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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: NOAH GORDON

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: NOAH GORDON

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

I'm sure that back in 93, when Noah Gordon got signed to his first artist deal by Jimmy Bowen at Capitol/EMI/Patriot, right on the heels of a publishing deal and a new management contract, even Noah couldn't have predicted that, a second record deal with Warner Bros. and well-over 100 songwriter cuts later, he would be Head of A&R and VP of Publishing, for Average Joes Entertainment, one of the hottest labels in town.

Needless to say, coupled with a notable portion of Noah's songwriting discography which includes; Charlie Daniels, Blackhawk, Chad Brock, Doug Stone, Craig Morgan, Emerson Drive, Lila McCann, Tim Rushlow, John Michael Montgomery, JR Vautour, Clay Walker, John Berry, Lee Greenwood, Randy Travis, Matt Kennon, Buddy Jewel, Joe Nichols, Ricochet, Carolina Rain, Jason Blaine, Colt Ford, Luke Bryan, Jake Owen, Kix Brooks, Lee Brice, Bubba Sparxxx, Rodney Atkins and The Lacs, Gordon's production discography has also been growing exponentially.

Noah Gordon
Noah Gordon

Within no time at all, Noah's (30+ album) production discography has quietly blossomed and includes Production Credits on his initial album for EMI/Patriot, which he co-produce with Chuck Howard, 3 albums for Colt Ford, two of which were the #1 Billboard Country album and the #1 Billboard Rap album, Montgomery Gentry from the Walon Jennings Tribute Vol. II, Bubba Sparxxx, Super Zeros Soundtrack, LoCash Cowboys, Daniel Lee, Lenny Cooper, Lucy Angel, Demun Jones, Daniel Boone, Mud Digger (Volumes 1, 3, 4, 5 and Volume 6 (soon to be released), 5 hot new Canadian artists including 3 albums on JR Vautour, along with Credits on 3 albums for The Lacs which garnered the # 13 and the # 3 position twice on Billboard's country charts...Plus...The Gordons, his family's band, where it all began for Noah, from a very early age.

Noah Gordon: My folks - growing up - the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band had released the 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' album. At the time they were really, really hot. It sort of brought back bluegrass music and, kind of, folk music to all the college kids, on all those campuses. My folks were hippies and were totally into Rock 'n' Roll...But, by the time I came along, they had kind of flip flopped over into bluegrass. So, I got my start playing bluegrass music and mandolin a little bit and singing with the family band. I picked up the drums when I was about 8 or 9 years old. That was right at the time when my folk's band shifted into more country music - and variety music. The family band always played a real wide variety of music (lucky for me). I really love drums. I don't get to play a lot of drums anymore although I did play on a couple of Bubba Sparxxx tracks a while back...and when I first moved to Nashville I played on a handful of demos.

TPC: Did you play with your family right up until the time you moved to Nashville?

NG: Yes, I moved here in '92 but I had to go back to Illinois several times over that first year to fulfill some engagements we already booked prior to my leaving.

TPC: What prompted your move to Nashville in 1992 at 21 yrs of age?

NG: Well, I'd been exposed to great country music from my family but, the reason I moved - initially was...my cousin and I bought an 8 track reel recorder and set up a little studio in our basement. I didn't have songs to record. So, I started writing songs back in Illinois. I would play and sing and recorded some stuff. It ended up slowly, but surely getting some people to hear it. I actually came to Nashville for a couple of years prior to '92. Made a few trips. We had a good friend of ours that played - that actually had a band in Illinois - Louis Parker. He was the bass player in a band. He had hired me and gave me my first full time gig as a drummer outside of my parent's band. I would come stay with him. He lived here. I was just trying to get my foot in the door and finally got some people excited about it.

TPC: How did you manage to get signed to a record deal, a publishing deal and a management deal?

NG: I met Anthony Smith, who introduced me to Margie Hunt who, at the time, was at CBS. She introduced me to Roy Wunch who sent me to see Steve Buckingham. I went and played for him and they said, "Yeah, we definitely want to do a deal. Who is your attorney?" Through a friend of a friend, I got connected with Scott Simon. I brought some songs and played them for him and he said, "I think I can get you a deal." He recommended against signing that particular deal because he had his ear to the ground and knew that Roy Wunch was probably going to be vacating the President's chair and the ensuing changes that happened. So, I made more trips back and forth and Scott ended up getting me signed to a publishing deal at Kicking Bird Music and Charlie Daniels manager, Dave Corlew became my manager. Then, Jimmy Bowen signed me at Capitol/EMI. I was 22 when I signed with EMI and 24 by the time my record finally came out.

