Business News - Local News

Friday, June 13, 2008

Independent musicians use CMA for launching pad

Nashville Business Journal - by Jenny Burns Nashville Business Journal

Todd Stringer, Nashville Business Journal

Shawna Russell was one of many musicians seeking opportunity at the CMA Festival.

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It cost $250,000 to develop start-up artist Shawna Russell's new single and send it out to country radio across the nation.

Last week, she rocked the Hard Rock Outdoor stage at Nashville's CMA Festival, hoping country music fans would remember her single "Goddess" when they hear it on the radio.

She's pursuing music stardom the hard way: on an independent label started by her uncle. Her band includes her uncle and father.

"This is all that we do for a living. This is the family business," says Tim Russell, president of Way Out West Records, the independent label for Russell, her co-manager and uncle.

Performing during the CMA Music Festival is huge for marketing new artists like Russell, publicists say.

Fans from all over the world are exposed to their sound and may go to their Web sites to seek out more, says Martha Moore, a 32-year veteran of the marketing music business.

Moore represents new artist Zane Lewis, who also performed on the Hard Rock stage. She says Lewis performed his new single "Welcome to the Southland" three times during the Festival, signed autographs for Michigan and Florida visitors and sang for fans from France and the Netherlands who had heard him on the Internet.

"His fan base has just expanded dramatically by coming here and doing this," Moore says.

Since new artists have smaller marketing budgets, the exposure festivals offers is critical.

"Those people are hearing the single for the first time, not on radio but live," Moore says.

Russell, a 29-year-old singer/songwriter from Okemah, Okla., could have signed with five major labels -- but she and her family decided to go it alone.

The large labels wanted her to dress a certain way or sing a certain song, but Russell wanted to be herself.

"When you put creativity and the person together, that's when you get the most magic in music," Russell says.

So they survive on money from private investors while they travel to radio stations -- in Russell's case that was 30 stations in nine states in two months -- to do on-air interviews and perform.

"She hasn't had a break, not one day off," says publicist Clif Doyal, who hired Nine North Records and Marco Music Group to get the word out about Russell's single.

It's been since May 19 when they started blitzing stations and the song is just starting to get picked up.

But the Internet has helped new artists be able to thrive, says Claire Ratliff-Sears of Laughing Penguin Publicity, who also markets new artists.

"There's not that tremendous wall any more," she says.

Creative marketing can get any artist noticed at the festival. One of Ratliff-Sears' artists, Pete Best, rented a Ford truck, filled it with ice and water and drove around blaring his new album "Built to Last." Free cold water brought them in, and he sold 30 CDs in one day, Ratliff-Sears says.

"A lot of artists are building careers without major record labels. They are just doing it themselves," she says.

At the CMA Festival, one more crowd of country fans heard Russell belt out her rock-country style on stage for a 20-minute time slot she hopes will stick in their minds. The girl who's been singing in the family band since she was 13 got interviewed by national and European media - a big benefit for new artists.

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