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By James Rea
Jim Catino

Jim Catino's passion for great music, great songwriting and great artists rings through loud and clear and it shows in everything he embraces. Catino has now been with Sony Music Nashville for about 14 years, but, it's only recently that his producer chops have been significantly recognized. A lot of producers cut their teeth in the studio doing hundreds of demos for publishing companies and un-signed artists before their first major producing opportunity emerges: and, Catino's patience in that world obviously paid off. Catino's first foray, Tyler Farr, is currently nominated for ACM New Artist of the Year - right out of the box.

But Nashville is no stranger to the Catino name. Jim's legendary father Bill Catino is definitely one of the guys who shaped radio promotion as we know it. Jim says Bill has also been a huge influence on not only his personal life but his life as a music exec. Bill became Executive Vice President of Promotion at Universal Nashville in 2005, after an extraordinary successful tenure at Capitol Nashville, where he also served as Executive Vice President of Promotion. While at Capitol, Catino was instrumental in the breakthrough success of such emerging artists as Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Deana Carter, Cyndi Thompson, Chris Cagle and Dierks Bentley, among others, while helping to further the careers of such established chart-toppers as Garth Brooks and Tanya Tucker. His background also includes the Presidency at James Stroud's label, Stroudavarious, and many years in promotion at CBS/Epic, RCA, MCA Records and Cleveland International, the CBS distributed label responsible for breaking multi-platinum selling artist Meat Loaf.

Bill Catino's involvement in the industry gave Jim a birds-eye view of the music industry. And, when the Catinos moved to Nashville from Cleveland, it certainly didn't take Jim long to start carving his own path.

Jim Catino: I interned for James Stroud, the summer before I started at Belmont. I followed him around the studio and he let me hang around with him and 'shoot', I did everything from weed his yard, to be a fly on the wall. He's been a big part of my career; a big mentor and a big influence. I was a transfer student at Belmont from the University of Cincinnati and my first internship was at MCA Publishing when Jerry Crutchfield was running things. Lynn Gann and Mike Sebastian were the creative heads there. I was in the tape room hangin' out and helping out wherever I could. During my two and a half years at Belmont, I stayed at MCA. I enjoyed that because it was a great company. Staying in one place for internships allowed me to gain the trust of Lynn and Mike as the semesters went by, which led to more opportunity. That was a great time at MCA, every producer, A&R person, artist and big writer was coming in and out of those doors, so I was able to nurture a lot of great relationships in those years, which was obviously vital to my career.

From there, James Stroud hired me to my first full time (Paid) gig at Giant Records, once I graduated from Belmont. It was a small company, which was great for me because I got to wear more hats. Richard Landis was the Head of A&R, Allison Brown-Jones (now Jim's sister-in-law) was there as well. Rob Hendon was the head of the publishing company and I kind of floated between those two departments. I worked in the tape copy room, but on occasion also got to listen to songs with Richard and Allison and help Rob with ideas for song pitches and hang with the writers.

Catino was at Giant from 1995 to 1997 until James Stroud put together his dream-team at Dreamworks. Allison Jones was head of A&R, Scott Borchetta ran promotion and Jim ran publishing.

Note: Jim has now been married to Allison Jones's younger sister Molly for 13 years and they have two daughters, Katy (8) and Kelly (6).

Jim Catino: We had a great roster of writers at Dreamworks; Chris Lindsey, Steve Dorff, Sharon Vaughn, Troy Seals, Wally Wilson and Rafe Van Hoy. We did really well through that time period.

'Did well' is an understatement. When looking back at his success, Catino's song-casting abilities were uncanny, when it came to pitching songs for Kenny Chesney, Lonestar and Martina McBride, and, as a result of his tremendous success, Joe Galante and Renee Bell offered him a job in A&R, which Jim accepted, 14 yrs ago. During the first portion of Jim's time at Sony he reflects on how much he learned about A&R from Renee and Label operations from Joe and how valuable that knowledge has been to his career.

