Mindy Peterson, NCTM 0:00
I’m Mindy Peterson and this is enhanced life with music a holistic look at musics effect on our everyday lives. Joining me today from Nashville is Michael Blanton. Michael has had a celebrated career in the national and to Nashville music industry. His career has included discovering and launching the careers of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, among others, as well as managing their careers. Michael is a Gospel Music Hall of Fame inductee today finds him in all kinds of artistic and entertainment development, including film technology, artists development, nonprofit development, and of course, music and songwriting. Michael has joined forces with some days best and most talented songwriters to create songwriting University, which has been described as a digital songwriting portal for any writers around the globe who would like to develop their skills, or simply have the experience of writing with successful Nashville Songwriters. Welcome to enhance life with music, Michael.
Michael Blanton 1:09
Wow, you are hired for my introduction. Oh my gosh. I mean, can I just record that and carry around with me?
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 1:19
Michael Blanton 1:20
Here, here’s who I am. So it was well done. Well done.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 1:24
Well, Michael, we’re going to be talking about songwriting you today. But before we jumped into that, I have to say I had a total flashback when I read your bio, because I’m reading about how you launched Amy Grant’s career you produced all of her albums and hits including El Shaddai herten motion Lead me on all of her Christmas albums, you discovered and launched Michael W. Smith, and produced all of his albums and hits like friends place in this world. Oh, yeah. And I was like, oh, my goodness, this guy produced the soundtrack of my junior high and high school youth group.
Michael Blanton 1:59
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 2:00
Can you tell us just really quick how you first crossed paths with Amy Grant and also my use of math.
Michael Blanton 2:06
Oh Mindy, you’re going to get me down in the weeds here really quick. The Amy when I first came to Nashville trying to seek fame and fortune in the music industry. And, you know, I’m doing everything for managing an unheard of band a mixing sound out at Opryland, which was a great music theme park and, and I’m also I’m a part of a I’m a college guy that’s trying to help out in a youth group scenario. And Amy is in my youth group. And that’s how we really met. So we started from that, that lane and her dad was a very well known radiologist here in town. And then we just, we actually I fell in love with her family, she became a part of the group that was in and then that just led to her kind of falling in love with music, which by the time I did get a record label job. Three years later, the record label signed her and said, and I said, Oh, I know Amy, I’m I had no her family. And in fact, I dated her sisters. So I was very close with family. And they said, Okay, great. Well, you’re her a&r guys. So good luck on this one. So anyway, that’s, that’s how we got started.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 3:14
Yeah, and it works with the good luck there. And what about Michael W. Smith? How do you first now?
Michael Blanton 3:20
Well, after, after I had been at the label for about a year and a half or two years, I left to start my own company called Blanton Harrell. And Amy was our first client. And we were just kind of getting underway to really build her career. And then, literally as as we’re doing that, Michael, Debbie came in as a songwriter pitching songs to me and he came in with, he came in with the, you know, cassette tape of songs, and, and I’m listening to him, and I’m going look, I mean, if you can go write 10 more songs like this, I’ll sign you to our new label, and will just launch your career. And literally, he came back two weeks later, he had a cassette full of songs. And on there was a song called France, and I’m sitting there going prince that could actually, let me record this. And this will be a huge song for her. Or I looked at him and said, are we you know what? We record your first album, we put this on there. And let’s see if we can start your career, which is exactly what happened. It was a it was one of those moments, he certainly would have been happy if he did it. But the fact that I invited him to be on our record label reunion records, and that was a that was a pivotal moment and the beginning of his career.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 4:32
Wow. Well, you just say Michael W. Smith friends and it takes me back to senior year where everyone’s crying like we’re never again, thinking friends.
Michael Blanton 4:42
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 4:43
well, yeah, and it’s like you just I just look at the cover album or picture in my mind unguarded like the cover, or Lead me on or listen to the first phrase of the chorus. Go West young man. Yeah, just boom. I mean, I’m like, right back there.
Michael Blanton 5:02
When I’m right, I’m right back there with totally, totally relate to that.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 5:07
Well, you’re kind of like the godfather of contemporary Christian music.
