Patrick Clifford, VP Nashville Disney Music Publishing and VP A&R Disney Music Group leans heavy toward the creative. He began his extensive music career at Nemperor Records working with artists such as Steve Forbert, Cat Stevens and Bonnie Raitt. Next he joined Epic Records L.A as Director of A&R and eventually moved to A&M Records as VP of A&R. He later served as Sr. VP A&R at Chrysalis before moving to Capitol in New York and then BMG.
In 2005 Clifford moved to Nashville to join Ten Ten Music as VP of A&R to exploit copyrights and develop opportunities in film, TV and advertising. “Working at Ten Ten for the Coburns was a fantastic experience,” Clifford recalls. “I’m forever grateful to them for the employment and also the knowledge and friendship they showed me and my family.”
Clifford joined the Magic Kingdom in June 2013 charged with a unique dual role encompassing both publishing and A&R. NEKST visited with the Disney head in his 16th Ave. offices where he discussed the challenges and benefits of operating in Nashville, offered insight about current musical trends and reminisced about his first Music City visits. Read On…
NEKST: What is the mission for Disney Music Nashville?
Patrick Clifford: All too often the record and publishing businesses are run like feudal systems where everyone tries to just protect their own little kingdom. One of the things I love about the group of people I’m associated with at Disney is besides being really smart and dedicated they don’t want to be either a record or a publishing company, they see themselves as a music company. A music company attached to one of the largest, legacy-laden conglomerates on earth. When they asked me about a year ago would I be interested in joining them, I said the last time I did something like that it was for Jerry Moss and Herb Albert and that worked very well.
NEKST: So what is your game plan? How do you hope to win?
Patrick Clifford: Being a music company with its eye on publishing and recording gives us a lot of latitude and longitude. And then being part of the Disney Music group offers us a unique advantage because there are so many platforms inside the Disney group like ABC, ABC Family, ESPN, ten of the biggest movie studios plus theme parks and more. Just within that ecosystem there are different branding and marketing opportunities for our writers, writer/producers and artists to find placements and ways to promote music. My job makes me feel like a three-headed Hydra with tentacles reaching every which way. It’s a magnificent time to be doing this. Nashville is going through a creative renaissance and the 615 business is changing so radically in regards to demographics and sound. It is going to be even more of an opportunity for us as we continue to further brand ourselves and organically grow our presence here in this town.
NEKST: Is the Bro-country trend being overdone?
Patrick Clifford: A year and a half ago at the BMI Awards dinner, a great storyteller and singer of songs—Dean Dillion—made a point of saying how he’d been hearing people grousing about Bro-country and the quality of country music. He said that has always happened, because generations come forward with new interpretations on how the music should sound. He’s right. Today we live in an age where kids are growing up without musical boundaries. These young people—artists, producers writers—have all been listening to a vast array of music. So in the midst of this the real challenge for all of us is simply building and sustaining careers. Either you keep up with change or get out of the way. What’s it going to sound like in a year or two from now? I have no idea. If I knew exactly what to be looking for I’d stay home and order it on the telephone like Chinese food. Yet it still comes down to resonating with an audience.
NEKST: Are you optimistic about the future for Nashville publishers and labels?
Patrick Clifford: Very. I’m blessed to be in this community. Watching my two teenage kids and their friends grow up I see how much music matters to them, regardless of how they get it—buy, rent, share, whatever. They all go to it. I still feel as excited as when I got out of college and told my parents I was going to new York to become an A&R guy and get into a record company. If you are only watching the business and not the beauty of creativity and the majesty of art then you are probably missing a big part of the story. We are living in one of the greatest honey hives on earth. This town has had so many magic moments which is why I tell visitors, “If you don’t go to the Country Music Hall Of Fame you are robbing yourself. It’s the best way to understand country music and it’s impact on American and International culture.” The other thing is there have been so many woman artists and executives that have shaped and are shaping this music community. The power, talent and camaraderie they have is inspiring.
NEKST: Being an A&R guy at heart what’s that moment like when you decide, “I want to sign this writer.”
Patrick Clifford: Sometimes it’s the result of pure instinct, other times it’s just a light going off or your heart pitter-pattering. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t get a chance either by design or accident to come upon another handful of talented people. We’re looking for partnerships with people that want to grow and have careers. Everyone is trying to find great synergies which are necessary for success.
NEKST: What are your early Nashville memories?
Patrick Clifford: The first time I came to Nashville was 1980. I’d just started with Nemperor Records and arrived with a young man named Steve Forbert. The first person we met at the Pancake Pantry was Charlie Feldman who was working at EMI and now BMI in New York. Later we visited with John Boylan who had worked with Linda Ronstadt, Charlie Daniels, Little River Band and had just finished with this little band called Boston. We also had great meetings with Garth Fundis and Allen Reynolds. I was so excited to meet the guy that wrote “Five O’clock World.” We had so many amazing meetings. I’ve been coming and going to Nashville ever since, but each time left as a better person and music executive.”