For the past four years, Chairman and CEO Gary Overton has been at the helm of Sony Music Nashville which is home to just under 30 artists and almost 90 staff. We have three labels Arista Nashville, Columbia Nashville and RCA Nashville and, each have a respective radio promotion team. The other departments making up Sony Music Nashville are A&R, A&R Administration, Marketing, Sales, Media, Creative Services, Finance, Operations and Legal & Business Affairs.

Catino's job as Vice President, A&R, Sony Music Nashville entails...

Working directly with all artists on Columbia, RCA and Arista
Finding songs
Helping to select producers
Working in the studio
Assisting in finding the artist's sound
Finding their brand
Working with promotion, sales, marketing and publicity
Watching trends
Keeping an eye on what works at retail and what's working with the consumer
Traveling with artists on the bus to see the crowd reactions at concerts
Staying on top of who Nashville's "HOT' writers are and using his relationships to set-up co-writes for his artists. "Part of the art of A&R is knowing how to match up artists and writers to compose hits"
Competing for artists and songs on a daily basis
Daily meetings with publishers, attending showcases a couple of nights a week, fielding calls from managers and talking to producers about the direction of the records.
And day-to-day A&R needs for Brad Paisley, Carrie Underwood, Jake Owen and Love & Theft, just to name a few of the artists on Sony.

The Producer's Chair: In another interview, you said, "Working with Joe Galente was like going to graduate school." How so?

Jim Catino: Absolutely. Joe is a brilliant man and he was a great influence on my career and, obviously, a mentor and is somebody I'll always look up to and be appreciative of. The greatest thing about Joe is that he was open with his executive staff about how the business ran. He was open with the numbers and open about the finances of how things were working in the company; the nuts and bolts of it. He was a great teacher of all of that. He always challenged us all, in a good way and in a positive way, to grow as executives and to always challenge ourselves to be better. When Joe asked you a question, he expected the answer or expected you to get it for him. That was a big part of my growth period here at Sony.

Gary Overton, equally, has been that for me! Once Joe announced he was leaving the company and Gary took over, Gary was a refreshing change, in a different way. Gary allowed me the room to re-shape the department. We don't have a point person for each artist, like we used to. Now, Taylor Lindsey, sister to famed songwriter Hillary Lindsey, and I co-A&R everything together.

Does a publisher/plugger have to be a fan of the artist to know what to pitch?
I don't think that they necessarily need to be a fan, they need to know their job, know the community and what everyone does and what everyone's tastes are and know what they're lookin' for. They have to be open-minded about different styles and feels of Country Music and know how to serve those needs. Music is so subjective, it's a taste thing but we all have creative rolls and we all have to be open-minded. In my case, it is to help the artist find their vision for their project. It's their project not mine. I'm just here to help them achieve their goals.

Joe Galante said at a Leadership Music event, An artist must be 'READY'. Can you define what Joe meant by ready?
There are a lot of new things that are expected of an artist - much earlier on in their career. Many of these things didn't even exist ten or fifteen years ago, like the social networks. It's a hefty task for an artist, when they've got all these other things on their plate, to make sure that they're staying on top of everything that's going on in their careers and keeping their fans engaged literally 24/7 and paying attention to everything they're putting out there. So I think to be 'ready' as an artist these days, you must understand, you're under a microscope. They've gotta have a real identity with what they do and it has to grow quickly. They have to be prepared to get up on a big stage, prepared to cut hits and be prepared to be active and engaging in all aspects of their career, be ready image-wise and have all of those tools prepared because it's a shorter ramp-up, than it used to be.

Some new artists spend their time doing writer's nights, some burry themselves in the studio and some put bands together and go out and perform. How do you recommend that they spend their time?
All three of those things are important. I don't think that there's a right or a wrong way to do it. All artists are at a different place in their career and they're always growing. Even the superstars continue to work very, very hard to grow. The reason why some stay on top is because they're always trying to make their show better, they're always looking for their next big hit, their getting in the studio and recording something that's a graduation from their last album and take the next step in their career. It's really more about getting discovered by a 'champion' that has the experience, who can say, "Here's your strengths and here's your weaknesses and here's the things you need to focus working on. Your guitar playing is not great, go get some guitar lessons. Your vocals have an identity and you're a stylist, but you've got to work on your pitch, or see a vocal coach or your image is falling short here compared to what else is going on in the format."
Whatever it may be, have that champion that, can be the honest voice in their career that they trust, respect and will listen to. You're not just competing with the artists around you. You're competing with the superstars as well. There's always growth.

