It was a family friend who would provide Creative Nation’s Beth Laird with her entry into the competitive Nashville music industry.
Laird’s childhood babysitter Regina Stuve, who led corporate communications for Universal Music Group Nashville at the time, suggested Laird intern for her during the summer.
“I walked in and we became really great friends. I fell in love with the business,” Beth, a Winchester, Tennessee native, tells MusicRow. “I realized a lot of creative business people help music creators protect their business and take away a lot of the details so they can be more creative.”
Laird returned to Nashville each summer to intern with Stuve. After graduating from University of Alabama in 2004, she got a job at Nashville Bun Company, helping to schedule shipments for English muffins. But she continued studying the industry, and patiently waiting for her first break. When Stuve’s husband Ron took over the old BMG Music Publishing, Laird took on a receptionist role. While there, she also met a then-emergent songwriter and producer Luke Laird.
“That was my first job and that’s how I met Luke,” Beth says. “I met him the first month I was there. We instantly connected.” Surrounded by graduates with degrees and education in music business, Laird became a quick study of the industry. “I really didn’t know what a publishing company was, or what a staff writer was. I had a lot of making up to do.” She focused her ambition on learning more about the industry, networking, and attending as many industry events as possible.
After BMG Music Publishing folded into Universal Music Group in 2007, Beth transitioned to a role as song plugger at Windswept Music. There, she was introduced to Jody Williams, who had just taken over the writer/publisher department at BMI during that time. Beth was offered the role as a writer-publisher representative at BMI, under the direction of Jody Williams, a job Laird says she was not prepared.
“I was the youngest rep, there weren’t female reps at that time, and I was under qualified,” Laird says frankly. “I had to learn quickly. For whatever reason, I’ve always been thrown into the next opportunity because someone really felt I was capable, and made me feel I was capable. Jody empowered me, and let me go out and make my own mistakes. When I needed support and encouragement he would teach me to keep going.”
Beth excelled, rising to the role of Director, Writer/Publisher Relations, and gaining invaluable contacts from various segments of the industry. After five years at BMI Beth stepped out on her own, and in 2011, with husband Luke Laird, launched Creative Nation.
“For us, just using your own money to completely start something at the time was the biggest risk,” says songwriter-producer Luke Laird. “Most business people are invested outside the music business would not say ‘Invest your money in the music business.’ They say real estate or a more sure thing, but for Beth and I, this is what we know.”
Their first signing was songwriter Barry Dean.
“I wanted to work with someone whose success was tied to my success,” Dean says. “That had skin in the game. It’s a time of incredible disruption in the industry. She brought the songwriter, the performer, and the recording artist together. She saw them as interconnected. In so many ways I feel like I owe my career to Beth and her approach.”
“Luke and I took all the good and bad experiences we’ve had in our journeys and thought about how we want Creative Nation to be set up and perceived,” Beth says. “We always wanted Creative to come first and then second we wanted a place to feel homey. I wanted writers and artists to feel comfortable, energized and creative. And I wanted to hire staff that supported that. Since I’m married to Luke, he’s naturally going to help me keep that in balance. We truly are a family-owned business so it already starts out with that vibe.”
In 2014 Natalie Hemby joined the roster. She recently released the critically acclaimed album Puxico.
“I spent so much time over at Creative Nation before I even signed there, so to me, it made sense to go there because it already felt like home,” Hemby says. “All my close friends were already there. I wrote with Luke and Barry every other day, and I was always in Beth’s office playing her songs and talking about music. For me, it was a no brainer….”
In 2015, the company announced the signing of Lori McKenna for both publishing and management representation. That same year, McKenna celebrated the chart-topping success of Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush,” which McKenna wrote during her time at Universal. The song would go on to be certified 3x Platinum by the RIAA and earned Grammy and CMA honors. McKenna also earned ACM Songwriter of the Year honors in 2017.
Tim McGraw also recorded the touching track “Humble and Kind,” a solo write for McKenna published by Universal. The song earned McKenna an array of accolades, including a Grammy for Best Country Song and a CMA Award for Song of the Year. McKenna also became the first female to be named the ACM’s Songwriter of the Year. In 2016, McKenna released her 10th solo project, The Bird & The Rifle, to critical acclaim.
“My career has changed so much for the better since signing with Creative Nation,” McKenna says. “Beth has helped me prioritize my goals and the whole team at CN has helped make things happen that seemed unreachable before. Beth carefully put all these pieces together so that the writers can simply write – everything else is taken care of. What they really have built here is more than a business, it’s a family.”
Others added to the Creative Nation family include Steve Moakler, Kassi Ashton, Mags Duval, Muscadine Bloodline, Tyler Johnson, and Alec Bailey.
Meanwhile, Luke has amassed more than 20 No. 1 singles in the course of his career, and 27 Top 5 singles, in addition to production work on albums including Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park, and Pageant Material, as well as Moakler’s Steel Town, Brett Eldredge’s “Mean To Me” and Thomas Rhett’s “Get Me Some Of That.”
“We try to have writers in their own lanes,” Beth says. “I don’t like to have the same types of writers and artists because I want them to support each other. And we are very thoughtful about every member we put on the team and how they will affect other members. When you are a small team, every person makes a big difference. But when we know, we usually know.”
Laird’s fearlessness in securing the best talent to support Creative Nation’s writers and artist-writers, and her drive to learn aspects of the music business not traditionally associated with music publishing—including planning and coordinating album releases and pursuing sync licenses—allow Creative Nation to expand its offerings to its writers.
“All our artists have a really defined vision and they know what they want. Some just want to put out a record, some want press, some want a record deal. I try to find out what is the artist’s definition of success and how can I help them reach those goals?”
“Her business sense is really good,” Luke says. “Beth didn’t go to school for music business, but she learned it on the fly. When she wants to know how something works, she’s not afraid to ask questions. She’s not afraid to do any job and I saw that from the beginning. The things that she learns and how she retains information is unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. She’s very outgoing and is a relationship person. In this business it’s very important, and she doesn’t use people. She has their best interests at heart, which is kind of hard to find and honestly, it’s kind of hard to operate that way in this business. But in the long run, I think it is better.”
Beth’s ambition and work ethic have paid off. Among her accolades, Beth was named one of MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row in 2013, and named to Billboard’s 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Laird has learned collaboration and communication are key to excelling while juggling roles as business owner, wife and mother to two young sons.
“One key for me is that we are 50/50 partners in life and in business, so we don’t see it as a male/female thing,” she says. “We trade dropping off kids or picking them up or seeing a show or traveling. Communication is so important too, and knowing when one thing feels out of balance and you need to take care of it. When you are in so many roles, leader of a company, wife, daughter, mother, friend, manager, publishers, a lot of people have different needs. But I’m not going to be good or nearly as helpful if I’m not balanced in my life. I know if I’m healthy and feel balanced I’m going to be better for them. We know our family and our company are priorities.”
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