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By James Rea

When you've had the kind of career Paul Worley has had, you can afford to try new ventures and spend enormous amounts of time developing new artists on spec. But don't think for one moment that the road to his 5 Grammys, a plethora of CMA & ACM trophies and his multiple 'Producer of the Year' Awards, has been an easy one. Worley had more than his fare share of lean years, working for nothing and tough choices to make along the way.

Worley's career started to take hold when he became a part of Jim Ed Norman's rhythm section. Jim Ed moved to Nashville from LA, to head-up Warner Bros. and he loved the vibe and the sound of Worley's rythum section, so it wasn't long before Paul got 'the producer bug', from logging all those hours, in the studio.

Paul Worley
Paul Worley

Then, there was 'the studio bug'...As his production discography blossomed, Paul 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, whose historical 20 yr. producer/artist relationship with Paul eventually produced 13 albums, Sara Evans, Big and Rich, Pam Tillis, Bruce Hornsby and Kid Rock. The studio sold in 2004, then later, in association with Skyline, Worley and his partners built studio # 2, Shabby Row. But historically, The Money Pit is where Worley first met Clarke Schleicher (pronounced Sly-sher), who has been at the desk with Paul for the past 25+ years.

Along the way, record labels came-calling and Worley went on to become a Vice President at Sony BMG from 1989 -1997.

Worley: I got a call to go work at Tree Publishing Company 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 and I was right there making hit records for everybody else, so they took me in over there.

Five years later, Paul took on his second major label position as Chief Creative Officer at Warner Bros. Records in 2002.

In 2004 producer/publisher/hit songwriter/artist career manager Wally Wilson and two other partners, teamed-up with Worley and founded Skyline Music Publishing, whose catalog today boasts the works of Hugh Prestwood, Jimmy Yeary, The Henningsens, Jon Stone, Kelleigh Bannen, Tay Barton, Lisa Brokop, Adam Browder, Don Cook, Michael Davey, George Ducas, Jeremy Easley, Jen Foster, James Harrison, Sara Haze, Randy Houser, Tammy Hyler, Brandon Kinney, Jacob Lyda, Kelsey Mathews, Kim Mclean, Hudson Moore, Paul Nelson, Terry Radigan, Chick Rains, Kevin Welch, Emma White, Skylar countless BMI and ASCAP Awards, which brings us to Paul's legendary production discography.

A partial list of his clients, which began with Gospel artist Cynthia Clawson, Ryders In The Sky, Burl Ives and Tennessee Ernie Ford, now includes; Lady Antebellum, Martina McBride, Dixie Chicks, The Band Perry, Big & Rich, Pam Tillis, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Collin Raye, Sara Evans, Blake Shelton, Highway 101, Carolyn Dawn Johnson, Cindy Thompson, John Anderson, Gary Morris, Marie Osmond, Neil Diamond, Eddy Raven, Lisa Brokop, Desert Rose, Emmylou Harris, Hank Williams, Hank Williams Jr. and Willie Nelson.

Collectively, Worley has achieved well over $1 Billion in retail record sales during his career, so far. But considering the many opportunities that come his way, the very core of what Paul instinctively does and loves is, 'discovering and developing' new talent. And...judging by the overwhelming response, it looks like Worley n Wilson's new 'Live-Streaming' internet concert series 'SKYVILLE LIVE' is the perfect launch-pad.

The Producer's Chair: How did SKYVILLE LIVE originate?

Paul Worley: SKYVILLE LIVE is something that Wally started dreaming of, about a year and a half ago. The first show we had Gladys Knight, Martina McBride, and Estell. But ultimately, the real reason we want to develop Skyville Live as a brand is not just to serve up icons and stars, but to do artist development-to be a lens by which people discover new talent.

Wally is developing SKYVILLE LIVE because we see that it's something that people are hungry for. They're hungry for really good quality audio and video performances on the internet. We all sit there and mess around with YouTube and 90 percent of it is just crap, you know? It's just stuff to laugh at. So, what's going to happen with the internet is, there's going to be a development of filters of businesses. So, SKYVILLE LIVE is one of those. It will reflect the philosophy and the taste of SKYVILLE, as it pertains to really great music being really well performed with great audio-everything. So, ours is not designed to be listened to on your iPhone or on your computer. You can if you want to, but if you want to pull it up and put it on your smart TV and listen on your stereo, you will be watching a concert that has that level of quality. Turns out that people love it. We've had real smooth sailing launching. So there may be an icon series and then there might be SKYVILLE II that's, all about new artists, and not all artists that we're working with, just artists that we like, and develop that as a brand.