When did you first have thoughts about becoming a producer?
Producing has always been something that I had a passion for and wanted, at some point in my career to do, and Gary's been great about allowing me to do that here at Sony. I did a lot more of it when I was in publishing at Dreamworks, helping writers and young artists with their demos. Once I started at Sony, that kind of went away a for a while, because I was learning about A&R. I was learning from Renee Bell and she was one of the best in this town. She was a great influence on me and gave me this great opportunity to do A&R. So at that time A&R needed to be my focus. However, I've always tried to keep the education process going on the production side of things, with everything from new up-dates in technology to playing and charting music. I wanted to be able to communicate musicly in the studio. Not that I'm an engineer or a great musician but, I wanted to understand pro-tools so I took a couple of classes, or I wanted to be efficient with charts so I studied that side. I did these things on my own time even when I was not in the studio. I wanted to be as prepared as possible for the day I got the shot to make a record. I'm blessed that I've had time and support from people like Renee, Joe and especially Gary O to explore this side of my career. I really have to thank Gary O for giving me the shot and him believing I could do it and supporting me.

If a producer is already producing an artist on SONY, does he have any more insight as to, what is missing from your roster, or is that information available to any producer who asks?
No, not necessarily. We work with many producers and we do our best to keep all of them and others informed about what we have going on here.

Is the producer working with a Sony artist already more likely to get development money than other producers?
No not at all. I could name brand new artists that we've signed very recently that are working with brand new young producers. Shoot, I'm a young producer and Gary has given me the reins to develop a couple of these acts. I didn't have a big track record before I started working with Tyler Farr or Leah Turner. Our job is to match the act with the right producer who can bring us music that is fresh and has identity. So we are open to any producer that can deliver great music.

Are you more interested in new artists who attract new fans to country, or those who have managed to get a significant share of the existing market?
There's a reason to support both. We're always trying to help artists grow into something, even if they start in a place that's a little more what's currently happening. It still comes down to creating great music, great artists and an artist creating a brand and engaging their fans.

I understand that Tyler Farr used to be a bouncer at Tootsies. How did you meet Tyler and who are some of his influences?
Tyler is a big hunter and an outdoorsman. I was at a hunting convention with some songwriters and other friends. Bobby Pinson, Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson had just seen Tyler perform at the event and they said, "Man, you've gotta check this guy out. Tyler is someone that should be on your radar." So they set up a lunch for us to hang out and Tyler and I hit it off.

Tyler has a lot of different influences. His step-dad played with George Jones. So he grew up around country music and he's a hardcore country guy but at the same time, he grew up listening to rap music, hip hop, rock and southern and classic rock and you can hear a lot of that in his music. We tried to help capture that on the production side.

Tyler was a true development project. We used a lot of relationships and favors and got him out on the road with Colt Ford. He and Tyler hit it off and started writing songs together. Colt was looking for a band member and I suggested putting Tyler in as his guitar player and singer. Colt would rap the verses and have Tyler sing on the choruses and play acoustic guitar. I said, "You don't have to pay him, just let him open sets for 20 min. I've got a little money that I can spend towards tour support, to keep him out with you." It ended up turning into a really great opportunity for Tyler. He rode around on Colt's bus, learned a lot, built a fan base. And, recently, Redneck Crazy did over a million downloads, it went # 1 and the album is still selling really well. We've got the second single out called Whisky in my Water and its doing close to 15,000 downloads a week, which is great.

Who did you co-produce Tyler with?
Julian King, an amazing producer and engineer. Julian and I have known each other a long time. He's done a ton of Stroud's work over the years, almost exclusively. He mixed all of Toby Keith's records and Chris Young and he does a lot of Byron Gallimore's work as well.

