Buchanan, Gaylord Entertainment

Troy Gentry, Montgomery Gentry 
Kix Brooks, Brooks & Dunn

Broadcast Air Talent
Storme Warren, Different Drummer Productions, LLC

Steve Bogard, One Music Group
Victoria Shaw, AvaRu Music

Entertainment Services
Frank Bumstead, Flood, Bumstead, McCready, & McCarthy, Inc.
Mike Vaden, The Vaden Group

Rob Potts, Rob Potts Entertainment Edge, Five Dock, Australia
Ron Kitchener, RGK Entertainment, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Music Publisher/PRO
Troy Tomlinson, Sony/ATV Music Publishing
Gary Overton, EMI Music Publishing

John Hobbs
Randy Scruggs, Randy Scruggs Productions

Personal Manager
Clarence Spalding, Spalding Entertainment, LLC
Doc McGhee, McGhee Entertainment

Mark Wright, Universal Records South

Mike Moore, Entercom Communications, Portland, Ore.
Becky Brenner, KMPS-FM, CBS Seattle, Wash.

Record Company
Joe Galante, Sony Music Entertainment
Randy Goodman, Lyric Street Records

Talent Agent/Promoter
Tony Conway
Joey Lee, 360 Artist Agency
Talent Buyer/Venues
John Juliano, Eastern States Exposition, West Springfield, Mass.
Jeff Krueger, FACE, Inc./WE Fest, Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Lon Helton, Country Aircheck
Brian Philips, Country Music Television (CMT)
Lifetime Directors
J. William Denny
Ralph Peer II
Frances Preston

Ex-Officio Members
Jim Free, The Smith-Free Group, Washington, D.C.
Kyle Young, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Directors at Large
Jaye Albright, Albright & O’Malley, Bainbridge Island, Wash.
Bruce Allen, Bruce Allen Talent, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Charlie Anderson, Anderson Merchandisers, Knoxville, Tenn.
Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Records and Valory Music Co.
Luke Bryan
Barry Coburn, Ten Ten Music Group, Inc.
Pat Collins, SESAC
Charlie Cook, KKGO Radio, Los Angeles, Calif.
Jay DeMarcus, Rascal Flatts
Bob DiPiero, Love Monkey Music
Tim DuBois, Dottore-DuBois Artist Management
Mike Dungan, Capitol Records Nashville
Kitty Moon Emery, KittyMoon Enterprises
John Esposito, Warner Bros. Records
Michael Evans, SMG, Philadelphia, Pa.
Karen Fairchild, Little Big Town
Larry Fitzgerald, The Fitzgerald Hartley Company
Craig Fruin, HK Management
Jeff Garrison, KILT, Infinity Broadcasting, Houston, Texas
Ed Hardy, Great American Country (GAC)
Pat Higdon, Universal Music Publishing Group
Clint Higham, Morris Management Group
Greg Hill, Red Light Management
Dann Huff, Dann Huff Productions
John Huie, Creative Artists Agency
Jack Ingram
Brett James, Cornman Music
Ken Levitan, Vector Management
Luke Lewis, UMG Nashville
Jay Liepis, Apple, Inc., iTunes Store
Scott Lindy, Clear Channel Communications, Atlanta, Ga.
Erik Logan, Harpo, Inc., Chicago, Ill.
Ralph Mastrangelo, Clair Bros. Audio Enterprises Inc.
JD May, Ticketmaster Entertainment
Deb McDermott, Young Broadcasting, Inc.
Steve Moore, AEG Live!
John Rich
David Ross, Music Row Publications, Inc.
Ron Sakamoto, Gold & Gold Productions, LTD., Alberta, Canada
Victor Sansone, Irving, Texas
Rick Shipp, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment
Denise Stiff, DS Managment
Trey Turner, Turner & Nichols and Associates
Rusty Walker, Rusty Walker Programming Consultant, Inc., Iuka, Miss.
Jody Williams, BMI
Larry Wilson, Alpha Broadcasting Corporation, Portland, Ore.
Tim Wipperman 
Lee Ann Womack, artist
Erv Woolsey, The Erv Woolsey Company


Images for above article.

CMA Board President Steve Buchanan
Photo: Amanda Eckard / CMA



Clarence Spalding Honored with CMA Board President’s Award
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

During the October CMA Board meetings in Nashville, CMA Board President Steve Moore, Senior VP, AEGLive! surprised Clarence Spalding, President, Spalding Entertainment by presenting him with the CMA Board President’s Award, a distinction given annually at the discretion of the CMA Board President.

“Clarence’s contributions to CMA have been meaningful, long-lasting and undeniable," Moore noted. "But on a personal level, Clarence has been a treasured colleague, offering me valuable advice and insight into a very challenging job during a turbulent time for our industry.”

A CMA Board member since 2003, Spalding served as its President in 2007 and Chairman in 2008 and has chaired several committees, including currently the TV Committee.

Spalding grew up in Lebanon, Ky., and majored in Communications at the University of Kentucky, where he started a one-man agency that booked bands at parties. After his graduation, friends opened a club in Lexington and hired Spalding as its booker. He hired a local group, Exile, to serve as the house band. They’d scored a pop hit with “Kiss You All Over,” and when they signed to Epic Records, Spalding became their road manager. Later he worked with manager Stan Moress and a roster that included Roger Miller, Ronnie Milsap, Lorrie Morgan, K.T. Oslin and Eddie Rabbitt. Later, after joining Titley and Associates (later to become Titley Spalding), he helped launch Brooks & Dunn. Spalding started Spalding Entertainment in 2004. His current roster includes Jason Aldean, Brooks & Dunn, Terri Clark, Sara Evans, Pat Green and Ashley Monroe.


Images for above article.

Clarence Spalding, President, Spalding Entertainment, receives the CMA Board President's Award from former CMA Board President Steve Moore, Senior VP, AEG Live!
Photo: Amanda Eckard / CMA



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

A self-styled “Northern Hillbilly,” Greg Hanna is indisputably from the North — specifically, from eastern Ontario, Canada. But he’s also as Country as they come, having been raised on a dairy farm near Finch, a community of around 400 neighbors and friends. Family values were central to his upbringing; so was a willingness to work hard and, in Hanna’s case, a talent for writing and playing Country songs.

After lofting “Ain’t No Justice in Love” into the Canadian Top 10 in 1999, Hanna moved down to Nashville the following year. His intense vocals and dynamic stage presence raised his local profile quickly; he was even offered a berth in the third season of “Nashville Star” until conflict issues arose due to his contract with Combustion Entertainment. Still, he continued to chart in Canada and make connections in Music City, leading to his signing with Buddy Lee Attractions.

With a lineup of producers that includes Buddy Cannon, Chris Farren, David Kalmusky, Kim Tribble and Hanna, this self-titled U.S. debut album, released on his own Pheromone Records imprint and distributed by Megaforce and Sony, is unified by Hanna’s infectious performance. There’s a conversational essence to his delivery even when it rides a challenging melody, as on “In Between Dreams,” by Hanna, Brad Mates of Emerson Drive and Shane Minor, one of Hanna’s eight co-writes among these 11 songs. Energetic on the up-tempo rockers, earnest and sincere on ballads, he targets the midpoint between these extremes on his single, “It’s a Man’s Job.” Written by Ashley Gorley, Wade Kirby and Tribble, it lays down a swaggering beat that gives Hanna the foundation he needs to bring the toughness, romance and humor of the lyric home in one irresistible package.


