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THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: FOREST GLEN WHITEHEAD

THE PRODUCER'S CHAIR: FOREST GLEN WHITEHEAD

By James Rea www.theproducerschair.com

Don't miss Forest Glen Whitehead on The Producer's Chair, on Thursday, October 27, @ Sound Stage Studios @ 6:30 PM.

If ever there was a success story that needed to be told, Forest Glen Whitehead is it. Not only does he have the distinction of being, the youngest major producer in Nashville, he just happens to be producing the youngest super-star on the block...Kelsea Ballerini.

From the time Whitehead set foot on Nashville soil in 2009 (at 19), his incredibly intuitive approach to 'chasing the dream', miraculously considering the odds, got him signed to Black River Publishing by Celia Froehlig in just two years in. But make no mistake...it was his chops that ultimately led to cuts with Terry Clark, Brantley Gilbert, Dylan Scott and...6 songs on Ballerini's debut studio album THE FIRST TIME.

Forest Glen Whitehead
Forest Glen Whitehead

The album's first 3 singles "Love Me Like You Mean It" (writers: Ballerini, Whitehead, Josh Kerr and Lance Carpenter), "Dibs" (Ballerini, Kerr, Ryan Griffin and Jason Duke) and "Peter Pan" (Ballerini, Whitehead and Jesse Lee) all soared to #1 making Kelsea, the first new female artist to send her first three releases to the top of the charts since Wynonna Judd in 1992 and the first female to top both the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts simultaneously.

With similar influences, the magic emerged when Kelsea and Forest started co-writing and found the unmistakeable wound in her first single, "Love Me Like You Mean It". Kelsea then got her record deal and after several producers had been considered, she insisted to the label that Forest produce and he got the gig.

What's even more telling about Whitehead was his decision to bring in co-producer Jason Massey (Ole Songwriter), to achieve his vision for Ballerini's sound, which earned her the 2016 ACM New Female Vocalist of the year Award and 2016 CMA nominations for Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year. What's equally telling was Black River's willingness, to trust Ballerini n Whitehead's instincts.

Forest cut his teeth studying drums at 10 yrs but when his grandmother bought him his first guitar at age 12 (which he still has) he learned to play by-ear and quickly began writing songs. Fast forward...His session credits on THE FIRST TIME include; banjo, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, mandolin, piano, slide guitar and background vocals. Forest also played guitar on Carrie Underwood's song "Smoke Break" and Brandy Clark's latest release "Big Day In A Small Town", both produced by Jay Joyce.

Then came recording...

Forest: I downloaded a free program on an old PC computer that I had when I was in high school. I think the program was called Audacity. It was just a simple program where you could layer tracks. Before that, whenever I had the cassette decks, I would actually have two separate stereos overdubbing, and with a Radio Shack mic, press play on one tape that I already recorded, press record on the other and overdub while the other one's playing. You got all this noise and hissing and everything else, but it was just so interesting to me. When I got the Audacity program, that's when I first started learning how to layer different instruments, while doubling parts and putting guitars on the left and right side and learning what sonically made a record sound great.

Rewind...The summer before he graduated from high school, Forest worked at a bait-n-tackle shop in North Shreveport Louisiana, which allowed him to save enough to buy a travel trailer. And what better place to bunk-in than the KOA Campground, right next to Mother Opryland at Opry Mills, while he got his feet wet.

Forest: I tried to have some income doing musical things and I was in a blues band for a little bit and I did demos for other songwriters, but my main job that actually paid the bills was working in a pawn shop. I also worked at McDougal's Chicken in Hillsboro Village. I did writer's nights at the Commodore, Douglas Corner, The Blue Bird, The Listening Room, any open mic night I could find and I made a lot of connections that way. There was a big process coming to Nashville and learning song structure, melody, and learning imagery, things that make country music great and country songwriting great. I absorbed that. I studied songwriters. I would find out all the cuts that, Craig Wiseman or Jeffrey Steele and just study them. I was such a fan of songwriters for a long time that I was just obsessed about learning their credits and what set their songs apart.

The Producer's Chair: Did you know anybody in Nashville before you arrived here?

Whitehead: Not a soul. I didn't know anyone when I moved so it was priority to start meeting and making connections. The sound guy at the First Baptist Church in Blaanchard, Lousianna where I grew up knew someone in Nashville and gave me his number, which I called about a week after being in town and he ended up giving me the job at Lavergne Pawn and through him, I started to meet other writers.

Had you ever co-written before you came here?

I did. And I feel like I'm still learning how to co-write. It's a unique thing to be creative and to learn how to communicate your vision while putting it into words, to explain to somebody else. When you're writing solo, you know how you want it to be and just go for it. It's been an evolving process for me to be a better co-writer. I would say I probably wasn't the best co-writer early on because I probably liked my own ideas more. I had to learn to be humble and learn how to collaborate and make the best song together. I feel like I am a lot more skilled in that area now that I've done it for years.

Sometimes you don't gel with some people and its okay. It's writing with enough people to find who you do connect with on a different level than others.

