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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: SHANE MCANALLY

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: SHANE MCANALLY

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

Shane McAnally started writing songs in Texas when he was 8, he began performing in clubs for the first time when he was 12, appeared on Star Search at 15 and later spent a whole summer performing in Branson, before returning to Texas, where he became a regular, on the Opry circuit...and he never slowed down. So it's no wonder that, when the 'very savvy' 19 yr old singer/songwriter/musician arrived in Nashville in '93, it only took him 2 years to get signed to both, a record deal and a pub deal. During his 5 yr stint with Curb, Shane toured with Reba, Kenny Chesney and Alabama, living his childhood dream on the big stage but, as fate would have it, not at radio. The best of the three singles released on McAnally peaked at No. 31 on Billboard and he exited the label, which 'in hind-sight' was the beginning of a miraculous transition, that eventually propelled him from being 'the artist', to becoming one of this year's nominees for Music Row 'Producer of the Year' and a 2016 nominee for ACM 'Songwriter of the Year'.

After Curb, Shane had a private show with Joe Galante at RCA but, while recording a few sides and doing a showcase, he had already made up his mind to move to LA, which turned out to be a pretty rough 7 yr stretch as a bartender, while continuing to write and play a lot of music by himself. But Nashville wasn't finished with McAnally. In 2008, Shane finally got his first major cut with Leann Womack's, 'Last Call', thanks to co-writer Erin Enderlin, and it was back to Music City. In 2009 his co-write with Jamie Teachenor, 'What Is Country' was cut by Luke Bryan and then, in 2010...the flood gates opened. Reba cut 'All the Woman I am', a co-write with Kent Blazy and Marv Green, 'Cry', a co-write with Brandy Clark and 'The Day She Got Divorced', another co-write with Brandy and Mark D. Sanders. That same year, LeAnn Rimes recorded 'Crazy Women' another co-write with Clark and Jessi Jo Dillon and Shane got his first # 1 'HIT' with Kenny Chesney, a co-write with J.T. Harding. Not bad for a guy without a publishing deal. But that was only half of what was brewing.

Shane McAnally
Shane McAnally

Along the way, McAnally's obsession with songwriting led to what became the final phase of his transition into producing. It all began when Shane organized the first of many songwriter retreats, at a cabin on Center Hill Lake with Brandy Clark, Josh Osborne, Old Dominion's Mathew Ramsey & Trevor Rosen and Matt Jenkins. At the time, they'd all been kickin' around for about 10 years with little success but something clicked. And as they began writing and recording their demos, Shane found himself, at their request, producing their demos.

In a recent interview, McAnally said: We would all set up there and literally, would write with no agenda because, none of us had anything going on, We would all just write songs we loved and a lot of those songs got recorded. There was something special about everyone in that crew."

They called themselves 'The Hit Shitters', and it was 'that' combination of talent, that proved to lay the foundation, for Smack Songs. McAnally's new publishing, production and artist development company which he and his partners Michael Baum and Robin Palmer launched in 2011. Staff writers include original 'Hit Shitters' Shane, Mathew, Trevor and Josh Osborne...plus...Josh Jenkins, Mathew McGinn, Jo Smith and Walker Hayes.

Brandy Clark eventually bought the cabin, the retreats continued and 'Shane n Clark' still go there, while putting the finishing touches on the musical score of songs for MOONSHINE, the HEE HAW adapted musical, by Robert Horn which debuted in Dallas at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater, to 'Rave Reviews' in September 2015 and is now headed for Broadway.

Shane's producing credits now boast two Kacy Musgraves albums on Mercury/UMG, Same Trailer Park in 2013 and Pageant Material in 2015, co-produced with Luke Laird, Sam Hunt's album Montevallo, which he co-produced with Zach Crowell, on MCA/UMG, in 2014, Old Dominion on Sony, in 2015 and he's currently finishing up Jake Owen's new album, which he co-produced with Ross Copperman, another current nominee for Music Row's coveted 'Producer of the Year' Award, along with Shane, Byron Gallimore, Jay Joyce and Frank Liddell.

