Chicks Hatch A Winning Pitch Plan
By Caroline Horn
NASHVILLENovel Nashville song-plugging group Chicks With Hits may be made up of competing publishers, but there are no ruffled feathers when one of its 20 all-female members scores a hit.
The Chicks, were formed in 1999 by DreamWorks Publishing creative manager Abbey Nameche and Song Garden Music's Kim Jones. They have collectively landed country cuts for the likes of Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire, Jo Dee Messina, Lonestar, and George Strait. The team was also the only "plugging group" that Garth Brooks met with during his extensive song search for his new Capitol Nashville album, Scarecrow.
"Right now, I think people are treating a song more like a debit check," Brooks says. "But these girls don't do that. Their passion kills meI hope they're the future of this business."
The Chickswhose membership is based on the quality and breadth of their song catalogs and the strength of their industry relationshipstake turns presenting songs from their respective catalogs to artists, producers, and A&R executives.
"We decided early on that this wasn't going to be a group for beginners," member Janie West of RBI Entertainment recalls. While the women do not share publishing profits, each one contributes modest annual dues toward business entertainment expenses and such droll marketing materials as their logo of a Rockettes-like line of dancing chicks.
And while the members sacrifice the undivided attention they would get from an artist when pitching songs as individuals, the benefits of group plugging allow them to stay current overall.
"As a publisher, you don't often get to hear what's in somebody else's catalog until it's out on the radio," explains Nameche. Additionally, as Jones points out, a plugging group promises lesser-known publishers strength in numbers.
"When Abbey and I were discussing it," Jones says, "we were both in new companies. Nobody knew our catalogs. Had we not been in the group, we couldn't have gotten artist meetings at that time." BMG Music Publishing VP Karen Conrad adds that the group's commitment to merging independents with majors "helps the A&R people, producers, and artists realize that the smaller, independent companies are worthy of their attention."
But the primary advantage of Chicks meetings for artists and their reps is efficiency. Those seeking songs can hear much more material in this format than they could in meetings with individual publishers. For a singer or producer with one free afternoon in town, this is time well spent. And beyond the consolidation of time and effort, Chicks meetings reflect true collaboration that focuses on servicing the artist.
"This is a group that works together before the meeting starts," producer Trace Adkins producer Trey Bruce says. "I can tell that they put time into talking about what their plan is and how they're going to make a difference."
Like many A&R reps, RCA Nashville director of A&R Renee Bell meets with Chicks members individually as well as with the group but feels that the simple peer pressure of the group setting "raises the bar" for everyone. "They're competing in front of each other," Bell says, "so they really have to do their homework."
Presenting songs together also elicits specific tips. "Yesterday, I noted an artist's positive response to a wordy song pitched by someone else," recalls member Dianne Petty of CDP Music Group. "Now I know I can bring him songs like that in the future. I wouldn't have learned that from what I pitched that day."
The all-female Chicks meetings are valued by both male and female artists. Their opinionated but characteristically female approach, notes Brooks, "doesn't push you over." "We have a shorthand with each other," adds Pam Tillis, further noting the educational aspect of the group's reactions to the songs being plugged. "If a song's making me feel it, and making all of them feel it, then that tells me something."
But sensitivity in a Chick does not preclude constructive silliness, observes Allison Jones, head of A&R at DreamWorks Records, who finds that the group's zany marketing schemes make doing business more fun. "They dress up on holidays and deliver thematic CDsdrinking songs on St. Patrick's Day, love songs on Valentine's Day," Jones says. "One time, they were in chicken outfits, which was hysterical."
This element of fun is a welcome antidote to the competitiveness of the current music publishing scene in Nashville. "I think our camaraderie helps compensate for the state our business is in," Tracy Gershon of High Seas Music says. Big Picture Entertainment's Judy Harris shares Gershon's view: "Nothing mattered until the money got big, and then people started thinking, 'We can't be happy for each other because that would mean I'm losing money.' And that's so sad."
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