Episode 22: Eric Hurt – Patience And Hard Work


This week I’m talking with my old friend Eric Hurt who has spent over 20 year as a song plugger, publisher and A&R rep working with some of Nashville’s biggest music companies and songwriters. We are discussing what it takes to work as a song plugger and publisher. Setting yourself apart so that people find value in who you are and will want to work with you. The importance of showing up and giving your all so that industry people will start noticing you. Plus, two of the most important ingredients to be successful in the music industry.
Sponsors: Edenbrooke Productions – We offer consulting services and are offering listeners a 1-hour introductory special. To request more info on consulting services, email Marty at contact@johnmartinkeith.com.

Talking Points:

*The people who are most successful are the ones who don’t give up.

*Find ways around “no.”

*Went to Belmont University for composition and arranging. Although I wasn’t required to have an internship with my degree, I realized the importance of having one so I could network and get to know people.

*I got an internship at a publishing company called Almo/Irving which is the best thing I have done in my career to set up me for success.

*Laws have changed and it has become more difficult to get an internship if you aren’t in school.

*You can still get an internship without going to college and going through an internship program, but you will probably work with a small company instead of one of the larger companies.

*I ended up at Forefront Records for a while, but stayed in touch with the people at Almo/Irving and they recommended me for a position as a song plugger for producer Joe Scaife at Cal 4 Entertainment. That happened because I maintained my relationships with people at Almo/Irving.

*Be patient, not pushy.

*A song plugger is someone who maintains relationships with all the labels and A&R teams. They also build relationships with all the publishers. You keep up with all the artists in town that are working on records and the kind of material they are looking to record and when your client (songwriter) has a song you feel works for that artist’s project, then you take that song to the record label or producer or artist and play it for them to try to get them to record it on their album. You try to get the songs into as many hands as possible.

*A song plugger also sets up co-writes with other writers or artists.

*Song pluggers can work for a company or independently.

*Liz Morin and Ronna Reeves are great independent song pluggers. But they don’t work with just anybody. It has to be artists they feel like has a home somewhere.

*If you hire an independent song plugger, make sure they have good relationships with the people in the industry.

*If you want to be a song plugger, you have to be very outgoing, social and love meeting new people. Be comfortable in a lot of different scenarios, one-on-one or with a room full of people. You need to look for companies that have success because they are going to help set up initial meetings for you as a song plugger so you can get to know the high up people at labels and publishers, etc.

*After a while I decided to go back to making music and stepped away from the business side, but after a few years I realized I preferred the business side of music.

*I came back and worked at Brentwood Benson Publishing as creative director basically doing the same thing I had done as a song plugger with the other companies, but on a larger scale.

*Whether you’re an artist or want to be on the business side there are 2 things that there are no substitutes for: Patience and hard work.

*Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s.

*For the past few years I worked for Black River Entertainment doing publishing and setting up co-writes, looking for songs, etc. I signed an artist named Willie Jones to a publishing deal which led me to working with my current company EMPIRE.

*If you are in a creative position at a publishing company, you are setting up co-writes, pitching songs, dealing with A&R on signing new talent to pub deals, etc.

*Most people think of A&R as being only on the record label side, but there is that same element when signing writers to a publishing deal.

*I’ve been diligent learning multiple sides of the industry, broadening my web of contacts so that I can move in different areas and genres and pivot as needed which has created value over time and led to multiple opportunities so that people are always reaching out to me for a position, not me seeking out new positions for myself.

*When I sign a writer for EMPIRE I look for people that already have a team around them and they have some momentum at what they are doing currently.

*At Black River Entertainment it could be a brand new writer that had no cuts but was could at tracking and producing.

*Sometimes it’s knowing when to sign new young writers and knowing when to sign anchor writers that have had hits over their career.

*At EMPIRE I am the VP of A&R launching the Nashville division. They’ve had lots of success in the urban space including Kendrick Lamar, Cardi B, Snoop Dogg, etc.

*They wanted to get into country music so I am spearheading that by offering something with an urban philosophy and mindset on how we partner with artists and put music out.

*When you’re married you have to have a supportive and understanding spouse. It’s a lot of odd hours. You have to have a balance and make sure you have family time. When your off, be off.

*Learn the power of “no.”

*If you learn when to say “no” that can make you more valuable and more respected to people.

*If you want to work for a label, publisher, etc. or get signed to one as an artist or writer, you need to move to a music town that does those things and immerse yourself in the genre and the side of the business you want to be on.

*Find out where things are happening, where the influencers are, where people in the music community hang out so you can show up be around it.

*In Nashville every Monday is Whiskey Jam where a lot of artists perform and every Tuesday is Tin Roof Revival. Show up and be there because industry people go to those events and you can rub a lot of elbows and start building relationships in a really authentic way.

*Don’t be pushy or try to rush anything.

*Find people you connect with.

*Just show up in everything you do.

*Show up to the city you want to be in, the events you want to be at, to work, your co-writing session on time and early and people will start noticing.