You're also co-producing Leah Turner with Jesse Frasure & Cary Barlowe. How did that come about?
Leah's attorney in Los Angeles, Jeff Biederman is a friend of mine. Humberto Gatica and David Foster produced some incredible sides on Leah in California but after a couple of years she realized that what she was doing, was just not who she was. She grew up riding horses on her father's ranch. Her roots are country. So she took a couple of steps back and had some conversations with David and Humberto and they were very supportive and helped her start making trips to Nashville. I guess I met Leah on about her 5th trip here and right away during our first meeting, we clicked. I just knew that her voice had such identity and strength. She had a really strong vocal range and she didn't sound like any other female, in the format.

She started writing with Cary Barlowe & Jesse Frasure and we were having this conversation about, who's going to produce this? Jesse is a great programmer and Cary is a great guitar player and Leah felt like they were doing something really fresh but, she wanted my involvement because we shared the original vision. When we first started talking about producers, my name wasn't in the hat, at all. But she asked me to be involved and Jesse and Cary and I hit it off and things started clicking because we all brought something different to the table. We just cut three sides and the demos were amazing and the staff flipped out. And the rest is history. We're in the top 30 with the single, Take the Keys, she's on Brad Paisley's tour and we've finished the album. We totally believe that she's going to be a huge star in the format and I think we chose the right team.

Is there a sense that Country Music will eventually lose its identity or will it always be COUNTRY, by virtue of the lyrics and lifestyles of Country Artists?
Country is its own stand-alone genre for a reason and no matter how far the production goes, one way or the other, if you look at the history, particularly in the last 20 years, things have gotten more contemporary sounding and then it comes back to the country side, it's cyclical and I think it will do that again. But, I think the core of what is great about our format is the earthiness of it. Not only how down to earth the artists are, but, how down to earth the music is. Our fans are very passionate about that and they're very engaged in the artists because they live the same lifestyle. It's definitely a lifestyle thing. People around the country are buying into our format because we offer some really great things lyrically and content-wise. There's access to the artists and they're open to sharing that with the fans.

A lot of artist's who come to Nashville with a dream, get into the wrong hands and/or wind up spending a ton of money and time trying to figure it all out. What is your best advice on how to avoid wasting time and money?
I wish I had one thing that I could say that keeps them from those pitfalls. As I said, there's no right or wrong way to do this. Find professionals, do your homework, know who the pros are out there that can really make a difference in your career. You can do that without signing your life away to somebody who may be passionate about what you're doing and have good intensions, but may not have the means of pulling it off or have their right foot in the right door, to get you there. I'm on the board at Belmont University and I speak to a lot of students. I'm on the Mentorship Program there and I mentor a student every semester. The first thing I tell a new talent is, "Treat it like it's a business." Is this an opportunity in front of you? Do your homework. Is this going to help you take your career, to the next step, financially are you going grow from this, is it going to open new doors and new opportunities for you as an artist. Be it a manager, an agent, an A&R person or producer, do your homework on 'who' that person or that company is and what they have done in the past. And don't spend a dime unless you know, you can make that dime back and then some. Don't go out and spend $ 30 grand for an EP, if you don't have the fan base to support it. I don't need to hear fully-produced music and neither does any pro in this business. Be passionate about the team you're building around you and know what they're capable of.

Where do you see yourself, in the future?
In the short term, I would like to get more involved on the production side because you're more involved in the whole project. Where do I see myself 5 yrs from now? I guess my first instinct would be to start my own consulting, publishing, management and production thing, where I find a few artists that I'm passionate about and manage what they do and maybe produce some things and be creative. If I'm not the right manager or producer, I'll find the right manager and producer. I'm not here because it's just a job and a paycheck for me. I'm here because I'm passionate about artists and I'm passionate about working at a record label. If I had my own company, I'd want my artists to be taken care of by a major label and create those kinds of opportunities.

2014 The Producer's Chair

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