10 Questions with ... Steve Markland
September 19, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Downtown Nashville is run by Steve Markland, a 25-year veteran of the music publishing industry, who has discovered and nurtured some of the most talented songwriters in Nashville including Brett James, who was named as the ASCAP "Songwriter of the Year" twice; Jeffrey Steele, who won multiple BMI and NSAI "Songwriter of the Year" awards; Randy Houser, Brothers Osborne, Michael Hobby of A Thousand Horses; and two-time 2014 Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves. Prior to joining Downtown, Markland served as VP/A&R, Nashville at Warner/Chappell Music, a position he held since 2009. Previously, Markland was tapped to open Windswept Publishing's Nashville office in 1996. Under Markland's leadership the company earned over 75 ASCAP, BMI and SESAC "Most Performed Songs" awards. From 1993 to 1996, he was Director of Creative Affairs at Patrick Joseph Music. A native of Ohio, Markland began his career in the music industry as an intern at RCA Records while attending Belmont University in Nashville.
1. What got you interested in the music business?
In 5th grade I started playing the trumpet. I quickly got bored with playing in concert band, and started finding more opportunities to play. I joined orchestra, marching band, jazz band, and jazz quartet. Later my junior and senior year in high school, I was talking all my buddies in rock bands into adding horn sections. We played lots of Chicago songs and most of the Blues Brothers songs from the movie soundtrack. That was crazy fun! I was the quintessential "band geek." The truth is, I really wasn't a great horn player at all; I just loved being involved with recording, musicians, creating and promoting gigs and just anything having to do with music. I learned about Belmont University and their music business program from a couple upperclassmen and knew that was where I needed to be. Belmont is located in Nashville, practically on "Music Row"... the rest is history.
2. As VP/A&R out of Nashville, you are at the epicenter of Downtown Publishing commitment to Americana-based music. What prompted the company to make the commitment to this genre?
Downtown is attracted to great music. The writers and artists we get involved with are of high quality and are some of the very best in whatever genre they are identified with. We are committed to any genre of music we get involved with. Though being in Nashville exposed Downtown to Roots and Folk, which often times lands in the Americana genre by proximity, we never actively pursued or identified a scene. We focused on signing talented writers across the landscape, who were later grouped together as a part of a genre by the media. Our signings that have landed in the genre also span other offices. Andrew Bergman (COO & General Counsel), based in our New York office, followed up on his own networking from being a fan of Nashville and quality music in which led us to signing Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell.
3. Two of your artists, Rosanne Cash and Jason Isbell, have seen Grammy success. Tell us a bit about that.
I consider Rosanne Cash a purist artist writer who has written songs that stand the test of time. That kind of creative spirit and talent is often followed by the accolades of Grammy's. Rosanne is signed through our partnership with Notable Music. We were honored to be a part of this rich creative collection of classic music. Jason's music is simply stunning! He is focused on making great music, as opposed to winning a popularity contest or record sales -- a testament to what the quintessential Grammy winner should be.
4. Who are some of the others artists in the company's stable?
We also work with Old Crow Medicine Show, who have a couple Grammys on their shelf, and represent Rich Robinson of The Black Crowes. Danny Berrios in my office signed John Moreland, who is nominated for Best New Artist at this year's AMAs. Danny also signed Erin Rae who is performing this week during Americana Fest. Tift Merritt, Natalie Prass, I also mentioned Sturgill Simpson.
Our Nashville office is very micro-focused on the Country Music genre but again we also maintain a very broad focus on simply great music no matter the genre. We have writers such as Marc Beeson, Jillian Jacqueline, Andy Albert, Kendell Marvel, Tony Esterly, Sara Haze and Kelly Archer to name a few. Downtown's catalog, as a whole, spans over seven decades of popular music, encompassing some of the world's most beloved songwriters and artists including The Beatles, John Lennon & Yoko Ono, The Kinks, Hans Zimmer, Bruce Springsteen, Mötley Crüe, One Direction, Miike Snow, Hardwell, Santigold, White Denim, and Neon Trees. The company also represents such renowned publishing catalogs as Cy Coleman's Notable Music, the legendary Latin music catalog, Fania, the UK's Kassner Music, and Germany's Budde Music.
5. Obviously radio exposure is vital to exposing artists, but with this particular genre other avenues of exposure are key. Tell what you deem as important?
You've got to be able to perform! You have to capture a crowd, command their attention and crush 'em! The rest is easy. Outside of the performance of the music itself, exposure to a non-Nashville audience through media is also critical to success. Sturgill Simpson got picked up by major indie pop outlets, such as Fader and Pitchfork, which put him on the radar for a much wider network. The same can be said about Jason Isbell and John Moreland. Film and TV opportunities as well as brand partnerships are other key avenues to exposure. Nikki Lane has been actively involved in fashion. She designed denim for Acne, and most recently has been collaborating on signature retro designs with Stance socks and Brixton hats.
6. Tell us about getting artist syncs and what that entails in this competitive arena.
I believe songs that get sync'd are songs that speak to people. By and large the pop and classic genres seem to rule in sync. I also believe that Americana speaks to the people in a big way and that there needs to be more songs from this genre used in TV, film and advertising. May be easier said than done.
Jedd Katrancha in our New York office is head of licensing and sync. He is a huge fan of the Americana format and is a big part of why our company is working with such great artists. He is making great headway getting placements with Americana songs. Some of Downtown's successful Americana syncs include Sturgill Simpson's "Sugar Daddy" serving as the theme song for the HBO series Vinyl, as well as syncs for Jason Isbell on the CW show The Originals and Rich Robinson's "The Way Home" for a Dodge RAM commercial.
7. Who do you see as the next breakthrough artist for the company?
John Moreland. He's an amazing songwriter who independently built his own following. If ya haven't seen 'em or heard 'em, you will, and you'll love him! We're incredibly excited about his upcoming album, dropping in 2017.
8. Things are changing rapidly in our business. If it were up to you, what would you change in our "system" to give your artists a better shot?
Songwriter rights. Our system has been very screwed up for songwriters over the past five to seven years. The lack of money and ability to collect and earn makes it really hard to survive and accomplish your goals as a new rising artist. Downtown is striving and making major headway through developing technologies and embracing the change and challenges in collecting money available to songwriters around the world.
9. What is your best advice for up-and-coming artists that are shopping a publishing deal?
Find the right team. Sign a deal with the person or team that gets what you do. Don't just focus on the money. You'll make a lot more money when you connect with the right team that can really help you grow quickly.
10. What career path would you be following had it not been for this industry?
I'd start my own business refurbishing old Airstream trailers ... with really awesome sound systems!! Airstreams are sooo cool!!
Are there any philanthropic or humanitarian activities the company is committed to?
Downtown works closely with our clients in supporting their many philanthropic, humanitarian, and advocacy initiatives. We also regularly work with the Make a Wish Foundation.