Michael Blanton 5:11
Oh, have you been called? No, but now you’ve got my intro. And now you’ve got me names. Oh, my good godfather.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 5:18
Okay. Well, okay, we’ll jump into the main topic here, because I know I told you 30 minutes and I have sure enough to go way beyond that. Nashville. I mean, it’s iconic for its incredible musical and songwriting talent, but not a lot of people have direct access to working with that tail. And they’re just not connected to the right circles, or they don’t have the time or the money to come to Nashville, songwriting University changes all of that. Tell us a little bit about how and why songwriting you began?
Michael Blanton 5:54
Yeah, he probably, let’s just say 10 years ago without question. And Nashville, this is a songwriters town and the publishing companies that are here, they would sign, you know, developing songwriters and put them on a stipend, you could actually, you know, young songwriters that don’t have any songs cut, but have have talent could be sign, you know, being paid 1000 $3,000 a month. And then then if you’re really if you start getting cuts, you could it you know, yet that stipend would go up quite a bit. When the streaming took over, the lack of CD sales had gone away, when when all that begin to change, then the publishers can’t sign as many riders just on a, you know, hoping to win. So as a result, where we used to probably have 4500 riders that all had publishing deals here in this town, that’s probably down to 400, now that really have publishing deals, and maybe, maybe, maybe have gone up a little bit, but it’s still hovering at a very low percentage compared to what it used to be because the publishing business cannot is just not making as much money like it used to when people would buy CDs, or even if you download CDs, typically you would download the whole 1010 or 12 songs. So now we got people streaming one song we’re buying for $10, we’re buying all the music we want. And so the publishing revenue in that realm has really gone down. So as a result, you’ve got writers who’ve been very successful, who’ve had very, you know, strong careers of having top pop country or our Christian hits out of Nashville, but they’re now there, they don’t have a publishing deal. And they’re kind of sitting around going, Okay, I still love to write just as much as I did five and 10 years ago, what what do I do, and they’re, they’re out doing other jobs. So two songwriters approached myself and Gary Glover, my partner about the idea of, we think there’s a need for a digital songwriting portal, which would give anybody around the world access to Nashville, successful songwriters, if you really had to love to be a songwriter, an artist, at some point, you probably would try to come to Nashville, you try to get get your feet planted here, try to make contact with some of the great riders and build your build your network of riders and hopefully eventually either become successful as a songwriter or an artist. But in today’s world, it’s just harder for anybody to come in and make contact with writers because it’s just become so much more selected add to be a successful writer, it just takes forever for you to ever make contact with with the guys you need to kind of have as your network. So as a result, Joe back and Billy Sprague were like going we think there’s a need for songwriters to still make revenue. Why don’t we start this digital Online Writing portal? And when I heard it, I went, Oh my gosh, that is ingenious it I mean, I could have come up with it, but it wouldn’t work. It has to come from the Songwriters. So as a result, we’ve got 25 songwriters in our faculty that are available to co write with anybody from around the world. And that means literally if there’s a you know, a banker in Topeka, Kansas going gosh, I love my music back in high school in college. They literally can come on the website by a two hour session and either start from scratch zero or they may come in said man I had the song I worked on I mean what do I need to do to improve it takes it change it or they may just come in said I have this one line in my head. I don’t even I don’t know what to do. They can come and they can actually have a two hour writing session with with a successful Nashville songwriter and, and see where that goes.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 9:47
Yeah, that’s awesome. So it’s opening so many opportunities for both the songwriters and people who want their talent want access to their talent,
Michael Blanton 9:57
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 9:58
and you describe A little bit of the criteria or lack thereof for students themselves who want to participate in songwriting you, it could be a banker who just wants to write a song for his upcoming wedding and doesn’t have that songwriting background, or even maybe write a musical background. Or it could be that aspiring songwriter who’s like, I’m living in Kansas, but I, and I’m going to college here at the community college, but I love writing songs and music and I want access. Oh, tell us some more about the spectrum of do columns, students or participants?
