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Entertainment News

Wednesday, 25 April, 2007 11:17 PM

London Calling: Hit Songwriter Craig Wiseman Takes His "Big Loud Shirt" Overseas

PHOTO BY TONY PHIPPS / CMA

Hit Songwriter Craig Wiseman

By 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 heat.

"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."

On the Web: www.bigloudshirt.com

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