It’s hard to believe exactly one week ago I was soaking up the sun and on a beach covering a music festival in Mexico! I was lucky enough to be asked back to cover Luke Bryan’s third annual Crash My Playa festival in Mexico this past weekend for Sounds Like Nashville. For four days, nearly 60,000 country music fans flew to Mexico to witness country music in a picturesque setting. Hosted by Bryan, each day included poolside concerts and nightly performances on the beach at the Barceló resort in Riviera Maya.
While each night boasted a new headliner — Little Big Town, Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton — Saturday night was the most memorable evening as Shelton had an hour-long encore where many of his famous friends made a surprise appearance.
“It’s 11:06. I think that’s time to rock,” Shelton said after performing “Footloose,” his first song during the encore. Moments later girlfriend Gwen Stefani ran onto the stage for a high intensity one-song set of No Doubt’s “Hella Good” where she had everyone jumping on her command.
“Holy! That’s Gwen Stefani for real,” Shelton said after Stefani left, blowing him a kiss. “That’s gonna cost Luke. We are in overtime so we can do whatever the hell we want. I’m tired of my own songs. I want to play other people’s songs. Let’s see what happens.”
Shelton’s band then became the karaoke bar band for the remainder of the evening. As the familiar opening riff from George Strait’s “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” was played Bryan entered the stage to join in on the fun. Several minutes later Little Big Town made their appearance to assist on Restless Heart’s “The Bluest Eyes in Texas” where they stayed for the remainder of the night.
Drinks in hand for each singer, the country stars and friends then performed covers of Rhett Akins’ “That Ain’t My Truck,” Billy Joel’s “My Life,” Mel McDaniel’s “Baby’s Got Her Blue Jeans On,” Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon,” The Bellamy Brothers’ “If I Said You Had a Beautiful Body,” Rupert Holmes’ “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” Hank Jr.‘s “Family Tradition,” Dwight Yoakam’s “Guitars, Cadillacs” and Garth Brooks’ “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old).” It was an epic end to Shelton’s previous 90-minute set.
Throughout the weekend I had the pleasure of chatting with Dustin Lynch, Old Dominion, Brothers Osborne, Brooke Eden and Adam Craig. Stay tuned for my interviews and to read each nightly recap, visit Sounds Like Nashville.
Songwriting Session is a column that goes behind-the-scenes with artists and songwriters. Each Sunday, a new songwriter will share their journey and provide lessons they’ve learned along the way. This week, Paul Compton shares what he has learned from working with Nashville songwriters as a song plugger.
Paul Compton was drawn to music from an early age. He played in his first band shortly after high school and eventually received a performance scholarship at Calhoun Community College in Alabama. In 1990, he moved to Nashville and completed his degree in Recording Industry Management at Middle Tennessee State University.
A fan of music and songwriting, Compton found himself interning at a publishing company called Murrah Music Corporation for two semesters. It just so happened that once his second semester ended, his boss exited which left a position open at the company. So, prompted by another employee, he applied and got the job. Compton would find himself at the same company for the next 17 years where he helped the early careers of many up-and-coming singer/songwriters including superstar in the making, Luke Bryan.
Compton recalls meeting Bryan around 2002 and while he says he never predicted the remarkable success that the “Move” singer would eventually have, he knew Bryan had the drive and determination to make it in the industry having come from a family of hard workers.
“When he walked in a room, before anybody even know who Luke Bryan was going to be, he could captivate a room,” Compton recalls. “This big southern voice, good looking guy, looks like a young Elvis, walks in a room and just lights up the party. You knew that if he could capture that in some artistic way on the stage with his songs, that people were going to respond because they did that before they even knew he could sing.”
Compton says Bryan was like a sponge when it came to learning about songwriting. He often borrowed what he could from people who had years of experience on him and soon went from someone they signed as an artist who wrote a little bit to becoming a “really respectable writer.”
Bryan’s early cuts included the title track off Travis Tritt’s 2004 album, Honky Tonk History and Billy Currington’s No. 1 song “Good Directions.”
“Luke started getting attention as a writer before his artistry was brought to fruition. He came at ideas from a different angle, wrote with writers who taught him how to craft a song. He was a good student and he worked hard. That was the deal with Luke,” Compton adds.
Compton says his job started out as a professional manager, what a lot of people in the industry call a song plugger. In addition to pitching songs to artists, he acted as a manager by setting up co-writes as well as demo production. He learned a lot from the publisher’s owner Roger Murrah, who is a Hall of Fame songwriter, and recalls Murrah having the perfect career attributes of being both creative and business savvy, which he says is often rare to find.
“I worked with him for 17 years, mentoring off of him, and slowly was promoted inside the company all the way up to Senior Vice President, which is the position I held for the last ten years that I worked there. We helped mentor young, aspiring professional writers to get to their first level and second level of success. Some of those writers, a great majority of them, went on to have No. 1 songs. I was a part of helping a lot of those writers get established, and get their songs cut. ”
For 17 years the company grew and was recognized by Billboard as Independent Publisher of the Year. Some of Compton’s personal successes included pitching what would become career songs for Kenny Chesney and Rascal Flatts. While he says there isn’t a direct science to getting a song in the hands of a popular artist, Compton would always pitch songs he believed in.
