As women artists continue to face an uphill battle at country radio, Nashville-based independent record label Big Loud is launching Songs & Daughters, an imprint devoted solely to signing female acts.
Hit songwriter and producer Nicolle Galyon will serve as president and run the label. Settling into a couch at the Alabaster Collective event space in Nashville’s historic Germantown section, Galyon, best known for co-writing such songs as Dan + Shay’s “Tequila” and Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic,” details the evolution of Songs & Daughters with Big Loud vp of marketing Candice Watkins and first signee, Madison Kozak.
Nearly nine months since the idea took shape, Galyon jokes they’re giving birth.
“It’s been nine months of keeping a secret and basically speaking in code about this idea,” Galyon tells Billboard. “Songs & Daughters is a female-focused record label, but even bigger than that, what [we’re] building is a brand: a music house for female creatives. It’s a way for me to use my platform and pass the baton onto the next generation of songwriters and artists. I want to create something that didn’t exist when I came to Nashville 17 years ago.”
Tonight, Songs & Daughters will hold its launch party in Nashville for the imprint to introduce Kozak, who signed with Big Loud’s publishing arm, Big Loud Shirt, last year, to the industry. Kozak, 22, has been in the studio with Joey Moi (Florida Georgia Line, Chris Lane), and her debut song “First Last Name” will be officially released on July 26 to DSPs with more new music to follow. “That song, that’s meant for poignant moments, you-can-hear-a-pin-drop moments,” Watkins says. “So we’re going to pursue elements that fit that vibe.”
The initial idea for the imprint started as a joke. Big Loud partner Seth England invited Galyon to a showcase for Kozak in hopes of setting up co-writes for the budding songwriter. As Kozak performed “First Last Name,” a heartfelt ballad she penned for her dad for Father’s Day, England saw tears streaming down Galyon’s face. Following the performance, he introduced the two to each other.
“I said, ‘Hi, I’m Nicolle Galyon and I just started a record label in my car on the way over here if you want to talk,’” Galyon recalls with a laugh. “Basically, it was kind of backhanded complimenting her: ‘Look, you are the real deal and everybody’s looking at you right now.’”
Over dinner one month later, England told Galyon she should seriously consider having her own label. “I really didn’t have to push the idea on her at all,” England says over the phone. “She was ready. This is Nicolle’s venture. This is her vision. Big Loud is there to support her and also to help service a new upstart label.”
While Songs & Daughters is the first label of its kind in Nashville, it isn’t the first time all-female label. In the early 1970s, several women founded Olivia Records in Washington, D.C. to highlight female artists and market music specifically to lesbians. Last year two of those founders, Judy Dlugacz and Cris Williamson, were honored at the 17th Americana Honors & Awards with the 2018 Jack Emerson lifetime achievement award. The label distributed over 40 albums and sold nearly one million records from its all-female roster including Williamson, Meg Christian and June Millington. More recently, in 2018, hip-hop act TT the Artist launched Club Queen Records in which all the employees as well as the artists are females, with a focus on women of color in hip-hop, dance and R&B.
While the lack of women on country radio is an ongoing conversation, England says it’s not something he’s worried about with the launch of Songs & Daughters. He hopes the new label imprint will be a statement that shows female artists are just as compelling as male artists.
“This is just a way to do our part,” he says. “We now have this opportunity and for anyone that was thinking certain things weren’t possible before, we want to help change that narrative. I refuse to believe we’re going to get held up if we do our jobs right.”
Galyon, meanwhile, says she wants to be deliberate with Songs & Daughters. “The mission is that we nurture both the art, which is the song, and the artist, which is the daughter. The person is just as important to me as the product,” she adds. “I want to work with Madison specifically because she already has her lane. She knows who she is. I’m not really here to develop someone.”
While there are no set radio plans yet, the team will research what songs connect with Kozak’s audience ahead of booking a radio tour. Signed to CAA for representation, Kozak has tour dates lined up with Willie Nelson, Morgan Wallen, Midland and Billy Currington throughout the fall.
Kozak grew up in Canada the second youngest of eight children and convinced her parents to let her move to Nashville as a teenager. At Songs & Daughters she’ll now be the oldest child of a growing roster and looks forward to working with Galyon, Watkins and everyone at Big Loud.
“It feels full circle with my background to come from a big family, small town, and then to connect with Nicolle who has the same upbringing,” Kozak says. “It feels like a very natural step to take with Big Loud. They have been watching from a distance the past year, letting me grow on my own with their help. I’m so grateful for their support and that it’s such a natural flow.”
While Songs & Daughters will be run by Galyon, the Big Loud team will assist with radio promotion and other needs. Galyon hopes Songs & Daughters changes the mindset at radio and the genre’s narrative by proving that there is more room for female acts.
“When I moved to Nashville, no one said it out loud, but it was kind of implied that there’s room for a girl. There is room for [just] one. Without ever saying it out loud just through action,” she recalls, before shifting to address Kozak. “You aren’t the girl; you will be one of so many down the road as we build this. Madison is our first daughter.”
Galyon, a mother of two, adds, “To me on a heart level, this is an extension of mothering. I want to help and grow these things that I love. It just comes natural as I grow in age too, to just see people that remind me of where I was and to go, ‘Come on, come with me. Let’s go do this,’ because I didn’t feel that way when I moved to Nashville.”