Leslie “Tomasina” DiPiero, like many successful Nashville publishers first realized her love of songs and songwriters while plugging songs. She was working for Barry Beckett’s company and eventually was approached by Russ Zavitson and Tony Haselden with a partnership offer. “I loved working for the Beckett family,” she recalls, “but being a partner in a new publishing company was an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
A few years later that company was forced to downsize and split up. DiPiero, however, continued on with the original investor, two writers and a small empty building in 2006. “We had an existing catalog with some great songs in it and then Tom Leis emerged and he and Bubba Tomlinson said to me, ‘Get revenue.’ They didn’t care where it came from.” Being resourceful DiPiero set about leasing out rooms in the house and set up an overdub studio downstairs. Her first two tenants were Victoria Shaw and Scott Hendricks. “With those two in the building it looked like I really knew what I was doing,” she laughs.
Fast forward seven or eight years and Tom-Leis Music has grown. In the past year they earned 14 song placements and their writer Brandon Kinney, co-published with Love Monkey and Sony/ATV, got an incredible 20 cuts!
Sitting down with Leslie DiPiero for this interview it is easy to see why she has been so successful. She is enthusiastic, easy going and a good listener—excellent qualities for a song plugger and publisher, but she is also a tireless deal maker which pays dividends for her writers. She also loves to make analogies using food, like, “Finding a bad songwriter in Nashville is as hard as finding bad pizza in N.Y.”
Today DiPiero refers to herself as Creative Manager/Partner because she wears two hats. In addition to being a partner in Tom-Leis Music, DiPiero also runs the Nashville office for Advanced Alternative Media (AAM) a management company that represents creative types including songwriters and producers, engineers, mixers and more.
Our interview took place in the NEKST conference room and we covered a wide landscape of publishing and writer issues. DiPiero also put on her management hat to talk about how the influx of talent from around the world is affecting the Nashville music community…
NEKST: How would you describe the changing climate for indie publishers?
Leslie DiPiero: For me it’s about having more chips on the roulette table. If you are confident in your ability to find talent, then gather as many writers as you can where you believe in each other’s ability to get the job done and build from that. You establish various partnerships and co-ventures by making relationships with other mid and large-size publishers. Then it’s about getting in the ditches.
NEKST: These partnerships also translate into a larger pitch team?
Leslie DiPiero: Yes, but besides pitching it’s also about having someone else mentioning the writer’s name at lunch and breathing more life into their brand. I love it when other publishers know our writers, even if they don’t necessarily know our company name. I want everyone to know our writers, it’s all about them.
NEKST: What about scheduling writer time?
Leslie DiPiero: Artist co-writes are part what’s happening now and it’s important for writers to work with artists. Some artists are considered songwriters of course, but with some, the writers leave the room knowing they need to have another person in there to carry the co-write. It’s a bit disheartening, but there’s a little secret code which is part of the politics, no one ever names names. I just wish more people would talk about how that feels.
NEKST: But isn’t it important for writers to work with other writers, too?
Leslie DiPiero: Absolutely. They came to town to perfect their art and craftsmanship. Doing soulful things is what fuels their tank. I love those great songs that sometimes sit for years before finding a home. I believe in the art aspect of songs.
NEKST: Does “writing up” play a role?
Leslie DiPiero: To discount people is one of my pet peeves, especially when a new writer just starting to get cuts says, “I want to write with this A list writer.” “Why?” I’ll ask. “Cause I want to write up,” they answer. So let me understand. You want to write up because you need them to be able to write a hit song. Are you telling me you are not a hit songwriter? How about finding talented people like yourself and writing some hits first? Do that and eventually, just like Fields of Dreams, the A-list writers will notice. When the phone rings and an A-list writer says, “I’ve been hearing wonderful things, who is that person?” That is almost like getting a cut for me. YEAH! Now we’ve done our job.
NEKST: How did you come to join Advanced Alternative Media (AAM)?
Leslie DiPiero: Beka Tischker who is an AAM manager in LA and a dear friend of Victoria Shaw, visited our offices during the time she was negotiating the co-venture between Dr. Luke and Big Machine. We were chatting and she said, “Now that AAM is doing business with Big Machine it would be great to have a presence in Nashville because so many of our clients worldwide want to come here.” [AAM also has offices in NY, LA and London.] So we brainstormed about involving different people and realized we had a similar vision. One day Beka said, “You need to do this.”
NEKST: So instead of writers-only, you now also represent a more diverse group of creatives from around the world such as producers, engineers and more.
Lesley DiPiero: Yes, this company is so large, it’s like a tidal wave. My little portion of the Nashville publishing beach benefits and so does the whole Music City community by having AAM here. I have to mention the founders Mark Beaven and Andy Kipnes. They were visionaries in the ’80s and created the idea of music management, not just writer management. Serban Ghenea is one of the clients I’ve been working with. He’s currently mixing records for Taylor Swift and Hunter Hayes plus a few things I can’t mention yet. Everyone wants Serban on board, he’s like the Mutt Lange of mixing. With AAM it’s not just the pop world coming to Nashville, it’s the very best from all over the world. Bookending what we already have.
NEKST: A few years back Nashville didn’t didn’t play so well with other musical styles. Is country finally joining the iPod generation?
Leslie DiPiero: The country refrigerator already has its milk, eggs and other staples so everything else are like condiments. You like salsa with your eggs, green sauce? Whatever makes it more interesting and enlarges the flavor palate for everybody.
NEKST: What might this new flavor palate influence behind the scenes?
Leslie DiPiero: The true creators feel excited and re-energized. When you talk about a new writer in town and share music links they get excited. For example, it’s fun to watch the award winning guys such as my husband Bob or Paul Overstreet embracing co-writes I never would have imagined. And the songs coming out of this are off the chart, well, actually they will be on the chart. They are incredible. The heads of most publishing companies and their creative staffs know we are here and we are working with all of them and having a blast.
NEKST: Will Nashville’s publishing “rules” like equal splits be challenged by the out-of-towners?
Leslie DiPiero: As this new fusion is happening there will be new deals to be made and understandably so. Everyone looks at the charts and sees that in Pop music there can be 7,8 or 9 writers on a song. Hopefully, we’ll never get to that point, but there probably will be splits to be negotiated between composers and track people although a lot of track people are amazing songwriters, too. And that brings up an interesting point, if you’re functioning as a songwriter and doing tracks, should you be compensated for making that demo? Those are some of the uncharted territories.
NEKST: Any big picture thoughts for publishers?
Leslie DiPiero: Beware of poachers. Most of the one-on-one development is happening in the smaller companies, so keep your writers happy and negotiate early when needed. Stay in constant communication even while your writer is speaking to an attorney. Overall, make sure your writers believe in you as much you believe in them, cause no one is getting paid what they are worth in the beginning.
NEKST: Closing thoughts?
Leslie DiPiero: Some people have this gender issue about being a women in business, but I’ve been surrounded with men since I’ve come to town including Buddy Killen, Barry Beckett and sons, Russ Zavitson, Tony Haselden, Bubba Tomlinson, Tom Leis and the AAM founders Andy Kipnes and Mark Beaven. As a women in business I’m very grateful for how much they’ve all empowered me.