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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: PAUL WORLEY

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: PAUL WORLEY

By Nashville Columnist James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

In addition to a mantle full of Grammy's, CMA and ACM awards including 2011 Producer of the Year, Paul Worley has received countless nominations and honors from CMT and the American Music Awards, boasting in all more than $1 billion worth of sales. In the past few years, Worley shared four more Grammy awards with Lady Antebellum, including Best Country Song for Need You Now, Song of the Year, Record of the Year for Need You Now and Best Country Album.

Paul Worley
Paul Worley

Worley was born and raised in Nashville, sang in the youth choir in church, taught himself how to play guitar, played in bands throughout university and graduated from Vanderbilt with a degree in Philosophy Today, Paul and his wife Karen, a violinist whom he met on a Martina McBride session, have two children...10 & 7...along with Paul's older children from a previous marriage...35 & 33 and one grandchild.

His multi-hat career as a producer, label executive and publisher started in the late 1970s, when Jim Ed Norman hired Worley as a session guitarist on albums by Janie Fricke, Eddy Raven, Mickey Gilley, and Johnny Lee.

"When Jim Ed moved to Nashville from LA he called Marshall Morgan (engineer) and Marshall said; I've got some guys that are really good, so Jim Ed gave us a try and liked us. He knew that we were interested in producing and playing in Jim Ed's rhythm section gave us the opportunity to watch him and learn how to build records.

My first productions were Ryders In The Sky, Burl Ives and Tennessee Ernie Ford for the National Geographic Society, who got into the music business for a period of time to document Americana. After a number of years Jim Ed was getting offers that he couldn't handle so he gave us a chance to produce Gospel artist Cynthia Clawson.

I had also during that time started helping out my songwriter buddies. I would see them go into the studio to record demos and just flounder and not know how to communicate and get what they wanted, so I offered to organize their sessions. As those demos circulated, and as some of those writers started to have deals, I was eventually sought out by Jerry Bradley at RCA to produce Eddy Raven. I had met Eddy when I played on his previous album produced by Jimmy Bowen. My first number one single was Eddie Raven's I Got Mexico."

As his production discography blossomed, Worley partnered up with famed drummer Eddie Bayers and built The Money Pit (studio) in 1984. Some of the artists who recorded at the Money Pit were Martina McBride, Sara Evans, Big and Rich, Pam Tillis and Bruce Hornsby and Kid Rock. The studio sold in 2004, but historically, this is where Worley first met Clarke Schleicher, who landed his first gig as assistant engineer with Ed Seay, after graduating from MTSU. Both being motor-cycle enthusiasts, Worley's Gold Wing and Schleicher's BMW, have logged more than a few road trips together over the years

Clarke Schleicher
Clarke Schleicher

Schleicher (pronounced Sly-sher), who has now been at the desk with Worley for the past 25+ years and Lady Antebellum since the band's self-titled debut album in 2008, now owns and operates L. Clarke Schleicher Engineering in Nashville and is Studio Services Director, at Warner Bros. Records, where Clarke has become, one of the most highly respected engineer/mixers in Nashville and a big part of Lady A's pure Grammy winning sound.

Worley went on to become a Vice President at Sony BMG in 1989.

"I got a call to go work at Tree Publishing Company. A lot of producers have come through Tree. I was working there with songwriters like Harlan Howard and Curly Putman, Don Cooke and Kix Brooks before he started making albums. CBS bought Tree and Sony bought CBS and I was there during that transition. After a few years at Tree, Sony wanted to make a change in their executive structure. They tried to get Tim Dubois but couldn't get him out of his contract with Arista. They tried to get Tony Brown but couldn't get him away fro MCA and along the way they kind of realized that I was right there making hit records for everybody else, so they took me in over there."

In 1992, while at Tree, Worley began what has become one of most coveted producer/artist relationships in the history of Country Music with superstar Martina McBride. Their collaboration in the studio has archived 13 Albums throughout their unprecedented 20 year journey together. Worldwide, Martina has sold over 16 million albums. In addition, Martina has won the Academy of Country Music's "Top Female Vocalist" award three times and the Country Music Association's "Female Vocalist of the Year" award four times (tied with Reba McEntire for the most wins).

Before taking on his second major label position as Chief Creative Officer at Warner Bros. Records in 2002, Worley earned two Grammy Awards with the Dixie Chicks, for Best Country Album, 1998's Wide Open Spaces and 1999's Fly. Worley also played guitar on their albums, and still plays on most of his projects.

"Every time a guy like me goes into a corporate job, you go in there thinking I can be the creative for the corporation and I can make a difference, I can help the artists, I can help everyone understand each other, and keep the company thinking outside of the box, which of course it needs to do. So you go in there with best of intentions."

In 2004 Worley, producer Wally Wilson and two other partners founded Skyline Music Publishing and Skyville Records. Among the songwriters initially signed to Skyline were Hugh Prestwood, who wrote Randy Travis' Number One single Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart, Jimmy Yeary, Tammy Hyler, who wrote for Collin Raye, and Russ Titelman. Today Skyline's staff writers include The Henningsens and Jon Stone. In association with Skyline, Worley and his partners built Shabby Row, a project/overdub studio whose quirky name greatly misrepresents the projects that have since been produced there.