“Buck Owens.”

“Dwight Yoakam.”

“‘He Stopped Loving Her Today.’”

“Bacon and eggs for breakfast.”

“The day I got married, I sang to my wife as she walked down the aisle.”

When You Believe, Everything Is Possible.”

“Usually classic Country.”

“When someone tells me ‘yes,’ but doesn't deliver on their promise.”

"Well, there you go.”

“Pickup truck.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Greg Hanna; photo: Tony Phipps
Photo: See Caption



By Bob Doerschuk


© 2010 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

As a toddler back in Torrance, Calif., Derek Sholl knew what he wanted to do with his life from the moment he uttered his first word: “Ball.” This former pro baseball player might have added “sing” as an afterthought. After all, that’s what he does on his newly released self-titled album, produced by Austin Deptula, Chris Estes, Greg Hunt, Tim Johnson and Gary Leach and distributed by The Orchard.

Sholl’s renditions of Alan Jackson and Randy Travis hits in the clubhouse and in the dugout won encouragement from his teammates to think seriously about pursuing Country Music during the off-season. When an Achilles tendon tear thwarted his shot with the Kansas City Royals, he followed that advice, though as a full-time occupation.

As a solo performer and with a band in Las Vegas, he caught the ear of Jay Leno, who signed Sholl to open for him at The Mirage.

The qualities that won Leno’s attention transfer into all 13 tracks of Derek Sholl. First among these is an upbeat personality and infectious, self-deprecating humor, especially on “Poor Man’s Miracle,” one of Sholl’s five co-writes with Sarah Thiele, and the Connie Harrington and Lee Thomas Miller song “Now and Her Driveway,” on which his comic timing is razor-sharp. Yet he’s also capable of delivering a romantic lyric, as on his singles, the mid-tempo “Here,” written by David Brainard, Greg Becker and Dan Crouch, and the power ballad “But It Was,” by Joe Doyle and Tim Johnson, though with a pebble-skimming, grinning feel that’s about as Country as sandlot baseball on a summer afternoon.

Sholl has also collaborated with Random House by tying his video for "When They Come Back," which he wrote with Tim Johnson, to their campaign for their new book, Shadow of the Sword, by Jeremiah Workman.


“James Taylor.”

“Martina McBride.”

“Anything with horseshoes on it — especially my horseshoe necklace.”

“Hands down, Outback Steakhouse.”

“The national anthem.”

“The sports page.”

“Jamey Johnson, That Lonesome Song. ‘In Color’ is one of my new favorites!”

“My food getting cold and waiters/waitresses that don’t write down your order then screw it up.”

“High school football. Not to change anything, just really loved those Friday nights under the lights.”

“Probably my first national anthem before an Anaheim Mighty Ducks game. Barely rehearsed (except for the shower time), a little unsure about the vocal range in that song, and somehow pulled it off.”

On the Web:


Images for above article.

Derek Sholl; photo: Goldy Locks (The Factory Photography)
Photo: See Caption






Issue Date: 12/15/2009  
CMA Industry InSite: New Episodes Span the World from Digital Culture to Touring and Radio
By Bob Doerschuk and Maria Eckhardt


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association, Inc.

Not just during this holiday season, the CMA Industry InSite online educational series, updated on the third Monday of each month at the CMA members-only Web site, is a gift that keeps giving. The series is part of CMA’s ongoing strategic mission of being a resource for the Country Music industry.

Episode 5, posted Sept. 21, explores online music and commerce. Titled “The Digital Domain,” it follows the pattern of previous episodes by mixing input from experts, lively graphics and a narrative that’s always clear and often funny. An example of the latter point comes in the “slasher” movie music that screeches when the impact of this technology on the industry is addressed.

What follows isn’t panic, however, but sober analysis. While acknowledging the challenges posed post-Napster, Heather McBee, VP, Digital Business, Sony Music Nashville, noted that iTunes made it possible to profit through digital transactions so easy that, as Ashley Heron, Senior Manager, Marketing, Lyric Street Records, put it, “you could purchase music in your pajamas.”

Panelists discussed how emerging revenue streams could compensate for losses in album sales precipitated by the shift toward individual track sales online, including music apps for mobile phones, called “the future of this industry” by Genevieve Jewell Director of New Media, Borman Entertainment.

Add the possibility of more efficient marketing through social networks and there is reason for optimism as well as an obligation to stay on top of changes in Internet culture, as emphasized by Fletcher Foster, Senior VP and GM, Universal Records South, Joe Galante, Chairman, Sony Music Nashville, and Mike Dungan, President and CEO, Capitol Records Nashville, who concluded that “where digital used to be an add-on to the marketing process, now it’s very much in the forefront.”

Posted Oct. 19, Episode 6 focuses on a more traditional cornerstone of the business. “Getting the Show on the Road” outlines ways to bring artists directly to the public. “It’s not just about finding live work,” advised John Huie, Booking Agent, Creative Artists Agency. “It’s finding the right kind of work.”

Key players are introduced: booking agents, promoters and tour managers, as well as different types of contracts, each one explained by Tony Conway, former CEO and President, Buddy Lee Attractions.

Rob Beckham, Booking Agent, William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, noted that booking tours also involves being aware of how other tours are being booked: “We try to avoid each other as much as possible to give the consumer a little relief with no expectation of having to buy tickets night after night.”

From dealing with holds on venues by local hockey teams to the impact of record sales on ticket prices to sponsorships, many details affect the bottom line. Even a beginning act might arrange options to help cover costs. Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn said that there’s nothing worse than being only on the second date of a tour when you “realize that bills haven’t been paid and things start falling apart.”

The moral? Conway advised, it’s not so much about the money as “how many people am I going to touch by my performance. All the money will come later.”

Income will generate courtesy of radio, featured on Episode 7, “Riding the Airwaves of Local Radio,” and posted Nov. 16. After establishing the vitality of this medium for Country Music (“Radio is promotion,” said Brooks), and examining the roles of program directors, music directors and programming consultants, this installment’s experts agreed that it’s tough to break onto playlists dominated by stars. “That hurts a lot of newer acts,” conceded Jeff Garrison, VP Country, CBS Radio and Program Director, KILT/Houston.

Still, there are ways to move toward the head of the newbie line. Becky Brenner, Program Director and Digital Web Manager, KMPS/Seattle, CBS Radio, advised young artists to “have other music to back up this single” and “a game plan for how they’re gaining other exposure.” Radio tours are especially helpful. Playing an intimate set for the staff at individual stations encourages them to “not just play the songs but really sing the praises of that artist,” said Rusty Walker, President, Rusty Walker Programming Consultants.

It’s a complex world, in which handshakes at local stations can mean as much as a worldwide Internet-based advertising campaign. CMA Industry InSite, created by CMA’s Artist Relations Committee under the leadership of its Chairman, Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn and Vice Chairman Jay DeMarcus of Rascal Flatts, and launched in May, ties it together, one thread at a time.

