Why is independent music publishing and artist management firm Encore Entertainment LLC so successful while other small companies are being gobbled up by conglomerates?
“All we do is try to find the best talent. We get behind the creative decisions 100% and the vibe is great. There’s no animosity here, only camaraderie. We have a wonderful staff of writers. They may not all be household names yet, but I hope they will be. That’s our job. We’re all pulling together, and I think that matters,” Keith Follese, who heads Encore’s publishing arm, proudly declares.
“More than anything, we’re trying to have fun. I write songs because I love to write, not for the money. Doing what you love, what you’d do for free is a great gig if you can get it, but it’s a lot of pressure. You’re only considered as good as your last song, and it’s hard to get cuts. It’s like going to war everyday, but we have the best song-plugging team and staff.”
Follese adds that Encore owner Jim Scott signed his wife, Adrian Follese as the first writer for the company before hiring Keith, who had previously written exclusively for BMG Music and Great Cumberland. Keith, who performed as a duo with Adrienne on A&M Records, is still a producer and co-owner of a recording studio in Nashville. In a nice twist of fate, Encore’s creative director, Bud Allen, formerly was an intern for Keith.
Among the company’s staff writers, Keith cites Noah Gordon (writer of “You Are”) as “contemporary but country,” John Northrop as “stone country” and Rick Farrell as “country in an Americana, story-telling way.” He and I wrote “Something Like That” which was Encore’s first big hit. We just had to sign Rick, whatever it took. He has an album coming out this summer on DreamWorks too.”
“My wife has a Jo Dee Messina song which is a social commentary. Kim Tribble wrote “I Can Still Feel You,” and has two cuts on Johnny Lang’s album and cuts on a Journey album. Spady Brannon wrote the two most performed songs last year. Wade Kirby has a cut on Ashley Judd’s new soundtrack album, Where The Heart Is. Our other writers, Dwayne O’Brien, Jerry Taylor, David James, and Christian Strignano, are also very different, diverse writers.”
Though his greatest enthusiasm seems to be promoting his great writing team, Keith does manage to open up about himself. The Minneapolis native and former Los Angeles resident says “All I ever did was write songs. I’ve written since I was five or six years old, asking my mom to keep track of the songs and melodies I wrote. The Beatles were by far my biggest influence. My wife even gave me four life-size statues of the Beatles dressed in Sgt. Peppers garb. When I was a kid a lady from England worked for my dad. Her boyfriend managed the Searchers, and she had the English music papers with the Beatles on the covers.
“So I became a fan before they were out here and even had a Beatles haircut before it became cool. When I was a teenager I had a national single, “Candy Apple” out on Jubilee Records. I wrote it and performed it with my band.”
Keith has written several big hits including Randy Travis’s “Before You Kill Us All” and Little Texas’s “Life Goes On.” He’s recently had four number one chart songs in a row: Tim McGraw’s “Something Like That,” Lonestar’s “Smile,” Martina McBride’s “I Love You” and Faith Hill’s “The Way You Love Me.” He says that among the hits, “Smile” is his favorite.
He admits though, that his favorite is the Alecia Elliott cut of “I Don’t Understand.” Keith says he, Adrienne and Stephanie Bentley are like family. “We’ve known each other for 10 years and have written a lot together. We meant every word on that song, so it means a lot that it was recorded. Sometimes, people don’t want to say what they think when they write songs.”
“Jeff Tweel of Curb Publishing once said songwriters are always ‘standing by the river with a hook in the water.’ Writers are observant and the nature of the beast is that we get beaten up a lot. We have songs on hold that are never cut or that end up not being the single. Writers seem to develop a show of sarcasm sometimes as a defense mechanism, which sometimes can be hilarious.”
Keith generally works with a co-writer because “that makes me more disciplined. My wife and I would write together if I sat down to write by myself anyway. Writing is different for me everyday. It’s very spontaneous, not planned. Once in a while, I’ll have a melody or idea and put it in my book of 600-700 titles, and I have tapes of melodies. We generally throw out thoughts, a melody, a groove, then it’s pretty much stream of flow.”
He and Adrienne laugh as he admits, “Co-writing with my wife has caused some major problems. About the only thing we fight about is music. Our kids don’t even want to be around us when we’re writing. We get mad if the other doesn’t jump up and down with excitement with what we’ve written, but we actually are good at writing together. We’ve been married 20 years, write together once a week and still get along great, really.”
Keith says that Adrienne is also “finding other writing partners, but I’ve written with mostly the same people for years. Generally, I find a co-writer by word of mouth, like my creative director saying, ‘You’d make a good match.’ It’s kind of like a blind date.” (No wonder he likes co-writing. Blind dates just have to be lucky for Keith since he met Adrienne on such a date at an L.A. Dodgers baseball game.)
Keith raves about an unusual writing workshop he attended in Miami. “It was patterned after the one held in a castle in France. This one was at Desmond Child’s house in Miami- four houses, three recording studios and seating for 150 people to have Cuban dinners in the courtyard. It was a ball, with writers there from America, England and Venezuela. Desmond has Destin Publishing, and the conference was held in conjunction with Extreme Writers Group, a Gaylord Entertainment company. You could meet someone you’d never meet, go into a room and write a song together. It turned out great, Desmond was a wonderful host, and I’d go again in a heart beat.”
Keith adds, “I love to go other places and then come back to Nashville. It’s a great place to live and I feel blessed to be here. It’s the great songwriters’ town and I hope nothing ever makes it change. I pray it doesn’t go away. Nashville is the place where the craft is… starting with an idea and a guitar. I feel like I learned almost everything I know since moving here in 1989.”
He and Adrienne are building a new studio and will be moving their demo work there this summer. “I decided to make demos my signature, and people identify with them. A lot of producers have told me they love the demos, but you’d better have the song. I think it does help a lot in presentation though. Demo musicians really are overlooked in this town. They have to get it on the fly, then their energy gets into the music.”
With a president who understands songwriters and musicians so well and truly believes in his entire staff, it’s no wonder this company has earned so much respect and prestige in just two years.