Renee Thorton & Word Publishing: Christian Publisher of the Year

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Videos by American Songwriter

Renee Thorton is the professional manager at Word Publishing. American Sognwriter‘s Christian Music Publisher of the Year for 1996. At least that is her title. She in fact is a publisher/songplugger/den mother in charge of over 50 writers.

Needless to say, Word is a huge company with a long list of writers and some of the most popular Christian copyrights in recent years. Renee is responsible for signing writers and find homes for their songs. She is also very active in the demoing process and takes pride in building relationships with songwriters.

Renee Thorton is the professional manager at Word Publishing. American Sognwriter‘s Christian Music Publisher of the Year for 1996. At least that is her title. She in fact is a publisher/songplugger/den mother in charge of over 50 writers.

Needless to say, Word is a huge company with a long list of writers and some of the most popular Christian copyrights in recent years. Renee is responsible for signing writers and find homes for their songs. She is also very active in the demoing process and takes pride in building relationships with songwriters.

I’ve known Renee for about six months and I’ve worked closely with her on several projects. She is a writer’s dream in terms of her interest and love of the craft. The best thing about Renee Thorton is she has no interest in writing her own music but she loves the craft and she has that “people” ear that songwriters all need to impress as well as the inner artistic ear that got theme started penning. I talked with her about Christian music publishing, her role at Word and what she looks for in songs and songwriters.

“I look for a writer who is easy to work with and is definitely willing to work at perfecting their craft,” explains Renee. “A lot of times I look for a writer who can writer a hundred percent as well as co-write. It’s important for me to know that a writer is legitimately a great writer and is not depending only on the strength of co-writers. We sign some writers here that are very well established and some on a developmental basis. I’ll set new writers up with our others writers and nurture them along. At some point when I have writers that are stronger lyrically or melodically I might be trying to fill a hole with a writer that I’m looking for.”

Word publishing has many writers and popular recording copyrights over the years. Several of these writers are artist as well as writers. Currently on their roster is Wayne Watson, Cindy Morgan, Marty McGeehe (from 4Him), Dave Clark and Jeff Silvey. Some of their biggest copyrights are “Mary Did You Know,” (recorded by many artists from Kathy Mattea to Kenny Rogers), “Via De LaRosa,” (of Sandy Patti fame) and “Crucified with Christ” (recorded by Philips, Craig and Dean and nominated for a Dove award). Word also has its first country single coming out this summer by Curb artist Leslie McDaniel, “One Perfect Sun.”

I’m somewhat of a newcomer to the Christian side of publishing and music so I asked Renee to fill me in on the differences between Christian publishing and country.

“It’s difficult sometimes in Christian music because so many of the artists are writers. Some of your biggest artists like, Steven Curtis Chapman, Wayne Watson, Twila Paris and Gary Chapman are all writers themselves and they have their mainstay of co-writers so it’s difficult sometimes to get cuts on those records. There are also a lot of producers in this industry who write. So that makes it even more difficult to get cuts.

She added that sometimes this scenario can work in your favor especially at a company like Word who sports a roster that is two-third artists. Some of the artists like Carmen and Wayne Watson record for other labels. Each artist is in a different situation. Renee noted that as advantageous as it is to have artist/writers in the stable, there is always room for “writer” writers who can just write great songs. She pointed out that one of the biggest groups in Christian music, Point of Grace, writes very little of their own material so their records are almost always open to outside pitches.

I asked her about the limitations of the Christian and secular field as far as content and form in songwriting. I was surprised to find that the boundaries of the Christian genre are less inhibited than what I had previously perceived. Many of Word’s writers are actively involved in country writing and it’s not all “positive.”

“One of limitations in Christian music is that you have a text. The scriptures, the Bible and one’s personal walk with the Lord is the basis from which to write the style of music. So lyrically there can be some limitations; however, musically there are none. What distinguishes Christian music is the lyric because musically it runs the gambit from country to alternative.

“There are several Christian artists like Jeff Silvey and Brent Lamm who are on the Word Nashville label. Many of our writers write country but I hesitate to throw that term positive in there because country music is about real life and our day-to-day lives aren’t always positive. I have writers who write straight ahead country music that I would pitch to a Bryan White or a Patty Loveless. So my writers aren’t restricted to writing only positive Christian country lyrics. Jeff Silvey writes as much country music as Christian music. That’s something we’ve really sought to grow is the country end of our publishing company.

“In publishing it’s easier to branch out into other markets. The records that come out upstairs need to have a certain lyric content to distinguish them as Christian music but we as a publishing company have writers who write pop music, straight ahead country music and Christian music. Our writers stay in Nashville and write while the artists have to tour certain types of venues based on stylistically where they are.”

I asked Renee more about being a publisher and how she approaches all the responsibilities that her job entails. She is very “hands on” when it comes to working in every aspect of the publishing process. Her main objective is to get songs recorded. In order to do that she is continually getting out there pitched songs, working with A&R directors, artists and producers as well as looking for new writers and artists to develop. She also supervises many aspects of the demoing process from hiring musicians and singers and engineers to budgeting and scheduling.

“It’s my job to be able to motivate my writers to write what I need them to write. So I need to know what people are looking for out in the street so I can motivate my writers to write that. It’s my job to keep my writers encouraged. I’m the buffer. I’m the one that’s got to go to them when their songs get passed on. I feel that’s one of my biggest jobs.”

Word works each songwriting deal out differently with each writer. Renee or her co-worker Valerie Jansen will bring in a new writer they are excited about and will begin working with that writer. They will set him/her up with other writers and let each writer get familiar with the environment. Renee and Jansen want the writer to be positive that Word is the place for him or her. From that point they will work closely with the legal affairs department to finalize all the details of the contract. Word does sing song agreements as well as exclusives. Renee often likes to develop a relationship with a new writer based on a singly song basis t first and get acquainted with that writer before they move into the publishing deal.

Finally, I asked Renee about her perspective on publishing and where she feels she fits into the landscape of the music publishing world.

“I’m looking for writers. If they are an artist then that’s just an asset. We are a publishing company and we work with writers. I love working with writers. I love songs. I like to hear things raw. Love it when a writer comes into the office and plays a song live or they flag me down from the writer room and I can just sit in there and hear the process as it’s going down. My favorite part is the relationships. I’m not a writer but I grew up with writers. My father is a writer and my sister is a writer. I love being a part of watching the outpouring of people’s souls.”

At 23, Renee Thorton is a veteran of the publishing world, having worked n the business since her sophomore year at Belmont. Some of her future plans include starting her own publishing house and working with her sister Rebecca Thorton’s songwriting and artist career goals.


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  1. I am a writer and a singer and if you are interested please email me. I’d be more than happy to let you hear my music. I’ve written over 50 Chrisitan and inspirational songs.

  2. I clicked on here because I googled” how to publish a song.” and this website came up and here I am!! ..I am interested in any advice you can give me on this..I believe the Lord is leading me in this direction and could use a friendly voice in this business. I understand if you cannot help I just thought I might be able to get a tip or two on how to start and who to talk to….I have always had a heart for music and writing, yet have always resisted the Lord in this aspect for various reasons( too many to say) lol …. and so I am putting myself out here today to be opent to any help or advice you want to send my way…( as far as getting a book and a song I have going in the direction that I need them to go.) Thank you and God Bless!

    Sincerely,

    Tanya Wold

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