CMA Industry InSite is produced by the digital marketing firm Hi-Fi Fusion. Episode 8 will be posted Dec. 21. Topics for upcoming episodes include performance rights organizations, radio charts and publicity. CMA members are invited to submit questions to the experts appearing in each episode, with replies posted when received.


Images for above article.

CMA Industry InSite logo


Issue Date: 12/8/2009  
  • White House Music Series: CMA Helps Bring Music and History Together for Nashville Students
  • CMA Prime Prospect Study Measures Impact of Economy on Country Fan Engagement
White House Music Series: CMA Helps Bring Music and History Together for Nashville Students
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

On Friday, July 3, Lynn Adelman, Assistant Director of the W. O. Smith Nashville Community Music School, informed Jonah Rabinowitz, the school’s Executive Director, that he’d better take the call she was about to transfer to his phone.

The woman on the line, a member of the White House staff, informed him that President Barack Obama and the First Lady would host the second stage of its ongoing music series which celebrates the arts and demonstrates the importance of arts education. The event would focus on Country Music and the W. O. Smith School was invited to bring a group of students to attend an afternoon educational workshop in the State Dining Room with Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley that would precede the evening show in the East Room.

“My first response was, ‘This is unbelievable, this is fantastic, but can you guys help us at all with expenses?’” Rabinowitz recalled. “Their response was, ‘No, but the invitation is open to you and we need to know in a couple of days whether you’ll accept it.’”

Clearly, Rabinowitz couldn’t say no. So to address the question of funding travel and accommodations, he called a member of the school’s Advisory Board, Steve Buchanan, Senior VP, Media and Entertainment, Gaylord Entertainment.

As President-Elect of the CMA Board of Directors, Buchanan knew what to do. “Given our Keep the Music Playing initiative,” he said, referring to CMA’s program to help fund music education in Metro Nashville Public Schools, “it seemed to me that this was an opportunity for CMA to have a tremendous impact on these kids’ lives.”

“This is a one-time opportunity that is a natural fit for our campaign of supporting music education for public school students and providing musical experiences that they otherwise would not be able to enjoy,” agreed CMA CEO Tammy Genovese. “These outstanding young musicians are the future of the music industry, and what a meaningful lesson they’ll learn about the power of following your dreams and believing that anything is possible.”

CMA underwrote all travel costs involved in busing 40 W.O. Smith music students and four chaperones from Nashville to Washington, D.C., and back. (A fifth chaperone, Colleen Dowd, VP, HCA, and a member of the W.O. Smith School Board of Directors, was already in Washington on business.) A gala sendoff was arranged at the school on the evening of Sunday, July 19; the bus arrived the next morning, after which the students visited museums that lined the National Mall before checking into the Gaylord National Hotel & Convention Center, where rooms had been deeply discounted on their behalf. Cracker Barrel Old Country Store provided gold cards that were redeemed for two free meals during the trip.

The next day began with visits to the office of U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) and the gallery at the House of Representatives while it was in session. Then, following lunch in the House cafeteria, they made the nearly two-mile trek to the White House on foot. “We did that on purpose,” Rabinowitz said. “It was important to get a feel for the pulse of the city.”

On arrival, they were escorted into the State Dining Room. Shortly after that, Krauss and Paisley took their seats on stools before a portrait of President Abraham Lincoln. Following an introduction by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, each played two acoustic songs, Paisley working solo and Krauss playing fiddle with backup from Union Station guitarist Dan Tyminski. They were then interviewed by Jay Orr, VP of Museum Programs, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and took questions from among the 120 students attending from W. O. Smith and other invited schools.

That evening, with WSM/Nashville broadcast personality and Grand Ole Opry announcer Eddie Stubbs emceeing, Krauss and Paisley performed with their bands, and Country Music Hall of Fame member Charley Pride sang, before President Obama, his family and invited guests, including Genovese and CMA Senior VP Bobette Dudley. The show was streamed live on and recorded, along with other highlights of the day, to air on GAC. Hosted by Storme Warren, “Country at the White House” premiered on Aug. 15 and will repeat 8 PM/ET Sunday, Nov. 8. Stubbs also reported on the event through a radio special, “Mr. Stubbs Goes to Washington,” broadcast over WSM-AM Nashville. Episodes from this program, along with photos, Webisodes and blogs by Stubbs, Paisley and Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, are available at

“We at GAC are huge believers in the work of W.O. Smith,” said Ed Hardy, GAC President, and VP of the W.O. Smith School Board. “Producing a one-hour special on GAC highlighting the Country Music events at the White House, including the W.O. Smith students’ trip to the event, will help spread the word about this vital community asset and the benefits of arts education.”

In a blog (also posted on, Paisley recounted the experience of closing his set with “Welcome to the Future,” whose story of overcoming racial intolerance bore a special relevance to the evening. After tipping his hat to President Obama, Paisley wrote, “I came off and just started bawling because it was so emotional for me to sing those words. He came to me and said, ‘If I could sing like you,’ which was really cool. And then he sort of looked me in the eye and he said, ‘Wonderful, wonderful words.’ And I said, ‘Thank you, sir. I meant them.’”

As for the W.O. Smith students, they enjoyed a reflective afternoon of their own, culminating in a visit to the Lincoln Memorial, after which they boarded their bus for a night in Manassas, Va., before completing the trip back home. Like Paisley, Patricia Dinning, going into her senior year at the Nashville School of the Arts, found her Washington visit illuminating as well as relevant to her dreams of pursuing a history major in college.

“I was inspired and amazed,” she said. “And it really amplified my feelings toward history, because music has history in itself, and that history goes into America’s history. It all connects and helps to inspire how we all approach the future.”

Founded in 1984, the W.O. Smith Nashville Community Music School was created for the purpose of making quality music instruction available to talented, interested, deserving children from low income families at the nominal fee of 50 cents a lesson. Instruction is provided by a 160-member volunteer faculty of area musicians from many elements of the Nashville music scene including studio musicians, symphony players, college professors, public school teachers, church musicians, private teachers and university students, who each donate up to four hours a week teaching their students.

The school serves more than 600 students, ages 6 to 18, representing academic schools from across Metro Davidson County and Middle Tennessee. It offers introductory classes for pre-instrumentalists, individual and group lessons in all band and orchestra instruments, piano, guitar and voice. A nonprofit educational institution, the W. O. Smith Music School also provides computer assisted instruction in music fundamentals and theory, classes in composition, music technology and recording.

“The continuing generosity of CMA for our city’s children is allowing W.O. Smith Music School students to be a part of this important experience, one that we know will last a lifetime,” Rabinowitz said. “As always, CMA provides important leadership in the music education of children in Metro Nashville Schools. We are grateful to CMA as well as GAC, Gaylord and Cracker Barrel for their support of our students.”

Tune into GAC on Dec. 16, 17 and 28 for the special “Country at the White House,” which documents this historic event with host Storme Warren. Visit to watch a sneak peek and browse photos from the event.


Images for above article.




