Your Take: You’re the CEO

Ken Morton, Jr. | May 18th, 2013

With four kids in the Morton household, it seems that many discussions often turn to questions of “why?” or “what if?” This past week, the question posed at dinner time was, “What if you won a billion dollars in the lottery?”

Dancing a jig and then paying half back to the government in taxes are a given. But suppose you came home with half a billion dollars, and because of your passion for music– (and probable bad business sense)–decided to open up your very own record label on Music Row. It’s called [Your Last Name] Records and you’ve assembled the best production, promotion and management teams that money can buy.

So now comes the big question: Who do you sign? For purposes of today’s Your Take column, assume that you, as the label president/CEO, can sign five different groups or solo artists to start your label. The only rules? The artists can’t currently be signed to another label. We want to know which five artists you’d choose and a little reasoning behind your picks. 

  1. Juli Thanki
    May 18, 2013 at 8:45 am

    The first name that came to my mind was Lee Ann Womack. I’m dying to hear new music from her.

  2. Mike Wimmer
    May 18, 2013 at 9:18 am

    1. Jamey Johnson-I know he is technically with a label already, but they are in dispute over how he feels he is paid/treated so I would try and get him out of that contract and sign him. He is probably overrated in some circles, but I want original content from him again. The Hank Cochran album was good and an awesome gesture, but I want to hear some dark, good Country songs from him again.

    2.Hellbound Glory-They deserve a bigger audience. They have really grown as a band over the past couple years, I felt like their first two albums were pretty mediocre, but Leroy Virgils songwriting really took a sharp jump with their last album, Damaged Goods. They seem to really be rolling now.

    3.Strugill Simpson- He is a pretty new discovery for me, but what I have heard has been awesome. Smart, entertaining songwriting.

    4.Lee Ann Womack–For the reasons listed above by Juli.

    5.John Anderson–He still has the vocal chops, he just needs the material. His Easy Money album was probably the best thing John Rich ever touched, which granted isnt saying much, but I digress. The fact remains he can still belt it out like he once did and if given the right material could really make some awesome albums still.

  3. Juli Thanki
    May 18, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Oh, good thinking with Hellbound Glory, Mike. Their music matured so much between Old Highs & New Lows and Damaged Goods; I’m looking forward to seeing where Leroy and crew go from here.

  4. Jonathan Pappalardo
    May 18, 2013 at 9:53 am

    I would sign:

    1) Trisha Yearwood – I don’t believe she’s affiliated with Big Machine Records anymore and a new CD has been a long time comin’

    2) Julie Roberts – She’s just too talented to have slipped through the cracks

    3) Lee Ann Womack – I agree with everyone’s assessments above

  5. bob
    May 18, 2013 at 9:55 am

    There was a survey by cmt.com dated 3/31/10 which showed more than 175 country act signed to major labels. I couldn’t find anything more recent. Who are the current free agents?

  6. Jack Williams
    May 18, 2013 at 10:04 am

    The first name that came to my mind was electic bluesman Alvin Youngblood Hart. He hasn’t released a proper album since 2005′s Motivational Speaker, which blew me away. Thought I read somewhere that he was fed up with the music recording industry and might be done with releasing albums. I would try to talk him out of that.

  7. Ken Morton, Jr.
    May 18, 2013 at 10:47 am

    Jonathan, I actually had this exact conversation with Julie Roberts a couple weeks ago. She came out with Emily West, Summerlin Road, Lindsay Lawler and Jimmy Wayne for an event that I was doing in Sacramento. When we kidded about all of those friends being on my imaginary label and going out on a travelling road show together, she teased, “We might not make a ton of money, but we certainly would have the most fun you could possibly have in the music business.” I think she’s probably right.

  8. Ken Morton, Jr.
    May 18, 2013 at 10:51 am

    BTW- Julie’s been in the recording studio all this past week and will be unveiling something new soon.

  9. Daniel Mullins
    May 18, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    Lee Ann Womack is a must.

    I would also sign Wyatt McCubbin. He was featured on The Music Inside: A Tribute to Waylon Vol II. He’s got great vocals, but he’s also a killer songwriter. I’d like to snatch him up before someone else does!

  10. SCOOTER
    May 18, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Sturgill Simpson – fantastic artist

    Ashton Shepherd – I know she was recently dropped and a lot of people complain about her writing, but that “made for country” voice needs to be repackaged – not sure how.

    Jason Eady- I saw him live a few weeks ago and I really like him. Not sure if he is currently signed.

    Kellie Pickler and Sunny Sweeney- I know they are both already signed now but they were on the market not too long ago. Would have been a great time to sign them

    Is Tim Culpepper signed?

  11. KC
    May 18, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    My picks seem to be doing ok without a label, but I would sign them even if it was just to guarantee them wide distribution.

    Holly Williams – I think she’s a compelling songwriter and I like the sound of her new indie record.