With over 20 years experience in Nashville’s music industry, Eric Hurt is the first official team member of EMPIRE Nashville as their VP of A&R, spearheading EMPIRE’s Country initiative around Willie Jones with one of his first EMPIRE signings being iHeart Media podcast & soundtrack Bear and a Banjo; produced by T Bone Burnett, narrated by actor Dennis Quaid, and written by Grammy winning producer/writer Jason Boyd aka Poo-Bear and Jared Gudstadt. The project features Zac Brown as well as a song co-written with Bob Dylan. Previously, he was Sr. Director of Creative at Black River Publishing in Nashville representing 5x #1 hit writer/producer Josh Kerr, Black River artist Abby Anderson, producer Bobby Huff, among many others.

Episode 21: Chad Segura – The Baseline


This week I’m talking with my friend Chad Segura who is the Vice President of Publishing at Centricity Music in Franklin, TN. He’s been a publisher in the Christian music, country music and sync licensing markets for two decades. We are discussing the differences between marketing and publicity, details about what music publishing is and what Centricity Music Publishing is looking for when they sign new staff writers to their roster. Plus, the importance of internships if you are wanting to work for a publishing company and the baseline component to be successful in any area of the music industry.
Show Notes:

Sponsors: Edenbrooke Productions – We offer consulting services and are offering listeners a 1-hour introductory special. To request more info on consulting services, email Marty at contact@johnmartinkeith.com.

Talking Points:

*VP of Music Publishing for Centricity Music.

*I Played music growing up and went to Belmont as a vocal performance major and realized during orientation week that I didn’t like the technical aspect of what that would require so I transferred to the music business program.

*I went from performance focused to business focused which turned out to be the perfect fit for me.

*I did an internship in publishing and an internship in marketing for a label.

*The publishing internship was not great for me. I did the work that needed to be done but really didn’t learn a lot.

*The people at the record label internship let me speak into ideas and giving me a voice into marketing campaigns and including me in business lunches when it made sense.

*You should always be learning and getting new experiences in an internship. Not only getting to work on projects and have input but also getting to interact with people.

*After college I transitioned from the internship into a full time position at Sparrow Records which had been bought by EMI Christian Music Group.

*My first job was in publicity which is promoting those artists to outside entities that can let the consumer know about them. Magazines, blogs, social media, etc.

*After a year my boss moved to marketing and allowed me to move with her which was letting the consumer know about the product. CDs, tapes, streaming, etc.

*EMI was creating a publishing role called “catalog development manager” that I got hired for which was getting into the song catalog and figuring out ways to monetize that.

*I’m passionate about great songs and songwriters and helping their songs find homes and outlets and streams of revenue.

*At Centricity Publishing we work with two distinct groups of writers: Staff writers that write for other people and artist writers that write for their own artistry.

*My role is to head up the publishing company and oversee all aspects of the business.

*Publishing is broken up into two parts: The creative side and the administrative side.

*The creative side is everything with the writers and songs finding opportunities for them and generating revenue, etc.

*The administrative side is all the details that have to happen in order for this to not just be a hobby.

*If nobody’s tracking it, registering it, licensing it, collecting revenue, etc. then we don’t have a business.

*We are trying to find talent, find songs.

*We have writers that are signed to us (staff or artist), but we also do single song agreements where we identify a song that we think we can help it find a place.

*Regarding single songs contracts we sign that song because we usually become aware of it

*We don’t take songs that people randomly send us mainly for legal reasons. It can be dangerous to accept unsolicited music which is something we didn’t ask for directly from someone.

*Most likely you know someone that knows a publisher, so have them listen to it and see if they can send it for you if they believe in it.

*It’s way better for us to get it from a trusted source where they can vet it.

*Be affiliated with a PRO – BMI, ASCAP or SESAC

*They are people that publishers trust and can be an advocate for you and they can send to us if they think it is a good song. They are putting their reputation on the line.

*Sometimes we do a sync writers event where we invite unsigned writers along with our staff writers and some music supervisors to work on sync songs together with the understanding that if they do it, then it will be under a single song contract during the event.

*We also do the same thing for worship retreats.

*Finding staff writers is similar in the sense that we hear somebody is good. Sometimes its a person we known for years and they are coming out of a publishing deal and we see an opportunity to work with them exclusively. But, more often than not, we decide to work with someone exclusively after we have done a few single song contracts. Or we keep hearing about a writer from other people or our writers keep writing with a certain person and anything they do together seems great.

*Artist writers are their own thing. They are writing almost exclusively for their own artistry and that’s it’s own very specific thing.

*Staff writers each have specific skill sets and leanings towards different genres or strengths so for us we are very intentional about that. Knowing how many producer/writers we need and are they different enough from each other to where they are not stepping on each other.

*In some cases you need multiple’s of one thing because there isn’t enough to go around.

*How many great lyricists do we have and people who are great at concepts or melodically strong.

*It’s knowing that balance of how much can we physically work with and also do they fit our roster.

*Most importantly for me is do I love this person. I want to see them win. Do they fit what we do and our culture and our work style and we think we can enhance what they do.

*They are plenty of people I love but either we don’t have room or they don’t fit what we do.

*It’s very relational for us.

*The bar though is amazing talent. That’s the baseline.

*We wouldn’t be talking if we didn’t think there was something here in it’s rawest form was pretty special.