Students at the W. O. Smith School prepare to board bus for Washington, D.C.
Photo: Karen Hicks / CMA


Charley Pride performs during an event celebrating Country Music in the East Room of the White House, July 21, 2009. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)
Photo: See Caption


Alison Krauss and Brad Paisley perform at the White House. photo: Ben Enid
Photo: See Caption


Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss & Union Station perform during an event celebrating Country Music in the East Room of the White House, July 21, 2009. Official White House Photo by Samantha Appleton
Photo: See Caption


CMA Prime Prospect Study Measures Impact of Economy on Country Fan Engagement
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

With the initial summary of findings that stemmed from its Country Music Consumer Segmentation Study, CMAcast new light into the interests and resources of the genre’s most potentially rewarding fan base, identified as Prime Prospects. That presentation began a process that continues as this research, mandated by CMA’s mission to serve the music industry, deepens and expands.

The latest information gathered by the Leo Burnett Company and The Right Brain Consumer Consulting builds on data previously summarized in CMA Close Up (April/May, June/July, Aug./Sept.) and made available to CMA members at In June, a survey was undertaken by telephone and online of 712 fans of Country Music, 18-54, grouped in four categories that represent the most promising demographics for current and potential growth: CountryPhiles (passionate fans of Country Music), MusicPhiles (dedicated fans of Country as well as other genres), Today’s Traditional (prospective CountryPhiles who haven’t yet monetized their commitment significantly) and Pop Country (prospective MusicPhiles whose Country tastes lean toward the pop side). A PowerPoint presentation of the Prime Prospect Study is also posted at

A key purpose of this new round of research was to gauge the impact of the current economy on the behavior of fans in each category. Results indicate that the core Country Music fan segments are less likely to monetize their support for the genre than they would have been a year ago; in effect, many have migrated from the CountryPhile and MusicPhile groups into the less responsive categories that fall under the heading of Low-Funding Fans. At the same time, the size of the Country fan base has stayed the same or grown slightly since 2008.

The challenge of keeping these fans engaged even in uncertain times guided the formulation of a series of questions posed in the June survey. These questions, followed by multiple-choice answers, yielded important insights into the lives of today’s Country fan:

How would you describe the state of the nation’s economy these days?
Slightly more than half the polled fans chose “not so good” but predicted that better times lay ahead and 33 percent chose “poor.” More detailed information emerged as these answers were broken down according by the category of the respondents. For example, fans of Pop Country assessed the nation’s economic prospects less severely than those in other categories, while CountryPhiles without home Internet access were by far more negative.

How would you describe the state of your own personal finances these days?
Nine out of 10 Prime Prospects regard today’s economic conditions as negative, while 32 percent chose "fair" and 15 percent chose "poor." As for the more engaged CountryPhile segment, those quizzed by phone were the predominant demographic in both the smaller “excellent” and “poor” categories. About six percent seem to be holding their own while 25 percent struggle with more difficult financial challenges.

Versus 12 months ago, how would you describe your household financial situation?
Only 16 percent chose the “better” option, with 44 percent opting for “same” and 40 percent for “worse.” CountryPhiles were the dominant demographic among those who described their status as “better” than in 2008.

Looking ahead 12 months, how do you see your household financial situation?
Respondents overall were hopeful about their prospects, choosing “better” or “same” in far greater numbers than “worse.” Once again, CountryPhiles polled by phone constituted the most optimistic demographic.

In the past 12 months, have you been spending about as much as you did before, spending more or cutting back?
Respondents as a whole admitted to cutting back on their spending over the previous year, but here too the CountryPhiles emerged as the most potentially responsive group; though they cut down on their expenses, they did so less extensively than other Prime Prospect segments.

In the past 12 months, have you been spending about as much as you did before on entertainment, spending more or cutting back?
The patterns identified by the previous question are mirrored in answers to this query too: Overall spending on entertainment fell, with two out of three fans admitting to spending less in a wide variety of categories, including music and ticket purchases, than they had been spending a year earlier. But there were fewer declines among CountryPhiles than other Prime Prospects, particularly among those queried online rather than by phone.

For deeper insight into these trends, researchers asked respondents to break their spending patterns down into 28 specific areas. Not surprisingly, the results document significant reductions particularly in discretionary areas such as luxury items, travel, dining out and electronics, while expenditures stayed steady on cell phones, gas, Internet access and other areas considered essential — including some entertainment channels such as cable TV and satellite radio. Though overall spending is down, the impact on the Country Music industry is mixed. Like other consumers of music in general and Country Music specifically, CountryPhiles do trend downward, though less precipitously.

Similarly, when queried about certain leisure activities, respondents indicated that they were pursuing or intended to pursue those that were free as much or more than they had in the previous year while cutting down on going to or renting movies, subscribing to magazines and other pleasures that come with a price tag. Those free activities included no-cost downloads of Country Music, a fact that leads to another area of exploration in the CMA study.

The 2008 CMA BrandProspect Segmentation Study determined that home Internet use varied widely throughout the entire Prime Prospect sample, but that it skewed low among CountryPhiles. Still, nine out of 10 Country fans go online at various times and locations, mostly via high-speed access, and within the CountryPhile segment that number is four out of five. Equally important, the Core Fans — those most likely to monetize their interest in the genre — are the most inclined within the Country Music fan base to access information online. And within that group, CountryPhiles with regular online access lead the pack in frequency of Internet use, especially in visits to Country-devoted destinations.

The nature of these online excursions was examined as well. About two out of five Prime Prospects that are able to get online will search for Country Music-related content each month; one in five do so weekly. More than nine in 10 of all Prime Prospects do access the Internet somewhere and sometimes. Videos and online radio or music samples are the most popular weekly destinations, and Country news, song lyrics and product purchases lead the list for monthly visits by Prime Prospects as a whole. Within that group, CountryPhiles index highly on using the Internet to feel more connected to their favorite artists and music as well as using online resources to enhance their expertise as Country Music aficionados, whether through checking out lyrics, catching up on concert details or purchasing downloads and merchandise. Beyond satisfying the needs of the fans who seek them out, YouTube, iTunes and radio station sites in particular also influenced their subsequent tastes and behavior.

Informed by the data gathered to support these findings, the CMA Consumer Research Committee came up with 10 concepts whose developments bear the best potential for generating revenue and/ or building a support community in the Country Music realm.

These include:
1. A Frequent Buyer Rewards Program
2. Online Country Music Information Hub
3. Direct CD Purchasing
4. Occasion-Specific Album Compilations
5. Simplified Music Downloading
6. “Go Deep into the Album” Radio Sampling Programs
7. “Crossroads” and “All-in-One” Concert Touring Packages
8. Country Concert All-in-One Combination Packages 9. Concert Bus Packages
10. Country Music Fan Online Social Network Sites

Investigation of these concepts, and in particular their mutual and interrelating influences, yielded the data that fuel the conclusions made available to CMA members in detail at Broadly speaking, though, two especially promising business-building opportunities involve offering financial or value-added credit for consumer loyalty and support as well as providing “inside information” about and exposure to Country Music and artists. Going deep into the album for radio playlists and implementing a "frequent buyer" plan appear to promise the greatest overall positive impact across revenue and engagement dimensions among all Prime Prospects.

