In the wake of global megastars like Taylor Swift, a raft of major league pop artist/writers are set to emerge from the traditionally country-focused city of Nashville, Tennessee.
That’s the view of the President of Warner/Chappell Nashville, Ben Vaughn, who believes that songwriters are more valued in his professional home than in any other place on earth.
It’s been a big year for Vaughn and Warner/Chappell in Music City. In February 2017, Vaughn was promoted by Warner/Chappell Chairman & CEO Jon Platt to the position of President, overseeing the company’s entire operation in Nashville.
Since then, accolades have come pouring in. During Country Music Week in November, Warner/Chappell were crowned ASCAP’s Publisher of the Year for a fifth year running. And at the Grammys last month, Warner/Chappell songwriters won in every single Country and Americana category – including Chris Stapleton taking home Best Country Song.
And last week, Warner/Chappell Nashville was named the No.1 country publisher in the quarterly airplay rankings, with a share of 27%, a new record for the company.
Vaughn is hitting new personal highs, too. He became the first music publisher to become the Chairman of the Academy of County Music in its 52 year history. (He also happened to be a big winner in the first ACM poker tournament in Vegas.)
Speaking to MBW, Vaughn notes that the geographic and figurative closeness of the Nashville creative community – particularly amongst its publishers and writers – fosters an unusually tight-knit local music business.
Ben Vaughn, Warner/Chappell
“Nashville is a real community,” he says. “Over the past five years it’s really evolved and changed, and this company has changed tremendously with it. Everybody here works together across three streets on Music Row.
“There’s definitely competition between us all, but it’s a collaborative competition; especially in publishing, where we work together on [songs] so often.
“This town thrives on collaboration. It just doesn’t pay to be an asshole in Nashville.”
A flurry of commercial activity has graced Music Row in the past 18 months, including Round Hill’s $245m acquisition of Carlin, BMG’s $100m+ acquisition of Broken Bow parent BBRMG and Sony Music’s launch of Nashville imprint Monument (in tandem with Sandbox Entertainment Founder and former UMG exec Jason Owen and producer/writer Shane McAnally).
This run of investment hasn’t escaped Vaughn’s attention – and fuels his forecast that an increasing number of pop artists will herald from Nashville in the coming years.
“Country is the foundation of Nashville, of course – and it continues to grow around the world. But a lot of the growth we’re seeing in Nashville today is around everything else,” he says.
“Nashville ultimately gave us the likes of Taylor Swift and Meghan Trainor, and there are a lot of opportunities for that kind of artist development here. We’ve seen multiple labels move A&R executives here and they’re not just thinking ‘country’.”
Warner/Chappell is certainly not immune to this trend – Vaughn says it’s recently seen a handful of its developing artist/writers sign pop label deals.
“That’s all relatively new stuff for Nashville, so I [forsee] a lot of growth in that area.”
So it’s likely that the next Taylor Swift – a country artist who embraced pop sensibilities on her way to superstardom – will arise from Nashville?
“I don’t just think it’s likely, I think it’s inevitable,” says Vaughn. “It will happen in much greater numbers in the future.
“There are so many companies, and we’re a leading player in that, investing in the Nashville space. It’s an exciting time.”
Warner/Chappell Nashville boasts a successful roster of established stars such as Rhett Akins, whose songs have been on the country airplay charts for more than seven straight years.
Its other key writers include Nicole Galyon, Lauren Alaina, Nathan Chapman, Lady Antebellum, Little Big Town, Dustin Lynch, Chris Stapleton, and Jesse Frasure, who in partnership with Roc Nation and Vaughn and his team, launched Rhythm House in 2016. Over the past year, Warner/Chappell has also enjoyed hits from new talent such as Devin Dawson, LANco and Midland.
Vaughn says that the commitment to Nashville by Warner/Chappell’s global boss Jon Platt has been a key factor in inspiring this success.
Platt and Vaughn previously worked together at EMI Music Publishing before it was acquired by a consortium led by Sony/ATV in 2012.
“Jon’s vision of Warner/Chappell is for it to be a true global creative company, and Nashville is a huge part of that,” says Vaughn.
Other transformative moves by Platt include appointing Mike Smith as MD of Warner/Chappell UK, bringing Santiago Menéndez-Pidal over from Sony, and opening a new A&R office in Berlin.
“Jon quickly figured out that Nashville is a songwriter-first town – that songwriters are celebrated more in Nashville, Tennessee than anywhere else in the world. Jon really vibed with that, because it’s his personal belief as well.”
Ben Vaughn [Pictured with Jon Platt]
“As a global company, we don’t like the idea of silos,” says Vaughn. “Nashville has so many people coming to this community to write songs which will travel all over the globe.
“I’ve been doing this over 20 years and I’ve never seen it like this. We’re having a blast; just knowing that every day can bring a different type of song that can be used anywhere. That’s new for this town, and it’s exciting.”
He adds: “Jon [Platt] has a tremendous heart, a tremendous creative capacity and a tremendous mind. We’ve worked together for almost eight years over two companies.
“At EMI, I remember he started coming to Nashville when he knew nobody down here. He literally fell in love with this community, and now he has a lot of good, deep relationships here.
“Jon quickly figured out that Nashville is a songwriter-first town – that songwriters are celebrated more in Nashville, Tennessee than anywhere else in the world. Jon really vibed with that, because it’s his personal belief as well. We really share the same focus in business and in life.”
Discussing what makes Warner/Chappell’s culture work particularly well in Nashville, Vaughn says: “We’re the oldest major, so the bones of this place are immersed in the culture of music, and we have so many great people working here.
“This is a fun company – we value our writers first and they feel that. Publishing is a business where you might not see the fruits of your efforts today for a year or two or longer, so you can’t think short-term. We focus a lot on making sure we do the small things correctly.”
Much industry chatter right now centers on whether songwriters are being fairly compensated by streaming services – as the likes of Spotify and Apple Music increasingly become the public’s favored way to consume music.
“I’m really confident that music is not a ‘want’, it’s a need for people, says Vaughn.
“Streaming is bringing a lot of new money into the music business – which is fantastic for all of us.
“As an industry, we’re going to get the economics right, because people need fantastic new music – and therefore, they have to have compelling songwriters and compelling performers to create those songs.”Music Business Worldwide