*Then we have to figure if and how they fit into what we do and do we fit them.

*I’m not quick to rush into longterm deals with anybody.

*When we enter into a deal with somebody, whatever the term is, my hope is always when the end of that term is done we are trying to figure out how to do the next one.

*the hope is that it will be a long term thing for years and years and everyone will be better for having partnered together.

*Some writers we pay a salary upfront and some we don’t. They all need to be bi-vocational.

*Writers are paid advances on their future royalties which they have to pay back if they song makes money.

*It’s the best loan you’ll ever get because you don’t have to pay it back if they song never makes money.

*Advances are much less than they used to be. Getting an advance or not is negotiable. Some writers want one and some don’t.

*If you get paid an advance for a long time and something big happens and you get cut and generates a decent amount of money, when that comes in you’ve basically already gotten that money so you’re just digging out of the whole that you have. Sometimes that is not as satisfying for people because it feels like your catching up to where I am now and you’ve already spent that money.

*Some people need that upfront, regular payment for budgeting purposes, etc.

*A lot of our writers are doing other things as well. Some are producer for major labels and independently, some are teachers, etc. to create multiple streams of income.

*If you want to work for a publishing company, it’s to be in the cities where they are doing that.

*You need to be willing to learn and try to get your foot in the door.

*If you’re not enrolled in school, it’s harder to get internships especially at the bigger companies because of how they are set up.

*Smaller companies like ours you do not have to be school in to get an internship, so find places to learn and pour in and get a job so you can pay for life while you are trying to do that.

*Internships are one of the best ways to learn the thing and get your foot in the door and let people know who you are.

*As a writer – write!

*If you want to be professional writer, you need to already be a writer. Develop that craft, hone it, know how to write on your own and with others.

*Always try to write with people who are better than you.

*The way you get on our radar is by delivering great music through a trusted source if you don’t know us directly and if you do, building that relationship.

*Be excellent at what you’re doing.

*I am always looking for people that are phenomenal talent.

*Work ethic and ability to do what needs to be done and have a great attitude.

*Be teachable.



Chad Segura began his career at Sparrow Records in 1996, after graduating from Belmont University, in Nashville, TN. His first role was in the publicity department, followed by a stint on the artist development team. And while he enjoyed aspects of both, it wasn’t until 1998 when he joined the publishing team at EMI Christian Music Publishing (now Capitol CMG Publishing), that he found his true passion for working with songs and songwriters.  After several years, at EMI, he then went on to head the publishing division of competitor, Word Entertainment, for several more, before starting and running his own publishing company, Meld Music, in partnership with Fair Trade Services. In the summer of 2015, Chad made the move to Centricity Music, where he currently heads up their publishing division. Over the course of his career, he has had the pleasure of working with a “who’s who” list of Christian recording artists, and songwriters, and he’s still as passionate as ever about the work that he gets to do.


Episode 20: Eric Horner – The Key To Surviving The Music Business


This week I’m talking with my old friend Eric Horner. We are both from Paducah, KY and grew up learning to play guitar at Chapman Music. Eric has worked with country music legends Lee Greenwood, Brad Paisley, Wynonna Judd and Shania Twain. He is now in full time music ministry and we discuss the behind the scenes aspects of landing gigs, what is expected of you as a session player, immersing yourself in the music scene you want to part of and the importance of you guessed it…relationships!

Show notes:

Sponsors: Edenbrooke Productions – We offer consulting services and are offering listeners a 1-hour introductory special. To request more info on consulting services, email Marty at contact@johnmartinkeith.com.
Talking Points:

*The whole key to this business is relationships.

*Go to a music city and be a part of the grape vine. Build friendships.

*Very seldom do artists have what’s called an “open cattle call” audition. Somebody knows somebody and they get the private audition because you’ve had a relationship.

*Steven Curtis Chapman and I grew up together and he taught me to play guitar. We were in a band together in college. When he moved to Nashville and worked at Opryland Theme Park, he worked with some girls who had gotten record deals and had some hits and they needed a bass player and he called me asking if I wanted to audition and I got the gig. They ended up opening for Lee Greenwood and when I heard through the grapevine that he had an opening coming up in his band, I was able to go to him because I made friends with his crew and band and they took me to him and he gave me an audition.

*Hanging out with people that are in bands is a good way to hear about opportunities.

*You need to come immerse yourself and go to any event that puts you in front of people.

*I’ve known Brad Paisley since he was 12 years old. He played guitar at smaller version of the Grand Ole Opry in Virginia. We would play there once or twice a year and we got to be buddies. He would come to the bus and we play songs together.

*He called me out of the blue and said he got a record deal on Arista Records and they were going to introduce him at Fan Fair (CMA Fest) and he asked if I would be in his band.

*I sang with Shania Twain on tv because her drummer used to be my drummer when I was pursuing a solo career. He gave them my name and they called me. There was no audition at all. I just showed up to rehearsal and did it.

*Be able to recognize people’s abilities because if you recommend someone, you’re neck is on the line.

*I pursued a solo career and had written some songs and Lee Greenwood signed me to a publishing deal and began pitching me as an artist.

*I toured with a band but never landed a big record deal.

