In the seven years since Big Machine Records signed Taylor Swift, Scott Borchetta’s Nashville-based company has grown to encompass two more imprints (Valory Records and a joint venture with Universal, Republic Nashville) and publishing and management arms. And in early June, the company cut an unprecedented deal with Clear Channel in which the broadcaster will pay performance royalties for songs aired on its terrestrial stations. Chris Morris talked to Borchetta about the company’s increasing presence in Hollywood, the genesis of the royalty deal and just how big Big wants to be.
CM: Big Machine has formed a publishing company. What’s the thrust of this venture?
SB: When we started the company, we had a publishing company established, but we weren’t a proper publisher, where we were properly servicing our writers, going after other cuts, other artists. This was the time, and we found the right people to do it in Mike Molinar and Martha Earls. The original publishing company was set up mainly for our singer-songwriters, who were our artists. Now we have the ability to sign pure songwriters and really build that up.
CM: Taylor Swift had a couple of tracks on the “Hunger Games” soundtrack. Were you in discussions with the producers early in the development of the picture?
SB: Fairly early. It was not an easy process, and it took a long time for the deal to come together. (Helmer) Gary (Ross) had a great vision for the film and how he wanted to use the music. We would have preferred that the music was actually in the film, but the fans have spoken. The music that Taylor created was so spot-on and perfectly matched up with the film.
CM: For this particular artist, it was an effective piece of marketing, because it came a year and a half after the release of “Speak Now” and arrived as an extended curtain-raiser for her next album.
SB: Yes. And for Taylor, it was an opportunity to stretch outside what she normally does and write for somebody else’s vision.
CM: Reba McEntire is back on TV this fall with ABC’s “Malibu Country.” Will you be doing a release in tandem with the show?
SB: The good news for us is she plays a singer, so it’s a natural to have new music around the show. It gives us a great opportunity to marry TV and music together, and a fresh angle to bring new Reba music into the marketplace.
CM: Any larger ambitions for Hollywood? Tim McGraw co-starred in “Country Strong,” and Swift was featured in “Valentine’s Day.” Do you see yourself getting deeper into the production side of films?
SB: There are a lot of opportunities. Tim wants to continue with his film career. With Taylor, it’s just a matter of time before that right movie vehicle comes along. Then you have Kimberly Perry of the Band Perry, who just jumps through the screen. We’ve been in more development conversations over the past year than in all the prior years combined.
CM: There’s another movie-hooked development on your roster: Ella Mae Bowen covered the Bonnie Tyler song “Holding Out for a Hero” on the “Footloose” remake soundtrack, without an album to her credit.
SB: She came to us through (Red Light Management’s) Tracy Gershon. Using the power of a bigscreen or a smallscreen, it gives us the opportunity to build an audience. This was a fantastic way for millions of people to get to know her as we continue to develop her. We’ll probably have a single in early 2013.
CM: How big do you want Big Machine to be? You have three imprints and 16 current roster artists.
SB: We’re staying true to our model (of) having a finite number of artists per imprint that we can give every opportunity to succeed. We’ve built these custom shops, and it’ll be the same way with our publishing company, with TV and film production. We want to make sure that we give every project that we take on the necessary amount of time and energy to see it all the way through.
CM: How does Republic Nashville work? Who brings what to the table?
SB: It was at a point where Universal was trying to buy us, and I wasn’t for sale. They said, “How can we do more work together?” So Monte Lipman, who’s president of Universal Republic, came up with this idea to start a third imprint. It’s worked out extremely well. The idea was, how can we take the best of Nashville and New York and build another weapon and new opportunities to re-engineer what we’re doing?
CM: What was the genesis of Clear Channel’s agreement with Big Machine regarding performance royalties paid to Big Machine acts?
SB: It’s been a very hot topic for the past few years. We really felt that we had momentum going into last fall, and then there was a reset to zero, in trying to rebuild a case to get legislation. (Clear Channel’s) Bob Pittman and John Sykes and I were talking at the Grammys in February, and there were a couple of big ideas that we were talking about, this being one of them. He and John and I met when they came to Nashville. At one point, Bob asked, ‘Can you do this?’ And I said, ‘I think I can. Can you?’ We were able to get it done really very quickly. … Broadcasters have got to look into the future and understand that there’s an opportunity right now to support this on the terrestrial level (tying the payouts to a percentage of broadcast advertising sales), because it’s already in place for digital.
CM: What’s the release schedule look like through the end of 2012?
SB: It looks very good. (laughs) We aren’t making any official announcement yet about Taylor, but I can tell you that she’s in the zone right now, and there are plans for a fall release. Same for Tim McGraw. We’ve also got an album by a great new artist named Thomas Rhett, who’s blowing up — his single’s gone top 20, and he’s out with Toby Keith on tour. The fourth quarter looks great for us.