When I started this blog, I had a couple of things that I wanted to do. I was very interested in interviewing people outside of my pretty wide circle of musical friends and outside of my “comfortable” styles of music. I also wanted to interview people that did only lyrics. I’ve played Keyboard on sessions with Lee Greenwood, Richie McDonald (Lonestar), Brooks and Dunn, Delbert McClinton and Red Steagall yet my connection to Country music is pretty minimal. This really is my loss. A lot of the great story tellers have, are and will be writing stories in Nashville. I was really happy when Brent Baxter agreed to an interview. He’s an established Nashville lyricist and has a great blog on songwriting.
Current City or Home Town: From Batesville, Arkansas, now in Nashville, TN
Publishing Company: Cowboy Chords Music (ASCAP) (self-published)
Most recent release/songs placed:
“Crickets” on Joe Nichols (RedBow Records)
“Nights Like You” on Gord Bamford (Sony Canada)
Brent Baxter grew up writing short stories in his small hometown of Batesville, Arkansas. However, it wasn’t until his sophomore year at Arkansas State University that he first discovered songwriting. Back home over Christmas break, a friend put a melody to a poem Brent had written, and he was hooked.
Brent sharpened his songwriting skills while earning both a bachelor and masters degree in business (MBA). During that time, he was also active in his local NSAI (Nashville Songwriters Association International) chapter. Following college, he joined the local songwriting community while working his day job in Little Rock, Arkansas. In March of 2002, Brent traded his cubicle for a rented room in Nashville. When he wasn’t waiting tables or working in the royalty/administration department of Bluewater Music, he was writing songs and meeting with publishers.
Brent’s first cut came in early 2004, as “Monday Morning Church” was recorded by Alan Jackson. The song went on to become a top five hit, honored as one of NSAI’s ten “Songs I Wish I’d Written.” In early 2005, Brent signed his first publishing deal, becoming a staff songwriter for Major Bob Music. That deal yielded cuts by Lady Antebellum, Randy Travis, and Lonestar, among others.
In 2009 and 2010, Brent wrote for a joint venture of Peer Music and RPM Music. That deal yielded cuts by Joe Nichols, Ray Stevens, Charles Billingsley, Randy Kohrs and others.
From 2010 through 2012, Brent was the flagship writer for Infinity Music Group. This deal yielded cuts by Canadian star Gord Bamford, as well as comedy legend Ray Stevens, blues guitar legend Steve Cropper, Andy Griggs, Buddy Jewell, and new Curb artist, Ruth Collins, among others.
Brent currently writes for his own publishing company, Cowboy Chords Music, and is active writing and pitching his songs. His music and his blog, “Man vs. Row” can be found at www.manvsrow.wordpress.com.
OSW: “Monday Morning Church” was your first hit. Tell us how that story came about and how it got to Alan Jackson.
Brent Baxter: I got the phrase “as empty as a Monday Morning Church” from a poem my mom wrote. She was an English teacher and wrote a poem as an example for her class. It mentions an empty school parking lot, and that’s where the line came from. I took that nugget and constructed a different story around it. Eventually, I got the lyric to Erin Enderlin, who was also from Arkansas but was going to school outside of Nashville (I was still living in Arkansas at the time). She wrote a great melody and we polished the lyric. She got it to a publisher who played it for Alan Jackson’s producer. It happened kinda the way you think it should, but rarely does.
OSW: For those musicians who may not be familiar with the role. How does the position of “Staff Writer” work as far as work assignments and how you get compensated?
Brent Baxter: In the simplest terms, a staffwriting deal is when a publisher says to a writer, “I’ll advance you “X” dollars per month in exchange for the copyright on everything you write during our deal.” The deal will last for 1 year plus 1 or 2 more, at the publisher’s discretion. In exchange, the publisher will pitch the writer’s songs and cover their demo expenses. The publisher often provides a writing room. If they get cuts, the publisher gets his money back first. Afterwards, they split the money with the writer. Whew! More specifically to your question, the writer assigns the copyright over to the publisher, so the publisher owns all of the writer’s share of the publishing (unless you have enough negotiating power to get co-publishing). The writer is compensated by an advance, or draw, then by any royalties due him outside of the publisher’s recoupment.
OSW: You moved to Nashville with no job and no friends that were staff writers, right? Would you recommend that approach to young writers?