The broad conclusions, however, are as important as the details in this latest round of research, as are the responses recommended by the researchers:

1. Economic downturns have had a stronger impact on Country Music Core Fans than the population at large, with the result that some have joined the “Low-Funding Fan” group whose members are less likely to spend on Country Music products. Implication: Offer consumers effective value-added products and services to keep them engaged through hard times.

2. Different segments of the Prime Prospect Country Fans behave and respond in distinctive ways. Implication: Music industry interests must be clear about which segment will be most responsive to their marketing and tailor their campaigns accordingly.

3. Most Country fans go online occasionally, though not always at home. Implication: YouTube, iTunes and radio station sites can serve as mass-marketing networks especially for CountryPhiles and MusicPhiles.

4. “Going Deep” into album tracks is a promising strategy for Country radio. Implication: When stations are reluctant to make the plunge, consider other ways of implementing this approach, including online.

5. “Crossroads” tours, mixing Country and rock headliners, and “All-in-One” package tours offer value-added appeal and other pluses. Implication: This approach will become more important for all involved parties.

6. A “Country Music Hub” can serve as a “Mall of America” for the entire Country Music fan base. Implication: To maintain and strengthen relations with consumers, different forms of this incentive can be tailored to different Prime Prospect segments.

7. “Frequent Buyer” programs can turn traditional commerce, based on product purchase, into a two-way system of rewards. Implication: How about launching a “Country Credit Card” with a points program?

8. There’s no shortage of ideas for generating revenue in changing and challenging times. Implication: Album compilations can be created for CountryPhiles, Pop Country fans and other groups; young fans can be invited to assemble in bus packages to concerts; simple downloads can stimulate novice fans to purchase more easily and frequently online … the possibilities are as open as the imaginations of the CMA membership.

An in-depth portrait of CountryPhiles and MusicPhiles as well as information on CMA Country Music Consumer Segmentation Study, CMA BrandProspect Segmentation Algorithm and CMA Prime Prospect Study are available on the CMA members-only Web site,



Issue Date: 12/1/2009  
Get Smart: New Apps for Smart Phones Expand Artist and Record Label Opportunities
By Fett


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

With all the changes underway throughout the music industry, every “win/win” proposition is good news — and luckily one such opportunity is taking shape through new technologies that offer genuine, tangible benefits to fans, software developers, hardware manufacturers, artists, record labels and music publishers.

Perhaps the most exciting area in the new technology market is “smart phone” applications (or, simply, “apps”), spearheaded by the introduction of the Apple iPhone in June 2007 and followed by the iPod Touch and the second-generation iPhone 3G.

While Apple is not the leader in the smart phone market overall, it is the dominant player in the apps market — particularly music-oriented apps, thanks in large part to the integration of the iPhone with Apple’s Web-based iPhone App Store and iTunes music service as well as the iTunes desktop application that runs on both Mac and Windows. But their smart-phone competitors are not standing still. BlackBerry, LG Electronics, Nokia, Palm and Samsung, among others, offer Web-based apps stores and devices that compete directly with the iPhone, and many of the iPhone’s most popular apps are available on those platforms as well.

What’s Different?
Cell phone-based technologies and applications have been around for years, so why are smart phone devices different? While the iPhone, when introduced, had all the usual functions of cell phones at the time (calling, texting, music downloads and more), its entirely touch-based user interface was a true innovation. Suddenly, every activity on the device could — had to — be performed with the swipe of a finger. This simple interface also meant that iPhone apps were simple to build. With the help of an Apple-supplied Software Development Kit and the centralized iPhone App Store on, iPhone apps were much easier and faster for software developers to produce and release to the marketplace. It also meant that many more developers — even individuals — could participate in the iPhone apps space.

Where’s the Music?
By mid April 2009, the Apple iPhone App Store boasted more than 25,000 instantly downloadable apps for myriad facets of life and more than a billion downloads since the iPhone’s introduction. Among those 25,000 apps, about 1,400 were categorized under the “Music” heading. Many of these are now mainstays in the smart phone realm. These include Pandora Media's Pandora Radio (a “personalized radio” app, integrated with the Pandora Web service, that streams music in real time to your custom radio “station” on your smart phone, based on your musical tastes), Clear Channel’s iheartradio, Ltd.’s Radio and Weather Underground’s WunderRadio. Shazam allows you to instantly identify music being played on any source simply by holding your smart phone in the air; you can then watch related music videos on YouTube, get additional information including song lyrics and reviews, purchase the songs directly from iTunes and share the music with your smart-phone-outfitted friends.

Concert Vault provides “access to the world’s largest collection of live concert recordings,” and JamBase offers access to a database of tens of thousands of upcoming music events by date, genre, artist and local proximity. And aside from Concert Vault, which downloads for $5.99, all of these apps are entirely free.

In addition to these offerings for general music fans, there are apps for genre-specific radio stations and programs. These include radio stations and programs (such as WAMU’s “Bluegrass Country” show, $1.99), videos (GoTV Networks’ True Country mobile Country Music videos, 99 cents), news (Crossgate AC’s Country Music News Headlines) and more.

Where’s the Money?
Along with facilitating instant distribution and direct marketing to a prequalified customer base of millions, smart phone apps offer direct and indirect income stream opportunities for the music industry. Fee-based apps, even those for just 99 cents, can add up to a significant revenue stream when multiplied by the tens of millions of potential customers on the Apple App Store alone. And even free apps can generate income from follow-through sales of concert tickets, music, videos, merchandise, promotions and more.

For example, Tapulous, based in Palo Alto, Calif., has developed the wildly popular interactive iPhone music game Tap Tap Revenge and tailored it to artist-specific versions that include Tap Tap Coldplay ($4.99), Nine Inch Nails Revenge ($4.99) and Christmas with Weezer ($1.99). Tapulous, Apple, the artists and their labels each get a cut of the sales. Different songs are posted at each week for gamers to play back as they tap along to their own accompanying beats. Thus far rock artists have dominated the playlist, but according to Tim O’Brien, Head of Business Development at Tapulous, signs are good that Country will make its presence felt as well.

“We’ve already featured tracks by Lady Antebellum and Keith Urban,” he said. “And especially when we put Keith’s ‘Sweet Thing’ up, he did really well — about a quarter million to half a million downloads per week, which is right on target for what our feature tracks of the week have gotten.”

O’Brien confirmed that Tap Tap Revenge 3, made available in late July, included four more tracks from Lady Antebellum and Urban.

Other benefits are available to artists through smart phone apps. The free DMB Setlist provides set lists to fans from every show performed by The Dave Matthews Band. Spilt Milk ($1.99) offers fans a chance to enjoy Fightstar’s music in the form of a song-based game. “American Idol” artist David Cook provides a simulated cigarette lighter that fans can hold up in the air during shows when he performs his hit “Light On” ($1.99). And The Rentals’ free Songs About Time is an iPhone tie-in to the group’s yearlong, multimedia odyssey of the same name.