*I started a production company called Makin’ Tracks Productions and we worked around the clock for years. Having built relationships with great players, we would use them on sessions for people who had been ripped off by other companies previously.

*Larry Rogers who owned Studio 19 and produced hit records for many country artists took me under his wing and told me to go into his studio and learn. All of those tools were at my disposal. He taught me what to do and not to do in making a record.

*Whatever you do, get up out of bed everyday and do something for your career. Regardless if it’s booking a date, writing a song, getting in the studio, etc.

*As an indie artist, you have to create your own niche.

*I became a session player because I was ready to get off the road. There is a stigma that road players can’t be a session player and vice versa. You can do it, it’s a matter of conditioning and thinking differently.

*On the road you can get away with a lot. You might be taking a 5 piece band and trying to make them sound like an 8 piece band. You can’t do that in the studio. In the studio you have to stay out of the way.

*The most important things in the studio: Time and Taste.

*You have to know when to play and when not to play. What you play has to mean something.

*It used to be you could not be on the road and be a session player. That has changed with technology. Some of the best session players around are out on the road touring now as well.

*With Makin’ Tracks Productions I got of a lot of business from NSAI because I built a good reputation and word gets around quickly.

*Now I’m a Gospel Music artist full time and work with the military.

*I got a record deal with a Gospel Music record label and since I had already recorded two new albums, I was in a unique position that they did not sink a lot of money into me. Instead they leased the albums from me but I retained ownership.

*Things did not work and the label was going under so I asked for what’s called a “peaceful release” and I purchased all of my product from them and got out without any legal problems.

*Whatever music market you’re in, get to where the music is.

*Immerse yourself, go to every writer’s night you can, meet band members and make friends with them.

*Become part of the fabric of whatever music town you’re in.

*The key to surviving the music business is relationships.

*The internet has leveled the playing field so a lot of people can have a career that couldn’t before.

*Don’t ever think you’ve got to get a major record label deal or you can’t do music. You most certainly can.


*Facebook – Eric Horner Ministries, Operation Tank Full of Love , His Tunes Studios

Music has always been a major part of Eric Horner’s life. With Steven Curtis Chapman as his first guitar teacher, Eric grew up with a guitar in his hands playing and singing Gospel music all over Western KY near their hometown of Paducah.

Eric moved to Nashville TN at the age of 19 to pursue his dream of becoming a professional songwriter and musician. It didn’t take long for the doors to open and over the next 17 years Eric toured the world playing and singing backup with such artists as Lee Greenwood, Shania Twain, Wynonna Judd and Brad Paisley.

In 2002, all of that changed. Eric began to feel a call on his life to return to his Gospel music roots and to use his talents for a higher purpose. He surrendered to full time music ministry in the Fall of that year and hasn’t looked back since. Eric and his wife Debby spend over 200 days a year on the road ministering in churches and military bases all across America.

God has given them the unique opportunity to encourage and minister to the newest members of our military as they go through basic training. Eric places a big emphasis on Faith, Family and Freedom along with a call to evangelism in his worship presentations. “With the division we are now seeing in America, there’s never been a more important time for the church to go out and shine His light and be the hands and feet of Jesus in our communities”.


Episode 19: Jordan Childs – Character Equity And Discipline



This week I’m talking with my friend Jordan Childs who is an amazing musician and producer. He tours professionally as a drummer, produces and composes music for indie films and tv and also plays drums and keys for America’s Got Talent. We are discussing the beauty of “retainer gigs,” building genuine relationships, focusing on your character and values and the importance of being disciplined.

Show Notes:

Sponsors: Edenbrooke Productions – We offer consulting services and are offering listeners a 1-hour introductory special. To request more info on consulting services, email Marty at contact@johnmartinkeith.com.

Talking Points:

*Grew up playing in church since the age of 9 as the main drummer.

*I was expected to play at a high level.

*Started to expand my musical library learning jazz fusion at 11.

*There is value in combining private lessons and learning on your own.

*Went to Berklee and got a degree in composition and production.

*I did music directing at my dad’s church after Berklee.

*When I moved to L.A. I got plugged in quickly by getting a music directing job at a church because of my experience back home.

*A family friend who has lived in L.A. for over 20 years helped me get my first touring gig here.

*I did a lot of wedding gigs back home before I moved to L.A. so within the first month or so of moving to CA. I was able to get some wedding gigs because a friend from Berklee needed me to sub for him.

*Within the first year and a half in L.A. I met a guy who had gone to Berklee and he changed my life because two weeks after meeting him he posted an audition for a British artist and I got the gig and was on retainer for over a year.

*A retainer gig is when you agree on a certain amount to get paid per month usually and they get priority of my schedule. If I have anything else going on and something comes up with that artist, then since I am on retainer I agree to drop whatever else I am doing to focus on that artist.

*Some musicians that have retainer gigs are not allowed to do other work.

*I started working on production projects during that time and scoring indie films, etc.

*I play drums and keys for different contestants on the tv show America’s Got Talent.

*I got that gig because I got a random email from one of the people who staff the band asking if I would like to be on America’s Got Talent in the band.