To date, McAnally has had over 150 major cuts, 15 of which went to No. 1, he's already won CMA and Grammy awards and last year was named Billboard magazine's No. 1 hot country songwriter, No. 4 hot country producer and No. 7 hot country publisher for his company Smack Songs. So far, every album Shane has produced or co-produced has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Album...Transition complete.

The Producer's Chair: How did you get your first No 1, with Kenny Chesney?

McAnally: Robin Palmer was one of the only people in town that I could meet with. She used to pitch songs to me at Curb when I was an artist. We weren't great friends or anything but, we had met a few times and she was open to hear my stuff. I had "Somewhere With You" and she was so certain about it that, she pitched it 11 times. When Kenny finally recorded it and it became a single, it was a moment where Robin and I were just like...let's just jump off together. It started happening really fast after that and so we were kind of like...Why would we go and give all this up? We started this much by ourselves and that was what started Smack.

The Producer's Chair: What did your partner Michael Baum do before you started Smack?

McAnally: Michael is a problem solver. He used to do mortgages. He was a loan officer in Atlanta and him and this other loan officer had bigger ambitions than just being a loan officer. He wanted to have his own business so it started with Michael and him. He didn't know how to do with that guy did but, he surrounded himself with people that could help. And the next thing he knew he had 14 branches and 180 employees. So he came here, Even though it's a totally different world, he found that, I know what I can do very well but, I don't know how to do that and so, he surrounded me. It's problem solving. I'm the first person to say; "I can't do that"...He's the kind of person that says: "I can find someone who knows how to do that". I didn't know the way that those kinds of things could work so well together. I've learned a lot and respect that side of things a lot more. Knowing how important that is because, that's been a big part of a lot of what we have done here.

The Producer's Chair: With the company doing everything under one roof, is there a possibility of Smack becoming a label?

McAnally: We kind of had label services with Old Dominion before Sony sorta bought their deal. It was with kind of like, that thing of where we acted like a label. If you walk and talk like you're a label, than your label. It's a matter of convincing yourself that it's okay You know what I mean. They were on XM and we were funding them to record and were a label until a label that had more experience came in and took it to a place we couldn't and another management company also did that. And now we learned how capable we were to do that. And we wouldn't change one thing about that road. But now next time we are more equipped to take it in that direction.

The Producer's Chair: If Smack became a label what do you think your biggest challenge would be?

McAnally: I can't help but be influenced by the fact that country radio is still so dominant I think that would be our biggest challenge. It's because radio promotion is very hard and very expensive and that is the one thing about the majors...they got it down. I don't think you just put a staff together, especially regionally. Radio promotion is a part that scares me because this town that is so radio focused. So yeah, that would be our biggest challenge.

The Producer's Chair: How did you get that first producing gig with Kacey?

McAnally: She's very responsible for me even seeing myself as a producer. We would have these demo sessions of all of our songs because we were all friends so, we would set up a session at a studio, where we were going to record the songs that we had written at the cabin. When I was writing with Kacey and we started writing with Luke, he and she were writing. Her and I were writing and Luke and I had written but, we weren't a team. Then when the three of us got into a room, it was just like we couldn't stop, we wanted to do work tapes. Luke is a great musician and engineer, I was more of an instinct person. Then she was like...You guys are my producers.

The Producer's Chair: Did you get Kacey her deal on Mercury?

