Ben Vaughn, CEO of Warner Chappell Music joins Zak Kuhn for a special podcast episode about his career, his time working with major artists and advice he has for aspiring songwriters and fellow peers in the publishing world.
In their conversation, Kuhn takes things back to the beginning – back to when Vaughn was barely trying to get his foot in the door of the music industry at the sprightly age of 18. Ironically, Vaughn started out as an intern at Warner Chappell, but ultimately attributes his swift climb up the title totem pole to his ability to hunker down and work hard.
“It’s timing, it’s luck and then it’s work ethic layered across those two elements. So, I’ve kind of always viewed it like you might be smarter than me, but you can’t outwork me. And I still kind of act that way these days, sometimes to my detriment… I was kind of like the kid that would stay later than anyone else and come in on the weekends,” he explains.
From then on, Vaughn has had some pretty significant milestones. From becoming the youngest executive to head a major publisher in Nashville to signing major country artists and most recently, moving up from President to CEO at Warner Chappell Music.
Despite having such an impressive resume, his recipe for success is a simple one: keep the songwriters at the forefront always.
“I think the big lesson for myself and that I always tell people in the publishing world, like, just make sure you’re busting your ass for songwriters. If you are doing that and you’re doing it intelligently and you’re doing it with the right motives, things can work out. Because people notice who the people are that are working and who the people are that are not working.”
A disciplined work ethic is something that Vaughn values very deeply, and that philosophy doesn’t stop being true for the songwriters either. Vaughn believes that although there should be some level of inherent talent within a songwriter, what he’s really looking for in people is the ability to build upon that.
Vaughn noticed that exact trait in the now hugely successful artist Thomas Rhett, signing him when he was barely in college. After the first session, his hunch was right, Rhett wrote a song that would be recorded by Jason Aldean.
“I think there’s absolutely the concept of just natural ability. And I think he’s got it in spades. And that’s from vocals to stage presence, that just kind of everything on the checklist like he just really picks things up quickly and winning in the writing room…So he’s just kind of one of those folks that has always made the right first impressions and has put the work ethic behind it.”
The two also talk about crossover within the pop and country genres as well as his time working with legendary songwriters, his opinion on Zoom songwriting sessions and much more.