Exclusive: Carla Wallace Talks Big Yellow Dog Music’s Evolution With Artist Development, Synch Placement

Carla Wallace

Earlier this week, Jessie James Decker earned her first No. 1 country album with Southern Girl City Lights (her first release for Epic Records). Decker, also a songwriter for Nashville’s Big Yellow Dog Music (BYD), penned nine of the 12 tracks on the album, which was produced by fellow BYD writer Daniel Agee. The company signed Decker as an artist-writer in 2014, and released several singles on its in-house record label, which led to Decker’s signing with Epic.

Decker’s recent success is another feather in the cap for Big Yellow Dog Music, a multi-faceted company with a roster of 19 talented music makers, which co-owner Carla Wallace launched in 1998 with Kerry O’Neil. More recently, the company has become as known for artist development as for publishing, helping launch the careers of Decker’s fellow artist-writers including Meghan Trainor and Maren Morris. Wallace says much of that success is attributed to knowing a publisher’s role in the process.

“Artist development is not something that anyone but the artist can do,” Wallace tells MusicRow.com. “It’s always up to them.

“As a publisher who loves working with new talent, recognizing your place within that role comes first to me. Most writers/artists need room to breathe, room to make mistakes, room to write the best & worst without someone standing over top of them whacking them into shape. Although I do my share of whacking when necessary,” she quips.

Big Yellow Dog Music celebrates Jessie James Decker’s album sales success. Pictured (Back row, L-R): Daniel Tashian, Shane Stevens, Jessie James Decker, Daniel Agee, Micah Wilshire, Matt McVaney. (Front row, L-R): Abe Stoklasa; Jessie’s sister, Sydney Bass; Alyssa Bonagura; Jessie’s daughter, Vivianne Decker

This year alone, BYD writers have earned chart-toppers including Lauren Alaina’s “Road Less Traveled” (co-written by BYD writer and pop star Meghan Trainor), the Florida Georgia Line/Backstreet Boys Platinum-selling smash “God, Your Mama, and Me” (co-penned by Josh Kear), and Josh Turner’s “Hometown Girl” (Daniel Tashian). The company is the reigning AIMP Independent Publisher of the Year. That is in addition to numerous cuts by BYD writers on albums from Chris Stapleton, Dustin Lynch, Lindsay Ell, Sara Evans, Joe Nichols, Charlie Worsham, and Robert Randolph and the Family Band.

28th Annual MusicRow Awards (C) Moments By Moser Photography

Columbia Nashville artist Morris is currently nominated for CMA’s Female Vocalist of the Year, as well as Musical Event of the Year and Music Video of the Year (for “Craving You” with Thomas Rhett). She recently topped the iTunes chart with the compelling “Dear Hate,” featuring Vince Gill on backing vocals. This success follows her breakout singles “My Church” and “’80s Mercedes,” as well as her slow burn current single “I Could Use A Love Song.”

But from the beginning, Morris had Wallace in her corner, championing her no matter which direction Morris’ career would take.

“She would set me up with writers in Nashville and Los Angeles that were out of the box and wrote pop and all sorts of stuff,” Morris says. “At one point, Carla and I flew out to LA. She hooked me up with this girl Audra Mae, who is such a badass and really inspired me. That was the week I wrote “My Church” with busbee. She took me to his place, which was way outside of Los Angeles. Then she picked me up, and the three of us went and got sushi. We were buzzing from the write. I was, like, Carla, I can’t wait for you to hear this. After dinner, busbee and I played her the demo of “My Church.” She freaked out. We were all freaking out. We really thought we had something special.

That song changed my whole thinking pattern from ‘songwriter’ to ‘artist.’ That was the first song I wrote where I was, like, I need to keep this. Carla was the first person we played it for, and she obviously, instantly got it.”

Big Yellow Dog’s in-house label also released Logan Mize’s Come Back Road, which earned Top 20 status on the country albums chart. Wallace and her staff also began working with R&B singer Shy Carter on his album Tha Fountain of Juice Vol. 1.

“I first met Shy probably 10 years ago. I couldn’t believe someone like him was crafting songs with such freshness, I introduced him right away to Meghan Trainor & Billy Currington. I wanted to work with him because I couldn’t stand hearing how great his music was, and not doing something about it.”

Big Yellow Dog’s aim to seek new ways of getting writers and artist-writers’ music into the ears and hearts of listeners drove Wallace and her team to launch an in-house sync department. The company has been aggressive in seeking out synch placements, having success with movies and television shows including Big Little Lies, Grey’s Anatomy, 13 Reasons Why, Nashville and more.

“Synch has been so important to us because we were always signing writers outside of the country genre,” Wallace says. “We found it more effective to build out our own staff than to rely on outside consultants. Our staff travels to Europe & LA and thoroughly knows our writers and catalog, and that works well for us.”

Every new venture represents both a risk and progress to better serve each of the artists and writers under the Big Yellow Dog umbrella.

“I hate to gamble because I feel like I do it everyday,” Wallace says of the inherent roll of the dice that comes with working with a new writer or artist, in hopes of a long-lasting, profitable partnership. “It’s partnering with someone that you might have just met, giving them money to live off of while you both decide to hustle a career in the music business. Personally taking on their lives, their daily struggles, their family, or being their family, being a therapist, moral supporter, voice of reason, critique, salesman, marketing director, cheerleader and friend. But the pay off, is not in the financials, that is the proof of the work, but the reward to me are the lasting relationships that I’ve managed to have with our writers.”

For a separate interview on Carla Wallace, Big Yellow Dog Music, and the Nashville music publishing industry, purchase MusicRow’s 2017 Publisher print issue, or subscribe to MusicRow here.

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Category: Artist, Featured, Publishing

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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