Michael Blanton 10:40
Well, we do, we had, it’s funny, we just call them our guest clients right now the what we have found, we did some marketing research. And we found that there’s a, there is one age group, let’s call it from the, from the 1625 year old that is going I just wanted to do music and whether they’re coming out of high school, going to college, they’re in that zone of going I really want to grow and learn this. And those kids tend to be a bit more independent. Like I don’t know if I need to co write with anybody but if ultimately, for them to grow, and really become what they need to they’re, you know, they’re they’re probably gonna wind up wanting to ride and and to ride with people who’ve had success. So that’s one group. The other group is the, let’s just call it the the 40 and older gang, who have probably decided well musics not my career, but I’ve got, I’ve got to go into banking or in engineering, or I’ve got to go do something. But they never quit loving music and so, but they’re saying, well, I can’t get to Nashville. But I’d still love to, you know, whether they’re playing in a club locally, or they’re, whether they’re playing in a, at their church, or wherever they’re they, they play their music, they just, they’d love to grow it, but they got to keep their job at the bank, and they’re just waiting for the opportunity. And that group, actually, we are having the most success right now because they seem to have what COVID give us a little bit more time. But that group has a little bit more time and a little bit more financial capability to come in and book book three sessions at a time and say I want to work got not one but three at a time. And here we go.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 12:10
Yeah, so I mentioned the graphic shoe has more life experience that can bring some depth to their lives and their songwriting. That’s very true.
Michael Blanton 12:18
Yeah, but well in which is guys just gonna say we’re just finding because pop music we tend to go. You know, it’s all about the youthfulness of it. And country music’s a little bit older. But to your point, people that have lived life who’ve gone through that roller coaster of up and down about just living your right, they have more material to come to the table with Yeah,
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 12:41
well. And then you look at some of these bands. I mean, you’ll get Mick Jagger up there
Michael Blanton 12:45
on stage. Oh, my gosh. Oh, my God.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 12:49
That guy, that’s incredible. And he’s still doing that. Yeah. Well, when we look at the young demographic, the other thing I’m thinking of as a parent of a college student, and a high school student is I’m all about job shadows. Like if my kid want is thinking, I want to be a lawyer. I want to be a doctor, what do you know, whatever. Let’s get you in where you can job shadow someone because my daughter did that once with a doctor. And she came back and she said, You know, I thought he was going to be doing a lot more doctory stuff it was mostly talking with with patients and paperwork. I’m like, well, it’s not Grey’s Anatomy here. That’s right. So I think you’re really great. Like consulting. It’s like, slash job shadow opportunity for young kids. If they’re like, I just want to be a songwriter. I want to be in the music business. And their parents are kind of like, is this viable or not, you know, get them a package and have them talk to someone who’s in the business and say, what’s it really like?
Michael Blanton 13:50
Oh, yeah, we’ve got Well, on the website, we’ve actually got a kind of a masterclass curriculum that for $9 a month you can come in and kind of take our songwriting development curriculum and then we’ve got masterclass like with Mike Reed who who wrote Bonnie rates big hit, I Can’t Make You Love Me, which is just a huge and his telling the story of that. On the on the masterclass. We’ve got these wonderful videos with team with Gordon Kennedy, who wrote Eric Clapton’s big song changed the world. Sorry, oh, wow, brain there. But, but so they both are talking about their code. They’re writing what they did developing. And so for that kid who’s go, I’m not sure I want to co write with somebody, yet. They can come and do the kind of the master class series and get a fabulous education from people have been doing it for a long time. Right?
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 14:42
Yeah. Well, and you have some incredible talents and your faculty, just as you even mentioned in naming a couple of those people there. Tell us a little bit more about the different sessions and packages and classes that you offer. You mentioned the master class. You can also book a one on one songwriting session.
