Ronnie Dunn has formed a new publishing company, Perfect Pitch Publishing.
The award-winning country hitmaker has signed four writers, including Thomas Perkins, who co-wrote Dunn’s new single, “Broken Neon Hearts.” Out Friday (Feb. 11), the song, written with Dunn and Matt Willis, is the first taste of Dunn’s fifth solo album, 100 Proof Neon, due this summer.
Dunn will continue to write for his own Showbilly Music, which houses his hits with Brooks & Dunn, while Perfect Pitch finds him signing and mentoring young writers. In addition to Perkins, the roster includes Hayden Baker, Dakota Striplin and Ariel Boetel.
Dunn, who has won 28 ACM Awards, 19 CMA Awards and two Grammys as one half of legendary country duo Brooks & Dunn with Kix Brooks, says he has wanted to launch this venture for a long time. “Kix and I have talked for years about starting a publishing company but didn’t have the time. We were traveling and putting all the time we had into Brooks & Dunn to really do it right,” he tells Billboard over Zoom.
Former Big Machine exec Braden Carney comes aboard as exec vp of general operations, while Dunn’s daughter Haley is vp of writer and artist relations. “We’re bare bones on purpose,” he says. “I don’t want to have all that overhead and stuff involved. At the end of the day, I can pick the songs. I can afford to pay the writers and we can pitch them. It’s pretty much Braden and a couple other young ones running through here.”
He relies on Kobalt Music to handle Showbilly administration and will utilize them for Perfect Pitch as well. “We can focus on the creativity, make that happen and hand it off,” Dunn says.
Dunn is enjoying his role as a mentor. “I can be the coach and they’ll play this stuff and I’d go, ‘Okay I’ll tell you what I’d change that line, I would tighten it up, The hook’s not good enough,’ or whatever. It’s fun to just come in and beat them down and then build them back up,” he says with a mischievous laugh. “They’ll go, ‘Where is it wrong? and I’ll go, ‘I’ll give you a hint, but it’s not for me to tell you all that stuff, you’re supposed to learn.’ So we just nudge them along and do songwriter development.”
Dunn credits Haley with encouraging him to focus on newer writers. “I signed Dakota Striplin who — I know this is almost a kiss of death to say this — was the runner-up on the Australian Voice. But this kid is a fabulous singer,” Dunn says. “Haley was in the [Nashville] airport and she hears this tremendous voice singing at 6 o’clock in the morning. People were cheering and clapping. He’s in there entertaining at Tootsie’s and had everybody on their feet going crazy.’ She kept hounding me about him and I said, ‘Let’s have a chat with him.’”
Dunn hopes to provide an environment for new writers to grow like he did during his lengthy tenure with Sony/ATV (now Sony Music Publishing). “Donna Hilley called early in the game when Tim [DuBois] was starting Arista,” Dunn says of the late publishing legend who ran Sony precursor, Tree. “She called me in Oklahoma and said that Tim had played her some songs that I had written. She said, ‘I want to give you a publishing deal over here.’ We packed a U-Haul and moved to Nashville. June Carter Cash gave us a place to live for a year.”
Dunn’s Showbilly Music was initially a co-publishing deal with Tree, but Dunn has since acquired 100% of his publishing rights. “All of the Brooks & Dunn stuff that I had written reverted back to me a few years ago from Sony,” he explains. “I think when they negotiated that last deal they didn’t expect me to last or be around long enough for it to matter, so I ended up getting it back.”
With all the recent news about artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Bob Dylan and Stevie Nicks selling their publishing catalogs, is Dunn tempted to sell? “Luckily I made enough money out there in the past not to have to do that kind of stuff,” he says — but that doesn’t mean he’s not open to the idea. “It’s a hot topic right now with all the catalog sales… It’s hard not to at least look at the numbers. So it’s being considered. Offers are on the table, but it’s hard to make that assessment because then it gets into a tax issue versus capital gains, and do you want to hang onto that stuff? I don’t know. I think if the numbers are right, it makes sense at certain spots in your career, according to age and what you want to do. I don’t want to spoil my kids anymore than they are already spoiled,” he grins.
In addition to launching the new publishing venture, Dunn will be busy this year touring with Brooks & Dunn and releasing the new solo album. “We’re almost finished. We just went through the first phase of mastering,” he says of his new project. “The beauty of streaming is you can keep running at it. You’re not in a cycle like you are on a label, where you’re having to wait for all the other traffic to clear before you can do your move and do your thing. It’s like being completely untethered, and that’s a dream come true for me as an artist.”
Dunn says he’s releasing “Broken Neon Hearts” first because “it sets the tone of the album. The world of music that I come from revolves on two-steppers, waltzes and shuffles. Back in those bars and clubs in Oklahoma and Texas, if you didn’t get them to dance, you couldn’t keep your job and I don’t want to lose that. It worked for me in the day, and it still does, so I’m good with doing that.”
After doing a Las Vegas residency for seven years, Brooks & Dunn will be touring more extensively this summer. “You should never say never,” he notes of initially being skeptical that Brooks & Dunn would ever tour again. “I was the last guy that said, ‘This is it.’ I didn’t want to do a farewell tour, all that corny stuff, didn’t want to do any of it. [I said,] ‘Let’s just quit,’ but we got bored. Everybody does.
“I went out and tried in the off time to do everything that you could do,” he says of how he spent his time after Brooks & Dunn initially retired in 2010. “I bought tractors. I traveled to Africa. We went everywhere. Then I went, ‘Okay, okay I want to go back and sing again. I really do.’ It’s just fun and we’ve been lucky.”