“One of the biggest thrills of being a publisher is when you get a great song, and you are so excited you go pitch it immediately,” says Tom Luteran, VP of A&R for EMI Music Publishing Nashville. “I love to call somebody and say ‘you gotta give me three minutes to hear this song.’” That’s what happened a year or two ago with “Honey Bee.” Luteran recalls, “Rusty Gaston [from This Music] called me up and said, ‘we’ve gotta go see Scott Hendricks [at Warner] right now. Scott loved it immediately, and it became a big hit for Blake Shelton. That kind of success opens the door for future pitches.”
“Big Tom,” as the 6’6″ A&R man is known to friends, joined EMI Music a decade ago, but his story starts way before that. He moved to Nashville in 1994, relocating from what he jokingly refers to as “country music hotbed New Jersey.” “I wanted to combine my love of music with the sales experience I gained after college,” he explains. “I just packed up a U-Haul and moved. I didn’t know anybody.”
A temp agency placed him in RCA’s finance department, working with a then-new Paul Barnabee, who has since climbed the ranks to Sony Music Nashville, Sr. VP, Sales & Operations. Barnabee’s New York roots meshed well with Luteran’s New Jersey background, and Luteran managed to drag out his temp job for several months. In the summer of 1995 Luteran scored his first publishing gig. A year later he moved to Zomba Music for a five year run working with songwriters including Mutt Lange and George Teren.
By 2002, Luteran’s reputation as a songman was growing. In the same week he was approached with job offers from both Acuff Rose and EMI. “It was a really, really difficult decision,” he recalls. He joined the team at Acuff Rose, but six months later the company was sold to Sony/ATV and he was out of a job. He says, “Thank God Gary Overton [who was then heading EMI] had a soft spot in his heart for me—maybe because he’s from New Jersey too—because he let me come on board and I’ve been there ever since. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work for two amazing guys—Gary first and Ben Vaughn now—and to be able to learn from them.”
Since joining EMI, Luteran has guided the careers of some of Nashville’s top tunesmiths, including as an early supporter of Jamey Johnson. “I was floored the first time I heard him,” says Luteran. “Pound for pound, he’s one of the most talented guys I’ve ever come across. There are certain songs that you remember the first time you heard them, and ‘In Color’ was one of those. It was an amazing song, and he’s written several songs like that. He also wrote ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’ with Randy Houser and Dallas Davidson. I’ll never forget the look on the face of [Capitol’s] Autumn House the first time I played it for her. I’m grateful she took it to Trace Adkins, it went on to monster success.”
Among the hit writers signed to EMI are Davidson, Rhett Akins, Kelley Lovelace, and the Warren Brothers. Luteran says the office’s motto is “no writer left behind,” and when they get a song they think is ideal for a particular artist, they “attack from all points,” covering the management, producer, and label.
EMI has also had significant pop success in recent years. Country hitmaker Tom Shapiro scored cuts by Kelly Clarkson, Adam Lambert and Dia Frampton, and the Warrens penned songs for Joss Stone and Hinder.
Luteran attributes theses crossover cuts to Jon Platt, EMI’s President, North America Creative. “He made a conscious decision to make sure that our creative departments in New York, Nashville, L.A. and Miami get together. Our creative retreats have grown from two days to five days, mixing and matching genres. The Nashville writers and L.A. writers get together more often now, and the creative teams in each city know each other much better.”
As for the newer artist/writers signed to EMI, Luteran is excited about Thomas Rhett (BMLG), The Henningsens (Sony), and Drake White (UMG). “There are so few people who to get work in a job they love, and I’m one of them,” Luteran says gratefully. “Everyday I get to discover great songs.”