Steve Buchanan Production Commentary #202

By MusicLounge Oct 08, 2013

Nashville EP# 202 - "Never No More"

“The art [of music] is beautiful. The business can eat you alive.” Deacon’s jaded, been there-done-that warning to his wide-eyed rising songbird niece Scarlett stages the theme for “Never No More,” a dark peek behind the glittery curtain of today’s faster than the speed of digital downloads country music business.

It is there we find Jeff Fordham, the new head of Edgehill Records, just purchased by a major corporate conglomerate. To Rayna’s query “Is he a creative guy?” Bucky replies with a classic Music Row put-down: “No, he’s an MBA bean counter.”

The emergence of recording studios in Nashville in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s opened the doors for the major recording labels headquartered in New York and Los Angeles to open Nashville offices. For several decades, they were headed by ‘creative guys,’ ie:  musicians and/or producers like Owen Bradley and Chet Atkins, two of the first trailblazers in the formation of Music Row. They made creative decisions on songs, production and music, while many of the business decisions continued to be made in what were then the music industry centers on either coast.

As Nashville labels and revenue grew, national headquarters began sending ‘bean counters’---sharp, young, rising executives with finance/business/marketing/sales backgrounds---to Nashville to run the finance/business/marketing/sales and promotion components of the music the creative teams were producing.

Outsiders weren’t exactly welcomed in years past with open arms into the tight-knit, communal environment of Music Row,  but as country music exploded, it was ultimately accepted that a savvy bean counter with a business background was probably a pretty good thing to have on board when multi-million dollar deals in a multi-billion dollar industry were concerned. 

Every single major label head today worked their way up the ranks in the music business and most of them did so through marketing, sales or promotion.  Even the most left-brained among them have a deep appreciation for the right brains, and a passionate love of the music they are selling.

So far, Fordham shows no such attributes in his takeover of Edgehill Records.  In the course of just a couple days, the smooth operator lies, insults, threatens, derides, gloats, reneges, poaches and pits one artist against another.

When Fordham said to Rayna, “I’ve got your back” what was left in his thought bubble was “… and the knife I just thrust into it.”

Later, as Rayna and Will sit in the balcony of the venerated Ryman Auditorium and she tries to persuade him to honor his commitment to her fledgling Highway 65 label rather than succumbing to Fordham’s promise to make him the next big thing at the really big Edgehill Records, she says, “I want to protect you as an artist, let you grow and find your voice. I will always have your back.”  One senses she means it, yet Will opts for Edgehill, telling Rayna, “I’m not an artist. I’m just a guy who’s good at singing other people’s songs.” And one who will have to be even better at hiding his secrets.

Juliette’s path from trailer park trash to CMA Female Vocalist of the Year was long and hard, fueled by relentless drive and old wounds, filled with insecurities and betrayals. As she is painfully witnessing, in the new order, the leap ‘from nothing to Nashville’ can be just 12 weeks, the time it took 19-year old Layla Grant to snag second place on “American Hitmaker.” Or it can be less than 30 minutes, how long it took Fordham to leapfrog his brand-new signee’s digital debut single over Juliette’s on iTunes, a stinging warning from Fordham that her quest to leave the tween audience behind for a more mature sound and true artistic expression, might just be her hardest path yet. 

- Steve Buchanan
Nashville Executive Producer