*Once I started posting online about it, a friend reached out and said he told them about me and was glad I got the gig. I met him at my dad’s friend’s 70th birthday party. That guy was also a Berklee grad so we hit it off. He’s actually the music director for The Jonas Brothers now.

*Be open to have conversations. You never know who you are talking to. You never know what a conversation can lead to.

*Every opportunity I’ve gotten in L.A. has come through a connection with somebody.

*The book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People says there is primary greatness and secondary greatness.

*Personality ethic is the ability to be persuasive and eloquent in your speech, charismatic.

*Character ethic is who you are and the breadth of investment you made into the things that are virtues and values and your congruence to those things.

*Networking as a skill has value. To me it seems like a secondary greatness type of thing where I’m learning how to speak to people or market myself or position myself.

*The thing for me that has been more impactful has been building genuine relationships with people and interests in what they are doing and trying to figure what I can do to serve you at the time of meeting you.

*Put others before yourself.

*I write for commercials and tv projects through a company in Canada called Premium Beat.

*They pay you per track and you get to keep your writers share.

*If someone is doing what you want to do and you have the ability to reach out to them and tell them you love what they do, ask them if you can meet them and ask them 3 specific questions and buy them a cup of coffee, you never know what can come from that.

*If you do that kind of thing on a consistent basis, it can change your career.

*Decide who you want to be before you decide what you want to do.

*Focus on your character, your values, then as you approach what you do allow that to be a natural expression.

*Be disciplined.

*In order for me to do anything great in life it will require discipline.

*Ultimately people will want to hire you because of your character.

*Following Jesus is what has made my life better and me better at life.


*Instagram – @jordancchilds


Jordan is a producer, composer, arranger, music director, multi-instrumentalist and thinker. Born and raised in Kingston, NY, Jordan is a self-described analytical creative and curator of vibrations. Jordan graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 2012 with a degree in Electronic Production in Sound Design. Now based in the Los Angeles area, Jordan has had the privilege of touring as the drummer for international pop star Bipolar Sunshine. Jordan has also had the opportunity to play drums for the Voice finalist, Chris Mann, and Glee star, Cheyenne Jackson. Jordan is also the keyboardist for ROK mobile artist, Maisy Kay, and recently returned from touring in Japan on keys with J-Pop superstar, Che’Nelle. In 2017, Jordan worked with filmmaker Scott Bahler to produce the score for a short-film entitled How To Be Lonely and Depressed which is set to be featured in festivals worldwide.

Episode 18: Blaine Barcus – Bring Professionalism To Whatever You Do


This week I’m talking with my friend Blaine Barcus who is VP of A&R at Provident Label Group where he works with artists Zach Williams, Third Day, Matthew West and more.  We discuss what labels are looking for when signing new artists, plus, some of the best ways to get your foot in the door to work for a record label, management company or publisher through road managing, merchandise managing and internships.  Also, the importance of having a professional attitude with everything you do.


Show notes:

Sponsors: Edenbrooke Productions – We offer consulting services and are offering listeners a 1-hour introductory special. To request more info on consulting services, email Marty at contact@johnmartinkeith.com.

Talking Points:

*I’m the Vice President of A&R for Provident Label Group.

*A&R stands for “Artist and Repertoire” which is basically artists and songs.

*I equate the roll as kind of an account executive.

2 parts to my job: 1) I manage artists signed to our label and it’s my job to be the main creative person that interacts with the artists on behalf of all their content especially on the audio side. It’s my job to the help develop the artist if they are a new artist, find people to co write with them, figure out their sound if they don’t quite know yet. Basically helping them find songs and producers for their projects. It’s a part business, part creative. 2) I’m also a talent scout, going out to shows, listening to demos, looking for artists to potentially sign to our label.

*I played drums growing up.

*I went to college and majored in communications.

*I worked in marketing and sales after college.

*My younger brother was at Belmont in Nashville so I followed him to town. He ended up going on tour with big artists and it was through my brother’s network of friends and associates that I was able to plug in.

*My first job in the music business was tour manager for a new band in Atlanta called Third Day. Since I had strong business skills from college, their manager hired me.

*After about 6 months I transitioned inside their management company and became their day to day manager at Creative Trust which is where I started working with Steven Curtis Chapman overseeing some of his live events along with several other artists.

*I did that for about 3 years, then went back on the road and drummed and road managed Mark Shultz for about a year.

*Then I got hired at Word Records to do A&R where I worked for 3 years then I transitioned here to Provident for the past 15 years.

*If you want to get into road managing, some skills required to be a good road manager are: You have to have organizational skills and juggle a lot of balls at one time. As a road manager you interact with almost every facet of the music industry i.e. artists, concert promoters, booking agents, artist managers, record labels, publicists, transportation companies, production companies (audio, lighting, sound engineers, crew).

*You can start by road managing an indie artist.

*A great way is to start out as a merchandise manager on a tour because management is always looking people that can go out an be responsible and organized to sell and manage merch on the road.

*If it’s a signed artist, I would go to the manager and let them know who you are and what your skill level is and what you’ve done. A lot of times it doesn’t take a lot of past experience to do that job but you have to prove that you have good people skills and that you’re organized and that you’re good with money.

*Good people skills because you’re going to interact with the artist, road manager and local sales people at each venue, and the audience.

