In these volatile times, starting a new record label is a risky move. For the Nashville-based Big Loud umbrella of companies, it has paid dividends though. In just over two years, Big Loud Records has established itself as a real force in country music; something recognised last spring when it won Label of the Year at CRS (Country Radio Seminar).
Two key partners in the Big Loud organization are Canadians, Kevin 'Chief' Zaruk and Joey Moi, and FYI contacted them last week for their takes on the company and its successes.
Though still based in Vancouver, Zaruk, a former Nickelback tour manager turned artist manager, focuses on Music City in his work. One of Canada's most successful rock producers (Nickelback, Default, Theory Of A Deadman, Hinder), Moi moved to Nashville around seven years ago to focus on producing and writing with primarily American country artists, including genre stars Florida Georgia Line and Jake Owen. He has also scored platinum success in Canada producing Dallas Smith.
Zaruk acknowledges that "starting a record label is obviously a risky and expensive venture, but for us, it was a logical step. Though we've been fortunate to have good label partners in the past, we thought if we could have a little more control and be more hands-on with our clients on the record side, that would make releasing records easier.
"We wouldn't be competing against a roster of people, where you have to go in and convince the record label that this act is a priority. We all know the stories of thousands of artists who put blood sweat and tears into a project, and after a week of it going out, it's 'you're done,' and your career might be over."
To Joey Moi, "starting a label was the next logical piece. We started with the publishing and then the management company, and music and songs are always our priority. Now the label is in place to support our artists."
The Big Loud operation started as a publishing company (then called Big Loud Shirt) run by hit songwriter Craig Wiseman, along with Seth England (both now partners in Big Loud). Moi and Zaruk (Moi's manager, then and now) entered the scene when Wiseman and England contacted the two Canadians around 2010.
"They were fans of Nickelback and Chad Kroeger's songwriting and wanted to meet up," Zaruk recalls. "That led to Chad and Craig writing a No. 1 Nickelback song together [with Rodney Clawson and Chris Tompkins], 'Lullabye,' and after that Joey mixed a track by Jake Owen."
Moi was then asked to write, produce and mix more songs with Owen, and the resulting album, Barefoot Blue Jean Night, spawned four country No. 1 songs. "With each trip to Nashville, more doors started opening, and things snowballed," says Moi.
Zaruk observes that the timing for his entry into Music City with Moi "was perfect. We took what we knew from the rock world in Vancouver and adapted it there. Thankfully country was looking for something different, for a fresh and new sound."
After Moi signed a publishing deal with Big Loud, the next step was the creation of Big Loud Management, headed by Wiseman, England, Zaruk and Moi. They signed Florida Georgia Line, and Moi produced their next two smash hit albums (one single, "Cruise," is certified diamond).
BL Management remains very active (Smith is on the roster), and last month it was acquired by heavyweight US company Maverick. Zaruk terms this "a partnership. We are still Big Loud, and our clients and staff remain the same. The affiliation means we now have access to Maverick's connections and the relationships they have developed."
Big news on the label side was the signing of Jake Owen last month. Zaruk notes that "one of our goals is to not only help break new artists but hopefully garner enough attention for established artists to look at our work ethic. Jake got that, and when his deal was up at Sony he said 'there's nowhere else I'd rather be.' That is a huge sign we are doing something right."
He stresses "we are not over signing. In two years we have signed five artists. Morgan Wallen, Chris Lane, Jillian Jacqueline, and Jake will all have new releases in 2018. We have some digital-only producer/songwriter projects, and we're looking for other opportunities. We feel we have the staff and the ability to do some pop and maybe even rock stuff."
Zaruk has noticed a critical difference between the country world and the rock and pop sphere. "In rock and pop, it is all about competition. If you're the opening band, you often get shat upon by the headliner.
"What we quickly noticed in Nashville is this family vibe. Everybody is trying to create the greater good - 'how can we make the country world bigger?' On the road, the support act gets told 'use whatever production you want. My dressing room is your dressing room.' Everyone gets treated fairly."
Moi agrees, stressing that "I love the culture. It is just good friendly business here, and that's why I came. Plus I've never experienced such a concentration of talented people as here."