Wrensong/Reynsong was formed in 1983 in Minneapolis by father/daughter team Reyn Guyer and Ree Guyer Buchanan. Two years later they scored when the Oak Ridge Boys recorded “Little Things” and the song climbed to No. 1. That success propelled their move to Music City, where they opened up their 17th Ave. offices in 1985.
Wrensong began with a catalog of about 20 songs which today has grown to over 3,000 including hits like “Where’ve You Been” (Kathy Mattea), “Wild One,” (Faith Hill), “Trainwreck Of Emotion” (Lorrie Morgan), “Whiskey Lullaby” (Brad Paisley/Alison Krauss) and many more. The company has helped develop artists such as Sherrie Austin, the Evinrudes, Jon Randall, Blue Country, Ashley Monroe and most recently Old Dominion.
Owner/Pres., Ree Guyer Buchanan has led her independent song shop for about three decades and been a steady champion of Nashville’s creative community. She is a Leadership Music Alumnus, NARAS Board member, active with AIMP (Association of Independent Music Publishers) and a member of numerous other industry organizations.
We met last week at Ree’s office. Our detailed discussion covered a variety of topics including the importance of industry relationships and how the evolving royalty structure has necessitated changes in business strategy. Terrestrial, internet and satellite radio all cropped up, as well as details about ReeSmack Records and its successful Old Dominion launch… Read ON…
NEKST: What triggered your Nashville move?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: I was working in Minneapolis with some talented jingle writers and wanted to help them get their commercial songs heard. Michael Johnson lived there and gave me a list of publishers to meet—Pat Higdon, Karen Conrad, Pat Rolf and Celia Froelig. They graciously welcomed me and listened to what I had. However, at that time (1985) there weren’t many co-writing or co-venture deals between publishing houses. Everyone had their own writers and staff, so I realized we would have to build our own company. I always say I knocked on the doors, but the songs from my great writers opened them. I soon learned it was the producers that made the song decisions. Back then were only about 8 producers and guess what, you could go visit or call them on the phone and they or their assistant would answer. Nashville was way smaller back then. Today there is a lot of committee stuff going on, but the producers and artists still really decide.
NEKST: How did you begin building relationships?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: I studied the trades to learn who everyone was. There was always a party or gathering where you could meet people. People used to hang out at Maudes and you could find Harold Shedd most every morning having breakfast at The Pancake Pantry. One of the best things that happened to me was dropping off a cassette at Billy Sherrill’s office. He called me back right away asking, “Who are you? Who is this writer? This is a hit song.” He became a mentor and I spent hours with him. He always said a hit song doesn’t care who sings it. So if he found a hit he’d find an artist for it. Today email is about the only way to reach producers which makes it tougher for the new kids to get to know somebody and build relationships.
NEKST: You’ve been a member of Chicks With Hits for over 15 years. Describe that strategy?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: When we first banded together we met with artists and producers up to three times a day. Now we’re doing maybe one a week. Artists like Garth Brooks would meet with us perhaps four times before recording because they knew the song was the most important thing. Sadly, many of the new artists haven’t grown up in that culture of meeting with every publisher in town. They write with their track guy and a few others. Much like LA, everything is getting done in camps. But CWH is still relevant because it offers us a way to share experiences which is so important, even if we meet just once a month.
NEKST: How has the publishing business changed?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: When I started we picked up single songs until we had a couple of hits. Then I was able to sign writers that were ready to have hits. Today I’d start by buying some really good writer catalogs and get an income stream right away. Publishers buy time to develop somebody, but that can take years and you need income right away. Jon Vezner was the first writer I signed, and it took us 18 months to get anything going even though the cycle was so much shorter then. For example, when Alan Jackson broke he had four No. 1s in one year. After one year he had enough hits to form a headline show. Today a new artist might have one hit in a year. It takes much longer to get that list of recognizable songs. And that makes it harder for publishers too.
NEKST: What about royalties?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: Publishers all look toward the fourth quarter when the big acts release records. In Q4 ’08 I was lucky enough to have cuts on albums from Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, and Reba. Kenny and Carrie each sold a million units in week one, Reba was Gold. By the end of that one quarter it was almost six million units. So the payday, just on mechanicals (without a single) was as good as having a single today, especially for a small publisher. You could survive on that. And at that time there were usually just two writers on a song. That’s changed, too. I do mechanicals projections every quarter based upon SoundScan and this last quarter was scary. Luckily, I’m on 15 records in the top 45 or so. That much activity used to mean the mechanicals would take care of my entire year. Not anymore. You need singles. The good news is that hit singles like Blake Shelton’s “Sangria” from our writer, Trevor Rosen, are selling 50k downloads a week and that exposure helps sync prospects too. Unfortunately, today a hit single rarely propels sales of the whole album.
