In recent years, Nashville’s music industry has been changing as often as its weather. The latest example is the stunning rise of Stoudavarious Records from a period of restructuring to having this week’s No. 1 selling country album—Town Line by Aaron Lewis. The seven track specially priced CD debuted this week (3/6) and sold almost 38,000 units according to Nielsen SoundScan.
“Now it’s all one label,” says producer and label head James Stroud. “My partner, Rick Carter and I bought the assets of Stroudavarious Records about nine months ago. We’ve been in this mode since last summer. Our current roster includes Aaron Lewis, LoCash Cowboys, Rob Lane, Alexa Carter who I’m recording now, and Andy Gibson who is with Dale Morris. We’re also working with Margaret Durante who will launch a new single in about four weeks.”
“We are a real small family,” Stroud continues, “but a professional staff that has experienced success with other companies and efforts. Everyone has real passion for the music. Our size dictates we must work extremely hard. But we found out this week, you don’t need a gigantic staff to have No. 1 records.”
Stroud is no stranger to success having racked up an impressive 129 career No. 1 singles and/or albums. He’s also earned four Album of the Year awards and six Producer of the Year honors including MusicRow Producer of the Year in 2003. He has found success sitting behind a set of drums, behind the glass as a record producer (Toby Keith, Tim McGraw, Clay Walker, Clint Black and many more…) and behind a desk as a top record company executive (Giant Records, Capitol Records and DreamWorks Records).
According to Stroud, the new lone imprint was a conscious choice. “This was my chance to have a label structure that allowed us to custom fit each artist’s needs to the evolving entertainment industry,” he explains. “I go back to my mentors David Geffen and Mo Ostin and the way they structured and ran their companies. Geffen told me once when I was working for him at Dreamworks, ‘People said Geffen was too small. It couldn’t be effective because you would be a little fish in a big pond. But a billion dollars later I proved them wrong.’ We’ve taken that idea and applied it to Stroudavarious. We think first about the music and let it drive our timelines, marketing plans, promotional schemes and scheduling. It all must revolve around the music and what the artist has to say.”
Country radio remains one of the most important mountains to climb for artists hoping to trek from “new” to “known.” But marketing doesn’t stop with airwaves. “Let’s look at Aaron Lewis as an example,” invites Stroud. “We have a No. 1 album in sales this week and are now just going to radio. If we had more airplay I’m sure we would have sold even more records. We took a different pathway because we had an awesome artist with great music.” [Aaron Lewis is lead vocalist and founding member of rock group Staind that has released six studio albums and sold over 16 million albums.]
Stroud adds, “My point is if you utilize everything, including radio, you can sneak up on these things. I doubt anyone in this town thought we would have a No. 1 album this week. We weren’t being played much at radio, but we were heavy into CMT and GAC. They invested heavily in us and were great partners in setting this album up. We also used a ton of internet marketing and Aaron got in front of a lot of people and performed. So as the impact date approached we had a lot going on. With that being said, hopefully radio is now going to follow and thank God for that. I’m very proud of my staff’s commitment. This is a huge success for us and a feather in our cap. Staind is a huge success on the rock side. But Aaron is also a great country artist. If you look at the disc’s reviews you see this marriage between his lifestyle, the music he writes and sings. All we did was go to the marketplace to let people know what this guy is all about. The country audience and critics have embraced it…”
Stroud’s first success was a Top 5 hit “Misty Blue” for Dorothy Moore in 1976. Can being a successful producer for many decades be an accident? Stroud says it’s about putting the artist’s music first. “As a producer, I try to make the artist’s music and not mine,” he says. “That ensures the records won’t sound dated or all the same. If I continue having that type of mentality I may just be able to work for a few more decades,” he smiles.
Of course having great artists to produce, such as RCA Nashville’s Chris Young who recently logged three No. 1 singles can’t hurt. “Oh yeah, there’s that…[laughs Stroud]. If you can get blessed and lucky enough to work with the artists that I have worked with it is tough to miss. Look at Chris, he’s an awesome writer, singer and performer. But he is also one of the nicest people you will ever meet. As a producer the most consistent type of artist is one that writes and can interpret what they write through the way they sing and the way they live. In my opinion Chris has all three of those ingredients and that’s why we are celebrating three consecutive No. 1 records right now. The guy is giving the country fan and ticket buyer exactly what we need for our genre today. He is stepping it up.”
“Even after the thousands of songs I’ve produced,” Stroud sums, “my greatest joy is walking into the studio, getting with the musicians on a song and creating something that is a marriage between art and commerce. The art matters, but we also have to sell it. And I wouldn’t be doing my job as a producer if I didn’t marry those two things for the artist. I just pray I can continue to find artists to be involved with that have the same amount of passion for the music that I do. For Stroudavarious the success with Aaron Lewis this week is a confirmation that the way we marketed and adjusted to the new way of doing things worked. We hope to grow on that. But the final word is this—it all boils down to the artist and and the music.”
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About the AuthorDavid M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. firstname.lastname@example.org
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