Rusty Gaston, with partners Tim Nichols and Connie Harrington, formed THiS Music in 2006 as a joint venture with Warner Chappell Music. Gaston serves as GM and overseas all aspects of company operations.
Being a successful midsize publisher in Nashville has always been and still is pretty demanding, so NEKST asked Gaston to comment on one aspect of today’s challenges and how it complicates his operations strategy. He chose to talk about why falling mechanical revenue and the increasingly singles-driven nature of the business limit a company’s ability to develop new writers.
Rusty Gaston: When we started This Music eight years ago, you could get a song cut because someone might say, “Hey this would be the perfect last track on the album,” or you’d hear them say, “Wow, this a great song. It won’t be a single, but definitely has a spot on the record.” But in the last several years that has changed. Now if someone isn’t championing your song as a single contender, it doesn’t get cut. And that really hurts publishers when it comes to developing brand new writers. In the past, we could take more time to develop a writer because if they at least got an album cut, it could generate enough mechanical income to put something measurable against their advances. Today, it’s astonishing how small the mechanicals really are. So I hate to say it, but today’s writers have to do a lot more legwork before they are ready for that first publishing deal. Publishers used to be able to go with our guts and say, “I know this person has potential, I’m going to sign them.” Now we have to make more guarded bets and be absolutely sure they have what it takes.
NEKST: So how do the 12 writers you represent stack up in terms of experience? You had an amazing 22 charted songs last year.
Rusty Gaston: I’d say about 25% are developing. For example, we have undeniable blue chip hit writers like Ben Hayslip, Tim Nichols and Marv Green who work like crazy to stay at that level. Then I’ve got consistent hit makers like Connie Harrington, Jimmy Yeary and Deric Ruttan who have all had more than a handful of big hits and are nominated this year for Grammy Awards for Best Country Song. We also have writer-artists signed to record deals and then a few staff writers in what I’d call that development period.
NEKST: Sounds like you’ve assembled an incredible team.
Rusty Gaston: Things are going great for us and it’s a real blessing. I know there are publishers that are struggling. But we’ve been lucky enough to have some singles and we’re super thankful.
NEKST: Any thoughts about our Songwriter Chart?
Rusty Gaston: Part of me loves it and another part wishes it didn’t exist.
Rusty Gaston: Charts can effect songwriters’ attitudes and creativity. For example, writers who get access to the daily MediaBase radio play can have drastic reactions as they watch their song and its spins go up and down. But I do love anything that sheds more light on songwriters and what they are accomplishing and this Songwriter Chart is something no one even thought of… till now. Watching it can be especially interesting because writers don’t have any direct impact on which of their songs are singles or how well they perform. Once they write these songs and get them cut, they’re out of our hands. But obviously, the guys having the most success on the Songwriter Chart, are the ones that 18 months ago were working the hardest and your chart is a great way to recognize those achievements.