ARTURO BUENAHORA and Eric Church formed Little Louder Music almost a year ago. “It’s been a long time dream of ours to build a publishing company,” says Buenahora whose career started in the Sony/ATV tape room after graduating college in the summer of ’96. His subsequent path has placed him at publishers and record labels including Capitol Records, Universal South Records and ole Music. Buenahora has also served as Executive Producer, which he characterizes as an A&R type function, for artists like Church, Charlie Worsham and Dierks Bentley. “It’s a thrill to work with those guys because I believe in them so much,” he says. “I enjoy finding songs, being an ear to the songs they are writing and trying to be an idea guy for them, but my real life job is publisher.”
“I had to hire him as a plugger,” Woody Bomar tells Nekst.biz about his decision years ago to move Buenahora out of the tape room. Bomar was heading Sony’s Creative Department at the time. “Arturo was energetic, enthusiastic and especially passionate about getting record deals for writers. Everything you could want in a plugger.”
Buenahora’s first taste of success came from his pairing of co-writers Brett Beavers and Dierks Bentley. Ultimately, he got Dierks signed to Capitol with Brett as his producer. “Bam” says Buenahora. “The first single, co-written by Dierks, Brett and Deric Ruttan went No. 1. I realized there was something important about team building. Later he was instrumental in signing Taylor Swift, Eric Church and Miranda to Sony/ATV.
“Taylor was 14 when she first came in to play for us,” says Bomar. “Arturo embraced her talent. I don’t think she would be at Sony/ATV today if he hadn’t taken an interest.”
In the following NEKST interview Buenahora opens up about the responsibilities of birthing a small publishing company and why he still believes in the power of a unique song.
NEKST: Why start Little Louder?
Arturo Buenahora: My goal was always to become a copyright owner. I feel comfortable with the role a publisher plays in a songwriter and/or artist’s career. Eric is my partner, but this company will thrive or die based on what I can get going with my writers and staff. We all like what we like, but it’s hard to fall in love. I’ve tried to be patient and stubborn to find my way into the right relationships. Some of them are brand new and some have been established for years. I’m a niche publisher with a background in artist development and breaking songwriters.
NEKST: How do you manage your writer’s time?
Arturo Buenahora: Sometimes I feel like we spend more time scheduling co-writes in this town than anything else. There should be a good reason to do them. My writer’s time is valuable. I can’t be shotgunning them around willy-nilly. I want my writers to have a willingness to experiment because you never know when that magic person will be introduced into your life. But we work really hard to find the people that we write our best songs with. And in this day and age it is an access ballgame. There’s fewer artists cutting on fewer labels and artists are writing more of their material than in the past. The slots are so limited that every publisher is forced to try and get as close to the artist as possible. I’ve been on both sides of that and I get it, but I still should be able to look my writer in the eye and say, “I put this in your book because…”
NEKST: Do you sign writers because they fit a special profile?
Arturo Buenahora: There’s not any one profile, but looking back on a 16-year career I realize I’m drawn to very musical people—good pickers and players who also tend to be great at melodies. It probably started with Brett Beavers who completely fits that mold. I’d put Ryan Tyndell in that same category too.
NEKST: Are you using any special digital tools or software?
Arturo Buenahora: We’re running Kalatech’s publishing software which has been great. They’re very open for feedback and adding or evolving their platform. Sony does the admin for almost all our deals. I pitch songs in person and by mail so we’re probably not doing anything in that regard that others aren’t also doing.
NEKST: Do you see Little Louder ever marketing music directly to consumers?
Arturo Buenahora: I might experiment, but I don’t believe in the great demise of record labels. Brandy Clark has a piece of business going right now that feels like a new model. Someone made a wise investment on her records. In addition to terrestrial country radio we have satellite radio that offers more sub genres and a programmer like John Marks who’s probably the most popular guy in town right now. He’s had a heavy hand in some of the things that are really working because he can place things that are left of center. It would be great if terrestrial radio operated in a similar way and gave us more shots. Releasing product on my writers is not my mission, but I have a writer, Haley Georgia, who is a hurricane, rockin’ party. Some of her songs maybe wouldn’t get played on terrestrial radio, but might get some shots at satellite. I haven’t taken that approach yet, but it is certainly a thought.
NEKST: Did you thrive working at a record label?
Arturo Buenahora: I spent time at Capitol and Universal South. There were lot’s of great people, but I didn’t enjoy the label experience. I’m a developer of talent which is a nice way of saying I like to do it myself. A&R shouldn’t be a team effort. If you get too many people involved you just water it all down. As a publisher I’ve signed and gotten records out on Charlie Worsham, Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, Eric Church and Dierks Bentley. In 4 years of A&R—zero records out. Mike Dungan would tell you it’s because I’m impatient and he’d probably be right. There’s a lot of great A&R people in this town, but sadly the way things are set up these days they don’t get to do a lot of A&R. They get turned into song filters and that can drive you crazy.
NEKST: Is today’s music in a rut?
Arturo Buenahora: There’s never a time when people in the business don’t complain about something. These days it’sBro-Country. But FGL are killing it, selling records and tickets. Everything I’ve heard about them is they are good guys who were told “No,” a million times, but still found a way to get some heat on their own. John Marks certainly played into that. How can you not root for them? Having said that I don’t want 20 of them. But in any music town, when something works we chase it. I would simply tell my writers they don’t need to chase it. Honestly, when something is already out you’re probably too late anyway.
NEKST: Describe a strategy that’s working for you?
Arturo Buenahora: Most of my writers are doing their own demos now. So sometimes I’ll take the recoupable money I would have set aside for a demo budget and apply it to renting a bus so we can send writers out, say on a three-day trip to write with an artist. Naturally, I talk to my writers on the front end so there are no surprises. I’ve always operated with my songwriters as partners, but now I can really can say that.
NEKST: Any special advice for people trying to get into the business?
Arturo Buenahora: Stand out. To own your spot you have to stand out from everyone else. It may be a longer road to get that break, but when you do everyone will understand. Go and prove your worth by making commerce happen. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas, chase them down and implement them. After all it’s music. There’s no right or wrong. It’s all I’ve ever done, if I really love it then the bell goes off. I don’t know any more about music than anyone else does. I just figure that if I like it, hell, some other people will too. I have a motley crew of writers who are real characters and you need unique people if you want a unique song. I don’t know if anyone in town would want to trade rosters with me, but I certainly wouldn’t have it any other way.