Spirit Music’s Daniel Hill Talks Acquisitions, Artist Development

Daniel Hill

Spirit Music Nashville’s Daniel Hill.

Since being named president of Spirit Music Nashville, Daniel Hill and his team have focused on expanding the company’s artist management, production and publishing capabilities. Hill, former Cal IV Entertainment president, assumed his post following Spirit’s acquisition of Cal IV last year.

“We chose Spirit as much as they chose us,” says Hill, who worked at Cal IV since 2000. “I knew we wanted to keep the momentum we had going with Cal IV. We had great artists, development happenings and other ventures with the management and production as well as publishing. Instead of just letting a larger company absorb the roster, we saw that Spirit Music was a great fit because they didn’t have a presence in Nashville. They wanted a catalog, so we offered them essentially a turnkey operation. They also have a plan to expand the catalog and writers, so it’s nice to be in an expanding, building mode, so we can take advantage of opportunities.”

Since opening the Nashville office, Spirit Music has wasted no time growing its song catalog. Spirit Music Group acquired StyleSonic’s catalog, a collection that contained hits including “Drink To That All Night” “Feel That Fire,” “It Felt Good On My Lips,” and “Highway Don’t Care,” as well as “a treasure trove of uncut songs,” according to Hill. “There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit to get placed, and we should have some great success having new cuts as well as mining the hits that are already in there.”

Spirit Music Group also acquired West Main Music, brimming with potential hit songs for the CCM market. The acquisitions bolster the company’s stable of potential hits in what has increasingly become a singles-driven market over the past several years.

“Sales peaked back in 2000 and we’ve seen a steady decline for the past 15 years. With the decline of album sales, it’s more and more about single sales and performance royalties. The market has changed to a singles market, which changes the dynamics of making deals…writer deals…because traditionally we recoup out of mechanical sales. It’s really hard for a writer to recoup these days. Whereas before we could have a songwriter with a few album cuts on some multi-platinum records and they paid almost as well as a hit single, as far as what they would be recouping. Now, you really have to be creative and it’s more and more about getting the hit song. That has changed how we think about the roster.”

Still, the company continues to nurture new writers. “We pride ourselves in finding talent early and not just paying for big-name marquee writers. But acquiring catalogs helps us to do the nurturing because you have the cash flow, so it goes hand in hand.”

Among the artists and songwriters signed to the publishing company are Jim Collins, Rose Falcon, Chris Wallin, and Triple Run members Brittany Taylor, Eric Knutson, and Matt Singleton. Spirit Music is one of many publishers that has seen an increase in the number of singer-songwriter signees who also have aspirations to be artists. “More and more labels are not signing green artists,” Hill says. “They want most of the blood, sweat and tears to be done, so they can then put their own blood, sweat and tears into it.”

Many A&R duties traditionally handled by labels now fall to publishers. “We have to do demos, so oftentimes we will do limited pressings, which are easier and less costly to upgrade to a master,” Hill says. “We have a studio here, so that allows us to spend more time getting the vocals right, overdubbing and experimenting. You normally wouldn’t do that with the average songwriter deal. A key part of the development process is keeping the end-game in mind; we are trying to make a record, not just a demo.”

Taking it a step further, they oftentimes enlist aid in the areas of imaging, hair/makeup, wardrobe, and photography, and then bring all of those elements together to present the artist in a professional, developed light.

Offering multiple services is not only a boon for aspiring artist/writers, but it means increased potential future earnings for Spirit Music Nashville as well. “If we can develop an artist on a major label who is a great songwriter themselves, then we might get 11 songs on the album instead of one.”

Regardless of a new client’s star potential, Hill maintains that it is always about the song. “The first thing we ask is, ‘Is this person a great songwriter first?’ That’s because we are a publisher first. That’s at the core of our artist development.”

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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