Robert Carlton Talks Walker Hayes’ Red-Hot Hit, “Fancy Like” [Interview]

Robert Carlton

Robert Carlton is Sr. VP of Development at SMACK, the Nashville entertainment company that now involves a successful publishing house (SMACKSongs), management firm (SMACKManagement), and a recently launched influencer marketing service (SMACKTok).

A Nashville native and MTSU graduate, Carlton began his career at Black River. In 2014, he moved to SMACK and has since ascended to run the artist management division, which represents Shane McAnally’s television projects (including NBC’s Songland), Monument Records artist Walker Hayes and UMG artist Kylie Morgan. Carlton also works with SMACK’s publishing roster.

Carlton and the SMACK team have had a whirlwind few months as Hayes has experienced monumental success with his hit “Fancy Like,” from his recent EP Country Stuff.

The tune, co-written by Hayes, Cameron Bartolini, Shane Stevens and Josh Jenkins, has charmed the hearts of listeners across the world with its lyrics about a cheap date night at Applebee’s. Hayes sings “We fancy like Applebee’s on a date night, got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake / Get some whipped cream on the top too, two straws, one check, girl, I got you.”

Once Hayes and his daughter Lela uploaded a TikTok of the two of them dancing to the song, “Fancy Like” took off, with other creators and celebrities sharing their own TikToks of the dance. Just a month later, the TikTok has been viewed over 30 million times and “Fancy Like” ventured into the zeitgeist, hitting No. 1 on Billboard‘s Hot Country streaming chart. On the country radio front, “Fancy Like” flew up the charts, making the biggest jump into the Top 10 on the Mediabase Country chart since Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” in early 2004. It also hit No. 1 on MusicRow‘s CountryBreakout Radio Chart on Friday (Oct. 15).

“People just gravitated towards the ordinary with Walker,” Carlton tells MusicRow of the song’s success. “[Taking it to TikTok] was obvious from the jump. The dance idea was just him and his daughter… It wasn’t strategized in a real specific way.”

Now “Fancy Like” backs an Applebee’s commercial, a collaboration we all saw coming. Carlton says that the restaurant chain wasn’t interested at first, but once the song took off, they re-considered. After the release of the track, CNN reported that Applebee’s sales grew 102% in the months following. “It was a no brainer at that point, they just had to pay a little more than they would have on the front end,” Carlton quips.

Walker Hayes and Kesha. Photo: Adam Battaglia

Hayes also partnered with pop artist Kesha on a remix for the tune. “We were trying to find someone who made sense, that you thought might go to Applebee’s,” Carlton says. “Walker and Kesha had a call about it. She said ‘I actually got thrown out of an Applebee’s because my friend got in a fight there.’ He was like, ‘Perfect. You’re it!'”

Although Hayes has been experiencing what seems like an overnight success with “Fancy Like,” the singer-songwriter has been putting the work in for 10 years. Fans have long-gravitated to Hayes’ very specific musical style, with songs like the double-Platinum “You Broke Up With Me,” and popular “90s Country” and “Don’t Let Her” creating a buzz with listeners.

When it comes to the titanic success of “Fancy Like,” Carlton says that it’s been a long time coming.

“Walker has an incredible ability to connect with his fans and build his base 1 by 1 but having this massive moment happen so suddenly is sometimes hard to appreciate and accept,” Carlton admits. “I think I’m too close to it to really allow myself enjoy it although I’m constantly telling myself to do so. It seems like every day something else amazing happens with this song and Walker and I are in disbelief asking each other ‘WHAT IS HAPPENING?’ It’s really been special to see this happen first hand with an artist and individual that is as talented and as genuine as they come.”

Weekly Register: Cody Johnson Makes Top Three Country Album Debut

Cody Johnson. Credit Chris Douglas

Cody Johnson‘s Human: The Double Album is the top country album debut this week, coming in at No. 3 on the country albums chart and No. 19 overall. The album earns 20,000 first-week streams, according to Nielsen.

