Nate Rau, email@example.com 11:17 p.m. CST January 6, 2016
(Photo: Larry McCormack / The Tennessean)
Before Shane McAnally reached the Music Row mountaintop, before he ever had a song top the charts or produced a hit record and certainly before he owned his own music company, he was at the center of a misfit group of songwriters who got together for a retreat at a cabin on Center Hill Lake.
At the time, only McAnally had achieved a modicum of success even though he and the other members of his crew — Brandy Clark, Josh Osborne, Trevor Rosen, Matthew Ramsey and Matt Jenkins — each had been trying to make a living at music in Nashville for about 10 years. McAnally had earned a cut for his co-write on Lee Ann Womack's song, “Last Call,” that was creeping up the charts in 2008.
But, he had also experienced disappointment as a country recording artist freshly returned to Nashville from a stab at stardom in Los Angeles.
Those trips to the Center Hill Lake cabin foreshadowed the traits that have defined McAnally’s career — an obsessive, unbridled passion for songwriting, an eye for both creative and business talent, and unbending loyalty for those close to him.
Entering 2016, McAnally is in the midst of a hot streak having guided Old Dominion, whose founding members Rosen and Ramsey were at the cabin retreats, to the top of the charts. And McAnally is poised for more success, having produced Jake Owen's recently completed new album.
McAnally's track record — he has written 15 No. 1 songs, won CMA and Grammy awards and last year was named Billboard magazine’s No. 1 hot country songwriter, No. 4 hot country producer and No. 7 hot country publisher for his company Smack Songs. Every album McAnally has produced or co-produced has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Album.
“If you could have had a window into the future when we would all set up there and literally would write with no agenda because none of us had anything going on,” McAnally said. “We would all just write songs we loved and a lot of those songs got recorded. There was something special about everyone in that crew.”
With Old Dominion, McAnally showed his knack for artist development, another feather in his cap. His approach to his career shows the sort of progressive strategy necessary in today’s rough and tumble music industry. McAnally doesn’t just hang his hat on songwriting. He’s also produced for the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Sam Hunt.
“Shane has taken so many careers to the next level. We are certainly one of those groups,” Ramsey said. “Just by being around him, he somehow makes you want to be better. So he really brings out the best in you as a writer, and he has the same effect in the studio as a producer. Maybe even more so there.”
Move to Sony rumored in 2015
With the launch of Smack Songs, McAnally hung his shingle as the owner of an independent publishing, production and artist development company. And, there are indications that the fiery, fast-talking 41-year-old’s influence could spread.
Last year, it was widely speculated on Music Row that artist manager Jason Owen was the preferred candidate to take over Sony Music Nashville, and that McAnally would work there developing artists and picking songs.
“If I were going to have taken the Sony gig I would have surrounded myself with people that are experts in what they do,” Jason Owen said. “I believe that’s how you succeed. I believe there are very few people as good as Shane in (finding and developing artists) and picking songs and identifying talent.”
Owen said McAnally’s eye for talent, whether it’s in songwriting or in business, has served him well. McAnally’s life partner and business partner at Smack Songs, Michael McAnally Baum, agreed.
“I think (McAnally) does see the best in people and he creates an environment for them to be their best,” Baum said. “I’ve seen it with songwriters and artists. In a business sense, his first (key partnership was with Smack Songs Vice President) Robin Palmer. He saw in her that she had a very good set of ears and just knew she would be the type of person who could steer him to acts.”
Owen and Baum also agreed that working as a traditional record label executive may not be the best career path for McAnally because it could stifle his creative pursuits. But Baum said Smack Songs could expand into something similar to Big Machine Label Group, the juggernaut label, publishing and entertainment company founded by Scott Borchetta and home to megastar Taylor Swift.
“My personal belief is that is the trajectory he’s on,” Baum said. “At some point, I think it will happen a lot more organically.”
Success with variety of artists
Like his occasional collaborator and fellow hit-making songwriter Luke Laird, McAnally found success with a diverse array of artists. He topped the charts with radio favorite Hunt and won Grammy and CMA awards for his work with critical darling Musgraves.
"They're different, but in a lot of ways they're the same," McAnally said of Hunt and Musgraves. "In the studio they both know what will or won't work for them, and that is impossible to learn."
The writers who got together at Center Hill Lake were a diverse group in terms of their approaches and musical interests. Clark said the common denominator in their careers has been McAnally. In a full-circle moment, Clark's career took off so much she ended up buying the cabin on Center Hill Lake.
"Shane really was the one who believed in all of us (at the cabin) when maybe not everyone else did," Clark said. "I think that's part of what makes him so special. His support has been invaluable to me. There's still days it's hard to believe in yourself or when as good as things are you can focus on the thing that doesn't happen. When I have one of those days he's a good person for me to talk to because his belief never wavers."
Reach Nate Rau at 615-259-8094 and on Twitter @tnnaterau.
ABOUT SHANE McANALLY
- Former country artist on Curb Records
- Songwriter with 15 No. 1 songs
- Producer for Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves, Old Dominion and Jake Owen
- Co-owner of Smack Songs
originally published: http://www.tennessean.com/story/entertainment/2016/01/06/shane-mcanally-shows-eye-talent-music-business/78254786/?from=global&sessionKey=&autologin=