Downtown is financing a product for an artist affiliated with one of its rivals. "It is way out of the norm," says Downtown's Steve Markland. "Most publishers don't have the opportunity to jump in, fund an album release."
When singer-songwriter Lucie Silvas played a rooftop concert at BMI's Nashville office on May 22, Brothers Osborne guitarist John Osborne was mesmerized stage left, banging out the rhythms and running through the fingerings as the sound pushed out the speakers in front of him.
It's understandable that Osborne was into the performance -- he and Silvas celebrated their third wedding anniversary earlier in June -- but he's hardly alone in his enthusiasm. She has been heartily embraced by members of Nashville's creative community -- including Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and Charlie Worsham -- and employed as an opening act by such stark individualists as Chris Stapleton, Little Big Town and Miranda Lambert.
Those concert dates helped Silvas finance her fourth album, E.G.O., a genre-busting, 12-song project that speaks volumes about the community spirit in Nashville. Recorded with a studio band that included drummer Fred Eltringham, guitarist Derek Wells and multi-instrumentalist Ian Fitchuk, the project arrives Aug. 24, via Thirty Tigers, thanks to an unconventional business arrangement.
The marketing, which is usually overseen by a record company, is being funded by Downtown, a publishing company that has no label-services wing. But Downtown isn't taking that risk to placate one of its staff writers. Silvas is signed to BMG Music Publishing; thus Downtown is essentially stepping into a role that is not part of its day-to-day business to finance a product for an artist affiliated with one of its rivals.
"It's something that hasn't happened before, not that I'm aware of -- certainly not in Nashville," notes Silvas.
Downtown Nashville senior vp A&R Steve Markland led the charge after Silvas' Los Angeles-based manager, Storefront Entertainment president/founder Jon Leshay, sent him a link to E.G.O. Markland thought it was a Grammy-quality project and became obsessed.
"This music really just motivated me to jump onboard and find a way to get involved with it," says Markland. "It is way out of the norm. Most publishers don't have the opportunity to jump in and fund an album release, you know? But it purely was just hearing this music. I couldn't get over it, I couldn't quit listening to it, and when I didn't have access to it immediately, I just kept thinking about it. It was kind of torturing me."
Downtown's upper management in New York bought into it, too, when Markland introduced the album to them. So Downtown now hopes to recoup its investment from traditional label revenue sources -- album sales, streams and licensing -- though BMG will still collect the fees from songwriter revenue and licensing.
The arrangement was born of necessity, the often-cited mother of invention. Leshay initially took a more traditional route as he tried to find a label partner, but Silvas' borderless approach didn't align with record-company realities in Nashville. The album's mix of country, pop, traditional soul and garage-band rock evokes comparisons to Dusty Springfield, The Black Keys and Adele, making it a bit out of the box for the classic Music Row label.
"The response was overwhelmingly like 'Holy shit, what the fuck is this?' " says Leshay. "But there were really no bites because, you know, these people are there to get their record played on traditional country radio."
Downtown was better suited to take a shot at it. The publishing company counts John Prine, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson among its writers, so it has an affinity for artists in the freewheeling Americana genre. Additionally, Markland's wife, StringLight Marketing owner Deb Markland, co-founded Thirty Tigers with David Macias in 2001, so Steve Markland was able to envision how the Downtown/Thirty Tigers partnership with Silvas could work.
In some ways, it's a full-circle culmination of Silvas' creative journey. After signing for a time to a major label in the United Kingdom, she visited Nashville for the first time in 2007 at the urging of longtime friend Jon Green, a songwriter-producer-musician whose résumé runs the gamut from Cassadee Pope to James Bay to Linkin Park. Green thought Silvas would find like-minded creative types in Music City, and she actually met Markland during that first visit.
"I had so much respect for him immediately," she says. "You see the way some people conduct themselves, the way people operate, and he's so passionate about the music and the artists around him. That always struck me from the beginning."
Green produced E.G.O., which could have realistically been self-released and marketed to Silvas' existing fan base, but Leshay was adamant about finding business partners who had the financial resources and/or marketing expertise to widen the album's exposure. "I feel like we would be remiss if we didn't take on as much genuine and truthful support as possible," he says.
Portions of E.G.O. have an obvious connection to Nashville's country core, including the twang-tipped ballad "My Old Habits" and the slinky "Smoking Your Weed," co-written by Osborne. The cinematic "Girls From California," soulful "Everything Looks Beautiful" and Duffy-like "Kite" illustrate its wide stylistic reach. Appropriately, her tour schedule has Silvas playing multigenre events or opening for boundary-pushing acts: She will join Lady Antebellum, Chris Janson and The Nashville Symphony at the Let Freedom Sing! Fourth of July concert in Nashville; will play Dierks Bentley's Seven Peaks Festival in Colorado on Sept. 1; will open for Cam at the Ryman Auditorium on Sept. 26; and will hit the Austin City Limits Festival on Oct. 13.
Silvas avoids labeling herself a country artist -- "I would never presume to call myself anything," she says -- but she has made an album that defies categorization in a city that's known as a country capital with a communal spirit. It's that supportive nature that drove her to move to Music City and informs both the music on E.G.O. and the unorthodox business arrangement with Downtown.
"This is the most creative environment I have ever come across," she says. "It could have been any genre of music, but I wanted to be part of it because I could see there was so much talent and vibrancy."