The Producer's Chair: How did you feel about the Dixie Chicks leaving country music?
Paul Worley: They certainly felt spurned by Nashville and had big feelings about it, especially Natalie. One time I said you know you're letting them win. If you let them defeat you like this, you're giving them the victory. Just try and rise above it. And she said Paul, if you had gotten 700 credible death threats, to you and your family, you'd feel differently about it. And I couldn't say otherwise.

Whose decision was it to co-produce The Band Perry?
Their father paid for Clarke and I to record 7 sides and I worked with them over a period of a year and a half doing artist and song development. I introduced them to The Henningsens who wrote and co-wrote a lot of the songs that are on the album. We cut the sides that got them their deal then as it evolved, Scott Borchetta had Nathan Chapman do a couple of songs and then they ended up cutting yet anther song with Matt Serletic, so the final album wound up being a collaboration of all 3 of our camp's work.

How did you meet Lady A?
Tracy Gershon and Chris Lacey had seen them and they really liked them and encouraged me to come out and see them perform at 3rd & Lindsley. I didn't even want to go. But I went to the show and they blew me away. I ran straight up to the stage after the show and said; Look...what ever you want, you want a record deal, you got it, anything you want, just tell me.

Did Lady A methodically prepare for a record deal?
I think they instinctively knew what they needed to do to be ready. Hillary had a long-standing relationship with Victoria Shaw, so Victoria worked with them on their live show, their songs and coached them. When I saw them, it was already figured out. They really kind of crystallized in me the prototype of artist development of today. You can't just come to town with talent and dreams and you can't look for somebody to figure it out for you. You can look for someone to help you out and take their advice, but you've gotta do it. I don't mean any disrespect but the last place you want to develop as an artist is at a record label. They've got too much on their plate, too many things to focus on. You want to get your team together and go and figure it out.

Was it Warner's decision to not sign Lady A that caused you to leave in 2006?
I really felt that Lady A was going to be the thing that would encourage me to stay at Warner. When that wasn't going to happen, I just called up Tom Whalley and said; you gotta let me go.

You allowed Capitol to re-do Lady A's mixes for international releases. How did that work out?
I was the one belly-achin' about it. I said; they want it really bright and thin and no warmth and no low end and no depth and no dimension. Poor Mike Dungan had to listen to it but he said; look, they want it for the UK, they want their own thing.

Do you like the new 50/50 partnership deals being offered to artists today?
I think a 50/50 deal, after investments are re-cooped at the end of the day is a good position for an artist and their funding entity to be in. 360 is a word that nobody wants to use anymore. But that model where the money side of the equation is investing in the career, not just the recording career puts everybody in the same business. Think of it this way, a 50/50 after recoupment deal is the same as saying the artist has a 50% royalty rate! Obviously for that to work the label partner has to be cut in on other income streams. The trick is to get those other percentages right.

Do you think the new venture capitol money coming into Nashville will widen or narrow the gap between the business and the creative?
I think that part of what the music industry has suffered over the past 15 years started when these individually owned mom & pop companies went to Wall Street to get investment capital, they became subservient to the Wall Street cycle of doing business, which is quarterly. It started messing with the creative process in a way that I think has been partly responsible for a slow decline of real music entrepreneurialism. A musical cycle for a company has a 2 year long wavelength to it. When you’re going down the backside of that wavelength and you're going to go in the dip below the line, capital has to be saved so that the company can run and function and get to that next inevitable rise. If you stick to your creative principles as a company, you will emerge once again to profitability. The quarterly wave length negates that kind of thinking.

Are there more opportunities today, for producers to benefit financially?
I'm making a living and I'm grateful that I get to do what I do, which is artist development. I'm making money off of the sales of the music and I do have some publishing interests. To participate in the publishing is a good way to spread the reward out a little bit. I think that it's a good way to go for a producer because that publishing is not going to be worth anything if you don't make some hits. Conversely, if you find somebody and you teach them the ropes and you make an album and maybe their artist career doesn't take off or they have a smaller career, you have a chance to get a return for your energy, time and money, if they are a great songwriter. Of the two new artists that I have coming out this year, one of them I've worked with for 4 1/2 years and the other I've worked with for 2 plus years.

Scott Borchetta recently signed a deal with Clear Channel, which allows his labels and artists to participate in broadcast radio revenues. Do you think that other labels will follow suit?
We're one of four nations in the world that haven't paid artists for airplay until Scott's negotiation. The four nations are US, North Korea and a couple of other outlaw nations of that ilk; nations that we wouldn't otherwise ever be associated with as being like.

Everybody pays the songwriters, but they don't pay the artists, much less the musicians, engineers or producers. I don't get paid for airplay unless I have a piece of the publishing. It's my hope that all of the labels will all have that agreement eventually. There have been people lobbying in congress for years, to get this corrected. ASCAP for one, has been very vocal for many, many years.

What new projects are you working on?
I'm working with Kelly Bannon on Capitol, The Henningsens on Sony and we're currently mixing Lady A's new Christmas album...

Partial Production Discography

Lady Antebellum Martina McBride
Dixie Chicks
The Band Perry
Blake Shelton
Big & Rich
Sara Evans
Carolyn Dawn Johnson
Cyndi Thompson
John Anderson
Pam Tillis
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band
Collin Raye
Marie Osmond
Lisa Brokop
Highway 101
Emmylou Harris
Desert Rose
Willie Nelson
Hank Williams
Neil Diamond
Hank Williams Jr
Gary Morris
Eddy Raven

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

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