Wednesday, 25 April, 2007 11:17 PM
London Calling: Hit Songwriter
Craig Wiseman Takes His "Big Loud Shirt" Overseas
BY TONY PHIPPS / CMA
Songwriter Craig Wiseman
Robert L. Doerschuk
2007 CMA Close Up News Service
Nashville and London
have a lot in common - English is spoken fluently in both cities.
And both towns are teeming with songwriters, though the treatment
received by these sensitive souls can differ dramatically from one
side of the pond to the other.
It comes down to this:
In Nashville, it's understood that if you give the writer space
and encouragement and get their songs to the right recording artist,
you make money. In London, younger writers might not have the benefit
of that kind of attention until they stumble into the spotlight.
Even then, in the fickle British music market, there's always someone
new coming along.
That, at least, is how
Craig Wiseman sees it, from his perch as founder, head guy, and
resident songwriting giant at Big Loud Shirt Industries, the publishing
company he established on Music Row in 2003. Coincidentally, so
does Marc Sher.
"Marc is the best
song man in Europe," Wiseman insisted, dressed contrary to
his company logo in a subdued black shirt. "He signed Steve
Robson, who wrote hits for Rascal Flatts and Jeffrey Steele. He
signed [British hit songwriter] Wayne Hector. But about a year ago
he was despondent. In fact, he was thinking about getting out of
the music business, which had turned into a soulless, clueless behemoth,
careening around drunk with a baseball bat, because it had been
taken over by lawyers and accountants."
Wiseman and Sher are
cut from the same cloth, each driven by his thirst for a good song.
For Wiseman, that has meant songwriting, an exercise that produced
more than a dozen No. 1 Country singles for Kenny Chesney, Diamond
Rio, Tim McGraw and Phil Vassar, while earning him countless awards,
including a GRAMMY and coveted CMA Song of the Year trophies at
the 2004 and 2006 CMA Awards for Tim McGraw's "Live Like You
Were Dying" and "Believe" recorded by Brooks &
Dunn and co-written with Ronnie Dunn. In 2006, Wiseman was named
Billboard's Country Songwriter of the Year. His success has allowed
him to build Big Loud Shirt's Nashville roster to include Brad Crisler,
Clay Cumbie and Betsy Ulmer. Sher's pursuit was through publishing,
beginning as a song plugger and working his way up to high-level
positions with EMI, Rondor Music and V2.
It was in the latter
position that despair became part of Sher's job. "People throughout
London were pretty down about the entertainment business,"
he remembered. "I was schooled with the idea of being very
hands-on, writer-friendly - much closer to the Nashville model.
It was more political in London; it wasn't about the best song as
much as who you know and how you play the game."
Feeling his friend's
pain, Wiseman persuaded Sher to hang with him in Nashville for a
while. One day they found themselves out at Wiseman's place near
Rock Island, floating in the Caney Fork River in the heavy summer
"That's when I said,
'Marc, how much would it take for you to open an office, get some
writers and make it happen for about a year?'" Wiseman recalled.
"We started talking about it, and five minutes later our lawyer,
Derek Crownover, who was with us, said, 'Are we making a deal in
the river?' And I said, 'Yeah, I guess we are.'"
Baptized in the spirit
of songwriting excellence, Big Loud Shirt was born again that afternoon,
as an international operation. Sher was designated Managing Director
of the London bureau, with complete freedom to scout and develop
new writing talent. He's even recruited a colleague, Darrin Robson,
to oversee operations for the company in Ireland, where the songwriting
stream runs deep with untapped talent.
"We're giving a
huge opportunity to all small, independent publishers," Sher
said. "The major publishers will pay top dollar for established
talent, but development is out the window. The pendulum has swung
too far in that direction, but there's already a definite swing
away from the manufactured bands here - the Spice Girls and all
that. And Big Loud Shirt augmenting that and other independents
possibly following us, the music will be getting better still."
Wiseman summed up his
European venture in less businesslike terms: "I spent a few
years piling up money, until I was like, 'Man, is this it? Is it
just about Craig driving a nice car?' Well, no, it isn't; it's about
allowing new writers to find their dreams, to let angels work in
their lives. You can't put that on a spreadsheet or explain it to
stockholders. And try to get a lawyer not to glaze over two minutes
into that conversation. But that's what drives me now."
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