*A merch manager is representing the artist at the table so if you’re not a pleasant person or you have bad people skills, that’s a reflection of the artist and they’re not going to keep you around very long. You’re a sales person for the artist.

*If you can be really good at that, usually other people on the road are going to notice your skills and your abilities and I think there are a lot of transferable skills to then grow into an assistant tour manager on a larger tour or a tour manager on a smaller tour and work your way up.

*I had never had an A&R position before but people knew my work in the industry and when the position came open, my boss at Creative Trust spoke with the person at Word Records and had a relationship with him and put my name in the hat and recommended me.

*There are A&R skills required to be a good manager too and they believed I had the skills to do the job.

*A couple of bands I signed at Word Records were Building 429 and Stellar Kart.

*When I moved to Provident I got work with Third Day again so it became a full circle moment.

*DSP – Digital Service Provider – Spotify, Pandora, etc.

*Your social skills, people skills and general disposition is 100% as important as your playing ability.

*Bring a level of professionalism to whatever you do or someone will be waiting to take your job.

*Most artists I sign come to me through people I know in the industry.

*I look for artists that have a heart for ministry and encouraging and loving people. Also I have to determine if this artist has the talent to be successful on a national or worldwide level.

*You don’t need a label to have a career as an artist.

*A record label is like an engine that can help pour gas on what an artist is already doing.

*The artist has to be the driving force and the label can be champions to come around that artist and hopefully take it to the masses.

*I have to sign artists that will be financially profitable for this company.

*I think if you’re trying to be an artist full time, you have to engaged and involved on social media. At the end of the day however, it’s not a make or break for me to sign an artist based on how many followers they have or don’t have.

*I believe if the talent is great, if the songs are great, they’re going to find followers.

*If you want to work for a record label, a lot of times a bachelor’s degree of any kind is used to weed out who is serious and who isn’t.

*You can look for entry level jobs keeping track of people’s calendars, assisting a marketing director or supporting the head of radio, etc. Those usually come from college internships.

*Go on the road as a merch manager and be excellent on the road, then transition to a tour manager or label position.

*If you have any skills in video editing or directing, there are opportunities at labels.

*Just be great at what you do, do it with excellence.

*If you’re an intern, you will get the first shot at moving up to a higher position when they become available.

*You don’t have to have a music business degree to work in the music business. You can get a regular business degree and get your music experience outside of the classroom by interning or promoting shows in your area, etc.


Music has been a constant in Blaine Barcus’ life for as long as he can remember. He began listening to his parents’ Beatles records before he started kindergarten. At 10 he began taking drums lessons, joined his first rock band at 15. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from the University of Missouri and in 1996 moved to Nashville to pursue his dream of working in the music business. Since then, he has been fortunate to work in almost every facet of the industry as a tour manager, touring drummer, artist manager, and record label executive.

Over the span of his music career, Blaine has worked directly on albums that have sold or streamed over 10 million copies. Three of those albums received Grammy Awards with 13 other albums or songs receiving Grammy nominations. He has been fortunate to work with many talented artists including Third Day, Steven Curtis Chapman, Zach Williams, Matthew West, Matt Maher, Building 429, I Am They and many others. Currently, Blaine is the Vice President of A&R for the Provident Label Group, a division of Sony Music Entertainment. He is married to his best friend, Beth, with whom he has three children. In his free time he enjoys cardio kickboxing, college football, high school baseball and collecting vintage drums.

Episode 17: Ben Phillips – Exploit Your Strengths



This week I’m talking with my friend Ben Phillips who has done pretty much everything there is to do in the music industry.  We are discussing road vs session drumming, relationships, producing, mixing, editing, demos vs. master recordings and how exploiting your strengths can give you an advantage at making a living in the music industry.

Show Notes:

Sponsors: Edenbrooke Productions – We offer consulting services and are offering listeners a 1-hour introductory special. To request more info on consulting services, email Marty at contact@johnmartinkeith.com.

Talking Points:

*Started playing drums at nine years old.

*Found ways to be around music anyway I could growing up.

*Went to Belmont University and studied studio engineering.

*I changed to session drumming as my focus.

*I would take any gig learning to play in all situations.

*Right out of college I had my first road gig with a signed artist from an audition.

*It was a stepping stone for me getting that experience.

*That led to a gig with a signed country artist because of relationship I had with a friend of mine who worked for the producer Dan Huff told him to put an band together for the tour and he called and asked if I was interested.

*It took 4 or 5 years of being in town and building relationships before I got that opportunity.

*The friendship I had with a bass player in college led to most of my gigs in the early days.

*New drummers wanting to do studio work should work on listening to everybody else, really listening to the vocal and going back and listening to how what you play affects the other parts.

*It’s good to understand production and know that there is going to be more stuff added later.

*You’re there to serve the producer and the artist, not yourself.

*Some people I have drummed for on records are Matthew West, Rush of Fools, Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Blake Shelton, Chase Rice, Chris Jansen and more.

*When I was tracking drums in sessions I got be around a lot of great studio engineers and I got to ask them questions and learn a lot that way.

*I went through a period where it was hard to find good paying gigs and I quit for about 2 years.

