Interview with CLAY BRADLEY, A&R Sony Music Nashville - May 8, 2006
“I just signed Cole Degges after seeing him play at Tootsie’s,”
… says Clay Bradley, A&R at Sony Music Nashville, explaining which clubs he visits to scout for new talent. Clay has breakthrough credits for signing Gretchen Wilson (US No.1) and Josh Turner, and was awarded No.11 on the World Top 100 A&R Chart 2004.
In the interview, Clay confirms that Nashville remains the epicenter of country music and explains what makes him go to a club to listen to unsigned artists. He reveals in what ways artists should prepare, what they should feature on their websites, what the latest media scam was by an unsigned band who attracted the major labels and how come Clay signed a new artist after having watched him at a club, even though the show was “not very good”.
Included in the article: HitQuarters also lists contact information and submission guidelines to the clubs mentioned by Clay.
Historically, Nashville has been the capital of Country & Western music – is that still the case?
Nashville is still the epicenter of country music because the infrastructure is here - record labels, publishers, performing rights organisations, all the musicians and songwriters, and probably most importantly, the outlets to the radio, the commercial companies, and the commercial companies servicing the radio.
In terms of getting a record deal, how important is it for an aspiring Country artist to play shows in Nashville?
Well, it is important to some extent, but there are a thousand ways to skin a cat, or to get a record deal. Spreading your name is important anywhere – it’s important in Nashville, but it’s just as important in Atlanta. If you want to come to Nashville it will just make the process much easier for you. You have to understand that Nashville is a very unique community, and everybody out here will support you.
Do you still go to clubs scouting for new talent?
I go out to clubs 3-4 nights a week. I’ll go see anybody, anytime – that’s what I do. I’m at showcases Monday through Thursday, and I get my sleep on the weekends.
What venues in Nashville do you go to regularly?
I go to Douglas’ Corner, Tootsie’s down on Broadway… there’s a great little club downtown called Roberts’, and of course the world renowned Bluebird Café. There’s a circuit of clubs that all the artists and songwriters play at, and I go to all of them.
How would an unsigned artist go about getting shows at these venues?
I think it’s pretty easy. You’d have to network, meet people, go to the club personally, meet the owner, and play a few songs.
Who was the most recent artist that you signed after seeing a live performance?
I just signed Cole Degges, a guitar/vocal work type. I actually signed him after seeing him play at Tootsie’s.
What was it about Cole specifically that made you interested in him as a potential signing?
When I look for singers I look for something that’s not vanilla, and there is a lot of vanilla out there. This guy had a unique sound in his voice, good styling, and lots of character.
You signed him after the live show – what was it about the performance that made an impression on you?
To be honest with you, the show was not very good, but I saw potential in the guy and we spent a lot of time developing him. Usually what is really important in getting a deal is the material you have, the actual songs, but in Cole’s case it was the opposite – it was his voice, and the way he carried himself. We spent a year working on the material with him, finding songs that fit him, and really developing the material to suit his voice.
When you go to live shows, what is it that you look for in the performance?
First of all, before anyone decides to play for me, they better have at least a hundred dates under their belt. I suggest you play your best material early because it’s really about the first two songs. And I think if you’re showcasing for a record label, you need to do it all – have some uptempos, and definitely sing at least one ballad. The connection with the audience is important; that’s what separates the chaff from the grain for me.
Should an artist bring their demo to the showcase?
By the time I come to see a show I’ve already been through all of that.
How can an artist shopping for a deal get a demo to you?
Through a publisher, or a performing rights organization. I don’t accept unsolicited material. I only accept material from reputable publishers or the PRO’s, which are organizations that collect broadcast royalties. They have a division called writer/publisher relations and all of these people have connections to A&Rs all over the world.
I would imagine you have a lot of demos on your desk. How do you choose the ones you listen to?
I’ll listen to everything for 10 seconds. I’ll only listen to it longer if it’s interesting musically. I think if you’re going to shotgun out some demos to people in the industry, you better put your best material first. If you put it last, I might not get to it.