Arista Nashville’s Old Dominion also earns a top five country album debut with the release of their fourth studio album, Time, Tequila, and Therapy. The new project debuts at No. 4 on the country albums chart and No. 27 overall, earning 17,000 first-week streams.

Morgan Wallen returns to the top spot this week with Dangerous: The Double Album gaining 42,000 streams, contributing to 51 million total streams RTD. Luke Combs takes the second spot with What You See Is What You Get, and fifth with This One’s For You, adding 22,000 and 15,000 streams, respectively.

“Fancy Like” (Walker Hayes) remains at No. 1, gaining another 13.5 million streams for a total of 193 million RTD. The middle of the pack also stays the same with “If I Didn’t Love You” (Jason Aldean & Carrie Underwood) in second with 7.3 million streams, “Chasing After You” (Ryan Hurd & Maren Morris) in third with 7.2 million streams, and “Buy Dirt” (Jordan Davis & Luke Bryan) in fourth with 6 million streams. “You Should Probably Leave” (Chris Stapleton) re-enters the top five this week, adding 5.6 million streams.

Luke Bryan To Host ‘The 55th Annual CMA Awards’

Luke Bryan. Photo: Robby Klein

Country music superstar and American Idol judge Luke Bryan will host The 55th Annual CMA Awards live from Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 10. The broadcast will air from 7-10 p.m. on ABC.

Bryan has garnered 27 No. 1 hits and has the most RIAA certified digital singles of any country artist with 68.5 million, has 15.6 billion streams worldwide, and has sold nearly 13 million albums. His headline tours have played sold-out shows for 12 million fans, including 36 stadium concerts, Farm Tours, Spring Break shows, and seven sold-out “Crash My Playa” destination concert events.

He has won over 50 major music awards, including five wins as Entertainer of the Year across the CMA and ACM Awards. He has been honored as a CMT Artist of the Year six times, an NSAI Artist/Songwriter of the Year, the first recipient of the ACM Album of the Decade Award for Crash My Party, seven CMT Music Awards, five Billboard Music Awards, and four American Music Awards. Bryan has also been named Billboard’s Top Country Artist of the 2010s and the Most Heard Artist of the Decade by Country Aircheck.

“The CMA Awards is one of the biggest nights of the year for country music,” says Bryan. “Being asked to host the CMA Awards was definitely something I put a lot of thought into before answering. The pressure that comes along with that can be overwhelming, but knowing I get to help honor and celebrate so many of my friends, I knew it was something I couldn’t turn down. I mean, growing up in Georgia, I remember watching Vince Gill, Reba, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Rogers, Barbara Mandrell, to name a few. They were so good. And then becoming a part of this amazing country music family and sitting on the front row while Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood and Darius Rucker took the reins, all of these artists are heroes and friends, and I am honored to have my name included in this group. I’m looking forward to making it fun and memorable and using this platform to continue to make country music shine.”

“We are so thrilled to have Luke join us as this year’s CMA Awards host,” says Sarah Trahern, CMA Chief Executive Officer. “His fun and playful energy is something television viewers have welcomed into their homes week after week as a judge on American Idol, and I know he has something exciting up his sleeve for the CMA Awards. We cannot wait to bring music fans a magical night of performances and truly some of the most special moments our show has ever delivered, in just a few weeks.”

Winners of The 55th Annual CMA Awards will be determined in a final round of voting by eligible voting CMA members. The third and final ballot is open now for CMA members, with voting for the CMA Awards final ballot closing Wednesday, Oct. 27.

Performers and presenters for this year’s awards will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Walker Hayes Lands First-Ever MusicRow CountryBreakout No. 1

The viral hit by Walker Hayes, “Fancy Like,” is crowned this week’s No. 1 single on the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart. Hayes continues his reign at the top of the country streaming songs chart as “Fancy Like” earns another 14 million streams, putting it at No. 6 overall. Since its release, the track has racked in over 180 million streams, according to Nielsen.

