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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: TREY BRUCE

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: TREY BRUCE

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

Trey Bruce
Trey Bruce

In 1989 when Trey Bruce put away his rock n roll drum sticks and moved to Nashville from Memphis to pursue songwriting, little did he know that his accomplishments would be so significant. Trey is a HIT songwriter with over 200 cross-genre cuts and the co-founder of Big Tractor Music in 1993 with Scott Hendricks where he received 13 ASCAP Awards, an Emmy Award, 5 #1 singles, multiple top 5 & 10 hits and an Academy Of Country Music Song of the Year nomination. Bruce spent the next 5 years as VP of A&R and Creative for Chrysalis Music and today, he is one of Nashville's top producers. Some of Trey's production credits include 5 Trace Adkins albums entitled, MORE, CHROME, COMIN' ON STRONG, GREATEST HITS I, GREATEST HITS II (Capitol), Chris Ledoux's critically acclaimed ONE ROAD MAN and GREATEST HITS (Capitol) albums, Rebecca Lynn Howard's FORGIVE (Universal) and Lynyrd Skynyrd's GODS AND GUNS (Roadrunner Records).

In 1990, Trey's very first demo, "Things Are Tough All Over" a co write with Lisa Silver got cut immediately by Shelby Lynn (Produced by Billy Sherrill) and was a top 15 hit which resulted in Bruce signing his first publishing deal with MCA Music.

He celebrated his first of three # 1 Randy Travis records, with "Look Heart No Hands." in 1993 and since that time, he has had songs recorded by Faith Hill, Trisha Yearwood, SheDaisy, Trace Adkins, Reba McEntire, LeAnn Rimes, Carrie Underwood, Deanna Carter, Diamond Rio, Lorrie Morgan, Rebecca Lynn Howard, Gary Allen, Chris Ledoux, Jo Dee Messina, and the list goes on.

In 2001, Trey won an Emmy in the best original song category for "Where There Is Hope" and in 2002, Trey wrote and produced a song for the NBC TV show, "Providence" and produced one song on the motion picture soundtrack, "Where The Heart Is."

He's a proud Leadership Music alumnus, a two time troubadour of the Chateau de Marouatte songwriters retreat in France, a member of NSAI, CMA, NARAS, and he's currently partnered with The Royalty Network, since 2010.

The Producer's Chair: What's your best business advice for songwriters trying to get deals?
Trey Bruce: If you're not an artist, or directly "hip-connected" to a Luke Bryan or a Jason Aldean early-on, it's very difficult. I know writers who had deals at one of the three major publishing companies because they were Jo-Bob's best friend or playing guitar on the road with him and they weren't even good writers, but they were in the proximity of getting on those records.

How did you manage to get your very first demo cut?
The singer in the rock band I was working with knew an engineer at MCA and he got me an appointment with Al Cooley. Noel Fox was Al's boss. I'd written three country songs and I'd been to several publishers and I played Al a couple of songs and he ran down the hall and got Noel and said come down and meet this kid. They said can you come back and write with one of our writers? I came back the next week and they got Lisa Silver to write with me and we wrote THINGS ARE TOUGH ALL OVER. The next week they demoed it and a couple of weeks later Al called and said Bob Montgomery at CBS just put that song on hold for Shelby Lynn and we'd like to give you a publishing deal. That got me $ 8000 a year and I was there three years. I was delivering pizzas when I first heard it on the radio"

What defining moment took you from producing demos to producing major artists?
I was in my last couple of months at MCA and I was going to re-sign there, when I received a call from Scott Hendricks. I had a #1 hit with Randy Travis called LOOK HEART NO HANDS and Scott said; "I just cut a song of yours on Steve Wariner and I've got two more songs over here that I really like. There are several companies in town that have offered me a subsidiary publishing company, if I sign a hit writer. Would you work for me?" I went over to meet him and he said think about it and call me the next day. We started Big Tractor with Tim Wipperman over at Warner Chappell.

I was producing my own demos at MCA and one of the first songs I demoed at Big Tractor was WHISPER MY NAME, which was also a #1 hit on Randy Travis. We got going really quickly and then, a couple of years later, Scott still owned Big Tractor but he was running Capitol Records. He signed Deanna Carter, Keith Urban and Trace Adkins. He called me and said I want you to produce Chris LeDoux and that's how I started making records.

Did Scott mentor you as a producer?
I was the only writer with Big Tractor, for about two years there was just Scott and me. I would do demos and borrow his gear and his good microphones and go to County Cue like everybody else. I'd go to the studio at night when Scott was mixing Brooks & Dunn, and Leroy Parnell and Restless Heart and I watched him make records. I picked up the fundamental building blocks of how to make a record and how to look for songs and I picked up Scott's work ethic, in that he would stay until 4 in the morning and just not quit. I remember Scott saying "I won't hire anybody who doesn't work as hard as me."

Do you have a favorite engineer?
David Bucannon, David was a Belmont grad, intern at Omni, then he went to County Cue. He did a lot of the Trace records, Chris LeDoux and Rebecca.