    Antje Duvekot – Strong singer-songwriter. I think she should be more well-known.

    Lori McKenna – One of my favorite songwriters that seems to bounce around labels. I don’t think she’s signed right now, but I might be wrong.

    Lee Ann Womack – Like Juli, I just want to hear new music from her.

    The fifth spot would permanently be open for Ashley Monroe. I know she’s signed right now, but if that ever changed I would sign her in an instant.

  12. Arlene
    May 19, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison’s current terrific album, Cheater’s Game, was financed via Kickstarter. If they are still unsigned, they’d be my first choice– I’d love to hear another duets album from them.

  13. Occasional Hope
    May 19, 2013 at 10:15 am

    Is Patty Loveless free now, since she’s implied she doesn’t seem to have any plans to record again, but perhaps my virtual millions could persuade her.

    Lee Ann Womack, an obvious choice, and an album pretty much ready to go.

    Tracy Byrd can come out of retirement – he’s someone who improved after he left a major label and I loved his last album.

    I think I might like to give Morgane Hayes a chance. When she was signed to one of the RCA family of labels some years ago she had some nice songs streaming on Myspace, and her voice is very pretty. I was sorry nothing ever came out.

    Not sure about my final spot; I like a lot of the suggestions people above have made, but I might pick up someone like Lance Miller, Lane Turner or Matt Jenkins – all fine singers who have never had the oportunity to release proper full-length albums and I’d like to hear more from.

    Oh, and as a reserve in case anyone turne me down or I lose the fight to LAW to one of her copmpeting offers, I’ll consider Diamond Rio as a group would add diversity and I’ve missed their glorious harmonies on record.

    I suppose it would be too meanspirited to sign someone whose music I hate and could tie into a Curb style lifetime contract to protect the world from exposure ;)

  14. Luckyoldsun
    May 19, 2013 at 10:44 am

    Can’t say I necessarily know who is or isn’t signed, but I have no knowledge that any of the following are under contract: Garth Brooks, Clint Black and Travis Tritt–and I believe they each still know something about how to make a record.

    (And if I can get those three, I’ll take anyone you want to give me for the other two.)

  15. Barry Mazor
    May 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    The assumption that everybody would be signed if only they could be no longer is necessarily so..Given the relatively much higher return to the artist on putting one out themselves, or through a “you make the record/we handle the business end/get it out and around” deal in the Thirty Tigers mode, established names especially may choose other ways now, unless radio charting means the world to them–and may well not, given the unlikelihood of that for most anybody at this point, and alternative streaming/online channels. Kelly Willis, for example, is still still signed to Rykodisc; Bruce & Kelly, as a duo act, chose to go about things the way they did. And say they could again.

  16. Jon
    May 20, 2013 at 9:41 am

    Morgane Stapleton (nee Hayes) is all over Guy Clark’s new album.

  17. bll
    May 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

    A friend of mine ran in to Trisha Yearwood in Target and she said she’d been working on new music, hopefully to come out in the fall. She said
    Garth is also gearing up and writing for a new project and they both hope to tour once Colleen graduates.

  18. Luckyoldsun
    May 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

    Wow, Trisha’s very talkative with folks who run into her at Target.

  19. TX Music Jim
    May 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm

    Lee Ann Womack for sure we need some new music.
    Turnpike Troubadors They have been releasing some great material and are ready for prime time as far as live shows go.
    Jason Boland and The Straglers the new album is amazing and they are as good as anybody touring live.
    It would be nice to see what Boland and the Troubadors could do with exposure to a wider audience. Lee Ann is a treasure she could have a hit right out of the box with proper support.

  20. Jordan Stacey
    May 21, 2013 at 2:22 am

    ooh 5 is very limiting but I’ll give it a go. (Please note I’m trying for radio success, my choices would change a bit if I didn’t gactor that in.)

    Sarah Buxton – She’s got the song writing talent and a really different sounding voice and I think she can still score a hit if need be.

    Dean Brody – I know he has a deal in Canada but he’s got nothing going on in the U.S. and with all his recent material I think he’d be a big hit below the border. He got shafted with Broken Bow and I think he needs a better chance.

    Jessi Alexander & Jon Randall – I’d sign them as a duo, They’re one of the most talented couples in Country music and neither of them have ever really broke out as performers and I’d love to give them a chance.

    Joanna Cotten – Best and most interesting female vocalist who didn’t get to have a hit her first time around. Even if she doesn’t take off it’d be worth hearing all the music she could be making.

    Matt Mason – 2 reality shows later and he still doesn’t have a full album out, he’s got an amazing voice I’d like to see a label put some real money behind him.

  21. Doug Gilliland
    May 23, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    Can’t say for sure if these artists are currently unsigned, but I would love to hear new material from Kathy Mattea, John Conlee, Earl Thomas Conley and T. Graham Brown.

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