TPC: Who was your producer?

NG: I actually cut two records. I cut a record with Chuck Howard and then for whatever number of reasons, Jimmy Bowen didn't want to release that record...he asked me to cut another record. So, by the time my record 'I Need a Break' actually came out, that one was produced by Steve Gibson & I got to work with Rene Bell on that. She was the head A&R in those days. It was an exciting time. I tell people the reality is...when you come to town and have Jimmy Bowen sign you - it just kicks all the doors off the hinges, you know? I was kind of instantly accepted by the songwriters and the publishers and the musicians - but I don't even think I realized at the time what an awesome opportunity that was.

I didn't know that 9 times out of 10 artists go through some publisher or producer or some combination of people that champion their cause...and honestly help groom them and ready them for the moment in time when they can get a deal & make a record. Artists are rarely ready for that no matter how many shows they do on the road and no matter how good of an entertainer they are - there's a whole other set of skills that you need, really, to make records. And it takes a little getting used to.

TPC: Considering that you had probably dreamt about getting signed since you were a kid, what were you feelings when you lost your deal?

NG: That's a good question. I have got Crohn's Disease...I didn't know that back then and it wasn't severe until I was out on the radio tour and only getting 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night and eating crummy food and traveling all over the United States. So...There was part of me that was like - kind of relieved in some ways, because it was a grueling year of my life, you know? And so full of disappointments not matter how hard I worked at times. There were just so many things that were completely out of my control. Quite honestly, maybe that was a good thing. I don't know, but it was definitely a relief when that was over.

If you have some significant success as an artist, you tend to be gone from town. You're busy on the road playing dates, supporting your record, you know, and interacting with all the fans - the loop if you will - that makes the music world go round. You make a record, and then you go out and play it for the fans and you try to make more fans...and you try to get your music exposed. I was fortunate, I feel like I got to do just about everything you could do short of becoming famous. Luckily, I had a couple of videos that were in the high rotation & I had the fun of getting to do that. Yet I didn't have the kind of career where it warranted me staying gone for the next ten years on the road. In some ways I think that may be the reason that I was able to become a songwriter - working songwriter - and learn the craft of producing. If I would have had more success as an artist perhaps I wouldn't have ever gotten that opportunity.

TPC: After you left Capitol you formed a band called Phoenix, which got signed to Warner Bro. How did that transpire?

NG: Yes, Brian Austin was part of Phoenix but he wasn't the lead singer which is what's really funny. A guy named Daren Pavone (Anthony) was a singer that Brad Allen basically wanted to build a band around. So, Brian and I both joined on. It sort of started as co-writing. I wrote songs with Daren and I wrote songs with Brian. The three of us had blended well vocally. So, the harmonies turned out really cool. We had recorded some things and when Paige Levie and Bill Main over at Warner Bros heard it, they loved it and signed us to a deal for a brief moment in time. Didn't work out in the end...but that's the reality with so many things. There are too many choices. Not all of the talent is going to have a big hit or a big record. Hey, I'm sure that plenty of people in the record business hate having to make those decisions, because they know people have worked their whole lives to get there and it's heartbreaking when it doesn't pan out.

TPC: Did I read somewhere that you owned a studio, after Phoenix?

NG: Yes...That was Big Studios with engineer, T.W. Cargile who had been a buddy of mine forever, along with Gary Kraen & Lester Turner of Lightning 100. Two Jamey Johnson records were mostly recorded at Big Studios. I think maybe all of it was mixed there. It wasn't his first record, but it was his first really successful record with Song of the Year "In Color". That's how I met the people at Average Joes, because Jamey told them if they were working on a country record that they needed to come to our studio. It was a real organic way of meeting.

TPC: When you started with Average Joes, were you hired on as head of A&R and VP of publishing right away?

NG: It was a little bit of a gradual process. I had the studio. I owned a small publishing company and production company...and was really diving head first into producing. Average Joes had me producing one new artist, and I had actually had a pretty good run producing Canadian artists. I talked with Shannon Houchins (CEO) and Colt Ford (who is one of the main artists & business parters)...I put a proposal together. I said, "you're growing...growing fast, and I believe you can be really successful...I feel like I can help." At that time I'd been in Nashville about 18 years. I didn't know everybody, but I knew a lot of people. And if I didn't know them, I knew somebody that did. I had learned a lot about publishing, a lot about studios, a lot about production, a lot about licensing. I felt like I could bring something valuable to them - not only as a writer or producer, but also as somebody that could help them put pieces in places that they needed within Nashville. They'd had a lot of success outside of the country music scene. I felt like they could hire me and get a lot of different hats. We all wear a lot of hats at Average Joes...It's still a small company in a lot of ways. When I handed them my proposal for what I thought I could do for them I put my taxes as the last chapter. Here's as transparent as I know how to be. This is exactly how much money I earned last year. This is exactly what I paid Uncle Sam, and feel like if we'll do business together this is exactly how much money I'll be able to bring in...and sort of be the resident here that knows this community fairly well.