Michael Blanton 15:00
Right. And then, as you know, that’s that’s kind of the thing that I think in the long run is going to be happening. Going back to something you said earlier. I mean, if people wanted to memorialize their wedding, and they’re going, Well, I’m not even a songwriter. They can go and actually go, look, here’s the love of my life. Here’s what I say to her and they can work on a song. In fact, we’ve got a Nashville has become known. You probably don’t know this and good old Minneapolis, but we’re the We Are The wedding party, the bridesmaids party destination. I mean, this is the hot spot now more than any other place in the world.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 15:38
Oh, really? So like bachelor parties, bachelorette parties does that?
Michael Blanton 15:41
bachelor parties? Absolutely. And so of course, we were laughing gone. You know, the cool thing it would be for that group of girls who come in to have a fabulous weekend to memorialize the songwriters, but we’d love to, we’d love to capture this moment. And they could go on book a two hour session, say, Okay, here was our catchphrase for the weekend. And can we write a song? And of course, the gods would be happy to do that. Oh, goodness, that would be I think the point is that music does enhance our lives. And the truth is, this group of people are completely capable of kind of jumping in wherever it puts up a sadness or a joyfulness or if there’s anything you want to memorialize. The other thing I was at a restaurant the other day, and one of course here in Nashville, and the waitress was, wants to be a songwriter and, and she loves Jodi Messina. And she was like I just that that’s kind of where I am, I’m kind of back in that 90s God says, you need to go to songwriting university because you don’t two or three of the writers have had big number ones and top chance that you can go on there and right with that, kind of like that kind of a caliber songwriter, and she was just like mesmerized like going, you got to be kidding me. I go, No, it’s so quiet. Where ever you come into the game, as I’m not a writer, I’d like to memorialize something, or I would like to try something or whatever the scenario is, we think we’ve got kind of the ability to help you do.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 17:12
Oh, yeah. Well, that bachelorette party idea. Sounds phenomenal. I mean, how cool. I mean, music, like we talked about with my story of my youth group. It’s like that olfactory sense where you get a whiff of something and you’re like, oh, my goodness, I’m right back. Oh,
Michael Blanton 17:29
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 17:30
Yeah, you can have such an incredible original song for a wedding or a milestone, anniversary, or birthday, or just a stage of life. Like you write a song like this is when we were having babies and, you know, absolutely. Late at night and up at all hours of the night. And you know, later your kids are in college, and you listen to that song, and you’re like, we survived a baby. We made.
Michael Blanton 17:57
It’s so funny that the gentlemen people, they’re mostly German, of course we’d be we’ve got female riders, and we’d love to have more females participate. But the, but the people that are doing this are having such great experiences, they’re coming back going, Oh, I got to come back and do this again. Because it’s a creative outlet that they get to, to, to explore. And then what we have, we actually launched as well, last year, in top of the masterclass plan, and also the songwriting sessions, we’ve actually launched a songwriting contest last July, we gave away, we have five genres of music, and we and we pit we get each one of the winners of the genres won $1,000. And then the grand winner we get $10,000 to. And so we’re not, I mean, it’s a $40 entry fee to come put your songs in there. And I mean, we we were blown away with the quality of music that we got from around the world. And that really opened us probably one of the new developments that we will be introducing the songwriting new coming up will be our ability to take young songwriters or old songwriters take their songs, and, you know, potentially be able to put them into our promotional campaign where we can cry to go get them either pitch to, you know, a country artists and Amy Grant or Keith Urban or, or get it on Grey’s Anatomy, or put it into a Netflix movie. So we are finding that kind of quality that that we’re probably going to start offering that as an add on to to some revenues that we find that you know, like that banker in Topeka. He may he may be a much better writer than any other thought, but he can’t move. But we can come along if we think his songs are strong enough, we can come along and help promote that. So that’s our that’s our that’s our newest line that we’re hoping to bring to the songwriting you story.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 19:49
Oh, really fascinating. So what are you noticing with some of these people who are coming in as clients? Are you noticing anything special that they’re bringing to the table I mean, your faculties amazing. But are you finding that the banker from Topeka, you know, coming in other countries who are out in the non musical world for most of their day? are they bringing some kind of a refreshing, authentic voice? It’s not in the music world, something that kind of breaks up. Any kind of homogenization that could happen, like I’ve been nationalists has so much talent. But I imagine at some point it you’re kind of fighting that, that tendency to just kind of homogenized and become like everybody else will tell us what you’re seeing it with.
