When Luke Laird, a young songwriter with a new publishing deal, met his future wife Beth at the receptionist counter at BMG Nashville in 2005, it was the start of a long and beautiful partnership.
It was Beth’s first real music industry job out of college, and she was worried that a relationship with a songwriter would be unprofessional. Lucky for them, she soon moved to Windswept to be a song-plugger before landing at BMI, where she would remain for the next five years. The two then began dating and were married a few years later in 2010. They now have two children, Jake (8) and Mack (5), and a successful 10-year old publishing company, Creative Nation.
“It’s been exciting because from the very beginning, with him having no cuts yet and me literally being at my first day on the job, we’ve gotten to grow in the music business together. We’ve been through the highs and lows together, that’s really been fun,” Beth says.
The two say they never dreamed of starting a publishing company together. The idea came about at a meeting with the couple’s business manager, when Luke was nearing the end of a publishing deal.
Once the wheels were turning, Beth and Luke were able to take their experiences as a songwriter and a music publishing professional and design a company that they would want to work at. “The main thing that we knew we really wanted that we weren’t really feeling at that time in the music business was a publishing company that was really creative and really writers first. [We wanted to build a company] where you felt like the writers were the bosses of their careers and the publishers came alongside them to help fulfill their dreams and to help them along their path,” Beth says.
Luke adds, “When I first signed a publishing deal, and I think this is probably a similar story for a lot of writers at that time and years before, writers were looked at as ‘we are hiring you to do a job,’ but really that’s not how those contracts work. In reality, the publisher works for the writer. You can have ideas and plans for a writer, but you’re in a partnership. That’s one thing I want our writers to know is we, as a publisher, work for you. So what are your goals?”
Goal-setting is a paramount part of the business ethic at Creative Nation, which now boasts a roster that includes lauded songwriters Lori McKenna and Barry Dean, as well as country hitmaker Casey Brown, artist-songwriters Steve Moakler and Kassi Ashton, and more.
When new writers come in, the staff at Creative Nation help them make a goal sheet for themselves, which becomes a big part of the plan for success for each writer. Any one writer’s goals can range from having a No. 1 country hit, getting nominated for a song of the year award, or getting a cut from a specific artist. “If what we’re doing does not serve your goals, then we shouldn’t be doing it,” Beth says. “That is the basis of where to start. It lets them be the CEO of their career and their business, and it feels more like we are helping manage their business, but we’re not in control telling them what to do.”
In addition to putting writer’s goals first, Creative Nation also makes the family-owned aspect of their business part of the company culture.
Luke says, “We are so involved with our families. A lot of times the music business almost feels like two separate things, but we like to have things like a Creative Nation pool day where everyone can bring their kids. We hope that our staff and writers feel that we value more than just what they can do for our business.”
Their writer and staff-friendly environment has proved fruitful for Creative Nation. Since getting started in 2011, the company has worked with some of country music’s biggest performers, including Kacey Musgraves, Luke Bryan, Thomas Rhett, and Eric Church, and has released more than 20 No. 1 songs and 60 radio singles, including Sam Hunt’s “Hard to Forget” and Harry Styles’ “Watermelon Sugar.”
Beth says there are two moments from the beginning of Creative Nation when she felt most validated. The first being when she went to her first pitch meeting as Creative Nation and pitched “Pontoon,” which became a blockbuster hit for Little Big Town. The second is when they received their first BMI publisher award, presented to them from Beth’s former BMI boss, Jody Williams.
“At BMI, I was the one that had handed up the awards to Jody to hand out to publishers, so when I got to go up and Jody handed me one, it was like ‘You’re a real publisher. You’re getting an award on stage,'” Beth says. “Even now it makes me feel emotional because it made me feel like a real publisher.”
Moments like those, and the many more that have followed as Creative Nation has become a flourishing indie publisher, have made the risk of going out on their own worth it for the husband and wife team.
As for the next 10 years, the Lairds are most concerned with maintaining the creative, relational, and positive environment they’ve established at Creative Nation.
“One of my ultimate goals sounds generic, but it’s to love what I do and to love who I’m working with. I actually really value every Monday morning when I wake up; I get excited to come to work,” Beth shares. “I’m never bored. I’m always excited about the next songwriter. I’m always excited about the song that’s going to come in today or getting to strategize with my team. My goal is to always make sure I keep that spark and that we are constantly surrounded by good people who are creative.”
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