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Indie Publisher SMACKSongs Takes Winding Road to the Heart of Music Row

You couldn't blame songwriter-producers Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne if they talked smack after the Academy of Country Music Awards nominations came out March 1.

You couldn’t blame songwriter-producers Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne if they talked smack after the Academy of Country Music Awards nominations came out March 1.

They share a song of the year nomination as co-writers on Sam Hunt‘s “Body Like a Back Road” and a single of the year nomination as co-producers of Midland‘s “Drinkin’ Problem,” and also compete against each other for songwriter of the year. McAnally snagged additional nominations as the producer of Old Dominion‘s album of the year finalist Happy Endings and co-writer of the Keith Urban-recorded song of the year contender “Female.” All of that has transpired as their indie publishing company, SMACKSongs, settles improbably into its new Music Row digs at the corner of 16th Avenue and Edgehill in Nashville.

“The things that are going on for us right now, it’s crazy,” says McAnally in his office, awash in the scent of newly built success.

The nominations are, in fact, just a starting point for the company’s activity. SMACKSongs held the No. 1 position on Hot Country Songs for 39 consecutive weeks during the 2017 calendar year as “Body Like a Back Road” set a record with its 34-week run at the top, and the Kane Brown/Lauren Alaina duet “What Ifs,” co-written by Smack writer Matthew McGinn, tacked on another five weeks. Old Dominion just collected its third straight ACM nomination for vocal group of the year with two of its members, Matthew Ramsey and Trevor Rosen, signed to the roster. And Walker Hayes turned the Macklemore-like phrasing of “You Broke Up With Me” into a left-field country hit. Hayes is both a publishing and management client at SMACKSongs, and he’s signed to Monument, where McAnally serves as co-president alongside Sandbox Management founder Jason Owen.

It doesn’t stop there.

“We’ve started to dip our toe into television and competition and scripted shows that we have in the works that we’re producing,” says SMACKSongs president Michael McAnally Baum, who is also McAnally’s spouse. “Every way that music can be exploited is definitely something that we’re up for exploring.”


That fast-growing, wide-ranging impact is a reflection of the open attitude at the heart of the McAnally/Baum/Osborne ownership.

“You walk into a company on Music Row, and you have to prove to them that you’re going to succeed,” says Osborne. “Here at Smack, you have to prove to them you’re going to fail.”

But the three owners have reason to feel confidence. McAnally earned his the hard way. After initially attempting an artist career in Nashville, he ended up in Los Angeles, where his publisher folded and he lost his house in the home mortgage crisis in the late 2000s.

“I probably had a series of what would be considered nervous breakdowns,” he says. “That was a very dark period.”

As he moved back to Nashville, McAnally got an assist from Anchor Down Entertainment creative director Robin Palmer (now SMACKSongs senior vp creative), who helped land his “Last Call” in the hands of Lee Ann Womack, who took it to No. 14. Following Baum’s advice, McAnally held out before signing away the publishing, and as he waited, he got another hit when Kenny Chesney cut “Somewhere With You.” Suddenly, he had the ability to self-publish, thus keeping all the revenue from his copyrights. It’s a scenario that few songwriters experience.

Baum, who  was based in Atlanta at the time, had helped a financial executive turn a two-person operation into a five-state enterprise with more than 100 employees, and he guided McAnally through the economics of his fledgling company. Baum knew almost nothing about the music business when he started, so he wasn’t constricted by established industry norms. Having grown a firm before, he emboldened McAnally to increasingly take chances, which became easier as his songwriting revenue grew behind such titles as The Band Perry‘s “Better Dig Two,” Luke Bryan‘s “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” and Jake Owen‘s “Alone With You.”

Osborne had his own long road to hit status. He was in Nashville 12 years before he landed a cut as a songwriter and two more before he earned his first No. 1, but then the hits started coming fast. Many were co-written with McAnally — including Kacey Musgraves‘ “Merry Go ‘Round” and Hunt’s “Take Your Time” — and McAnally and Baum offered him a stake in Smack when his contract with Black River Publishing was up for renewal.

“They are better together than they are individually,” says Baum. “A plus B equals F with these guys.”


Osborne saw the move as an opportunity to mentor younger writers and to enter an area of the business he never thought was possible.

“My main motivation for coming here was my belief in Shane and Michael,” he says. “My career was already rolling, and I was at a point where, honestly, if I’d never had another hit I could have lived with it. I had the luxury to take a chance, and this was the kind of thing I wanted to take a chance on.”

Baum found the new Smack house, the former home for Jim Owens Productions, through a realtor before the property was listed, and its location — a crossroads between Music Row and the emerging Edgehill neighborhood — seemed appropriate. The structure was gutted and remodeled with big, open spaces, reflective of their attitude toward the business and the neighborhood.

“The building used to be so dark,” says Baum. “It was really a catacomb of small rooms that all had a purpose in its various lives. It had been a gas station, an auto-repair shop, a dry cleaner, then it was a TV production studio, so it had all these little areas that at one point were probably very useful. But one of the first things we wanted to do was really open it up, so when you do walk in, you can see all the way through the building. I think we wanted to have an idea of what Edgehill was, and we wanted to marry that to Music Row, too.”

In a coincidental stroke, the property lies across the street from Craig Wiseman‘s Big Loud, a songwriter-driven indie publishing company that has expanded into management and a record label behind its successes with Florida Georgia Line, Chris Lane and Morgan Wallen. As work transpired on the SMACKSongs building, a banner across the fence ticked off the weeks that “Body Like a Back Road” spent at No. 1. It surpassed the Big Loud copyright “Cruise” to set the all-time chart-topping mark, though the signage purposely did not face Big Loud.

“They didn’t have to have it screaming at them all day long,” says Baum. “We’re good neighbors.”

In fact, there’s a bit of camaraderie between the two companies. Wiseman has been known to call McAnally to see what’s up when he spies an artist park at the SMACKSongs lot. In turn, McAnally lists Big Loud among a handful of indie publishers that inspired his own company’s growth. The building, coupled with the ACM nominations and the stability afforded by Osborne and Baum, finally has McAnally breathing a little easier about the unpredictable road he chose.

“I’ve enjoyed this building like I never thought I would,” he says. “I feel like we are cultivating a world of creativity and giving people a place. Before this, everything nice always felt like it would go away. This doesn’t.”