We really do have a lot of big platforms and major organizations that are coming to us saying, "We want you." It's's nice to be wanted. Then there are all the questions. Will we have to change? We are having all those conversations. So, that may be the future. I don't know. Wally's hoping to have a show next month, and he's working on it now. The good thing about what we are doing is there's no season and there's no schedule. We just do it when we can-at least for now.

PC: How was the 2nd SKYVILLE LIVE show with Kris Kristofferson, Lady Antebellum and Jason Isbell?

Worley: The show honored Kris Kristofferson. Kris was there. All of these other artists sang some of his songs, and, of course, you start to go - Oh my God. But, the most incredible moment of the show was him singing Sunday Morning Coming Down. Just getting up there and croaking it out the way he does, sort of singing, but sort of not, but sort of reciting the poetry of the song. You realize that great songwriting is also poetry. It's a literary endeavor as well as a musical one. Of course, that's how the music business began - as a song publishing business before there was recording. It was all about songs and sheet music.

PC: Surely considering the talent, you could get a TV network involved, but you've chosen the internet and I understand for someone to log on and watch the show live, it's free. So it must be sponsor-driven, right?

Worley: That could all change. We're just doing what's possible to do as we can do it. We'll continue to have sponsors and attract revenue that way, but we could also graduate to where there are different levels, the way Spotify does it. Well, here's the basic. We're going to put it together for you, and you're going to see what we think you should see. Now, you want to pay a premium, you can go in and watch the show. You've got 6 camera feeds up here. For your show you can pull down different cameras and look at different stuff at different times and enjoy the show according to your own perspective as a musician or as a singer or whatever. So, that would be a way of monetizing that. It can really grow. The danger is not outgrowing the quality of the experience.

PC: What's in it for the artists, other than the experience and the exposure?

Worley: The artists are invested in the show that they're in. They have an ongoing equity position. So, you know, every intention is that once we collect this content and find a partner on a platform that wants to do something bigger with it, we can package it differently and offer it up as a menu.

PC: What has Skyville Records has been up to?

Worley: Well, we're not a record company. We just call it SKYVILLE. You know, we've tried to be a record company and failed. We've tried a lot of stuff over the years but, what we are now interested in being is, what we are, an Artist Development Company.

Our little studio here that used to just be a rehearsal room is actually a really good studio. So, I've got a whole new sound thanks to some of my friends that made me go in the studio and cut over here. It's more like Motown or Memphis sound or Stacks. It's a small room. Everybody's bleeding into everybody. You've got to get it right. We're all in it together. But it sounds awesome, and the playing is fantastic because you're just that close together.

PC: Are you developing artists for other labels?

Worley: Yeah. Honestly it's anybody that will have me. I'm just open and grateful to be making music. Generally, if I'm not making music I'm not a very happy person. So, I spent a whole lot of the last two and a half years working for free...a whole lot of it. Like 90 percent of it. But I've been here before. This is where you retool and reinvent yourself, hopefully.

PC: Who are you working with right now?

Worley: I'm currently working with Chris Issak. Chris is, of course, is an icon. The last two days with Chris have been just fantastic. I've always admired him, especially when you get in the studio with someone like that, that's had that long of a career and that much knowledge of making records and knowledge of himself as an artist and being able to articulate that. The players and I are just having a blast. Yeah. Yesterday was a lot of fun.

I'm also going to be working with Ryan Kinder. Ryan is a new artist at Warner. The others are Fiona Culley, Taylor Watson, they're unsigned and Shelly Skidmore. We just made music and they're going to the market place and looking for their various ways of either getting signed or doing it indie or whatever artists have to do these days.

PC: Are producers being forced to create new ways to make money?

Worley: The main thing is that the producer role is kind of odd, you know? You look at things that get eliminated by the new, disruptive technology. Who knew even five years ago that streaming was going to be the thing? And because there's no negotiation about royalties relative to streaming, the producers are just cut out. So, even if I have a hit, you know, I might have a huge hit that people stream or they buy the one song. The days of creating an album with ten songs and people buying that big chunk of music and taking that much time out of their life to actually sit down and listen are - I hope just temporarily - behind us.

So, you asked me how I am. I'm thankful that I made my bones and made my living in the 70's, 80's, and 90's. But anyway, I think it's temporary. I still wake up hopeful every day. Hopeful that people will start enjoying music more than just entertainment, you know? I think they do. My youngest daughter is 12-almost 13-and I look at her listening patterns and taste patterns. It's very helpful. She's already just completely passed by, you know, mainstream pop. Of course, unfortunately for us, we've lost a whole generation of country listeners. We've just thrown them away. We'll have to gain them back. That's going to show itself over the next 5 years.

PC: Have we've lost them because the artists that they loved don't get the air play anymore?