Is the packaging important?
I don t think it’s that important. If the music is interesting, I will take the next step of finding out more about that person. I’ll be interested in the rest of the package after I hear the music.
Do you accept demo submissions in mp3 format?
I love being sent mp3s, and I love it when somebody makes a DVD as an artist pitch. I just had a guy send me a DVD to scout out a girl in Toronto. So now I get to see what I’m going there for - in the end there are no surprises for me.
Are there any other formats or types of technology you would recommend to artists?
There’s a rock band here in town, and they did a video with their cell-phones and sent the link around. I watched it and it was fantastic! Now they’re getting signed to a major record label. Not in Nashville because they make rock, but in New York.
They were signed to a major just because of this cell-phone video?
Well I got their CD and listened to the record, and I thought it was pretty good, but it didn’t connect with me, but when I saw this video they had made on their cell-phones, I got it and it was on!!
Do you check artist websites?
Usually what I do when I get somebody’s CD is I go to their website and find out where they are playing, and then just do some extra research.
What are some important features that an artist should have on their website?
Websites should have tour dates, contact info, and pictures. I would also suggest that every artist that has a website posts new songs there at least quarterly. As an A&R if I’m interested in this artist, and I keep on going to their website and seeing new songs there every time, it tells me that they are working very hard and taking their career seriously.
Though keep in mind that only one in a thousand gets signed - you can’t sign everybody you like, but you can help them. I may not get them onboard in my wagon, but my interest in them might help them get signed somewhere else.
Artists seeking to play at the venues listed in the interview may contact the clubs through the following addresses. Below you will also find some information about individual booking policies.
4104 Hillsboro Road
Nashville, TN 37215 -2701
Tel. +1 615 383 1461
For writers who haven't played at the Bluebird and writers from out of town, Open Mic is the place to start. It gives songwriters a chance to play 2 of their own original songs, solo or accompanied by no more than 2 others on stage. Drums and backing tracks are not allowed.
Sign up Monday nights at 5:30. You must be signed up by 5:45. The line up is announced at 6:00, show runs 6:00-9:00.
Sunday Writers Nights
These shows are scheduled by audition, and through this screening process writers know that they have been selected to play along with other writers who show growing talent and maturity in their songwriting and performance skills.
These shows feature 9-12 songwriters playing 3 songs each. The show is hosted, and each show ends with a special guest performance by a hit-writing songwriter from the Nashville Music Industry. Sunday nights are always well attended, which gives the writer a chance to perform for a full room.
The writers’ performances are rated and filed for use by the Bluebird to determine when a writer might be eligible to perform during the week on our early shows and spotlight shows. All performances must be acoustic, no drums, backing tracks and no more than 3 people on stage. There is no pay for these shows but CD sales are permitted.
Auditions are held quarterly, and are ONLY open to Nashville residents, people residing within a 100 mile radius of Nashville and active members of an NSAI regional chapter. They are judged by Bluebird staff and professionals from the Music Industry.
Touring artists with professional products and press from out of town newspapers may send a promo package for consideration.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
Nashville, TN 37203
Tel. +1 615 726 0463 or cell +1 615 405 9670
Tootsie’s selects the talent for their music program through auditions. In order to set up an audition it is necessary to answer the following questions and forward them along with a booking request to the club via email.
1. How old are you?
2. Where do you live?
3. Do you write your own music?
4. Are you a veteran performer?
5. Do you play with a band?
6. Do you play an instrument?
7. Do you have a bio, website or promotional package?
8. Have you recorded a CD?
9. Do you have a set list with the keys of the songs?
Douglas Corner Café
2106-A 8th Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37204 - 2204
Tel. +1 615 298 1688
Robert's Western World
Nashville, TN 37203-3931
Tel. +1 615 244 9552
Interviewed by Lukasz Polowczyk
Next week: HitQuarters Artist Signed Deal With Shady Records!
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