Hayes wrote the single with Cameron Bartolini, Shane Stevens and Josh Jenkins and is featured on his latest EP, Country Stuff.

Hayes’ last single “You Broke Up With Me” was certified double Platinum by the RIAA.

Click here to view the latest edition of The MusicRow Weekly containing the MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart.

DISClaimer Single Reviews: Keb’ Mo’ & Darius Rucker, Abbey Cone, Rod + Rose

Keb’ Mo’, Darius Rucker

Country newcomers shine brightly today in DisClaimer.

Vying for our attention are Rod + Rose, Dalton Dover and our DisCovery Award winner, Abbey Cone.

Mind you, there are plenty of old friends to greet as well, notably William Lee Golden, Reba, Dolly, Maria Muldaur and the enduringly brilliant Lyle Lovett. Listen right now to Lyle’s “Teach Me About Love.” You can thank me later.

The Disc of the Day belongs to the duo of Keb’ Mo’ and Darius Rucker, with Vince Gill behind the board. It’s a pure delight.

ROD + ROSE / “Put Me Back Together”
Writers: Caitlyn Smith/Trevor Dahl/Brenton Duvall/Johnny Price/Kiara Saulters; Producer: Rodney Atkins/Seth Mosley; Label: Curb
— Country hitmaker Rodney Atkins and his bride, pop princess Rose Falcon, shimmer as a duo on this dreamy love ballad. It’s a seductive swirl of vocal harmonies, electronic loops, echoey percussion and electric guitar. Yes, it’s pop. But it sure is pretty.

REBA McENTIRE & DOLLY PARTON / “Does He Love You”
Writers: Sandy Knox/Billy Stritch; Producer: Dave Cobb/Reba McEntire; Label: MCA
— This revisitation of the 1993 Reba & Linda Davis Grammy and CMA winning duet works. The new arrangement is more acoustic and less bombastic. Both Reba and new partner Dolly breathe new life into the lyric, each adding fresh vocal embellishments and emotional nuances. In a word, classy.

WILLIE JONES / “Get Low, Get High”
Writers: Willie Jones/Cary Barlowe/Brandon Day; Producer: Willie Jones/Brandon Day; Label: Sony/Penthouse
— Jones applies a low baritone vocal to ride atop the beats on this rousing, uplifting outing about overcoming. The track builds to a catchy, quasi-shouted anthem, complete with massed male & female gang sings and a bright touch of brass. The song is pretty much a continually repeated snippet that wears out its welcome about 2/3 of the way through.

JAKE OWEN/ “Best Thing Since Backroads”
Writers: Ben Johnson/Geoff Warburton/Hunter Phelps/Jordan Minton; Producer: Joey Moi; Label: Big Loud
— This jolly thumper is churning up the charts for this perennial favorite. He’s so smitten with her that he thinks she’s prettier than a summer day or a country landscape. Everything about this smiles.

MARIA MULDAUR/ “I’m Vaccinated and I’m Ready for Love”
Writers: Maria Mudaur/Craig Caffal; Producer: none listed; Label: Stony Plain
— The “Midnight at the Oasis” charmer is back with a pandemic ditty. Musically, it’s a straightforward blues bopper with plenty of vintage ambiance and a back-alley guitar solo. Lyrically, it’s as cute as the dickens.

BLANCO BROWN / “Nobody’s More Country”
Writers: Bennie Amey III/Jordan Schmidt/Quintin Amey/Tyler Hubbard; Producer: Blanco Brown/ Jordan Schmidt; Label: BBR
— Delightful. Sung to a chirping, electro-embellished, banjo-and-handclaps track, Brown’s ode to the pleasures of country living is marvelously catchy. “The Git Up” star has reemerged, rehabbed from a near-fatal motorcycle crash and sounds as hearty as ever.

