×

Big Machine Records Chief Scott Borchetta on His Early Days in Music Biz

To date, the most significant day in the career of Big Machine Records chief Scott Borchetta was Nov. 2, 2004, when he met 14-year-old Taylor Swift, who signed with his then-fledgling label and has become one of the 21st century’s most successful and influential recording stars.

But as with all “overnight” success stories, Borchetta’s preparation for that encounter began decades earlier. Born into the business, he’s the son of Mike Borchetta, one of the record industry’s top promotion men, who worked for such labels as Capitol, RCA and Mercury.

Early in life, Scott was a bass player in country and rock bands; it was only the warm-up for a career in the field of record promotion. His public image skyrocketed when became an in-house mentor on “American Idol,” leading Rolling Stone to profile him as “Nashville’s Most Powerful Record Exec.” Today, Borchetta’s Big Machine operation boasts a steady flow of hits from a dynamic roster that includes Swift, Florida Georgia Line, Midland, Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Thomas Rhett and many more. Borchetta first caught Variety’s attention Sept. 2, 1987, when he was named rock radio promo chief of the short-lived MTM records operation in Nashville.

MTM Records was a blip in the history of Nashville. Was that an ill-fated venture or was the label launched during one of Nashville’s long-ago downturns?

Country music had this interesting moment in 1987. At MTM we had Holly Dunn who was charting. Foster & Lloyd were making an impact. There was a lot of crossover between rock, country and New Wave bands, so culturally you had Rosanne Cash, Dave Alvin, Jason & the Scorchers. And we had an act, Hege V, who was George Hamilton IV’s son and who had a strong record called “Burial Ground of the Broken Hearted.” We didn’t know it then, but we were on the cusp of a real breakthrough in country. But the label folded in 1988. I like to say we stopped digging one foot from the gold mine.

So you went from label promo to independent?

Yes, and there was an interesting change in the business that was important to my success. Billboard magazine had an archaic, goofy points system for its charts. But Radio & Records had a different system that measured light, medium and heavy radio play. The industry went to that system, and I had studied it and I had it wired. It helped identify big hits quicker. So all of a sudden we were in the era of Travis Tritt, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Clint Black. We could feel the change happening all around us. I kind of grew up in the Nashville business at the loudest time you could imagine.

It’s amazing to remember how Nashville was minting so many major stars at the same time. Are there any that impressed you the most?

Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam were the two freshest guys on the scene. Dwight had that bad boy rock star thing that was new for Nashville and it helped him stand out.

You were fighting for your artists and their records at a time of incredible competition.

The best thing about those days was taking advantage of every minute of every day. We always worked around the clock, recording till three in the morning, and I spent all my time learning how to produce records.

But you were a California kid. Los Angeles was always a bigger pond.

Coming from California, I saw Nashville as a fresh land-grab opportunity. The town was still so young. You could walk to every label meeting. I think it was a time when it was easier to dream big. For some reason, people were intimidated by skateboard punks and motocross kids from California!

 

More Artisans

  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

    How 'Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood' Turned the Clock Back for Its Shoot

    Crossing the street took months for the crew that turned back the clock 50 years on Hollywood Boulevard for Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” Production designer Barbara Ling created false fronts for buildings that were constructed off-site and installed by crane just ahead of the shoot. Set decorator Nancy Haigh described [...]

  • Just Roll With It Disney Channel

    Disney Channel's Scripted-Improv Comedy Crew Shares How They 'Just Roll With It'

    The title of the new Disney Channel series “Just Roll With It” appears to be as much a directive for its cast and crew as it is a description of the multi-camera hybrid sitcom, which is part scripted and part improv. The plot revolves around the blended Bennett-Blatt family — strict mom Rachel (Suzi Barrett), [...]

  • "SpongeBob's Big Birthday Blowout" cast

    'SpongeBob' Voice Cast on Acting Together in Live-Action for 20th Anniversary Special

    On a brisk morning in February, the members of the voice cast of Nickelodeon’s flagship animated series “SpongeBob SquarePants” gathered to work on a new episode, like they’ve done most weeks over the past 20 years. But instead of being in a recording booth, this time they’ve assembled at a diner in Castaic, Calif., shooting [...]

  • Motion Picture Editors Guild to Honor

    Motion Picture Editors Guild to Honor Veteran Executive Martin Cohen

    The Motion Picture Editors Guild will honor veteran post-production executive and producer Martin Cohen with its Fellowship and Service Award. Cohen worked at Amblin, DreamWorks and Paramount. He was a co-producer on “The Hunger Games” and supervised the restoration Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Godfather” trilogy and “Jaws.” The award recognizes an individual who embodies the values set [...]

  • Game of Thrones Iceland TV Incentives

    Iceland Offers Productions Majestic Landscapes, Stunning Architecture and a 25% Rebate

    Few places on Earth contain the natural majesty of Iceland. The Nordic island, nestled between the North Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean, holds some of the most breathtaking natural wonders on the planet: the fiery pyrotechnics of live volcanoes, steam curling up from natural hot springs, vertiginous drops from oceanside cliffs and waterfalls cascading into [...]

  • Schitt's Creek Wigs

    'Schitt's Creek': Inside Moira Rose's Iconic Wig Collection

    Moira Rose, the family matriarch of cult classic “Schitt’s Creek,” is known for several things: her pronunciation of the word “bebe,” her love for her TV family (and sometimes Alexis) and her countless vibrant wigs. Played by the always delightful Catherine O’Hara, each episode (and wig) is a joy to witness on screen. “I think [...]

  • Kira Kelly Cinematographer Queen Sugar

    'Queen Sugar' DP on How Ava DuVernay Encourages Creativity on the OWN Series

    Cinematographer Kira Kelly, who earned an Emmy nomination for her work on Ava DuVernay’s “13th,” feels that her time spent on nonfiction projects over the past two decades has improved her ability to cope with the demands of shooting narrative fare.  The scaled-down resources — often just Kelly and maybe a focus puller or a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content