It could be a number 1 songwriter and sometimes you just don't click with them and that's okay. All Creative people are wired differently. An important part of co-writing is acknowledging that and filling the space that needs to be filled, rather than trying to "steam roll" a weiter and try to make it as collaborative as possible. It's just trying to be the tool that needs to be utilized that day.

When did it change?

I would say that it was more gradual change than a flip of the switch. I would get good songs and ask myself, what made that combination work better than others, why do I feel more drawn to this song than others that I've written and just try to incorporate whatever that was more and more. I still write songs that I'm less proud of, but it's going through the 'ok' songs to get to the great ones.

Were you inspired or overwhelmed by the competition?

A mixture of both...I think I was pretty naive in the sense that, I didn't really understand how competitive it was. I just knew that I had to do this. I had to figure out a way. I didn't really focus on the competition, it was more on 'who' I had to meet and how do I get from step 1 to step 2, and focused myself on being surrounded by people who made me better. For a long time I thought I was writing songs that I felt like only a brick wall would hear. Like I couldn't get in the door, nobody would care to listen to my songs and that went on for about 2 or 3 years at that until I met songwriter Bonnie Baker through Jason Massey who then introduced me to an ASCAP representative Robert Filhart who started introducing me to publishers. That's what really got the ball rolling for me.

Knowing what you know now, what were you the most naive about?

I guess it was what steps to take to get your songs heard by a publisher. I was the naive kid walking up and down Music Row with a CD, handing it to whoever would take it. I don't know where those songs or CDs ended up - probably in the trashcan but early on, I just didn't know how to present songs to the right people.

Was there ever a moment in time when you became discouraged?

Sure. Us creative people, we all have our ups and downs and I would get discouraged weekly when you're working on a song and one minute you think it's great and the next you think it's a disaster. Creative people are on that roller coaster. I believe the power of the mind can overcome doubt. It's going to be what I say it is. I'm going to invest in this and I'm going to learn and grow and make this work. This may not be pretty now, but it will be one day. Those kind of thoughts, overpowering the discouragement is really what helped keep me here.

When you listen to a song for the first time, what's the first thing you hear?

Melody...If it's a great melody then I'll replay and listen to the lyrics. A lot of the time production can catch my ear too and it can be an awesome production but if the melody is not there, I probably won't play it again.

Could you share the back-story behind PETER PAN?

We were writing in one the rooms right above us with Jesse Lee before Kelsea had a deal and Jesse Lee came in with the title, Peter Pan, and she was like okay guys I've got this title and I think it's really good and if we don't write to its potential, I'll take it somewhere else. Immediately she introduced the song idea that way, me and Kelsea grabbed onto the idea and said yeah we're going to write the hell out of this thing. It came together pretty quick. For "You're just a lost boy with your head up in the clouds", that pre-section was the first thing that fell out in the room. Then we wrote the chorus and then we wrote the verses. The whole idea unfolded very effortlessly in the comparison of never growing up, going into the relationship thing and being relatable. We all felt like it was a hit the day we wrote it.

When you found out you were producing Kelsea's album, considering the length of time the two of you had spent writing together, was there a feeling of relief or pressure?

We had been writing about a year and a half before she got her record deal. I'm sure there was pressure, but most of it was just excitement because the songs that we were writing were different than anything else that I was doing, so I was just excited to be a part of it and we weren't necessarily trying to write hits. I didn't feel the pressure of 'Oh man, I have to deliver a radio hit'. Of course the goal was radio hits, but we weren't only shooting for that. We just did what we did. The first album was the most effortless process. The recording process and the vibe from the label and Kelsea, everything was just so smooth that, they made it a good environment to not really get stressed or worried or have that fear creep in of 'what if this doesn't work?'

Are you currently writing for Kelsea's next album?

Yeah. Jason and I actually cut one song on Kelsea last week, it's called, "Legends". Hillary Lindsey and I wrote it with Kelsea. We've cut a handful of things and will be cutting some more stuff coming up very soon. The songs for Kelsea record number 2 are definitely different than THE FIRST TIME. it's a lot of growth and even darker in some ways and I can't wait for it, to be released to the world!

What do you like most about being part of the Black River family?

I really do feel like it is a family because they believed in me and supported me in ways that I feel like more corporate places wouldn't have, Other companies wouldn't have given a new artist to a young producer, who doesn't yet have a resume. They have always been supportive and they believed in me from the get-go. I don't feel like a number in the budget. I feel like somebody that they believe is going to have a long-time career. That's comforting in itself so it's less pressure. It's the comfort of knowing they believe in me long-term rather than just me delivering financial success right off the bat. It took me 4 years writing for them, before something started really happening.

What's the best advice you could give to new songwriters?

Don't write what you think people would like. Write what you like. Write what you resonate with, no matter what style or content it is, if it inspires you and you feel good about it, chances are it will inspire somebody else. That's actually something Dave Berg told me a long time ago. I would pass along that information. When it comes to commercial success...that didn't happen for me until I let go of trying to make a radio hit and just started writing what I love and using the influences that I had to create something new, rather than something familiar.

Read other Producer's Chair interviews:

The Producer's Chair by James Rea - Dave Brainard

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

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

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

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