WILLIAM LEE GOLDEN & THE GOLDENS / “Jambalaya”
Writers: Hank Williams; Producer: Ben Isaacs/Michael Sykes/Chris Golden/Rusty Golden; Label: Copperline
— The “mountain man” of the Oak Ridge Boys kept his family’s spirits up during the pandemic by having recording sessions. The Country Hall of Famer and his three sons (Rusty, Chris & Craig) give this Hank Williams classic a Louisiana backbeat and some zippy guitar and piano work to make it a contemporary dance tune. Lotsa fun. Also check out their exquisite family harmonies on the Jim Reeves standard “Four Walls.”

KEB’ MO’ & DARIUS RUCKER / “Good Strong Woman”
Writers: Kevin Moore/Jason Nix/Jason Gantt; Producer: Vince Gill/Keb’ Mo’; Label: Rounder
— Nashville’s Grammy-winning bluesman goes all-the-way country on this toe-tapping ditty duet with Darius Rucker, coproduced by Hall of Famer Vince Gill. Crisp, clear and totally joyous.

DALTON DOVER / “You Got a Small Town”
Writers: Adam Craig/Jamie Paulin/John Pierce; Producer: Matt McVaney; Label: Droptine
— Blake turned his chair around for this youngster on The Voice a few years back and here’s why. Dover is a forceful, confident singer with plenty of grit and swagger in his delivery. The small-town Georgian displays impressive range and volume on this salute to rural roots. The production is needlessly busy and rock electrified, but he rises above it. An impressive debut, reminiscent of the titanic Luke Combs.

LYLE LOVETT / “Teach Me About Love”
Writers: Walter Hyatt; Producer: none listed; Label: Omnivore
— Drawn from an Austin City Limits tribute show to the late singer-songwriter Walter Hyatt, this sensational little acoustic swinger slides into that sweet spot between country and jazz. And nobody has the vocal “cool” to bring this off better than Lyle Lovett. Stay tuned for the finale yodel. “Groovy” doesn’t even begin to describe it.

MATT STELL / “Boyfriend Season”
Writers: Matt Stell/Zach Abend/Seth Ennis/Geoff Warburton; Producer: Matt Stell/Ash Bowers; Label: RECORDS/Arista
— The single continues to be “That Ain’t Me No More,” but this newly released track is almost as hooky. Advice for a broken hearted lady from her former lover.

ABBEY CONE / “Rhinestone Ring”
Writers: Abbey Cone/Heather Morgan/Nathan Spicer; Producer: Nathan Spicer/Abbey Cone; Label: Valory
— This youngster debuts with a sweet tune about wedding dreams. You don’t need all the fancy trimmings to make nuptials perfect, just true love. She doesn’t miss church bells, a veil, a white dress and all that: A jukebox dance in his arms wearing a little black dress in a neon-let barroom is just fine.

CRB Inducts Class Of 2021 Into Country Radio Hall Of Fame, Honors Keith Urban & Beverlee Brannigan

Pictured (L-R): Country Radio Hall of Fame Inductees Bill Hagy, Bob Pickett, Angie Ward, Buzz Jackson, RJ Curtis, Heather Froglear. Photo: Andrea Schollnick

The Country Radio Broadcasters, Inc. held its 2021 Country Radio Hall of Fame dinner and awards ceremony at The Westin in Nashville last night (Oct. 13) to induct four off-air radio broadcasters and four on-air radio personalities who have made a significant impact on the radio industry during their careers.

The 2021 Country Radio Hall of Fame Class of inductees recognized were off-air honorees Bob Call, RJ Curtis, Bill Hagy, and Norm Schrutt. On-air honorees were Heather Froglear, Buzz Jackson, Bob Pickett, and Angie Ward. Due to last-minute unforeseen circumstances, Call was unable to attend and appear at this year’s event. His induction will be held at the 2022 Hall of Fame event.