McAnally: Yes. Her and I Went to the labels, all of them, with our little 5 song demo that Luke and I had done. Every person that we went to, offered her a deal on the spot, Scott Borchetta, Mike Duncan and then Luke Lewis. Ultimately her and Luke had an instant chemistry. But yes as far as getting her deal, she got her record deal. There's nothing that doesn't happen for that girl that she isn't doing. But I was with her and that was prior to management and then literally when Jason Owen came in as her manager, he took it to the stratosphere without looking at radio, period. That was a new lesson for me that, you just do what you can. Publicity-wise, she's almost like a cartoon like Dolly Parton. It's just so specific that, you don't know if radio is ever going to get on that train but, it's too special to not be heard. And because she is so talented and authentic, everyone just sort of rallied. And she got a lot of attention outside of Nashville with all the big magazines. Jason knew that world because he came from LA Publicity. He was managing Shania Twain. He knew how to bring things to the table that, a record label, whose just looking at radio, really didn't know the value and the power of being involved in that world. So that's what the commercial part of her career has been built on.

The Producer's Chair: How do you feel about producing artists that have little or no writing skills?

McAnally: I am fine with that. I have not worked with someone that is just a singer or a musician. But we are certainly well it's so hard to find them because A lot of times we know about people because we know about their songs. I am very much looking for someone who can just sing. When you look at the careers of George Strait, Reba, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw on and on, there's a reason because they were able to find amazing material and not be bogged down between choosing between their songs and someone else's song. I would be very interested in finding someone like that.

The Producer's Chair: How did you and Zach Crowell wind up co-producing Sam Hunt's record?

McAnally: Sam and I started writing about 6 years ago. Then I started saying hey Sam let's go in the studio. We cut demos together and the sound evolved and evolved to a point and it got to a point where sound-wise it was sort of out of my wheelhouse. We needed someone else and that's where Zach came in because they co- wrote together. And Zach did a track and Sam was like, this is the missing element! Zack was able to bring everything in Sam's mind and mine in fact. Again I'm not an engineer, I don't know how to do things the way Zack does. I knew how to work with live musicians. And there are elements of the sound that it isn't necessary for it to be electronic. And that was what I couldn't do. And that's where Zach came in. He also has a mind like...I don't sit in front of the computer and play with sounds and all that. I just can't do that. He is built different. He can sit and do that for hours where he is just messing with sounds you know. So he was someone that Sam really needed that attention on these songs.

The Producer's Chair: Did Mathew & Trevor start Old Dominion when you guys were at the cabin?

McAnally: Matt had a band prior to those cabin things with his buddies From Virginia. Two of them are still in the band with him. They just played music but they weren't called Old Dominion. They had different names and then it started to happen. While that was happening, I was doing demos on Matt Ramsey the lead singer. We would pitch these songs and a lot of times people would cut the songs but, they would never sound better than him. And then it was like...Why aren't we just doing something with y'all. So it kind evolved like that.

The Producer's Chair: Did you and Jake Owen write most of the songs on his new album?

McAnally: No actually Ross and I wrote a lot of the record. Jake is always on the road but he did write a couple of Songs for the record but we didn't end up writing any of the stuff with Jake. Jake tends to lean to Jaren Johnston as a writer. He cuts a lot of songs of his. He likes the phrasing. It sounds like one or two people wrote the record, but it's a lot of writers. 16 songs and we are almost done. We have a few mixes and things but, the single came out this week and had a huge impact. That was great and that was with Ross Copperman co-producing.

The Producer's Chair: When it comes to writers and publishers not getting paid fairly, who are the worst offenders? And...is there anything, anybody can do about it?

McAnally: Pandora and YouTube...I left ASCAP this year after 22 years and went with Irving Azoff's new company the Global Music Rights because, it is a boutique PRO, that can go up against YouTube because, their deals are not already in place. It's always ASCAP SESAC AND BMI, everybody is trying. He just has a little bit of an opportunity because he started his own company to get the streaming caught up with. That is going to be our new radio. Radio is what has made songwriters viable and so we have to get them caught up.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

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

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Mark Bright

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Scott Hendricks

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Trey Fanjoy

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Chad Carlson

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Jay DeMarcus

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Shane McAnally

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Doug Johnson

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

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Noah Gordon

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The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Paul Worley

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Cactus Moser

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