Michael Blanton 20:35
Yeah, no, I
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 20:36
think I’m also bringing in
Michael Blanton 20:37
Well, that’s just that, besides the fact that every time one of our faculty does a session, they’re actually getting, they’re getting kind of paid for their consulting or co writing service. But the new kids coming in or bringing in a fresh, I mean, fresh wind, I will brag on Nashville and say I really do believe it is the music at the center now because I mean, with Apple Music with more and more opposites showing up here. This is kind of become from pop to country to kind of jazz the Christian. There’s just all kinds of music here. Americana certainly is huge. So we do get some really fresh new twist. And some have a really funny, it’s like, oh, my gosh, we did a Christmas riding Song Contest last fall. And we just, you know, we had some hilarious entries. But it was amazing, where people were coming from around the world, just submitting songs going, you know, this is kind of my Christmas hanging the girl who won. She wrote a song about her, saying, I like Christmas. And the whole point was that her parents had gotten a divorce. And she was going I hate two Christmases. And it was so clever. And she didn’t ride it from a depressed or a, you know, I want to cut my wrist standpoint, she wrote it from a very clever, I hate to Christmases, but it was it was really telling how much she loved Christmas, but just not in this kind of a broken fashion. And it was such a good song that we all just flipped out. So what we’re seeing is wonderful, new creative talent out there that’s trying to go How do I get anybody to, to listen to me, the internet has just made it everybody has, everybody has something to say. And so if people can get it in front of anybody, in fact, I think on the website, we’ve got a young, a young artist named Morgan, that we did a session where she came in said, I’ve been working on this song. And as we worked on it, we decided just as a trial run, let’s see if we can go produce a demo on that song that would actually more than just a lyric and a guitar play. And let’s see if we can actually make it sound like a real song. So we took it another step. And I think that’s on the Philip on the website, but it’s a it’s a great way to go see what happens when you take this all the way through. And we find one of those really good songs that we want to do something with.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 22:57
Wow. Any other especially memorable clients or songs that have come out of this songwriting University you mentioned the I don’t like Christmas, any others that just really immediately jumps to your mind
Michael Blanton 23:10
whether there was one other Christmas song that really jumps to mind that was a that the songwriting, you writers decided. Let’s go ahead and finish it out. We took it to Scott Hamilton, who’s you know, a gold Olympic skater that lives here. He has a foundation called Scott Hamilton cares and it’s all about you know, cancer fighting cancer and he’s well loved not only here but nationally, people just support this whole adventure. Well, we played the song and we decided let’s form a coalition for Scott’s going to use this as his kind of Christmas theme song and go out and you know, get people to watch the video, listen to the song and hopefully give to Scott Hamilton’s cares Foundation, or Gibson Guitar heard about it, they came along joined us they became a partner in that so that the winners of the Christmas song actually received a brand new Gibson electric guitar, which was so beautiful. And so for me right now I’m going okay, there was such a cool partnership between charity between writing a song by doing a demo and then having like a Gibson Guitar, come along and be a sponsor. So we’re going to continue to I think we’re going to continue to feel that idea of how do we pull one song out of our contest? or potentially out of our, our co writing sessions, how do we pull one song that we can contribute or work with other charities and make some some kind of noise with it? So that’s kind of a new part of it that we really loved this last year. Hmm,
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 24:42
cool. Well, we touched on some of the aspects of today’s business world and revenue model, just the reality of what the music business is like right now. And and the songwriting you concept right fits that so well in terms of music and artist discoverability We didn’t talk a lot about mentorship, but there’s a mentorship component that’s a part of this as well. The artist development, the diversification of artists, he mentioned the Netflix films and TV shows and, you know, with with charity, anything else that you want to mention about how songwriting you really fits? Well, with the reality of today’s business, world music business world,
Michael Blanton 25:25
