Things occasionally don’t work out as planned, as singer-songwriter Shannon Brown has learned, but she’s optimistic that the time is now right for her music.
More than eight years after releasing her debut single, Shannon Brown’s Warner Bros. album, Corn Fed, arrived in stores this week. Produced by Big & Rich’s John Rich, Corn Fed qualifies as her debut album only because two other major label projects — an Arista Nashville album originally slated to arrive in 1999 and another BNA collection recorded in 2001 — were never even released.
Brown’s story dispels the myth that music artists can expect to see all their troubles vanish if they can only land that deal with a major record label. In her case, she got lost in the shuffle after management changes and consolidation within the RCA Label Group and its three labels — Arista, BNA and RCA. Granted, artists don’t get lost at a label if they’re scoring Top 10 singles. Unfortunately, none of Brown’s three singles for Arista and BNA charted higher than No. 40.
“I don’t necessarily feel like an underdog,” Brown tells CMT.com. “I know there are a lot of people out there rooting for me. It’s kind of the beast of the business. I did feel like I have to work a little harder to prove myself because I’ve had a ’past’ at other record companies. But that wasn’t really about me. It was more about the situation, the timing. We didn’t have the right music. There wasn’t the right team of people.”
The right team began to emerge after Brown and her husband, video director Shaun Silva, ran into Rich at the 2004 CMT Flameworthy Awards show. Brown and Silva, who had received a Flameworthy nomination for his work with Kenny Chesney, were invited to move closer to the stage just before the show began.
“Well, who wouldn’t want to move forward?” Brown laughs. When Brown found herself seated near Big & Rich, she began talking to Rich, an old acquaintance who had shared an unremarkable solo career while on the BNA roster. Before long, Rich was telling her about the songs he’d written and talking about producing her album.
“By the end of the night, he had me so fired up and my manager so fired up,” Brown recalls. “We didn’t have anything to lose, and he felt like he could really get the job done. And I believed him, and he was right. My management ended up paying for the demo we did together. We cut three sides, and all three sides went on the record. It was meant to be.”
Brown, a native of Spirit Lake, Iowa, co-wrote seven of the 12 songs on Corn Fed, including the upcoming single, “Pearls.” Brown said Rich didn’t listen to her unreleased albums before they began working on the Warner Bros. project.
“I just wanted a kick-butt record,” Brown says when asked about her objectives for the album. “I wanted it to be a musical journey, something where every song was different. I wanted it to be so unique and so different. It’s a risk doing that, but, for me, I had nothing to lose. I tried to do it the other way, and it didn’t work. Now, I’m just going to do it my way, on my terms, with somebody who encourages me.”
Brown also received some encouragement from Keith Urban, who offered to play guitar on her album. “But we could never get our schedules to match up,” she says. “I was a little disappointed that we couldn’t make it work out.”
The album starts out with the sound of an AM radio being moved from frequency to frequency as it hits on static, a farm report and a tiny snippet of the country classic, “Satin Sheets.” As it turns out, those few seconds of the song were provided by Martina McBride’s husband, recording engineer John McBride, while he was working on his wife’s latest album, Timeless.
“John came into the studio and said, ’Hey, I’m mixing “Satin Sheets.” Would you like to have a snippet of that? Wouldn’t it be so cool to put just a couple of seconds of it on the record?’ I was like, ’Yeah!’ I mean, Martina is one of my heroes and someone I highly respect and admire. It just worked perfectly.”
As is the case for most newcomers — even newcomers who have been around for a few years — Brown’s plans for the remainder of the year will largely depend on the success of the album and the upcoming singles.
“I’ve recorded enough music to make three albums, and this is my first album to be released in stores,” she says. “So that’s a feat in itself, to me.”