The Highs and Lows of Being A Power Couple in Nashville's Country Music Industry

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Katie Kauss
Michael McAnally Baum and Shane McAnally

Married for almost six years, hit songwriter and producer Shane McAnally and Michael McAnally Baum share a home, the parenting of two 5-year-old children and a business, the music publishing, production and management firm SMACK, which they jointly run. They also both work with country artist Walker Hayes, who is managed by Baum and signed to Monument Records, where McAnally is co-president.

Although both McAnally and Baum have Hayes’ best interests at heart, they don’t always agree on what those interests are. “When I’m running a record label that an artist he manages is on, there are obviously going to be some [difficult] conversations at home that aren’t things that normal couples have to deal with,” says McAnally. “It’s not so hard that I’d change it, but there are times when we say, ‘We probably shouldn’t be having this conversation at home.’”

Welcome to the sometimes complicated world of Nashville’s power couples. Given the relatively small, close knit country music industry and its 24/7 work ethic, there are quite a few of them, including Scott and Sandi Borchetta, respectively, the president/CEO and senior vp creative at Big Machine Label Group. Other couples wielding influence in country music include Grand Ole Opry GM Sally Williams and CAA agent Brad Bissell; songwriter/producer Luke Laird and Beth Laird, who co-own Creative Nation, where she is CEO; Girlilla Marketing CEO Jennie Smythe and Average Joes Entertainment CEO Shannon Houchins, and at least six others counted by Billboard.

And though conflicts do arise over competing business interests and uneven career trajectories, power-couple spouses say that the benefits far outweigh the challenges.

Chief among them is having a partner who understands the unpredictable and, at times, chaotic nature of the business, as well as having someone who can empathize with the highs and lows that come with creative careers.

“You’re either living life at 10 or one. There’s no middle ground,” says Martha Earls, owner of efg Management and manager of rising star Kane Brown. She is married to Kent Earls, vp/GM of Brown's music publisher, Universal Music Group Nashville, and she says being wed to a fellow power player in the same industry means, “You have somebody who understands the nature of what we do.”

“We know the demands of the music industry, so there’s no misconception that there won't be late-night phone conversations and emails, [and working] weekends,” agrees Amazon Music's senior label relations manager Kelly Rich, who’s married to Big Machine Label Group COO Andrew Kautz.

The personal and professional often blur in the music industry, and SESAC vp creative services Shannan Hatch says that having a spouse in the business makes it easier for both to navigate that fuzzy boundary. She and her husband, hit songwriter (and SESAC affiliate) Rob Hatch, are used to attending industry events together but working the room separately without worrying about the other feeling neglected. It also means that when Rob gets a last-minute call to go on the road with an artist who wants to collaborate, the couple doesn't squabble over fitting the gig into Shannan and their kids’ schedules.

Shannan says their family life works because they both understand that “nothing is a normal day in the music business.”

Spouses Nicolle Galyon and Rodney Clawson are among Nashville’s top songwriters, and Galyon says having similar careers actually makes life easier, even when one’s work directly impacts the other. “One of the most beautiful things is that [Clawson] has had heartbreaks when I’ve had highs, and I’ve had heartbreaks while he’s had highs,” Galyon says. “We’ve learned from each other who to be on either side of that. I don’t have to explain how it feels when a song doesn’t make the record because he knows.”

She recalls the time that Clawson’s “American Kids” became the lead single on Kenny Chesney’s The Big Revival, while a song of Galyon’s originally slated to be a single was cut from the album entirely. On Chesney’s next LP, Cosmic Hallelujah, Galyon’s “All the Pretty Girls” was chosen as a single, while Clawson came up empty. Galyon adds that people who don't know them will sometimes assume she and Clawson are competitive over cuts, but that’s not the case. “We’re really competitive with everyone but each other,” she says. “If it’s not going to happen for me, who else in the whole world would I want it to happen for? It’s really cool to have somebody else to be excited about.

But as McAnally noted, power couples can sometimes find themselves on opposing sides when they work together. In the case of Kent and Martha Earls, they're usually on the same page when it comes to Brown, but if he has a single out that he didn't write -- like "Heaven," for instance -- it puts Kent in a position of having other songs he publishes competing with it on the charts. “When you’re not playing on the same team, which happens sometimes, that makes things much harder,” says Martha, adding that it “can lead to frustrating conversations.”

Amazon’s Rich says another downside of being half of a power couple is that some people incorrectly assume she and Kautz share business secrets or confidential information. “Sometimes there’s this perception that we have pillow talk about those things,” she says with a laugh, but “there are certain things that we don’t discuss.”

Despite the complications, when the victories do come, Earls says, “It’s fun to be excited about the same thing and celebrate together.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2 issue of Billboard.