Pictured (L-R):2021 CRB President’s Award recipient Beverlee Brannigan and CRB/CRS Board President Kurt Johnson. Photo: Andrea Schollnick

CRB/CRS Board President, Kurt Johnson, also presented long-time music industry veteran and member of the CRB board and executive committee, Beverlee Brannigan, with the organization’s 2021 President’s Award.

Country music superstar Garth Brooks was on hand to present another country music giant, Keith Urban, with the 2021 CRB Artist Career Achievement Award. Brooks capped off the award presentation with a special performance of Urban’s 2004-hit song, “You’ll Think of Me,” and was later joined by Urban and Trisha Yearwood for a special performance of “Fishin’ in The Dark.”

Nominations for the 2022 Country Radio Hall of Fame are being accepted through Oct. 29. The Class of 2022 will be revealed at CRS 2022, to be held Feb. 23-25, 2022.

Pictured (L-R): Trisha Yearwood, Keith Urban, CRB/CRS Board President Kurt Johnson, Garth Brooks. Photo: Andrea Schollnick

CMT Celebrates Top Country Entertainers At ‘Artists Of The Year’ Ceremony Live In Nashville

Mary and Randy Travis speak onstage the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Last night (Oct. 13), CMT recognized some of this year’s biggest acts live from Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center at the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year ceremony.

Honorees included Chris Stapleton, Gabby Barrett, Kane Brown, Kelsea Ballerini and Luke Combs, alongside Breakout Artist of the Year Mickey Guyton and Artist of a Lifetime Randy Travis. Together these artists have produced some 200 career top 10 singles, won 130 awards and have been streamed over 25 billion times.

Luke Combs accepts an award onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

The evening kicked off with Combs performing “Forever After All,” and accepting his award from friend Eric Church. He thanked the fans and his wife, and gave a special call out to Randy Travis for his enduring influence on country music.

Next, Barrett was lauded by Grammy award-winning Christian artist Michael W. Smith who introduced a performance of her No. 1 hit song, “The Good Ones.”

Mickey Guyton and Yola perform onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Guyton, alongside friend and musician Yola, garnered the night’s first standing ovation with the world premiere version of “Remember Her Name.” The performance moved Guyton to tears, noting in her acceptance speech that “country music is really everyone’s music.”

The second standing ovation came when Garth Brooks awarded friend and country legend Randy Travis with the Artist of a Lifetime Award. Randy and his wife, Mary Davis Travis, accepted the honor as Mary thanked the fans on Randy’s behalf noting, “Randy’s stroke may have taken his voice, but didn’t take the man or the heart, and it didn’t take the music.”

Brown was introduced by friend Nelly before taking the stage to honor Randy with one of his biggest hits, “Three Wooden Crosses.” Brown accepted his own 2021 honor, thanking the fans and remembering his bandmate and drummer who passed away in 2019.

Chris Stapleton accepts an award onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Next, Grammy Award-winning artists Boys II Men, joined by Pentatonix’s Kevin Olusola, honored Stapleton with a first-ever performance of his song, “Cold.” Stapleton acknowledged being moved by all the “love in the room” as he accepted his award from friend and actress Connie Britton.

The final honoree celebrated was Kelsea Ballerini. Her husband, Morgan Evans, introduced her performance with tour-mates Jonas Brothers. Performing “With a Little Help From My Friends,” Ballerini accepted her award, thanking fans for their support.

The evening concluded with Walker Hayes who performed his smash viral hit, “Fancy Like.”

Gabby Barrett accepts an award onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Kane Brown performs onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Kelsea Ballerini accepts the 2021 CMT Artists of the Year award from her tour stop in Franklin, Tennessee, with the Jonas Brothers.

