What’s Ahead for Tim McGraw After Clash With Label?

Artist Charges Third Greatest Hits Release Is a Ploy to Extend Contract

Tim McGraw’s complaint earlier this week that Curb Records released his third greatest hits album to extend the length of his recording contract raises the question of what McGraw may do once his current contract ends.

Will he renegotiate with Curb for better terms? (A long shot, given the escalating enmity that apparently exists between the two parties.) Seek another major label deal? Or possibly record on his own label, just as Toby Keith has done with remarkable success?

Neither Curb chief Dennis Hannon nor McGraw’s manager, Scott Siman, would talk directly to CMT.com on this matter. But Siman did delegate McGraw’s publicist, Jessie Schmidt, to speak on his behalf, and Hannon responded to McGraw’s charges in a prepared statement.

In a press release Schmidt issued Tuesday (Oct. 14), McGraw said he wanted to release the album of new music he had recorded this year but that Curb ignored his wishes and confused his fans by putting out the Greatest Hits 3 album. Confusion might arise, McGraw intimated, from the fact that Curb had released only one new studio album on him since his last hits collection.

Greatest Hits 3 debuted at No. 1 this week in Billboard with sales of just over 44,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, the organization that monitors retail sales. While a No. 1 is a No. 1, the sales total was anemic for an artist of McGraw’s stature.

Besides going against his wishes, McGraw complained that Curb prepared and released Greatest Hits 3 “without his involvement.”

Here’s what Curb had to say about the project:

“Curb Records’ Executive V.P. and General Manager, Dennis Hannon indicated that he had numerous conversations with McGraw’s representatives with respect to all aspects of the Greatest Hits 3 album. … [W]e share Tim McGraw’s disappointment with the first week’s sales levels, and we acknowledge that unfortunately the week that this album was released was right at the peak of the collapse of the economic and finance markets. We are going to work hard to try to take the current single ’Let It Go’ to No. 1 in hopes that the economic climate is improving and that sales will also improve.”

In a phone interview with Schmidt , CMT.com pursued questions raised by this clash between McGraw and his label, beginning with whether or not McGraw’s new album could have been ready to sell during the all-important holiday buying season.

“They [Curb Records] weren’t in possession of the music,” Schmidt said, “but Tim was just about done with recording it and was close to turning it in. … Our goal throughout this year was always to have it out in the October-November window.”

Schmidt said she didn’t know how many albums McGraw owes Curb under his present contract but that the contract is for a certain number of albums and not for a fixed period of time.

The Greatest Hits 3 album has the effect of extending McGraw’s contract with Curb, Schmidt explains. “They say they have the option to put this record out and that also gives them an option to not put out another album [of McGraw’s] for an extended period of time because, obviously, you don’t put records out on top of each other in the marketplace.” She notes that McGraw’s camp disagrees with this interpretation.

In 2006, McGraw and his longtime producer, Byron Gallimore, established StyleSonic Records, which initially released the soundtrack for Flicka, a movie in which McGraw starred. Schmidt says she doesn’t know if McGraw might record for his own label if he should end his ties with Curb.

“I’m sure Tim and his manager, Scott, have discussed that, but I’m not privy to what those decisions are,” she said.

This is not the first time McGraw and Curb have bumped heads over the timing of an album release. In 2000, McGraw wanted to put out a new studio album. Instead, the label came with his first greatest hits package. Thus, the album McGraw was hoping to release, Set This Circus Down, was held back until 2001. Both albums went No. 1.

In a 2003 interview for an article on McGraw that appeared in The Journal of Country Music, Curb Records owner Mike Curb downplayed the bad blood between the two parties. “Record companies and artists — when they have a long relationship — will disagree every once in awhile on a song or some small issue. … But the [then] 12-year relationship that we’ve had has been phenomenal. I can think of a hundred things we’ve agreed on, and just very few things where we’ve ever disagreed.”

It appears that discussions between McGraw and Curb are now carried on entirely by intermediaries rather than face to face. Asked if the two men ever discuss their differences directly, Schmidt said, “I would think probably not. … But this particular situation that [McGraw] found himself in has not ever happened — without any type of involvement in this project coming out. Tim definitely did voice his opinion [that] he did not want this greatest hits album, [that] he had this new music ready. I wouldn’t say this has come to a boiling point. It’s obviously not a very comfortable situation for anyone in either camp right now.”

Edward Morris is a veteran of country music journalism. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a frequent contributor to CMT.com.