Can 2018 MusicRow Awards Predict Country’s Future?
The 30th anniversary of MusicRow magazine’s awards was celebrated at BMI on Wednesday evening, June 27.
The Warner Music Group was a significant presence at the ceremony, as Atlantic artist Devin Dawson, Elektra/Low Country Sound producer Dave Cobb and Warner Bros. artist Chris Janson all claimed major accolades. Also in the MusicRow spotlight were such up-and-comers as artist-writer Luke Combs and songwriter Emily Shackleton.
MusicRow publisher/owner Sherod Robertson presided at the event. He noted that the awards are voted on by the periodical’s subscribers and that they often presage what happens in Nashville at its big fall awards galas.
Robertson then announced Cobb as this year’s Producer of the Year winner. The producer’s clients include Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Old Crow Medicine Show, Ashley Monroe, The Oak Ridge Boys, Anderson East, Lori McKenna, John Prine, Brent Cobb, Zac Brown Band, Brandi Carlile and the Randy Rogers Band.
“I really feel honored to be here on Music Row,” said Cobb. “It’s an honor to be part of this Nashville music community, which is the best music community in the world.”
Cobb won over such fellow top-notch producer nominees as Dann Huff, Scott Hendricks, busbee and Jay Joyce.
In the Breakthrough Artist/Writer category, the nominees were Jordan Davis, Jordan Walker, Morgan Wallen, Russell Dickerson and winner Devin Dawson.
“This is bad-ass, man!” exclaimed Dawson as he took the stage. “I’ve never won anything! Anybody who knows me, knows that I LOVE songwriting. Artistry and songwriting go hand-in-hand for me. I was a Belmont student, and I remember reading in MusicRow about all the songwriters I wanted to be. So this is kind of ‘full circle’ for me.”
Luke Combs won the Breakthrough Artist Award over fellow nominees Kane Brown, LANCO, Midland and Carly Pearce.
“I moved here not even four years ago, with a dream like everybody else,” said the new Columbia/River House hit maker. “I stood in this crowd last year, hoping I’d get a chance to come up here and get one of these things one day.”
Next up was Chris Janson. He and cowriters Scooter Carusoe and Tom Douglas created “Drunk Girl.” It tied for Song of the Year honors with “Most People Are Good,” the Luke Bryan hit co-written by David Frasier, Ed Hill and Josh Kear.
Those two songs triumphed despite completion from such stellar compositions as “Cry Pretty,” “Life Changes” and “She Ain’t In It,” which were also nominated.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” said Janson. “This song really means a lot to me as a husband, a father and a Christian. I did this for my wife and kids, and I’m sorry for crying,” he added as he choked up. “I pray for every parent in here.”
The song’s message of respect, consensual behavior and honor is a deep one, and especially relevant in this “Me Too” era. Janson credited his cowriters for setting an example to him.
“This song was Tom’s idea; I saw the brilliance in it,” said Carusoe. “It took three days to write it, and I think it was worth it. I want to thank Warner Bros. and Chris for having the balls to put it out.”
“We’re grateful and humbled to be part of this,” added Douglas.
As for “Most People Are Good,” Frasier said, “This is an award that I have wanted for a long time. I guess I’m just a late bloomer. This [lyric] is something I’ve believed all my life. We were able to say stuff we actually believed in. And I think most people agree with us.”
“We just did this for ourselves,” added Hill. “We weren’t thinking of other people, of artists to record it. But by the grace of God, they did it, and it stayed No. 1 for a long, long time. This is a once-in-a-lifetime song, and it just kind of fell together that day.”
Co-writer Kear was on a family vacation. Publisher Kerry O’Neil accepted on his behalf.
Robertson pointed out that there were 17 people who wrote their first top-10 country hit during this past year, which he indicated is a sure sign that the genre’s future is bright. The accomplishment qualifies them for MusicRow’s 2018 Breakthrough Songwriter Award.
“This has been a 10-year journey for me in this town,” said winner Emily Shackleton, whose breakthrough hit was “Every Little Thing,” sung by cowriter Carly Pearce. “I love MusicRow, the publication. It’s how I cut my teeth learning about this industry.
“All I’ve ever wanted to do is write songs. Hearing my song on the radio for the first time is something I’ll never forget. I’m so grateful it was by a female artist, especially in this climate. Thank you for allowing me to have a female point of view. Thank you so much for believing in me.”
Shackleton capped the event by performing “Every Little Thing” at the piano. Her rendition was every bit as affecting as Pearce’s.
The MusicRow awards are often predictors of CMA success for their recipients. Previous Breakthrough Artist winners who went on to win CMA awards include Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves, The Band Perry, Taylor Swift, Zac Brown Band, Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Lady Antebellum and Joe Nichols.
The magazine’s Song of the Year winners often graduate to the CMA winner’s circle, as well. Examples include “Humble and Kind,” “Girl Crush,” “I Drive Your Truck,” “If I Die Young,” “The House That Built Me,” “In Color,” “Whiskey Lullaby” and “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”
The annual MusicRow honors are also distinguished in that they are the only awards that salute the session musicians of Nashville. In fact, these are the accolades that launched the magazine’s annual awards giving 30 years ago.
Operations Director Eric T. Parker began Wednesday’s event by announcing these. They are based on a point system, according to how many top-10 albums the instrumentalists performed on.
The 2018 winners were/are Derek Wells (guitar), Nir Z (drums), Dave Cohen (keyboards), Mike Johnson & Russ Pahl (a tie for steel guitar), Russell Terrell (background vocals), Jimmie Lee Sloas (bass), Aubrey Haynie (fiddle) and Justin Niebank (engineer). Cohen, Wells, Johnson and Nir Z were all first-time winners in their categories.
“As soon as I wanted to become a session musician, I wanted to hold one of these one day,” said Wells. “First of all, thank-you to MusicRow for even doing this. It’s one of the only awards for a session musician. I’m beyond honored.”
“This is the award that we all esteem, beyond what you know,” said Sloas. “We’re blown away by this privilege. Thank you so much.”
Robertson summed up the landmark anniversary by noting, “The very first MusicRow awards were held here at BMI in 1989. That was a pivotal year in country music. So here we are today to celebrate a new ‘class.’ Regardless of what happens to the buildings, Music Row will never go away.”
Editor note: Pick up a copy of the 2018 MusicRow Awards print issue at MusicRow.com to read more about the winners, and read exclusive editorial about the popular podcast Cocaine and Rhinestones. Musician royalty streams are discussed by AFM’s Dave Pomeroy and affiliate member Jonathan Yudkin. Red Light Management’s Shawn McSpadden discusses international success of country clients, while Warner Music Nashville’s Shane Tarleton is profiled in his new role as Sr. VP Artist Development. Privacy policies are discussed by Milom Horsnell Crow Kelley’s David Crow while contingency insurance is examined by Anderson Benson/Miller Insurance Services.
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