Walker Hayes performs onstage during the 2021 CMT Artist of the Year on Oct. 13, 2021 in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Jason Kempin

Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Star-Crossed’ Deemed Not Eligible For Country Album Category At 2022 Grammys

Kacey Musgraves. Photo: Adrienne Raquel

Last week during the Recording Academy’s annual screening committee meeting, Kacey Musgraves‘ recent album, Star-Crossed, was rejected for Country Album of the Year eligibility at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards. The project will remain eligible for the all-genre Album of the Year category.

Musgraves, a six-time Grammy winner, released her fourth studio album Star-Crossed on Sept. 10 through MCA Nashville and Interscope Records. It debuted at No. 1 on Billboard‘s Top Country Albums and No. 3 on the Billboard 200.

After the decision, President of Universal Music Group Nashville Cindy Mabe issued a letter to Harvey Mason Jr., CEO of the Recording Academy, expressing her disapproval of the decision.  She writes, “Kacey Musgraves is a beacon in a format ready to push back on the ideas that there is more than one way to succeed, there is more than one sound and perspective for what country music is and most importantly who it speaks to.”

Mabe highlights that Musgraves’ blockbuster album Golden Hour won both Album of the Year and Best Country Album, among other country honors, at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards. Mabe writes, “Sonically, [Star-Crossed has] more country instrumentation than Golden Hour which won Country Album of the Year in 2019.” Read Mabe’s full letter below.

Final nominees for this year’s awards will be revealed on Tuesday, Nov. 23. The 64th Annual Grammy Awards will be held at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 3, 2022.

Dear Harvey,

I am writing as a follow up to our recent conversation about the determination to exclude Kacey Musgraves’ album Star-Crossed from the Grammy’s country albums category. I am a big believer in the Grammys as an organization and have witnessed the power of its platform to transform artists’ careers and reflect, amplify and change culture. That certainly has happened for Kacey Musgraves over the last seven years with wins in 2014 for Country Album of the Year for Same Trailer Different Park, and then again in 2019 for Golden Hour as well as overall Album of the Year. The Grammy’s have been a destination of artist discovery and for Kacey it’s a place where her musical history was written.

As a prime stakeholder in country music, I would really like to frame what’s happening in our genre right now and help you and the Grammy’s fully understand the importance of Kacey Musgraves to country music and why this decision is so much more than an entry point for an awards show. Taking her out of the country category actually does harm to a format struggling with change and inclusivity overall. For the past several years, the stories around country music have been the stories of country radio and the limitations put on women’s voices or diversity of any kind from our key artists, their perspectives or their sound. The numbers speak and are a matter of public record with women making up only 10 percent of all country airplay. This year alone country music has been mired in the controversy surrounding one of the formats biggest artists, Morgan Wallen, who used a racial slur and grew fans and audience from it. THIS IS NOT ALL THAT WE ARE. Under the surface are the artists that change it all and they are led by the example of Kacey Musgraves.

Kacey Musgraves is a beacon in a format ready to push back on the ideas that there is more than one way to succeed, there is more than one sound and perspective for what country music is and most importantly who it speaks to. While that might not sound radical, I’ll remind you that our world believes you are either on country radio or you aren’t country. Kacey Musgraves is an extreme revolution and if Kacey can create her own path, others can too. She has taken the lead role of lighting the way of success in a format that has been so restricted by rules of who’s allowed in and what they can sing about. Artists like Maren Morris, Brothers Osborne and Mickey Guyton continuously site Kacey’s career path and music as an inspiration for their own success. My own artist Mickey Guyton has struggled for 10 years to be heard. It took the example of watching Kacey create her own path by living out her own truth in country music for Mickey to see what was possible and she followed suit laying out her perspective as a Black woman in America singing country music and re-writing history on your show last year.