Several major labels have already jumped into the smart phone app space with multiple artist-specific offerings. Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group lead the way in sheer numbers of apps, but Polydor and Warner Bros. are represented as well. Interscope and SRC/Universal are enlisting the help of EpicTilt and other software development firms that already understand the smart phone app space. Jacobs Media, iLike and other Web services also offer inexpensive, template-based smart phone app development for artists.

The iLike Challenge App, which launched in August, tests how quickly music fans can listen to, and correctly identify, songs from artists. The app is also a valuable discovery tool because it allows users to visit the iTunes Store to purchase the songs they listen to as they compete in the challenge.

What About Us?
Three genres — Country, bluegrass and gospel/Christian — are conspicuously under-represented among artist-specific apps. A search of the iPhone App Store reveals relatively few artists in these categories. But there are signs that change is underway, as a number of Country artists have found their places on this bandwagon in recent months.

Due West’s app allows fans to watch videos, browse photos, read blogs and news, sample music, and more ($1.99); Lady Antebellum’s app offers similar features ($1.99); Emerson Drive’s free app contains live performances, episodes of E-Drive TV, photos, blog messages, games and more; The Oak Ridge Boys’ free app connects users to videos and YouTube clips, new music previews, ticket purchase and a venue locator with restaurant and hotel info and more; Rascal Flatts’ free Unstoppable app includes sample tracks from the band’s entire catalog, access to all videos, tour updates integrated into Google Maps and more; Darius Rucker’s free app includes exclusive video content, tour information, song clips, in-depth song descriptions, Twitter feeds and more; Tanya Tucker’s free app offers blog posts, news bulletins, music samples, photos, videos, a photo puzzle and more; and Keith Urban has partnered with mobile service Zannel to produce a Keith Urban VIP Pass, offering video, picture and text updates ($1.99).

Other genres remain much more amply represented through apps for acts as varied as Death Cab for Cutie, Diddy, The Fray, Heart, Lady Gaga and Pink. For savvy Country artists, this translates into an enormous untapped opportunity. In such uncharted space, any Country artist with a smart phone app will stand out from the crowd.

Emerging Technologies
While smart phone apps may be today’s fastest growing and most talked about technology, a number of other related technologies also hold promise for the music industry. Based in Cupertino, Calif., AirKast has developed TuneKast, an app that allows radio stations to stream audio, video and interactive graphical advertisements to mobile devices and allows them to be targeted according to the listeners’ geographic locations. According to AirKast literature, the app enables broadcasters to “distribute live programming and podcasts and create interactive storage and sharing features for listeners while selling measurable advertising.” TuneKast is available for iPhone, iPod Touch and BlackBerry, with development underway for use with Google Android and Palm Pre.

Satellite radio giant Sirius XM makes its service available for iPhone and iPod Touch, with a dual purpose: to provide existing customers with an alternative listening method to their satellite radio devices, and to attract new customers without requiring them to purchase satellite radio hardware. And MySpace offers a free service, supported by paid advertising, whereby users can view MySpace members’ videos on a wide range of smart phones.

What’s Next?
Each of these new technologies offers growing opportunities for the music industry to better serve and retain fans — and attract new customers — while also growing revenues. While not a panacea, smart phone apps and similar technologies can be a significant component in music distribution, marketing and revenue models. Essentially in their infancy, these technologies show enormous potential. The best news? This is only the beginning of the game; there’s plenty of room and reason for new players to join in.



Issue Date: 11/24/2009  
  • Denny’s Diners Dig Into Rascal Flatts’ Unstoppable Breakfast
  • Gets Real With Joey + Rory
Denny’s Diners Dig Into Rascal Flatts’ Unstoppable Breakfast
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

Country Music fans are always hungry for a great show. But after exiting their favorite live venue, many of them feel a different craving — to share the experience over after-hours eats.

That’s where Denny’s enters the picture. With approximately 1,550 outlets in every state but Wyoming, the restaurant chain is as much a part of the landscape as mountains in Colorado. And since the griddle is hot and the lights are on 24/7 at nearly all of its locations, Denny’s is an ideal destination for late-nighters.

That’s why the company decided to target the 18–24 demographic with its Denny’s All-Nighter campaign, one cornerstone of which became the Rockstar Menu presented by Dr Pepper, a selection of meals created by artists and served exclusively from 10 PM to 5 AM. True to its name, the program featured rock bands initially — Good Charlotte, Gym Class Heroes and Sum 41. But in June, Rascal Flatts became the first Country superstars to add their culinary creations to the list.

Dubbed the Unstoppable Breakfast to tie in with the title of their latest album on Lyric Street Records, this down-home pièce de résistance serves up a biscuit topped with country-fried steak, eggs made to order, American cheese, country gravy and three bacon strips, with hash browns on the side.

The band was eager to sink their teeth into the project. Flying into Denver a day ahead of their concert there, Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney joined Andy Dismore, Denny’s designated “Rockstar Chef,” at a local Denny’s to personally prepare and premiere their recipe. A film crew captured the event, which was featured in a commercial that would air not only on CMT and GAC but also on late-night network programming, to the tune of their single “Summer Nights,” featured on their Unstoppable album. 

“We wanted to convey to fans that this really happened,” explained Michael Polydoroff, Director of New Products Marketing, Denny’s. “They went into the kitchen, put on their chef coats, which we’d stitched their names into, and had fun, so you could see the authenticity and credibility of the dish.”

Though Denny’s doesn’t pay Rockstar Menu participants, it added value to the deal by providing coupons for distribution at Rascal Flatts shows and e-mailing them to the group’s fan database, each of which allowed a free Unstoppable Breakfast with purchase of any other Rockstar menu item.

"Rascal Flatts as a brand has celebrated many firsts," said Heather Conley, Director of Marketing, Lyric Street Records. “A Country artist had never been associated with the Rockstar menu, and the promotion served as a vehicle to reach their core audience and beyond."

On the Web:,


Images for above article.

Jay DeMarcus, Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney show off their Unstoppable Breakfast. photo courtesy of Denny's
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 Gets Real With Joey + Rory
By Bob Doerschuk


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

When Rory Feek, one-half of the husband-and-wife duo Joey + Rory, asked Creative Director Alan Bunton if his reason for inviting them to serve as spokespersons for his company was that they’d won top honors on CMT’s “Can You Duet” talent search in 2008, the answer he got was a surprise.

“He said, ‘I don’t really care if you’re famous or not,’” Rory recalled. “‘What matters to me is that you’re a married couple in love, chasing a dream, living in the country with a little bit of land and a garden and some animals. All across America, in every little town, deep inside, we all have those same dreams, no matter where you’re from. To me, you represent that America.’”

Rory and his wife Joey Martin know that America well. The farmhouse, the cozy country restaurant — Marcy Jo’s Mealhouse — that Joey runs with her sister-in-law Marcy and stocks with homemade bread in tiny Pottsville, Tenn., and the barn before which the husband and wife share a private moment, all depicted on their Web site, are theirs in real life. That, even more than the talent displayed on their Sugar Hill/Vanguard Records debut, The Life of a Song, was what persuaded Bunton to reach out to them.

Timing was important too. The company was in the process of adapting “At Home with the ‘O’” as the slogan for its new advertising campaign when Bunton caught the duo on “Can You Duet.” Within days he was at their farm, getting to know them, explaining the mission of to serve as “an outlet mall to the consumer via the Internet” and working out their arrangement directly with Rory.