Worley: Well, what's getting air play is such a narrow slice of music that's really attractive to a small slice of the people that would listen to country music. So, we've left a lot on the table. Music has a way of fighting its way out. It's interesting. I've started listening to the Icon Channel. I like it. It's really good. A lot of the music is old music and its familiar, but just the mix-the sounds and the mix. There's country/country. There's pop/country. There's the total modern sounding stuff. It's all there. Things like that are popping up. The good thing about streaming is that you can create your own playlists, and it's great. It's wonderful. Spotify is great. To be able to go in and graze...You know, you go through and discover new music. Or you go back and you say, "I'd like to spend today listening to Steely Dan." And BAM! You just do it. So, there's a lot of good. It's just that it hasn't been figured out, and nobody's anxious to hurry up pay us for our art. But they will eventually.

PC: Can you share what the most important lesson was that you learned about running a label, from Sony & Warner?

Worley: Yeah. Don't. And I had to go do it twice to learn it. Creative people should be creative. You get yourself mired inside the business structure-you're just going to get your mind and your heart and your soul contaminated by it. I won't say bullshit, because it's not. It's marketing, and it's relevant. Because without a hit at radio-I mean, careers don't happen without mainstream impressions, but it shouldn't have anything to do with the creative process.

PC: What's the best advice that you can share with new producers on how to make producing profitable these days?

Worley: I didn't get into it because it was profitable. I starved for 8 years like everyone else, and then got by for another 10. I did it because I love it. It's all I ever wanted to do. All I can say is, you just have to do that and be happy with the life that you're given. The new guys-if you're not a hit songwriter you may never make the kind of money that I made as a standalone producer, but if you water down your music because you decide for business reasons that you have to be a writer, you're going to produce a lot of crap. I don't want to know how that feels.

If I was starting out now I would recognize that I have to be a writer and I have to be a publisher in order to be a producer. In fact, I'm trying to create an artist development company that does those things as part of the recipe of developing artists. Unfortunately, I am not a songwriter.

To me - I tell artists until I'm blue in the face: Don't be concerned about where your songs come from. It doesn't matter to anybody but you, whether you wrote the song or not. The main thing is that you should just always do great songs. If you're in a down cycle as a writer and you're not writing great songs, be smart enough to realize that and go refresh yourself with some great songs. That will feed you. You'll get back into your game as a writer, if you get out of the rut you're in, but you're going to have to get some external information in your soul, in order to do that.

PC: Writer development is a bit of a mystery to me. Other than publishers pairing up writers, what else does it consist of?

Worley: Well, you've got to look for somebody that has their own spark - to start with - that has their own - that's got something more than, "Ah, I want to be a songwriter." It's got to be somebody who has their own melodies and their own points of view. You can't teach genius. You can't. Writer development is really-the guys and gals that I know that have been around for a while just sit and listen to the songs and just go, "Hey, the second verse ought to be the first verse. Throw away the first verse. Now you've got to write a second verse. It's going to be hard. You've got to amplify the story. If you're going to write a bridge, man it better be great. It better be a song unto itself. If it's not, then you don't need a bridge. Just throw a solo in there, and get the hell out." If you're going to do it, the bridge has got to be another song. All the great bridges in the world are. So, go back and listen to songs. Go back for decades. Listen to Tin Pan Alley songs. Listen to every kind. Understand what it is in these timeless songs-that makes them timeless.

PC: When was the last time you saw an artist get signed who doesn't write?

Worley: Well, I'll give you a witty answer which is...I see that all the time. Artists get signed that don't write, but that doesn't stop them from writing.

PC: Is our writing community is going to survive in the long run or only those who have co-writing relationships with the artists?

Worley: Well, I think that the really great writers will always be. There will always be room for people who can really write - who can really do it. I'm more worried about the musicians in the community. The people who are really, really suffering in this town are the musicians. They're getting paid shit. They're getting no royalties. Back in the day there was a musician's special payments trust fund created by the record labels. It was a pool of money. Today, the labels are demanding that they get paid less and less. They get no royalty relief, no job security, no benefits. So, I worry about that. It is sick, but nobody is talking about paying the musicians-these wonderful, gifted, dedicated people.

You see everyone trying to negotiate royalties for the writers with broadcast and all the streaming and so forth. They're negotiating for the artist to have royalties which they've never have had with broadcast which is astounding. We're one of 4 nations in the world that don't pay the artists to broadcast. Of course right now the popular thing is to sit in your basement with Pro-Tools and a computer. The young folks - kids my youngest kids age, 9 and 12, are already rebelling against that. They already talk about auto tuning and how awful it sounds. They already talk about and listen to alternative music and get away from mainstream. They already talk about and they're already gravitating to more stripped-down stuff. So, it's happening. There's a new revolution. They're young teens-preteens, and we have skipped a whole generation.

PC: Is the industry coming up with solutions to all the challenges that face our community that will benefit everybody?

Worley: I hope so.

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