“I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of great firsts. Great songs that were a big part of not only the writer’s career but may have been a big part of the artist’s career,” he says with a smile. “I remember a young Kenny Chesney coming in, who had just gotten signed to RCA and they had cut most of his record, and they were looking for a few more songs. He was really desperate to find an uptempo song. I was back and forth playing him song after song of these uptempo songs, and towards the end of the meeting I kept asking, ‘Are you sure you don’t want to hear a ballad?’ He kept shooting me down, ‘No, I need uptempo.'”
Eventually Barry Beckett, Chesney’s producer at the time, urged him to try a ballad. So, Compton played him “When I Close My Eyes” written by Nettie Musick and Mark Alan Springer.
“He literally jumped off the couch, ran around the room, and it was almost like he had just scored a touchdown, he was so excited,” Compton recalls.
The song would be featured on Chesney’s 1996 album Me And You and make it all the way to No. 1 on the R&R chart (Radio and Records). It would also be his first No. 1 hit as an artist. Compton would have similar success with a brand new trio in 1999 — Rascal Flatts. Once again he was told by the band’s producer, Mark Bright, that ballads just weren’t probable at country radio. He recalls him saying, “A ballad right now is impossible. A midtempo is next to impossible. We just need uptempo songs to finish the record.”
Compton had only brought a midtempo and a ballad with him to the meeting, where 10 other song pluggers went around in a circle and pitched their songs. So, he started with the midtempo. He was the last one at the table and was getting increasingly more nervous as his turn came to play the ballad.
“I’m sitting there the whole time sweating bullets and thinking, ‘I’m holding a ballad and that’s all I’ve got.’ It’s like playing poker when you know you have nothing, and you’ve got all the chips on the table,” he reasons. “I believe in this song, I know it’s a hit song, I know it’s great. It kills me. It’s brand new, maybe I’m just too in love with it. I start trying to talk myself out of it. It gets all the way back around to me and I had no choice. I’m like, ‘Here’s the moment of truth. Either they’re going to laugh me out of the room, kick me out of the room, or think I’m a complete idiot, but I’m totally committed to this song, I believed in the song.'”
So, he plays the song and the room remains silent as the track comes to a close.
“It’s like that awkward thing where you tell a joke and nobody laughs right away. It’s like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ Then it’s almost like everybody exhaled, and Mark Bright said, ‘They can like it now or they can like it later, but we’re cutting this song.'”
That song — “I’m Movin’ On” written by Phillip White and D. Vincent Williams — would become the last single released off the band’s self-titled debut album in 2000 and garner them an ACM Song of the Year win.
“It was a good moment for them and a great moment for us,” Compton adds. “I love songs that go past the entertainment value, that actually change people’s lives. I remember seeing emails and reading stories about how there were people contemplating suicide, going through a drug addiction, who were in prison. There were people going through the lowest point in their life and they heard that song, and it gave them hope that they could move on. When you’re a small part of something like that and you put it out into this world that went way past just entertainment, that’s a pretty special feeling. I hope Nashville can continue to celebrate those kind of talents and that kind of creativity that can foster those kind of songs.”
Murrah Music was bought out in 2009 and the company has since dissolved. Compton, however, has far from stopped helping up-and-coming songwriters. He has started a management company called Music Highway Writers Services that is strictly focused on writers. While he works on a daily basis with artists and singer/songwriters, he prides himself in helping the unsigned writer who hasn’t gotten their break yet. His goal is to help each writer get to the next level. Additionally, he helps the older, more established writers stay connected and plugged into the Nashville songwriting scene and acts as a consultant for those hoping to build their own publishing companies. Compton aims to help Nashville newcomers to navigate the waters easily and with nearly 30 years in the business, he is offering his talents to many Music City transplants.
“There’s a saying I used to have in my office, ‘You become successful by helping others become successful.’ That has been the motto of my career. I’m only successful if my writers and my artists that I work with can find success, and I’m happy with them getting all of the spotlight, because that’s not what I came to town to do. When they have their moment, there’s no better feeling in the world than to watch them revel in their moment.”
Awarded Top New Solo Vocalist and Top New Artist at the Academy of Country Music Awards last month, singer-songwriter Luke Bryan is making a name for himself in the country music scene. While hit ballad, “Do I” topped the charts, current single “Rain Is a Good Thing” is following suit as 2010 gears up to be a promising one for Bryan. Most recently, he was nominated for CMT’s Breakthrough Video of the Year for “Do I.”
Last year, I attended CMA Music Festival’s nightly press conference and asked Bryan a few questions. To find out more on his hit song co-written with Lady Antebellum, his thoughts on headlining and plans for this year’s CMA Music Fest read below. Stay tuned for more interviews from 2009’s CMA Fest next week.