They began by shooting a series of commercials. One titled “Love Song” captures a typical day, with Rory phoning his wife from the porch of their house to sing part of a song he’d just written for her; smiling, she orders a gift guitar for him via while listening to his performance. On “If Not for You,” targeted to the Christmas season, we see the restaurant glistening with holiday decorations and filled with friends, to whom they hand out gifts ordered from the online retailer.

This partnership manifests in other ways too. These have included an wrap on their 1955 tour bus as well as a page at on which viewers can play the commercials, read about and leave messages for the duo and order CDs.

“We do the right thing for our customers and our employees, simply because it’s the right thing to do,” said Stormy Simon, Senior VP of Marketing & Customer Care, “And Joey + Rory live the right way, not because anybody is watching but because it’s the right thing to do. People know the difference between real and not real, and these two wonderful people are the real deal.”

On the Web:,


Images for above article.


Joey + Rory film the “If Not For You” commercial for photo courtesy of
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Joey + Rory’s tour bus with an wrap. photo courtesy of
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Issue Date: 11/17/2009  
  • ASCAP President Paul Williams Stands Up For Songwriters
  • Engaging the Empowered Fan
ASCAP President Paul Williams Stands Up For Songwriters
By Randy Rudder


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

With his youthful exuberance and passion for his industry and craft, it’s hard to believe that Paul Williams isn’t a newcomer to the songwriting world. He has been a pillar in that community for decades, stretching back to the hits he wrote for artists including the Carpenters (“Rainy Days and Mondays,” “We’ve Only Just Begun”), Three Dog Night (“Old Fashioned Love Song”) and Helen Reddy (“You and Me Against the World”), not to mention compositions for film (“Evergreen,” from “A Star is Born”) and classic television theme songs (“Love Boat”).

At 68, Williams has embarked on a new phase of his career, having been elected in April to succeed Marilyn Bergman as President and Chairman of the Board of ASCAP.

“I have worked closely with Paul during his eight years as a member of the ASCAP Board of Directors and particularly since he assumed the post of Vice Chairman,” said Bergman, who continues to serve as a member of the ASCAP Board. “He is an outstanding choice to lead the vital work that ASCAP conducts on behalf of all of us who create music.”

His responsibilities include exploring new markets and areas of technology to help writers and publishers fully exploit their catalogues, applying new technologies to track and monitor usage so that writer compensations can be made more accurate and fair, using his ability to perform in the public spotlight, cultivated onstage as an entertainer and in “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” “Smokey and the Bandit” and other films and serving as the organization’s spokesperson.

“Part of my gig is essentially not to forget that this is about the songwriters and the individual artists and finding a way for us to keep up with the technology,” Williams explained. “I love new media and I love new technology. My wife says I’m addicted to it. She’s always telling me, ‘Paulie, step away from the iPhone and talk to me!’”

Having been on both sides of the fence as an artist and an administrator, this winner of Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe Awards and Songwriters Hall of Fame member understands the personal satisfaction that comes from writing as well as the fact that it goes only so far toward paying the mortgage. “As a writer, the first payment you get is mental health,” Williams said. “It’s free therapy. I mean, you get dumped by somebody and you sit down at the piano and you put some of those feelings down on paper. That’s very rewarding.

“The second payment is fair compensation,” he continued. “And the third payment is what I call heart payment. Someone comes up to you and says, ‘We got married to “We’ve Only Just Begun,”’ or ‘My mom was a single mom and “You and Me Against the World” was a really important song to her and she used to play it and she’d cry,’ or ‘My daughter learned to play piano to “The Rainbow Connection.”’ That’s heart payment to a songwriter. So the first and third kinds of payments are great, but you need the one in the middle to survive.”

Writers as well as their performing rights organizations bear responsibility for communicating the importance of that second payment. “Part of my message as President of ASCAP is to remind the public we write from the center of our chest, writing what we feel, and people are falling in love to it and dancing to it and teaching their kids to play piano to it," Williams said. "But we’re also small businesspeople. The songwriters that I represent deserve to be well compensated for that.”

As an example of what ASCAP can contribute, Williams cited Donny the Downloader, the animated character that the organization developed to teach young people about moral and legal issues related to illegal file sharing.

“I used to think we had an Ethics 101 problem,” he said. “But what we have is an education problem. People are not bad. People are basically good. They know that they can’t walk into a store and steal a CD. They know that’s wrong. But they’ve been taught that taking music off the Internet is OK. Donny the Downloader is this little kid on a skateboard. It’s also an educational device aimed at elementary-aged kids. And we do need to do a little more with the older kids — something similar with high school and college kids too.”

Williams believes that as long as young people think of record labels and music publishers as huge corporate conglomerates that don’t need the money, the likelihood of illegal downloading increases. “We need to get this concept of these behemoths fighting over a piece of cheese out of people’s minds,” he insisted. “There are a number of ways that we can do this. For sure, legislatively: We need to hit the halls of Congress and make sure they understand that as technology changes, we need to keep the laws abreast of it.”

Public relations is an essential complement to legal action, Williams added. “For me, that little ‘c’ in the copyright circle also stands for ‘collaborative’ and ‘communicative,’” he said. “I have a chance to maybe do some healing in my new position. We’ve had to do some work in the courts; when people get a license and then refuse to pay, we have to take them to court. But I want my message to be a little friendlier. I want it to be, ‘We’re not looking to seek and destroy; we’re looking to seek and develop relationships.’

There are incredible new avenues for generating revenue for writers. It’s up to us to discover those new avenues. We’re on the ball constantly, stepping forward to license ringtones and greeting cards. When you open a card and it’s got a couple of bars from ‘I Won’t Last a Day Without You,’ that’s pretty exciting for the songwriter. But you can’t buy potatoes with just the excitement of hearing your song in a card. You also have to be compensated for it.”

Based in Los Angeles, Williams plans to travel often to Nashville, not just to exercise his responsibilities as President but also because the city holds personal meaning to him as a songwriter. Recalling a visit in the ’90s for Tin Pan South, he said, “I basically thought I was done with writing. I had gotten involved in the recovery community. And, I swear to God, there is something in the water there. I hit town, and the level of comfort I felt there was incredible. I felt respected and I felt safe, and all of a sudden I wanted to write songs again. One of the first guys I wanted to write with was Jon Vezner. We sat down and wrote ‘You’re Gone,’ which two years later was a hit for Diamond Rio.

“What happened to me in Nashville was I fell in love with music again,” Williams elaborated. “I don’t think I would be the President of ASCAP, I wouldn’t even be on the Board at ASCAP for the past eight years, if it hadn’t been for the time I spent in Nashville. So I want to spend a lot more time in Nashville.”

In assessing the art of Country songwriting, Williams admires in particular its openness to lyrical depth. “What I’d been trying to do for a lot of years was not be myself,” he said. “I was trying to be clever instead of being honest. In a Country song, honesty is so much more important than being clever. There’s an amazing growth of creativity in Nashville. I want to be a part of that. Every genre of music is just exploding out of Nashville. And I want to get the young writers, the edgy writers, onboard and let them know that ASCAP is a great home for them.”