Brent Baxter: Well, I never recommend that anyone move to Nashville, and I never recommend that anyone move home. I can’t see into their future. Everyone has his or her own journey. But the move worked well for me. I had some family I could stay with cheap and I got a couple part-time jobs. Of course, I would have loved to have had several contacts in the biz when I moved here (I knew one publisher). But you don’t get to chose where you start. You can only choose when to begin. I recommend getting started now, with whatever the next step is for you.
OSW: Do you sing or play an instrument? If not, do you think it would change your writing if you did?
Brent Baxter: No, I don’t sing, and I haven’t strummed a guitar in years. I’m strictly a lyricist. Having those other skills surely would’ve changed how I write and what I write. I’ve heard it said that your limitations define your style, and that’s sure true of me. I’m sure I wouldn’t be as good of a lyricist if I could write strong melodies. But what would that trade-off be? It’s better to be great at one thing than to be mediocre at several- at least if you want to monetize your songwriting.
OSW: What are you able to see in storylines/lyrics that a writer who focuses on the music side might miss?
Brent Baxter: Well, there are a bunch of writers in town that are great at both- I wish I were one. But being a lyricist can work to the song’s advantage because I don’t get distracted by how well a bad line sings. Being a lyricist, I take ownership and focus on the lyric. While my cowriter might be working on a chord change, I’m afforded the opportunity to really think about the idea/lyric.
OSW: Do you read a lot? If so, which books have really connected with you?
Brent Baxter: I read as much as I have time, which isn’t much, unfortunately. I mostly read nonfiction. Christian books, political / economic stuff like Thomas Sowell, or business / entrepreneurship books. So, a lot of stuff that feeds the other parts of my brain. I high recommend “The Power Of Less” by Leo Babauta and “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss for writers trying to use their time as effectively as possible.
OSW: Do you ever write lyrics with a specific singer in mind?
Brent Baxter: Sure, I do. I’m blessed to write with some artists with record deals, so I certainly have their voices in mind. Other times, I might be writing specifically for an artist’s project, though not WITH the artist. For example, my brother-in-law used to write at Ray Stevens Music. Ray is a comedy legend and was working on a record, so we wrote some songs specifically for him. Some, he cut, some he didn’t. But usually, if I’m writing with another writer outside of a specific camp, we try to aim at the market in general.
OSW: I see on your blog that you do songwriting mentorship sessions. What does that involve and how would an interested writer go about setting that up with you?
Brent Baxter: It’s easy. There’s a link on my blog that says, “Schedule A Mentoring Session,” and it gives you all the relevant info. I do phone, Skype, or in-person. I enjoy it, but I keep the spots very limited because my mentoring comes out of my family time- nights and weekends. So I only do two or so a month.
OSW: What are you most proud of?
Brent Baxter: My son, Ozark. Musically, “Monday Morning Church” has been my biggest success. Can I use the word “thankful” instead? I’m thankful for “Monday Morning Church.” And I’m very thankful that I’ve somehow (praise God) been able to get cuts and get a publishing deal or three. And I got to write a song with Randy Travis once. That was amazing.
OSW: What is your favorite songwriting lyric?
Brent Baxter: Man, there are so many lyrics and lines I love for different reasons. Check out Chris Knight- great storyteller. Bob McDill for “Good ‘Ol Boys Like Me.” I love storytelling stuff, though I don’t write it much these days- ‘cuz they don’t cut ‘em very often.
OSW: What advice would you give to a young lyricist?
Brent Baxter: Read my blog! Other than that… Do not sacrifice melody for your lyric. Your lyrics MUST sing well. Don’t get stuck writing the stuff you loved on the radio 10 years ago- the market shifts. Be bold. Better to be too real and go too far than to be too vanilla. If all you ever bring is vanilla, why should they want yours?
OSW: If you could have written a song for any album what would it have been?
Brent Baxter: Something on Garth Brook’s NEXT record. Hey, you have to keep looking forward. But if I have to reach back, how about something on Garth’s “Ropin’ The Wind” or Jimmy Buffett’s “Songs You Know By Heart.” I’ve played those albums a bazillion times.
OSW: If you could go back and write a song to be sung by any singer, who would it be and why?
Brent Baxter: Elvis, ‘cuz he’s the king. Or Johnny Cash ‘cuz he was the prophet. Could they do a duet? I’d have to write something gospel for that!
2 VIDEOS OF BRENT BAXTER SONGS
“Monday Morning Church” by Alan Jackson
“When Pink Is Just A Color Again” by Kal Hourd.
Video that Brent Likes
Lane Turner “Where’s The Sunset” – Brent, “‘Cuz I’m in it for about 3 seconds!”
Thanks for spending some time here,
Our Scattered Words