*I moved away from Nashville and when I came back I decided to put a studio in my house, so I started reconnecting with and building relationships with friends from Belmont while meeting new people.

*It was slow for a few months while trying to reconnect and get work.

*I got a call from a college friend who needed me to play drums on session for CCM producer Pete Kipley at a studio on Music Row.

*Pete had a friend producing a song for Rebecca St. James for the Narnia soundtrack and asked if I would play drums on that.

*That led to a lot of work on different projects which set me on the path I’m on now.

*All of these relationships led from one thing to a bunch of things.

*I never know where the next lead or next step is going to come from.

*When it came to getting good drum sounds, I didn’t like how others were doing it so I learned to do it myself.

*I was one of the first people in Nashville to have a home studio before it became the norm.

*I got married so I moved the studio to another house in a different part of town.

*Because of another relationship I met a guitar player named Ilya Toshinskiy and he got me a lot of work doing country demos at my studio.

*Country writers were coming in all the time so I got to do a lot of work tracking and mixing for Shane MacAnally from the show Songland, Old Dominion, Sam Hunt, Kacey Musgraves and more before their careers took off.

*When you’re mixing a song with a writer there, you get more time to sit and talk with them and build relationships with them.

*A “demo” is a demonstration recording to show the label or manager how the song could go.

*Chris Jansen’s radio single “Buy Me Boat” is the demo that I recorded and mixed.

*A country or CCM demo average cost is $800 – 1000 for a full demo per song.

*A major label Country album recording can cost $20,000 per song on average.

*A Contemporary Christian Music label song is on average $2,000-4,000 per song.

*I can do a demo in about 4-5 hours per song, which is very fast.

*Musicians make about $60 an hour and usually do 3 songs in 3 hours at a time for $180 to record a demo if you’re with the Musician’s Union.

*On a master scale recording that ends up on an album the musician will make up to $750 for 3 hours an average.

*On a demo you only get paid for the work recording the demo.

*Recording on a album cut you can get royalties on the back end as well.

*A studio can be $2000 per day.

*If there is a bigger budget, everything is going to cost more just because you can charge it.

*They only charge $1000 per demo because they have to pay for multiple demos to then choose which songs to use on the album and re record those demos, so the demo budget per song is lower.

*Engineers and mixers only get paid for the initial work on the song, no back end royalties, so they charge more up front.

*A friend asked if he could do some guitar overdubs at my studio with producer Scott Hendricks and we hit it off and that got me working with him doing editing for major albums like Blake Shelton and more.

*Editing is cleaning up the recordings and making sure that everything is lined up and any pops and clicks, etc. are gone.

*Slow down and listen.

*I’m still striving for the next thing, still pushing for how to improve and get better, how to get to the next level.

*There is no finish line.

*I’m still learning how to play the game.

*What is the game? Music business, politics and relationships.

*What I want to put out in the music business is my reputation, cause if I don’t have a good reputation, I don’t have anything.

*I sold my studio and started renting space at Sea Gayle Publishing to focus on mixing and to be able to go to other studios to work.

*I had to change people’s perspective of being the guy drummed and could mix to being the mixer or the producer, so I sold my studio.

*There’s really no difference between and demo and a master recording. It just depends on if the demo gets placed on album or not. It still needs to be done at the highest level possible.

“Phase” is timing so when you put a plugin on something and there’s delay compensation and it’s not compensated correctly, it’s going to be out of phase from what you originally tracked it from depending on what plugin you put on it.

“Phase” is not a technical decision, it’s a creative decision.

*I can do a complete demo of a song from start to finish in 5-6 hours.

*A lot of people will send me a demo they had done somewhere else and ask me to fix it and make it better using the existing tracks.

*Production is managing expectations.

*Exploit your strengths.

*Go to where they’re making music you want to be a part of.

*The studio world and the live world do not generally mingle in Nashville.

*If you don’t want to play live, don’t start.

*It’s a paradox because when you start out you have to take any gig that will come along and a lot of times that’s a road gig.

*I didn’t really start working until I realized this is a business first.

*I am in the service industry of giving my clients what they want.

*Have integrity and be fair to everybody and have a good attitude.

*Marriage relationships are more important they your musical job so make decisions based on that.

*There are 100x more people making a living in the music business that are not famous than those that are famous.

*You never know what an opportunity will lead to, so say yes when you can.

*Work begets work.

*Make a decision and if doesn’t work, make a different decision.

*Most people want me to send an mp3 attachment, not a link.

*Give the client what they want.

*Send links that do not expire.


Ben Phillips started playing drums at the age of 9 in Atlanta, Ga. At age 14 he began engineering at his church and school. He continued this tag team with different bands until he got to college at Belmont University in Nashville, Tn. There he started focusing on recording and playing in the studio. When he graduated in 1997 he began touring with signed country artist SheDaisy, and a variety of local bands, while also recording with various christian and independent artists.
In 2005 he started a studio in house and later moved to a dedicated studio spot in Berry Hill, Tn. He would play drums, record, mix, engineer and produce for a variety of artists. Some of the artists he’s worked with include: Blake Shelton, Chris Janson, Brett Eldridge, Building 429, Francesca Battistelli, Big Daddy Weave, Dustin Lynch, Steven Curtis Chapman and Old Dominion as well as songs for the tv show Nashville. In 2019 he sold the studio to concentrate on mixing and producing and now has a mix room off of Music Row in Nashville.