On the subject of new writers, Williams noted, “The music business has become so fragmented. And one of the changes, I fear, for new writers is that they may not have the chance to get the kinds of hands-on experience that I got when I wandered into A&M Records in 1967. What I got there was a publisher named Chuck Kaye, a co-writer named Roger Nichols and Herb Alpert’s record company, that all offered this amazing expertise that helped guide my career and the great choices that a publisher made on behalf of my songs. I think that’s going to be missing from a lot of careers today.”

It is clear that Williams has a heart for new writers. “Right now, there’s some young writer working at a keyboard with a headset on because the baby is sleeping in the next room and the spouse may have a day job so the writer can do this. And this person has an amazing gift and a chest full of pain and heartache and dreams. I want to help them get their music to the world.”

This empathy is more than professional. “I’ve had more 17-hour days since April than I’ve had in my whole life,” Williams said. “But I am a songwriter first. I’ll always be a songwriter. I’m not a songwriter because I make a good living at it, even though I do. I’m a songwriter because it’s part of how I know I’m alive.”

On the Web:;


Images for above article.


ASCAP President and Chairman Paul Williams and former ASCAP President and Chairman Marilyn Bergman at 2009 ASCAP Pop Music Awards. photo: Lester Cohen
Photo: See Caption


Paul Williams makes debut address as President and Chairman of ASCAP at ASCAP's "I Create Music" Expo. photo: Lester Cohen
Photo: See Caption



Engaging the Empowered Fan
By Bob Doerschuk and Phyllis Stark


© 2009 CMA Close Up® News Service / Country Music Association®, Inc.

The mechanics of writing, planning, recording and marketing music have been in place for years. Recently, though, another component has come into the picture and is rapidly making itself an indispensible part of the representation, particularly in the realm of Country Music.

That component is the fan base. Record labels have increasingly been looking toward fans for input into everything from song selection to album cover art.

Reasons for fans' ascension into the creative process are many and complex, but John Gusty, Digital Strategist with the Black River Music Group (BRMG), dates it to one milestone moment. “The traditional drivers have always been radio and retail,” said Gusty, who developed his insights into this phenomenon as VP, Marketing and Artist Relations, at his previous company, echo. “But when iTunes took over from Wal-Mart as the No. 1 retailer in the country, that was a monumental moment because iTunes sells just digital product, and because things can be transported digitally between you and me, without a radio station or a retailer in the middle, fans became absolutely in control.”

A significant change, to be sure, but as Gusty and others in the vanguard of the industry see it, it promises exciting challenges and a potential payoff that’s unique to Country. The key lies in the relationship between the artist and the fan, which is arguably more intimate and enduring than in any other genre. “In pop and rock music, you’re only as good as your last single,” said Shay Boone, who is also a Digital Strategist at BRMG and former Street Marketing Manager at echo. “But a Country Music fan is a fan for life.”

This insight underscores Gusty’s and Boone’s work at echo with Jeff Bates, which continues at BRMG. Established since his RCA Records Nashville debut in 2003 as a gifted artist with a strong traditional bent, he reinforced that impression in 2008 with his first BRMG album, Jeff Bates. One track in particular, “Riverbank,” proved an ideal vehicle for getting fans involved. With its references to fishing as a symbol of lost innocence, this song, written by Bates, Robert Arthur and Kirk Roth, resonated strongly with fans when released as a single in August 2008.

“We got so many letters that we decided to ask Jeff’s street team to send in photos of themselves fishing with their family members,” said Boone. “We got hundreds of them. People sent in videos too. We had already filmed a video of Jeff for this song, but when we decided to incorporate some of those photos as an extra touch, that was a great way to tie in the traditional with the new.”

Before premiering the video on and YouTube in October 2008, BRMG sent an e-mail to fans, alerting them to look for themselves in its photo and video montage. “That caught their attention right away,” Boone said. “The fans were thrilled. And that video has had more than 33,000 views on YouTube as of August 2009.”

Fan input was integral to The Valory Music Co.’s promotion for new artist Justin Moore, whose self-titled album dropped in August 2009. In a 10-week campaign titled “So You Want to Be a Record Label Executive,” fans were encouraged to review two new songs from Moore each week for 10 weeks and vote on their favorites. The Top 10 vote getters made the cut as album tracks.

Fans could listen via a widget placed on social networking sites including Digital Rodeo, Facebook, iLike and MySpace, as well as the label’s site. Radio stations that were early adopters of Moore’s first single also participated via their sites. Listeners could then post the widget on their own social networking pages, which got more voters involved while virally expanding awareness of Moore.

“Fans like to take ownership,” said Kelly Rich, VP of Sales, Marketing and Interactive, The Valory Music Co. “If they feel they are part of the process from the beginning, the long term connection with the artist can be stronger.”

A commitment to abide by the final tally can be challenging for labels, but Moore and the executives at Valory insisted that the voting results either validated their own preferences or yielded pleasant surprises. For instance, the strong response to “Small Town USA,” written by Moore, Brian Maher and Jeremy Stover, confirmed the label’s inclination to release it as the second single. On the other hand, “Hank It,” by the same trio of writers, was considered questionable because of its perceived skew toward male listeners and that it might be too aggressive or too tongue in cheek. But the song drew a strong response, with the unexpected twist that it appealed more strongly to women, and wound up as the album’s closing track.

“The participation was even more than we expected,” said Jon Loba, VP of Promotion and Artist Development, The Valory Music Co. “It was truly a case of letting the consumers have a voice.”

BRMG and Valory are certainly not alone in stepping up efforts to solicit fan involvement. Last year, Big Machine Records invited the first 10,000 Taylor Swift fans who pre-ordered her Fearless album to submit photos of themselves, which then became part of a mosaic picture poster that was included in the packaging and made available on her Web site.

Lyric Street Records, meanwhile, teamed up with the People’s Choice Awards to summon Rascal Flatts fans to submit original cover designs for the group’s Unstoppable album. The top four submissions chosen by the band and the label were made available for fan voting via the People’s Choice Web site.

And Capitol Records Nashville encouraged Dierks Bentley fans to log onto his Web site to help determine what content should be included on his first greatest hits collection. The first 3,000 fans who participated in the promotion were listed as executive producers in the album’s liner notes.

“You’re always trying to get closer in when you’re a fan and there may not be opportunities to do it,” added Moore. “But any time we can include the fans more, it’s our job to do that. Any time they feel like they had a part in something, they’re going to want to buy that album and listen to that album more.”

On the Web:;


Images for above article.




Jeff Bates; photo: Melinda Norris
Photo: See Caption


Justin Moore rocks the crowd in Bowling Green, Ky. photo: April Cole
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Cover artwork for Rascal Flatts’ "Unstoppable," designed by Chris Kubik and chosen from thousands of fan-submitted designs. Artwork courtesy of Lyric Street Records
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Album artwork includes thanks from Dierks Bentley and list of fans as “executive producers” in notes for "Greatest Hits / Every Mile a Memory 2003-2008." Artwork courtesy of Capitol Records Nashville
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