TPC: Who was the first artist that you produced on Average Joes?

NG: The very first project I produced was Lauren Briant who had been on the label for about a year or a year and a half. She was part of the early on roster. We really weren't tooled up yet. And that's unfortunate because I really, liked her and cared about her as an individual. I feel like the record we made was a good record, but it was just bad timing. We were sort of finishing up that project as I began work on the Colt "Declaration of Independence" record. So, the Colt record was really the second record that I worked on here...up to my elbows in it all the way up from the writing of the record to the recording of it—everything from top to bottom. The neatest thing about that is it was also the company's first number one billboard album. Colt had already made several albums...that was his fourth, 'Ride Through the Country', 'Chicken and Biscuits', & 'Every Chance I Get' was the third album that he had done. Colt and everyone at Average Joes had really worked hard to build his career. Tom Baldrica came in to work for us close to the same time I joined the party. So, it certainly wasn't that I showed up and helped make a Colt Ford record, and that's the reason it was a number one album. It was the culmination of so much hard work, great shows, blood, sweat, and tears. I was really fortunate to be a part of it!

TPC: What is your job description, as Head of A&R for 3 labels and 18 artists?

NG: Well...Here's the reality of it...I'm not in charge of all of it...One person, honestly, can't do all of those things, you know? I look for songs. I listen to songs. I set up co-writes. I produce, or write, or master, or some combination of those things, for almost all of the album projects we release. One of the things I'm instituting and trying to push forward is for each of the artist managers to take on A&R Responsibilities...there are only so many hours in the day...I want there to be more opportunity for songwriters and publishers to get material heard by these individual artists. Also, I'm one person with one set of likes and dislikes, I'm going to like certain things and not like certain things. That doesn't need to be the only gate. When I moved to town, there were 25 record labels with A&R staffs. They were an entity in themselves. So, there was an enormous amount of opportunity to have music heard, listened to, curated, and delivered to artists. I'm not 100% sure how to fix that, because it is difficult, you know? If all I did was listen to songs from 8 in the morning until 10pm at night I still probably couldn't get through all of the music that's delivered. It's an impossibility. Plus, you've got to take into account, what did the artist write? Who did they collaborate with? It's a difficult thing. That's one of the things that we have struggled with as a label, especially because we're a small label. Now, the flipside of it is this. For the longest time there wasn't a lot of material out there for. We had to write our own. It was a unique hybrid music. There wasn't a plethora of it. Now you can't find a country record that doesn't have rap on it or some sort of hybrid song on it.

TPC: What does your job as VP of Publishing entail?

NG: We have Dirt Road Anthem, Country Must Be Countrywide, "I Love You This Big" (Scottie McCreary's biggest hit) along with probably 60 to 70 percent of all the Colt records, The Lacs records, and most of the compilation records that we do. Two days ago I was licensing Dirt Road Anthem for the next season of America Idol. We get a lot of requests to license the songs in our catalog, but I'm able to handle about 90 percent of it. These days it's almost all email.

Tomorrow I leave for Bakersfield, California. While I'm in the air I'll probably do two or three licenses. I used to do all of the licensing internal - like all of the Colt records, but sometimes that's two hundred agreements. If you think about a mechanical, a digital, a streaming, video license, for each song times multiple writers, times sometimes multiple publishers. It's easy for it to become two to three hundred agreements for one album.

We enlisted Dave Evans, who is a wonderful admin fella out of New York that actually worked early on for Average Joes. He's very competent and easy to work with. I send him all of the licensing for albums that we record and distribute. I try to tee it up for him & provide any info and contacts that he may not have handy. I'll still handle most of the licensing on outside uses or TV uses. It's funny...I think another one of the reasons I work here is because I've negotiated publishing deals, artist deals, licensing deals and been on both sides of the table. The numbers can change in deals, but the overall contracts are pretty similar. That's so helpful from day-to-day.

The only staff songwriters that we have are myself, Shannon Houchins, Colt Ford, Lenny Cooper and the Lacs (Brian & Clay). It's hard to consider us all staff writers in that, it's not like all of us show up with a guitar at 10am to write songs, turn in a worktape - t doesn't work that way. For what it's worth, the entire business model here is different.