Universal Music Group Nashville has launched every major label album Kacey Musgraves has put out. Kacey has always forged her own path. She has stayed true to herself and has never taken a different stance on how she framed this album from the last ones. Sonically, it’s got more country instrumentation than Golden Hour which won Country Album of the Year in 2019. To compare Golden Hour to Star-Crossed, both albums were produced by Ian Fitchuk, Daniel Tashian and Kacey Musgraves. Both albums were mixed by Shawn Everett. On Golden Hour, Ian, Daniel and Kacey wrote 7 of the 13 songs and on Star-Crossed they wrote 11 of the 15. Both albums complete each other with Golden Hour telling the story of falling in love and Star-Crossed telling the conclusion of the breakup. There is no departure in sound from these two projects. This album was consistently classified as country throughout it’s metadata and overall labeling across the DSP accounts and partners. Star-Crossed appeared on every major country playlist of every DSP. It’s being played on SXM The Highway, CMT and was covered by every country media outlet at release. This decision from the country committee to not accept Star-Crossed into the country albums category is very inconsistent and calls into question the other agendas that were part of this decision.

That takes us to the process. The idea that a handful of people including competitors, who would benefit from Kacey not being in the country category, are deciding what is country only exacerbates the problem. The system is broken and sadly not just for Kacey Musgraves but for our entire genre because of how these decisions are made for music’s biggest stage. Building roadblocks for artists who dare to fight the system is so dangerous and against everything I think the Grammy’s stand for. But that’s where we are today.

I haven’t slept all weekend because I’m really sad for our format. I’m sad for fans of our music and the ramifications of how we’ll continue to define success in country music. This short-sided, biased decision will send ripples throughout our format to continue to insure that the message is sent that country music can only be for the limited few that enjoy the same perspective.

Thank you for listening to my concerns.

Sincerely,

Cindy Mabe

Lauren Funk Joins Endurance Music Group As Senior Creative Director

Lauren Funk

Endurance Music Group (EMG) has added longtime songwriter advocate and publishing veteran Lauren Funk as Senior Creative Director, effective immediately.

In this role, she will be responsible for managing EMG’s relationships with its songwriting and artist roster, while also identifying new talent.

Funk joins EMG from Big Yellow Dog Music as Sr. Creative Director, where she spent seven years working with Grammy award-winning artists and songwriters Maren Morris, Meghan Trainor, Josh Kear, and Daniel Tashian. During her time there, she secured numerous cuts with artists like Gary Allan, Jessie James Decker, Sara Evans, Alan Jackson, Chris Lane, LoCash, Dustin Lynch, Michael Ray, Runaway June, Blake Shelton, Josh Turner and more.

Funk also helped develop Sony Music Nashville’s Tenille Townes, as well as signed songwriters Jim Beavers and Dave Pittenger. Her most recent signing was songwriter and producer Zarni deVette, who co-wrote Tigirlily’s “Somebody Does,” which debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes all-genre chart and neared the top of Billboard’s Country Digital Song Sales chart.

“Lauren’s passion for songs, songwriters, and artists is what makes her truly stand out as a creative director. She was fortunate to work closely with Carla Wallace, and to experience her leadership and the tremendous success of Big Yellow Dog,” shares Endurance President Michael Martin. “We are excited to welcome Lauren to the EMG family and kickstart her new creative journey together.”

She can be reached at [email protected].

MTSU Unveils Plans For Commercial Songwriting Program’s New Campus Home [Interview]

New MTSU Commercial Songwriting Building. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

Nestled on the outskirts of Nashville in nearby Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU). With its Recording Industry department, including concentrations in Music Business, Commercial Songwriting, and Audio Production, the University is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the Nashville music business.

Since beginning its Commercial Songwriting program in 2008 under the direction of professional songwriter Odie Blackmon (“I May Hate Myself In The Morning” by Lee Ann Womack, “She’ll Leave You With A Smile” by George Strait, “Nothin’ On But The Radio” by Gary Allan), the concentration has nearly doubled its enrollment, hosting 158 students this semester.