NEKST: Any thoughts on last week’s programmer comments about male and female artists on country radio?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: For me it’s always, the best song wins. Put out something great and they will come just like in my favorite movie Field of Dreams. We always do this—something works and we sign everything that sounds the same. So now is a perfect opportunity to change the tide and be a female cutting great songs. In the day when Faith Hill, Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks had those great songs they were playing them back-to-back because people demanded it. This format is harder for women though because of how much they have to tour and be on the road. It’s different than pop where the tours are much shorter and you’re done for the year.
NEKST: Will terrestrial radio be effected by the upcoming auto dashboard evolution?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: Singles on terrestrial radio is where you make money today. But over the next 5 years or so that will change drastically. For example, my niece is 25 years old. Her radio is her phone. Spotify and Pandora are her playlists. I’ve grown up with radio all my life and still love morning drive, but I don’t think anyone under 30 is doing that. So as the auto dashboard becomes internet enabled and this generation ages, the listening dynamic will change.
NEKST: But there’s no disputing the power of country radio today?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: I’ve seen that power firsthand with our Old Dominion project. On satellite radio “Breakup With him” was selling about 4k downloads a week which is healthy. But the minute RCA released the single to terrestrial radio and about 80 stations started playing it, our sales doubled. The power is real. When I got in the business in the early ‘80s CDs were coming into play, but many people thought no one would buy them. However, it quadrupled the business because people purchased current CDs and then also re-bought catalog CDs. It created a huge boom. I believe our boom as writers and publishers will be when we figure out this subscription-based model. If we get paid the chunk of money we should, the conversion could be enormous because the industry is all going to streaming. I remember when people complained, “I’m not going to pay $20 for cable.” And now everyone is paying $120 and more. Everyone will buy a subscription because that will be the way you will use music. So maybe I’m a dreamer, but I believe people will always want to consume music and this subscription model is how they will do it.
NEKST: Why is artist development becoming a bigger part of the publisher toolbox?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: My favorite thing is to develop writers and artists. To help polish somebody with rough edges and get them ready for the marketplace. What I love about what is happening now is that John Marks (SiriusXM) is creating an opportunity to reach the public and test the music. With Old Dominion our first single started selling and we knew right away we had something. Marks studies the socials and sales numbers and rates records according to how well they perform. We are so lucky to have that kind of reliable gate keeper. Once our first single started selling we accumulated a little pot of money and the question became what to do next? Getting Clint Higham to be OD’s manager was huge. He has an amazing team with in-house radio promotion, booking and a social media marketing person that knows exactly how to work the Spotify system. Then we brought in David Macias and his Thirty Tigers group who are unbelievable including promo person Pam Newman who was a rock star. Finally we hired EB McFarland. This whole group met every Monday.
NEKST: Who financed this in addition to the single sales?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: Shane McAnally, Michael Baum and I partnered and financed the project. We were the label—ReeSmack Records. We put out another single and an EP last summer. Then “Break Up With Him” just exploded last Fall. So we got the attention of several labels organically and closed a deal with Sony.
NEKST: Did you take OD to labels before doing the indie releases?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: Yes. Shane McAnally cut sides on Old Dominion and we pitched it to all the labels, but didn’t get enough interest. We decided to keep going. Publishers have become the farm team and labels want to see projects moved a lot further along than they might have expected even five years ago. When they see these kinds of results it gives them added confidence. Some of the artists signed in past year or so that took this route include; Claire Dunn, OD, Haley Georgia and Logan Mize. Labels are paying attention, too. Warner Bros. A&R/Producer Exec. Scott Hendricks told me they watch the SiriusXM chart.
NEKST: How important is taste for a publisher?
Ree Guyer Buchanan: A hit song has enormous power, but they are few and far between. My favorite part of the day is when my writers turn in their songs. It’s a butterfly in my stomach, magical kind of thing. I remember having a discussion about Barry Manilow with Leeds Levy, who was my partner for a short while. I didn’t like “Mandy” and Leeds said, “Ree, it was a huge hit. You might not love the song, but as a publisher you have to understand why.” That was a great lesson, because there are songs out there that I personally do not love, but appreciate they are hits. So it’s not just about taste. But there’s also a difference between disposable songs that go No. 1 and disappear, and hits that are remembered. That’s what I like to work with, songs that will last. I can’t compete with the quantity of songs that the bigger publishers churn out, so finding undeniable hits that are just a bit above is the way I’ve survived… I’m still in awe every day of the gift that a writer has, to go up in a room and return with a song. I’m blessed to work with these people and help get their great songs heard.