Toby Keith believes that he knows the kind of music his fans like to hear — even if he’s not the singer.
The desire to introduce his favorite new artists to the public is a primary reason he has launched his own record label, Show Dog Records.
In an interview with CMT Insider prior to a Nashville press conference on Wednesday (Aug. 31), Keith said that when he hears a great song, he wants “the world that I play for every night” to tune in, too.
“I’m like a music reviewer, in a way,” he explained. “I’m saying, ‘Let me introduce you to this.’ Or ‘I’m your chef. Let me prepare you something else.’ I only get three singles a year under the current conditions I’m operating under. You put an album out, you get three singles and move on to the next album. It doesn’t really get to spread out my energy like I want it to.”
Keith’s staff at Show Dog will be shared with another new label, Big Machine Records, run by former DreamWorks executive Scott Borchetta. They will operate under the umbrella of Show Dog Nashville. Keith will record for Show Dog Records, as will his frequent writing partner, Scotty Emerick. Big Machine’s label roster includes Jack Ingram and newcomers Danielle Peck and Taylor Swift. Universal Music Group Distribution will serve both labels.
“I would encourage people to think of this as one label with two A&R sources,” Borchetta told CMT Insider. “Toby’s the lead act, and we’ve got an incredible opportunity with all the resources that he brings and the music that he loves and his vision for what he wants to do.”
Prior to the labels’ launch, their associates needed some convincing that such an unusual business model could work.
“The first thing they said was, ‘No, no, no, that’ll never work, that’ll never work,’” Keith recalled. “And then a day later, they realized we weren’t talking about the same kind of [business] that they’re normally hearing about here in town. They viewed it, and then my accountants, my attorneys, my street team and my own personal staff came back and said, ‘You know what? This makes all the sense in the world. This is so whacked out, it’s brilliant!’ … About three days later, they said, ‘I fully support it. I fully support it,’ right down the line.”
Keith is notorious on Music Row for criticizing his previous record label, Mercury Nashville. After some major financial negotiation, Keith moved to the then-independent DreamWorks Nashville in 1999. The new label introduced the single, “How Do You Like Me Now?!” — which Mercury had refused to release — and Keith subsequently emerged as the most-played country artist so far this decade.
Last year, DreamWorks shifted to Universal Music Group, joining the MCA Nashville, Mercury Nashville and Lost Highway labels. Most of Keith’s allies were laid off in the merger. Those employees at the label group who remained tried to change his marketing strategy, he said. After Keith’s departure, DreamWorks announced its closing on Thursday (Sept. 1), the same day that Show Dog Nashville opened for business. Several artists who had been on the DreamWorks’ roster — including Hanna-McEuen, Hot Apple Pie and Darryl Worley — are expected to be moved to one of UMG’s other country labels.
Keith owed UMG one more album as part of his DreamWorks contract, but he said it will now be released as a joint venture between Show Dog and UMG. His subsequent albums will be released under the Show Dog imprint only.
Keith says he doesn’t even have a desk at Show Dog’s offices, although he was quick to point out he deposited a $5 million check to launch the label. And he’s adamant that in his new role, he won’t be a hypocrite.
“I won’t be that guy that I was running from,” he said. “I’m not going to go in and be the big fat guy with the cigar with his feet kicked up. I’m an artist, and I’ve got a big career that I need to go work. All I’m doing is changing the place that my music sells. You’ll still go to the same stores. It will still be distributed by the same people. It will just be created and come through a different set of books. That’s the only thing that changes.”
CMT News producer Robin Richardson contributed to this report.