Ashley Gorley's Publishing Venture Enters New Territory With Avenue Beat Debut

Ashley Gorley
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Ashley Gorley speaks onstage during the 56th Annual ASCAP Country Music Awards on Nov. 12, 2018 in Nashville, Tenn. 

When Valory released the self-titled debut EP by new female act Avenue Beat on July 26, it was perhaps a career-defining moment for the Illinois-bred trio, but it also represents a new track for the Kentucky-born executive behind the band.

Avenue Beat marks the first joint venture label deal for Tape Room, a publishing company founded by ace songwriter Ashley Gorley ("Dirt on My Boots," "Living") in 2011. If this expansion into new territory follows suit with Gorley's history, it would be the beginning of something big.

Gorley has piled up 34 No. 1 country singles in Billboard as a songwriter, stretching from Trace Adkins' 2007 single "You're Gonna Miss This" to Lee Brice's 2019 chart-topper "Rumor," and nabbed ASCAP's country songwriter of the year honor a record six times. Tape Room has published 16 Billboard No. 1s, including a number of titles -- such as Sam Hunt's "Body Like a Back Road" and Kane Brown's "Lose It" -- penned by staff writers without Gorley's assistance.

It took eight years from Tape Room's founding to get to this space, but artist development was always a goal when he first created the firm as a joint venture with Combustion Music and Warner Chappell Nashville.

"It's kind of expanding, or bringing to light, all the things I always wanted to be involved in," says Gorley, seated in front of an electric keyboard in a suite of second-floor offices that Tape Room rents from Shane McAnally's SMACKSongs. "Even when I first got out of college and was trying to figure out if I would have a place in the music business or not, there was always some writing, some production, some publishing, some mentoring and some working with artists and labels and stuff like that. So it was just more of a matter of the order where I felt like I could commit."

Gorley, who is actually a staff writer for Round Hill Music, isn't the only songwriter who has parlayed musical success into some form of a Nashville empire, but his mix of creative savvy and business acumen is a rare combination among the genre's composers.

"He'd probably be in Silicon Valley creating a new start-up right now if he weren't a songwriter," says writer-producer Ross Copperman ("I Lived It," "Get Along"). "He's that kind of dude. We always joked that he'd be running a bank in Nashville if he weren't a songwriter."

In fact, songwriting was not even the goal when Corley set out from Danville, Ky., to enroll in the music business program at Nashville's Belmont University. A year or two in, songwriting's lack of a 9-to-5 routine appealed to him, and he embarked on a series of internships at roughly seven different publishing company "tape rooms" (thus the name of his company), where he learned how songs got matched -- or failed to get matched -- to artists. He wrote after hours, and his rural upbringing paid dividends in the material. Living 35 miles outside of Lexington, he and his high school friends were close enough to a big city to hear music in multiple popular formats, from Dr. Dre to Nirvana. But country's story-songs made a huge impression, too, and the various genres would find a way into his material as he recounted the field parties and farm work that were part of small-town life.

"People that aren't from those towns think these country songs don't really happen," says Gorley. "I've done every one of those things that are in the songs, so that's just truth. You're writing truth with a little bit of musical experimentation, so the mix of that kind of brought me to where I am now."

That mix is well represented among his No. 1 hits. Darius Rucker's "It Won't Be Like This for Long" and Carrie Underwood's "All-American Girl" incorporate blue-collar storytelling. Luke Bryan's "Kick the Dust Up" and Joe Nichols' "Yeah" bring the field parties to life. Bryan's "I See You" and Jason ­Aldean's "Just Gettin' Started" reflect Gorley's rock roots. Thomas Rhett's "Life Changes" and Dan + Shay's "Nothin' on You" utilize his pop/R&B influences.

"I can talk about the countryiest things ever, but I can also talk about the craziest kind of music ever in the same conversation," says Gorley. "I'm glad that God had that in store for me to soak that up."

When Gorley opened Tape Room, he approached it with a notable patience. He signed Zach Crowell ("Cop Car," "Dirty Laundry") as the first staff writer and waited to ink another until Crowell had developed.

"I set out the goal to try to bat 1.000 and feel like writer one was on their way to success before even signing writer two and three and so on," says Gorley. "It was a different thing than trying to run a big company and sign a ton of writers and have two or three of their successes carry the rest."

That allowed Gorley to give Crowell his full attention before he expanded the writing staff. "He would be brutally honest," recalls Crowell. "If it was really good he would tell me, and if it was really bad he would tell me. I was a big boy about it and didn't complain, took his notes and kept chipping away and climbing the ladder into bigger rooms."

The three Avenue Beat members bring Tape Room's current roster to 10 writers, including hit composers Brad Clawson ("Up Down"), Matt ­Jenkins ("Song for Another Time") and Will Weatherly ("Good As You"). The management team remains small, led by GM Blain Rhodes, vp creative Kelly Bolton and office manager Emily Foltz. Tape Room is also developing singer-songwriters Hunter Phelps ("Talk You Out of It") and Conner Smith as artists.

"Anybody that piques my interest is doing things that I can't sit down and do or [ making me think], 'I've never heard that idea before,' or 'That sounds like something I'd want to stream and go to the show and watch,' " he says. "They have different perspectives, their songs are really good, and they're all coachable."

That last point stands out. Avenue Beat's members often call Gorley "coach," appropriate for a creative talent who has built a remarkable portfolio as a writer, publisher and now label partner.

"I want to be able to disappear into the background," he says. "That's me doing my job if Thomas Rhett sings a song or Avenue Beat puts this record out, and I'm not [obviously] in there. If you dig long enough, maybe you'll find out that I had something to do with that working, but it's really them -- [I] just help them find their voice. That's what a good writer does."