[NASHVILLE] One hundred of his songs have been recorded, including seven number one hits. His music has been performed by the likes of Lee Ann Womack, Andy Griggs, Tracy Lawrence, Billy Currington and Jason Aldean. He’s released his own CDs, including Cowboy Sailor in 2014.
And he rents out a really cool condo in the Bellmont/Hillsboro area of Nashville. It was built for Ben Folds of Ben Folds Five; today, country music songwriter Brett Jones writes in the upstairs studio and rents the downstairs to visitors like us.
Being a ginormous Dave Matthews fan for nearly two decades, I’ve always been intensely curious about the songwriting process. HERE WAS MY CHANCE. I could ask a real, live songwriter how it happens!
Brett is a kind and patient man. He indulged my mini freak out upon discovering we were staying as the guest of a famous musician and songwriter. (I think he was slightly amused by my fan-girling.) He and his wife even stopped by one evening to offer recommendations for things to do and see in Music City.
Most amazing of all, he took the time on Friday evening during our visit to sit down with us in his studio over adult beverages and explain how the magic happens and the songs evolve. Brett even played for us. It was a personal concert, a peek into the songwriting process and a behind-the-scenes look at the country music industry, all rolled into one wonderful evening.
Take a look:
How cool is that?
Brett also spoke about the evolution of the music industry in general. He’s not a fan of the American Idol model. “I’ll be glad when all the TV shows that manufacture stars go away,” he said. “But they may not. They may continue on in some other fashion.”
And he’s concerned about the lack of appreciation for personal creativity and human experience that are a fundamental part of the songwriting process: “Some of the articles I read say that songs will be written by computers, and that’s a sad thought. And then there’s a congressman who literally asked the question, Why do we need more songs? So he just completely doesn’t get it,” Brett said.
But what weighed most on his mind was the announcement during our visit that an appeals court upheld Pandora’s victory over the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers, an organization for songwriters that sought to increase the royalty rates the music-streaming service must pay.
“Songwriters need to get paid,” Brett said. “It would be kind of a sad world where the next Bob Dylan doesn’t get to be Bob Dylan. He gets to write songs part time and work at the grocery store.
“There needs to be a more fair system whereby the songwriters are held up to a little bit more pay, a reasonable amount of money compared with what the big touring artists are making,” Brett said. “Yesterday, in the article I read, the masthead said 1 percent of the people involved in the music industry make 77 percent of the money, and that’s very skewed. We need to create a healthy model for all the other people down the pecking order.”
As a writer and editor myself, I could empathize heartily. Content farms are the bane of my industry, churning out unedited schlock to run beside lucrative advertising. Sometimes that copy is even written by computers. There’s more money to be made from Wonder Bread, “never touched by human hands,” as Greg Carpenter of Crooked Tree Breadworks pointed out. But Local Universe is all about bringing back the handmade, the locally made, the small business and the social enterprise doing good in the world. So you go, Brett, we say!
Local Universe gives back! Ten percent of our proceeds from the sale of Cowboy Sailor by Brett Jones will be donated to Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, an organization that began in East Tennessee and now provides free books to children worldwide.
Despite his quiet, humble and mellow demeanor, Brett has a storied history starring lots of names you’ll recognize whether or not you know country music. A sample:
“Dierks Bentley sang his first demo with me.”
“Jason Aldean is probably one of my favorite people.”
“Luke Bryan was a workaday songwriter when I met him.”
“Kenny Chesney and I used to park cars together. How things change.”
Um, yeah. That’s a pretty amazing circle of friends.
Though Brett has a summer home in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and likes to get down to Key West to write, he’s a southern boy through and through. He grew up in Georgia, and he always comes home to Nashville.
“I’ve always loved it since the day I got here,” Brett says of Music City. “I’m not going anywhere.”
His grown sons grew up in Nashville, and he’s raising his two young children there as well. None are professional songwriters—yet, Brett says. “The 4-year-old…maybe,” he laughs.
Judging from Brett’s continued songwriting success and his own Cowboy Sailor release, those will be some big cowboy boots (or flip-flops, as the case may be) to fill.