How has your experience been so far this week at CMA Fest? It was good! We did our fan club party yesterday and I realized that…I guess we had two hours and I was like, “We gotta do four next year.” I really wanted to sit down and talk. My drummer does a mean Aaron Neville and we let him come around and sing a little Aaron Neville. I actually wanted to do more [of that] because that’s stuff we do on the bus. Whatever gets you through the monotony of riding down the road. I wanted to do stuff like that with every musician in my band but we were running out of time. I wasn’t doing any songs and I think they probably wanted to hear a few of those. It’s been great watching the fan club grow. Next year we’re thinking about having two fan club parties or a bigger event.
What do you want to do when you have the headlining stage? You dream your whole life to headline and I’m using this time now to work out kinks and get smarter and get bigger. I’ve got it all in my head, but it’s just the time to get there. I love when people say, “We feel like you already are a headliner.” But, I know I’m a long way from it. The beauty of last year getting to tour with Kenny [Chesney], you see headlining at the largest scale possible and what’s involved. I remember that whole tour I just sat back and watched it all and took it in and saw the things he did. Even when I was out front watching Keith Urban on a lot of those dates, I’m always memorized by the headliners. Just how they take over you. That’s what you work at and work hard for. The best answer is, I’m constantly dreaming of it and being prepared for that moment when you feel that momentum to where you’re fixing to start selling out 5,000 seaters. That’s what I pray for every night to get to that point. But, not to say I’m going to join that right now either.
What about the 60,000 outside at LP Field tonight? Well, talking about Kenny, that was the beauty of that tour. It gets me comfortable in that environment. It’s been a year, but I walked out there [tonight] and I felt like I knew how to point at them way over there because I got a chance to do it last year with Kenny. It feels good to walk out there and have that many people looking at you. It’s what it’s all about. If you’re not prepared…you gotta go do that, so you have to be ready for it. It’s fun be comfortable up there.
You have a trio of friends that helped you out on your new single. Charles [Kelley] and Dave [Haywood] of Lady A helped me write my current single, “Do I.” I wouldn’t say helped. We all wrote it together. They drove up to the house, we sat on the porch and drank a couple beers and now I have a single out. When we demoed it Hillary [Scott] heard it and flipped out over it and said, “Luke you have to cut it!” When we recorded it, there was no other background singer I could use other than Hillary. Lady A is all over that song. It’s been fun. I was on their bus earlier and showed them the video. We just got done with the video for it. To see their excitement…they’re there winning all the group awards and to watch them get excited about having a Luke Bryan song out there is a pretty special thing.
What are you thinking about while you’re onstage performing? I really don’t know. I went through a point when I was out with Trace [Adkins] and I started thinking about what was going through my mind and the only thing that would happen was I would forget the words to my song. You try not to get too heady with it. Back to the headlining thing, there will be a day where I’ll have to be in one spot. Right now, that’s the fun part. My guitar player and I have been playing together for 13 years and we can just look at each other and make a move that hopefully looks somewhat planned and not stupid. I think the spontaneity and the non-structure of it makes it more comfortable. When you see someone walk to that spot and do their run of the mill poses, I’ve never been a fan of that. I’m crazy when we’re out there doing 140 shows a year. When we get 10 in a row where they’re the same that’s when I start losing momentum and talk to the band and say, “Guys I’m going to start calling out crazy stuff” just to break the monotony of it.
On September 26th, you’re the honoree spokesperson for National Hunting and Fishing Day. How is it to share something you already love and are passionate about? It’s funny, when I heard I was doing that you don’t know exactly how big of a deal it is. About two months in, after several PSA’s and doing all that, I remembered the time with my dad we spent outdoors and just how important that is for children. You’re fishing and you’re hunting and that’s not the real deal that’s going on. You’re spending time with your family. I remember all the lessons. Me and my dad would fish every weekend it seemed. It’s been an honor to share some stories of mine and hopefully build more awareness. More and more of the outdoors are getting smaller. I just hope I bring awareness to it and get some people out there enjoying the outdoors.
Your single “Do I” has really allowed you to spread your wings both creatively and vocally. Was there any anxiety about new single because it is a departure for you? Yeah. My first departure with “We Rode in Trucks,” my second single, didn’t go as well as I had planned. With “All My Friends Say” I think everybody wanted to keep hearing up-tempo, fun, party stuff. Everyone wanted a big summer hit and to come out with a ballad, we thought about it for a second, but we had so much excitement about the song. When you hear this song recorded you feel like it’s great. I feel like it’s really a great shot and my chance to show a different side of me where I sing some. To branch out and have a shot at hopefully a big top 5 or even a number one and have everyone so excited about it was fun too.
Watch Luke Bryan perform “Do I” below, for the official music video click here. For more, visit his Web site.
This week is country music week on You Sing I Write. I’ll be attending Lady Antebellum, Laura Bell Bundy and Taylor Swift concerts throughout the week and figured it makes perfect sense to introduce you to some up-and-coming country acts too. Stay tuned to Twitter for live reporting and recaps of each show!
As far as this week’s poll, I have some press room interviews of last year’s CMA Music Festival that I haven’t gotten up on the blog yet and I want to know which one you’re dying to read. I’ll transcribe the artist that gets the most votes for you the end of the week. (And, if you’re lucky maybe the rest next week!)