Downtown Music Publishing’s Steve Markland has been promoted to Senior Vice President, A&R in Nashville. Markland will continue to report to Downtown CEO, Justin Kalifowitz and COO, Andrew Bergman.
The company recently celebrated four years in Nashville, with more than 20 singles on the US and Canadian charts. Recent hits have included “Sleep Without You” (Brett Young), “She’s Got a Way with Words” (Blake Shelton), and the pop hit “All On You” (Nick Fradiani).
Most recently, Downtown announced a deal with John Prine, as well as the acquisition of catalogs from Major Bob Music, and the launch of new initiatives aimed at connecting Nashville songwriters with other writers around the world. Working closely with Downtown’s global music lisensing team, Downtown songwriters in Nashville have earned more than 50 sync placements with brands including iTunes, PetSmart, and DSW, as well as film, television and video games such as Amazon, Netflix, and more.
Recognizing the opportunity for Nashville-based songwriters on a global scale, collaboration has been a key to success for Markland. The Nashville team has instigated several cowrites and writing camps in New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, London, Paris and beyond. Most recently, Markland took Jillian Jacqueline, Who is Fancy and Kelly Archer to Europe for transatlantic writing sessions with pop artists and producers like Cheryl Cole, Flo Rida, and Naughty Boy, and two special Nashville-style writers rounds in Paris and in London at the C2C country-music festival. The shows were part of Downtown’s new Songwriters Without Borders initiative that is creating global collaborations between the company’s songwriters and other writers, artists, and producers across the world.
MusicRow spoke with Markland about his new promotion and what’s ahead for Downtown.
MusicRow: How will the promotion change your current duties, if at all?
Steve Markland: To be honest, there won’t be a lot of drastic changes. While our team in Nashville will continue to remain micro-focused on our writers from several perspectives, I will be able to focus on growing the office to higher levels. Our priority is to develop a well-rounded and diverse group of writers. From brand new, first-time writer deals such as Andy Albert, Jillian Jacqueline to veteran writers Marc Beeson, Kendell Marvel and Kelly Archer as well as writer-producers Tony Esterly and artists Who Is Fancy, Sara Haze and more. We also have been fortunate to sign deals with established artists like Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell and most recently John Prine, where the focus is a little more on sync and outside artist placements, along with administration. Each of these artist-writer deals are tailored specifically toward their individual needs.
MR: Congratulations on the recent deal with John Prine. Are there specific ways you foresee promoting his catalog that haven’t been tapped into before?
Being on John’s team and being an advocate for his songs and his artistry is an immense opportunity and a very tall task. John’s work is important to our community here as well as the world. It will be my mission to push every boundary. I’m proud to be waving his banner in an official capacity.
One angle we will immediately work on is mining opportunities in Nashville (country genre and beyond), which should be a fresh perspective for John’s catalogue. Another is sync, which is a major priority. We are working closely with Downtown’s global sync licensing team, to find the best opportunities for his incredible songbook.
MR: How often will Downtown hold the Songwriters Without Borders co-writing events?
We’ve been operating with a globally collaborative approach since day one — our team has instigated several co-writes and writing camps in New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, London, Paris and beyond — a recent opportunity to take three of our Nashville writers ( Jillian Jacqueline, Who is Fancy and Kelly Archer) to Europe, inspired us to take this mantra to a new level. Through Songwriters Without Borders we are actively creating global collaborations between the our songwriters and other writers, artists, and producers across the world. During our trip to Europe last month, we put on two writer round events for the community in Paris and in London at the C2C country-music festival and also strategically set up co-writing session with artists and producers that are based in those markets. It has now become a very big part of our global initiative and we are planning to have events connecting writers from around the world several times a year.
MR: How did the idea for Songwriters Without Borders come about?
Justin Kalifowitz has a very big vision for Downtown and its songwriters. Providing opportunities for writers on a global level and actually connecting those writers with a strong focus is what Downtown is all about. During one of our Nashville-style “Writer Rounds” we did last year the Bluebird Cafe with Jillian Jacqueline, Marc Beeson and Andy Albert at our Downtown Global Music Summit in Nashville, we had the idea to take this concept to a global scale. The Writer Round style allows writers to share their versions of their songs along with the stories that inspired the songs including the raw emotions that come out in the process. Sharing a stage on this level can lend itself to an immediate songwriter attraction. When we played in Paris, we invited two French writers to play with us — and they were so good! It was their first time playing a Writer Round. They caught on quick and it blew everyone’s minds in Paris. I know sharing the stage and songs that night inspired many co-writes!
MR: What goes into the curation process of pairing certain Nashville writers with pop/rock writers who might be a good fit for them?
Knowing your writers and their creative reach is important. Having good timing with when to change things up is important as well. We always try to pair writers for the right reasons such as complimentary styles, or sometimes they may be outside the box ideas, but usually always finding a commonality between them. Change can be very inspiring to writers and creators. However too much change can easily be a distraction. Every writer is different and that is what dictates when to shift the focus.
During our recent trip in London and Paris, Fancy was in writing sessions with Naughty Boy, Cheryl (Cole), Jon Green, Saltwives, JOATOUCH, Tommy Djibz, while Kelly Archer worked at a writing camp with writers Peter Wallevik, Corey Sanders, Daniel Davidsen and Tebey Ottoh. Todd Clark, who recently moved from Toronto to Nashville, teamed with another one of our UK writers Sacha Skarbek and pop artist Noah Kahan for several songs on Noah’s new release. Recently, we’ve also paired Marc Beeson with Sacha Skarbek. We’ve also paired Casey Smith, one of our writers from Ryan Tedder’s Patriot Games Publishing, with our writer-artist Jillian Jacqueline, and Sara Haze with LA-based pop songwriter-artist Skylar Gray.
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