Having hit music videos was a big factor in launching the careers of rising stars Luke Bryan and Chuck Wicks, the two singer-songwriters told entertainment business students at Nashville’s Belmont University.
Bryan’s “All My Friends Say” and Wicks’ “Stealing Cinderella” are both candidates for the 2008 CMT Music Awards USA Weekend breakthrough video of the year. The other nominees in the category are Bucky Covington’s “A Different World” and Kellie Pickler’s “I Wonder.” The CMT Music Awards will be presented Monday (April 14) at 8 p.m. ET. Billy Ray Cyrus and Miley Cyrus will host the show live from The Curb Event Center at Belmont.
Harry Chapman, Belmont’s director of development and major gifts, moderated the conversation, which took place April 2 as part of The Insider’s View, a seminar series presented by the Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business.
Bryan noted that when a record company — in his case, Capitol Nashville — invests in a music video, it tells radio programmers the label really supports the artist.
Wicks pointed out that a video tags a face to the song people are hearing on the radio. “A video puts all the dots together,” he said. “People can feel that they know you.” The movie-star handsome RCA artist observed that his audiences got “younger and younger” as his video got more airplay.
Now that career-breaking videos can be seen on the Internet, Bryan concluded, “It’s almost like radio takes a little bit of a back seat [in breaking artists].”
The two singers joked good-naturedly with each other throughout the session. After the video for “Stealing Cinderella” had been played, in which Wicks has a kissing scene, Bryan complained, “I didn’t get me any sugar in my video.” Wicks responded that “getting sugar” isn’t all that much fun when your girlfriend is on the set watching the action.
Bryan and Wicks each co-wrote 10 of the 11 songs on their debut albums. “You’ve got to write a hundred songs to get 10 good ones,” Wicks mused. “Two hundred for me,” Bryan corrected. Wicks’ album is titled Starting Now, Bryan’s I’ll Stay Me.
Both men spoke about the importance of being songwriters. Bryan’s big breakthrough as a writer came when Billy Currington recorded his “Good Directions” and took it to No. 1. Bryan said he had recorded the song for his own album but decided to drop it after Currington’s version did so well.
Being the writer of a hit helped him on the tour he took of radio stations just before his album was released, Bryan continued. If the programmers were initially indifferent about meeting him, he said, they perked up when they discovered his link to “Good Directions.”
Wicks confessed he was surprised at how enthusiastically his label reacted to his songs. “Everything I wrote from the day I got signed got on [my album],” he said.
Bryan said Capitol told him and his producer up front that it wanted to do an album of his own songs. “It let us be confident in what we were doing,” he noted.
Breaking into the music business had its discouragements, the singers agreed. Wicks said he lost his first development deal (in which a label invests in sample recordings) two days after he moved to Nashville.
“I got passed over by everybody a couple of times,” Bryan admitted. “Looking back, I really wasn’t ready [for a record deal]. It was kind of premature.”
One of Wicks’ jobs while he was looking for a recording contract was parking cars at a Nashville steak house. He said that Brad Paisley, with whom he now tours, once tipped him $50.
Bryan, who has toured with Trace Adkins and will open later this year for Kenny Chesney, said, “What you learn out on the road is that these people are the best people on earth.”
Chapman asked the singers where they were when they first heard their songs being played on radio. Both noted that, strictly speaking, they probably first heard them when they were touring radio stations and the DJs played their records as a courtesy.
Apart from such contrived situations, Wicks recalled first hearing his song played when he was on Nolensville Road in Nashville, driving to the airport. “Before I heard the first note,” he admitted, “I was crying like a little girl.”
For Bryan, the shining moment came after he had just finished singing on the Grand Ole Opry and was driving down Briley Parkway near the Opry House.
Wicks told the crowd his first and main artistic influence was Alan Jackson and that the first record he ever bought was a Jackson album. Bryan listed Ronnie Milsap, Conway Twitty and Alabama’s Randy Owen as his chief role models.
Addressing would-be artists in the audience on how to handle success, Bryan advised, “Don’t get caught up in the hype.” Said Wicks, “Know who you are as a singer and a songwriter.” He added that he achieved that awareness in the process of writing his first album.