Episode 16: Brent Milligan – Establish Competencies



This week I am talking with one of my favorite producers in music!  Brent Milligan currently produces and plays bass for Steven Curtis Chapman. He’s also worked with Michael W. Smith, Charlie Peacock, The Backstreet Boys and more. We are discussing his journey as a producer, a touring musician and A&R rep as well as the importance of taking advice from the people you look up to and putting it into practice in your career by becoming really good at one thing as a time.

Show Notes:

Sponsors: Edenbrooke Productions – We offer consulting services and are offering listeners a 1-hour introductory special. To request more info on consulting services, email Marty at contact@johnmartinkeith.com.
Talking Points:

*I grew up taking bass and cello lessons.

*I knew a couple of guys who went to Belmont University who were starting to have some success as musicians in Nashville playing for people that I had heard of and it got me thinking I could do it too.

*I got to Nashville because a mutual friend knew the artist/producer Charlie Peacock who was my favorite artist.

*I got a voicemail from Charlie Peacock saying he needed a bass player for a festival and he felt like he was supposed to call me.

*I had auditioned for Margaret Becker’s band previously and she referred me to Charlie.

*I met Charlie at his studio and played through some songs and got to know him, then we flew to Sunshine Fest in Minnesota and that was my first real gig.

*Charlie asked to hear my songs and decided to teach me songwriting and producing and use me as a bass player from time to time.

*I had an open invitation to sit on his studio couch and say nothing and just be invisible. Just listen and watch which I was going to do at every opportunity.

*He let me use his studio whenever he was not using it and I would go in and work and learn from his engineer Craig Hanson.

*Charlie taught me to not cross pollinate musical styles when recording. Don’t do jazz licks on a pop record, etc.

*He taught me a lot about being a family man and be a musician.

*It’s okay to be faithful to your wife, faithful to a church, not doing crazy stuff.

*I met Brent Bourgeois through Charlie and had done some work together and he called me and asked if I wanted to play bass for Michael W. Smith because he just got hired to be his band leader.

*I played for Michael W. Smith for 7 years. At the same time, I was also writing and recording demos and a band wanted to record one of my songs. The A&R guy asked who they wanted to produced their album and they liked my work. The A&R guy was Eddie DeGarmo who I had played bass for on his band DeGarmo and Key’s tour. He knew I produced the demo and wanted to get me work producing and asked them if they wanted me to produce their album.

*Everyone I’ve worked with so far has been by referrals and relationships.

*Start building competencies .

*Charlie said that If you establish a competency as a producer or bass player, then people will be more likely to interested in your production. As opposed to just walking up to them and saying I want to produce.

*If you establish competency as a songwriter or musician, people will take you way more serious when you say you want to produce records.

*After playing for Michael W. Smith, I got asked to do A&R at a label and got off the road for 2 1/2 years.

*Then I got a call to start working for Steven Curtis Chapman. I had subbed in for his bass player over the years so we had a relationship. He heard a record I produced and asked if I would produce his next record Beauty Will Rise.

*Even when you’ve been successful, there is still that voice inside that says you’re not good enough.

*When producing with Steven Curtis Chapman, he usually brings in a voice memo and I have him track a guitar to a click track, then I will make a sketch of what I think might work by building tracks and a sound around his scratch track, then I send him an mp3 to see what he thinks and getting adjustments from him.

*Then he either thinks it great and keep going with it or he likes certain parts about it but maybe wants other parts to go in a different direction. I’m trying to get guidance from him, then once we get the course set, then I’ll start getting live instruments tracked.

*Then he’ll come in and sing and do bgv’s.

*Picking players and mixing engineers for an album is usually a collaboration between me and the artist.

*I became the head of A&R at Forefront Records because their guy left and they asked Charlie Peacock to be their interim A&R and he had to find his replacement and thought I would be good for the position.

*An A&R person does project management by helping the artist think through direction musically and think through song selection, producer choices, making sure there are songs that work for radio.

*You’re helping the artist turn in an album that’s going to help them with their career the most.

*You’re the go between for the artist and the label.

*Start with developing one competency.

*If you want to be a producer, start producing tracks. Learn to play your laptop like an instrument.

*Start doing whatever you aspire to do at whatever level you’re able to do it.

*Start putting up videos of you playing your instrument on You Tube and make a presence for yourself.

*If you have content that people can see what you do, that let’s people know your talent level and can open opportunities for you.

*You can make videos everyday and get your name out there.

*If you reach out to someone and ask them for coffee, they will usually meet with you and give you advice.

*It comes back to relationships.

*Be interested in people.

Brent Milligan is a Nashville based producer and musician. Originally from Baton Rouge Louisiana, he has lived in Nashville for many years with his wife Sarah and three kids, and has toured with or worked on albums by Michael W Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, The Backstreet Boys, Toby Mac, DC talk, Paul Baloche, and many others. He can usually be found in his studio, spending time with his family, playing tennis, or making chocolate chip cookies.