you got to think it’s, it takes, I mean, the great songwriters like Ryan Tedder, and Gosh, Shane mcanally, from here and Luke layer from here, I mean, there’s great songwriters that you just never will ever get a connect with. Unless, you know, God just parts the waters and let you walk through and you get them made, and they love you and they do something. So what we’re excited about is that we really do believe we’ve got an idea, even it’s very, very early stages, we have not even really started marketing. We’ve mostly done PR, but it’s really starting. It’s really hitting a nerve out there. Because to your point, music enhances. I mean, it’s literally everything we do. Yeah. And now when you look at all of the content that’s being built, I mean, from Hulu, to Amazon, to Netflix to everybody’s creating content, more and more people go, Well, I’d love to express myself some way. And we hope that we’re kind of offering a path forward, we’re certainly just beginning we we hope to add more riders more, you know, all kinds of different music genres, not just limited to, you know, because we’re natural and we do, or country pop or Christian, we, we certainly recognize there’s more genres to be paid attention to, but we got to grow there. It’s something we have to have to grow into, as opposed to just try to do everything all at the same day. But I think we’re, we’re super excited. We’re super excited for you and your followers to hear about it. And, and we’d love to, you know, be able to answer more questions when we when we need to,
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 26:54
for sure. Well, just even that networking concept, I mean, wow, to be able to network and build some relationships. So some of those icons of the songwriting world is just an
Michael Blanton 27:07
absolutely, yeah. It would be you’re absolutely right.
Mindy Peterson, NCTM 27:11
Well, there was a line in your bio that really caught my attention. It referred to Blanton’s love for advancing the creative spirit. And I thought, Wow, what a great way to sum up so many things. I mean, that could be like a personal mantra, personal mission. You’re definitely doing this with songwriting. You and I know you have a bazillion other irons in the fire, too, that are advancing that creative spirit as well. Well, I ask all of my guests to close out our conversation with a musical ending acota by sharing a song or story about a moment that music enhances your life, I’m sure you have a ton of them. But is there a song or story that you can pick out and share with us today?
Michael Blanton 27:51
Well, yes, you and I could be here for another hour if you let me go. But I would probably when you stirred that thought, literally was thinking about just how blessed I felt like I’ve been in the career that I’ve been given to advance the creative spirit and creative heart and people. And literally 30 years ago, Amy Grant we had done an album called lead meal which we truly felt like was one of if not the finest one of her finest projects and and yet we did not get we did not get critical acclaim or actually even pop radio acclaim for that. And so Amy looked at me and said, You know, I really would love for you to make, let’s go make the album, the pop album that you think that that I need to make. So with that I decided as the executive producer to keep working with the guy who produced everything up to that point, brown Bannister. But we added Keith Thomas and Michael mardian took both two phenomenal names in the world of pop music. And we started working on this album called heart motion. And that album had five songs in the top 10 actually four songs top 10 one was in the top 20. But five songs that all made super pop radio airplay, they literally, I mean, to get anything in the top 10 is phenomenal. But to get four in the top 10 was just I mean was unheard of. And as result, by the 1992 Grammys, Amy was nominated in the top category for the best record, the best song The best album, The Best Female Pop vocalist, and the best producer. She had five top pop Grammy nominations. And and of course we didn’t win any of them because Natalie co who did a duet with her dad, which was so beautiful with David Foster one when everything but we were so honored that we actually got to that those five things and so what that told me and and the AHA for me is now 30 years later is to go. I just encourage people that no matter where you go From where you are, what do you think you’ve got this creative piece inside of you and, and don’t don’t be afraid to go express yourself and don’t be afraid to share that and don’t be afraid to collaborate with others to try to develop it further that album. That heart motion album was a such a huge part of not only Amy’s that’s her biggest selling album, but that’s also been the biggest selling Christian album if you want to categorize that even though it had five pop awards for the Grammys. So I just think that was that was interesting that you want had this interview and I’m actually doing more interviews because we’re doing a retrospective on that project coming out later this fall with a lot of videos, a lot of music, you know, demos and remixes that we did on that album hard motion. So anyway, that’s uh, that’s because I’m in the middle of it. That would be my Coda for you, Mindy.