Nancy Jones, widow of country music legend George Jones in the Center for Popular Music visiting with commercial songwriting students in professor Odie Blackmon’s “Life and Music of George Jones” class. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

Called a “Grammy Factory” by NBC Nightly News, the program boasts many accomplishments, including award-winning alumni like Luke Laird, who has cuts by the likes of Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton, Trace Adkins, and Tim McGraw; Laura Rogers, one of the Secret Sisters; Erin Enderlin, who has written songs for Alan Jackson and Lee Ann Womack; country recording artists Chris Young and Mitchell Tenpenny; and many more.

MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting department also features eight adjunct faculty members who have ties to all parts of the industry, including alumni Dez Dickerson, founding member and guitar player of Prince & The Revolutions; Grammy-winning hip hop producer and songwriter Torrance “Street Symphony” Esmond (Yo Gotti, G-Eazy, 2 Chainz); No. 1 pop songwriter Shelly Peiken (“What a Girl Wants” by Christina Aguilera, “I’m a Mess” by Bebe Rexha); and more.

“We serve a lot of different types of songwriters. The classes are intimate, so there’s only around 12 students in a songwriting class. It’s been a joy creating the program,” Blackmon shares with MusicRow. “I’m most proud of the diversity of the faculty in the program, because it mirrors the diversity of our student body.

MTSU students in the Recording Industry program. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

“If you look at the different people that are teaching, we have all genres and backgrounds covered. Collaboration of people from different worlds and backgrounds is what makes great music,” he explains. “When you come to MTSU, you’re not in a bubble. We have a diverse faculty and student body, and we’re inclusive in nature. We’re open arms and we welcome all of the different people that come through our doors.”

Though not located directly on Nashville’s historic Music Row, MTSU has deservedly been receiving more and more attention over the last few years. The University has also celebrated many successful alumni within the music business, including Brian Wright, Executive VP, A&R at Universal Music Group Nashville; Kent Earls, publishing veteran and President of Kane Brown’s Verse 2 Music; Mike Molinar, General Manager of Big Machine Music; Daniel Miller, manager at Red Light Management and managing partner at Fusion Music; and award-winning producer Michael Knox (Jason Aldean, Trace Adkins, Montgomery Gentry); to name just a few.

With the growing exposure and student body, the Commercial Songwriting program will soon be moving into a new home on the campus.

The new Songwriting Center will include classrooms and a lounge area, both of which will be functional by January of 2022, as well as a state of the art beat lab, writers’ rooms, offices, a vending area, and an atrium fit for live performances for up to 300 people.

Rendering of new MTSU Commercial Songwriting Building. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

“[This new building] shows a commitment to the songwriting concentration, which is newer compared to the music business or audio,” Blackmon states. “It gives students confidence too. We’re going to have Gold and Platinum award plaques from different alumni line the walls so that when students walk down a hallway, they see people that have come before them that have actually done it. They’ll know they’re at the right place and that they can do this if they work hard.

“[Our students] deserve it and they’re going to get it at the cost of a state school education and not $60,000 a year,” he says.

Rendering of MTSU’s new Commercial Songwriting building floor plan. Photo: Courtesy of Odie Blackmon

The project, which is expected to be completed in its entirety in January of 2023, has already received over $300,000 in funding, but still needs some help for the new equipment.

Post-COVID, Blackmon expresses plans for live performance fundraisers with students from the program. “Several years ago, Eric Paslay, who’s an alumni, did a show where students opened up and got the experiential learning of opening a show. Eric closed the show and we sold tickets and also got donations, so I plan on doing more of those.”

With much in store over the coming months, MTSU’s Commercial Songwriting program has the promise of a bright, hopeful future ahead for the department and its many students. To contribute to the fundraising efforts for the program’s new home, you can go to the MTSU development webpage or click here to make a tax deductible donation to the Songwriting Center.

For more information on MTSU’s Recording Industry program and the Commercial Songwriting department, click here.