TPC: Do you still have time to write?

NG: I used to write, probably, 50 to 60 songs a year, depending on the year. I just sort of lived in that space. Now I only write about 10-15 songs a year - maybe. But it's super rare that I write and complete a song that's not on an album. The hybrid type of music that we do here involves a lot is target writing. Here's a song idea I have. An artist will come to me or we are working together or Colt or Shannon calls me or sends me an email or something and says, "Let's work on this." And it's really almost 180 degrees different from the norm.

TPC: How many publishing deals have you had?

NG: I originally wrote for Kick Bird music, then I went over to a new company called C&P Nashville (that was Brad Allen's Company). And then I wrote for a company called Encore Entertainment, for 6 years. Keith Follese' ran that company along with Brad Allen. Then, started my own company called New Millennium Music.

TPC: Does Average Joes offer artist management as well?

NG: Shannon manages Colt and the Lacs, personally. We've had a large management roster that had outside artists on other labels and things like that. Managing is a 24/7 job. I'm co-managing the Lucy Angel group. As any new group does, they need a lot of advice and a lot of help. That's part of the reason why tomorrow at 6 in the morning I'm on a plane to Bakersfield, CA for the show they're doing at the Crystal Palace, you know, to make sure that comes off well...It's an important show for them, but it makes it difficult for me because I've got little kids and I've got to get back. There are ballgames and all those other things, you know?

TPC: Is your Radio promotion in-house or outsourced?

NG: We've had a large full tilled P1 radio staff. We have pulled back from doing that all the time. Now, we have Tony Moreal. He's been at Sony, New Revolution...he's a great guy and the head of promotions here. We have Wix Wichmann who was also at Sony. We've been really fortunate to have things like XM Radio. John Marks is a big supporter. He's played a lot of our records and continues to support and champion many of our artists. We have a digital team in house. About a year and a half ago we really made a conscious effort to swing our time and efforts and resources in a new direction— The amount of money and effort that it takes to get one song up the traditional flag pole - the amount of good we could do in lots of other areas was phenomenal.

Helping the artists with their touring and branding and trying to co-op it with club owners. And doing things right there were the boots hit the ground. What's great about that is you can see what's working instantly. You can do internet campaigns and watch the metric change. With traditional radio, you get added to a station and Yee Haw - the first couple of spins are at 2 in the morning. I'm not saying nobody is listening, but way less people are listening. It's expensive and it takes a long time. We are walking that path with a group I produced and Average Joes distributes for G-Force Entertainment and New Revolution...the Lucy Angel girls. And we're fortunate. We have 36 of the Country Radio Chart Reporting Stations on right now after 4 weeks. We had 20 adds the first week, which was real respectable in a climate where Luke Bryan released a single out of nowhere and sucked up 105 adds. Literally, if he wouldn't have dropped that record, that's 105 adds out there for the taking. You can't control that. There's very little of it that you can control. We're doing all we can, and that's kind of a unique thing. We're using some of our digital marketing and all of our distribution connections. It's nearly impossible to get a new company's record out to retail if you haven't had a history of moving product with them.

Right now, at this moment in time, radio is still a wonderful way to reach millions of people...if you can crack it and you get there, yes. You get in front of a lot of people. You get an honest to God shot to see if the public loves you or doesn't, but man...it's a long haul. It's tedious, and there are a lot of things that are so out of your control.

TPC: Has Colt's success met with expectations, when it comes to opening doors for the other artists on the label?

NG: Absolutely, when you have success with one artist, that gives you a chance to talk about your other artists. When you've got that influential person sitting in front of you and you're talking about Colt - they inevitably say, "What else do you have coming down the pipe?" "What have you guys been working on lately?" That gives you a great opportunity, and it's not to take away from Colt. The great thing for Colt is that he's a partner within the label - a lot of people don't know that. So, if the label as a whole grows and acts sell records and grow their business - it's still good for him. That's a great place to be. It's bad if you have an artist that doesn't gain from that. Then there's always going to be a little rivalry. Artists are that way. But yeah, we're fortunate in that respect.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Victoria Shaw

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tom Hambridge

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Tony Brown

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Michael Knox

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Forest Glen Whitehead

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Scott Hendricks

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jay DeMarcus

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Shane McAnally

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jeff and Jody Stevens

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jamie O'Neal

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Fred Mollin

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dann Huff

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Noah Gordon

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Carl Jackson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Paul Worley

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jimmie Lee Sloas

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