Tell me about your first major artist sessions in the studio with Chris Ledoux.
Chris found songs at record stores in the filler on other albums. We were at the old Woodland Studios in East Nashville and it was a really good day. I was confident because I was surrounded by my engineer, David Bucannon and my team of players who I'd been in the studio with for a few years. These players hadn't been on a bunch of big records so we really had a lot of fun. Working budgets was new to me but I had a production assistant so it was nice to delegate some authority to other people. Chris was a gentle giant, sweet guy. I remember he was about 49 or 50, hard as a rock wall and super nice, quiet and not over-confident about his musical abilities. He was just a lucky cowboy who was great at his trade and felt fortunate that he had a second career doing what he really loved to do and he wrote the book on how he was going to do it. I wouldn't say I didn't have doubts, but I was never scared. I don't make music out of fear.

How did you wind up producing Trace Adkins?
I started producing Trace on his 3rd record. Scott left Capitol and I got a call from Trace one day saying I want you to make my records. Scott had nothing to do with it. We had some big records. I'd already done two full albums and I called Scott and said Garth's régime is gone at Capitol, do you want to make this record with me? The first Greatest Hits was a big record. All we had to do was find one song. Chris Lacey from Warner Chappell brought me a guitar/vocal of a song called THEN THEY DO. That song really brought Trace back because he was having a rough time getting attention at Capitol under Garth's régime.

Why haven't we heard more from Rebecca Lynn Howard since FORGIVE?
I started writing with Rebecca right before she turned 18. I fell in love with her vocals. She's probably one of the finest sings that ever came here. She started getting record attention really quick. She made 2 or 3 albums before she made FORGIVE. It was all under the Universal umbrella and there was a subsidiary label that Emery Gordy Jr. ran and he did a record on her and maybe a second record and then he got moved up to Decca where Mark Wright was. I was writing with her and they were cutting some of my songs and I called Mark and said "I'm begging you, this is her 3rd album, let me cut it with you. It moved up from Decca to Universal and Mark Wright and Tony Brown called me and said we want you to do this record. I worked a long time on that record, about a year and the whole time, FORGIVE was on hold with Faith. So I called Byron Gallimore and he called Faith and she said, if it's her first single, she'd let it go. She sent Rebecca roses when it first came out. It was running away at radio. I couldn't walk into a restaurant without getting my back patted from everybody. Bruce Hinton retired right on the front of the single and by the time Luke Lewis took over during the course of a 40 week run up radio, Mark Wright and Tony Brown left and he hired Dave Conrad. All my team was gone and they called me in and said Luke's pulling the single, it's over, and it was at # 15 with a bullet and the next week it was gone. We got an ACM Song of the year nom against 4 other # 1 records. It limped up to # 10 after they pulled the promotion and then it disappeared. They called and said Luke wants you to go in a do another record and I said I can't, I'm done. So Emery Gordy came back in and did a record on her, then she went to Joe Galente at BMG and then she was never heard of again. It breaks my heart to this day. Rebecca Lynn Howard is a massively gifted artist

Trey left Big Tractor in 2005 to partner with Kenny MacPherson and became VP of A&R and Creative for Chrysalis Music in the Nashville office. At Chrysalis Trey singed and developed new artists, wrote a ton of new songs and built a catalogue of roughly 800 songs in 5 years as well as cuts in the rock format and #1 singles in Australia and Canada.

"I wrote 542 of those songs and I signed KINGBILLY, CHRIS JANSON and KREE HARRISON to my Chrysalis subsidiary. There was the constant threat of being bought by another big conglomerate so it was a tough build. I also produced Skynrd in that period and we didn't look up, we just hit it hard for 5 years."

How did you wind up producing Lynyrd Skynyrd?
Ken Levitan at Vector was managing Trace Adkins so he called and said; "Will you write some songs with Skynyrd?" So I wrote 5 or 6 songs with him, then they asked me to demo the songs and I did and he said; "Wow, they sound like records, do you wanna cut the record?"

Do you think that consumers buy singles because they don't want the rest of the songs or because they can?
Buying 99 cent singles isn't even the point anymore. It's all on the cloud. For $ 10 or $15 per month you can get what ever you want from Spotify. That is the first thing that has happened that I think can generate income that pushes us back towards the 90's income. If every household in America bought subscriptions, we'd be making a lot more money than 99 cent downloads. Spotify is the Myspace of streaming, which is good news, which means that something is going to come along that will pay us better.

Someone is going to come up with an artist-sentric version of streaming, where they don't cut the labels in first. I think the labels are in at Spotify for 40%. Spotify did independent deals with each major label and said; "What's it going to cost for us to go into business and us have your music?" and to hell with what the copyright owners and artists think. So when two or three artists step up and decide not to go back to the majors with their next record, because they can just hire each of those departments a-la-cart, then they're going to do their own version of Spotify.

Even if it takes three artists to do it, it'll make news. Its direct-to-fan and cutting out as many middlemen as possible. You just have to rent those publicity and marketing departments. They're probably becoming more important than radio promotion, particularly in the new format of Country. It takes $ 2-3,000,000 to get a country single up to # 10 and then $ 400,000 more to get it to # 1. Get rid of all that and just worry about distributing music, traditional brick-n-mortar marketing and internet marketing. It's a lot cheaper to do a great marketing plan on-line and at late night TV and NPR than to put these traditional country radio promotion teams out there for $ 4-500,000.00. That's why it's exciting because at least we know that we're moving in a hopeful direction. I'm more optimistic right now than I have been in 5 or 6 years.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

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