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June 01, 2004

ASCAP PUBLISHER PROFILE: FULL FORCE GAYLE

By MAURICE MINER

As an upstart music publishing company, Sea Gayle Music has staying power

Paisley

Brad Paisley

Rogers

Frank Rogers

DuBois

Chris DuBois

In 1999, three virtual unknowns -- an aspiring country recording artist, an as-yet-unproven record producer, and former ASCAP membership staffer ...each also a songwriter whose talent had barely been tapped -- embarked on a joint publishing venture that has since emerged as a small but potent force in the Nashville music scene. Five years later, Brad Paisley, Frank Rogers and Chris DuBois are proven successes as writers and in their respective creative specialties and Sea Gayle Music is home to a stable of ten talented songwriters (including the company's three principals) whose credits since 1999 include number-one hits, multi-platinum album tracks, and Grammy Award winning songs.

Sea Gayle's origins are as humble and unpretentious as the company's founders. Brad and Chris met at ASCAP's Nashville Music Row offices, where Brad was an intern and Chris a membership rep. Shortly thereafter, Brad and Frank met at Nashville's Belmont University. The three forged a personal and creative bond. If they weren't hashing out song ideas or dabbling in a recording studio, the trio could often be found at the Roger's family beach house in Garden City, South Carolina -- a home known as "Sea Gayle." "There was just a great chemistry between the three of us," Chris recalls. "Whether we were writing or just going over songs or if Brad was in the studio, everybody had something that they brought to the table that made the partnership work."

By 1999, the three felt the time was right to pool their efforts. Brad's debut album, Who Needs Pictures, produced by Frank and including tracks by Brad, Frank and Chris, was about to be released and Brad and Frank each had publishing deals that would soon expire. The three approached EMI Music, proposing a joint venture that would become Sea Gayle. "One of the things they said in the beginning to us -- before we ever started -- was 'These never work,' " Brad says, laughing as he recalls some of the doubt they initially encountered. "But it was to their credit that they were willing to take another gamble at it."

What may have set Sea Gayle apart from the start was its founders' reasoning for creating it in the first place. "There was a strong friendship between all of us, but beyond the friendship, there was a mutual idea of what great music was and what a great song was," Frank says. "As opposed to some companies that start out and say, 'All right, let's chase after what's happening right now and try to make a bunch of money,' our whole purpose was to write great songs and create on organization that let other writers try to write great songs." Chris agrees, recalling, “Our venture went beyond the three of us. That was the goal right away -- to find writers that we could groom and help grow and, ultimately, help make successful."

Granted, Sea Gayle had an immediate, "built-in" outlet for its material. In 1999, Brad was one of the brightest new lights on the country music horizon, on his way to earning Grammy nominations including one as Best New Artist and Country Music Association (CMA) Awards including the coveted Horizon Award. And Sea Gayle music was part of that equation. But the threesome had a broader vision for their new enterprise. "One of the things we told EMI when we talked about this was [that] this doesn't have anything to do with me being an artist," says Brad. "We told them not to base their decision on whether or not I'm going to be successful. That's going to be gravy if that happens."

Though the "gravy," as Brad calls it, has certainly come along, Sea Gayle's founders didn't wait on it -- they immediately went in search of a more sustaining "meal." Potential financial rewards aside, their goal was simple and straightforward: to fuel and develop writers like themselves, and to do so in much the same way that others had mentored them through the mid-and late-'90s. "That's the fun of it," Frank says, "We all experienced it for the first time with each other and now we're doing the same thing with writers." Brad agrees. "All of us, as we learned to write together, wanted to sort of pass along what we'd learned or at least enjoy that process continually with new people," he says.

In five short years, Brad, Frank, and Chris have already seen that goal achieved. Among their Sea Gayle signees is Jim Brown, co-writer of the Alan Jackson/Jimmy Buffet hit, "It's Five O'clock Somewhere." "He'd written like two songs the first time we heard him," Frank recalls. "Here we are four years later and he's got a Grammy and a CMA Song of the Year award."

Sea Gayle Group

ASCAP & Sea Gayle Music celebrate at Judge Beans. Pictured (seated, l-r) John Briggs, Connie Bradley, Pat Rolfe, Liz Hengber and Mike Sistad; and (standing, l-r) Brandon Gregg, C.A. Dyer, Jay Knowles, Marc Driskill, Trent Willmon, Ralph Murphy, Jim "Moose" Brown, Dave Turnbull, Chad Green, Frank Rogers, Chris Stapleton, Liz O’Sullivan, Chris DuBois and Mannie Rogers.

There's Chris Stapleton, a new addition to the Sea Gayle lineup who's already had songs cut by such discerning artists as Patty Loveless and Travis Tritt. "You could hear the potential, especially in the stuff he was writing before he was signed," says Brad. "A few months later, he started to co-write with people and the next thing you know, it's like he's evolving so quickly that you sort of want to tie him down and say, "No! You can't get better than us!" The Sea Gayle roster also includes Don Sampson best known for Gary Allan's number-one country hit, "Tough Little Boys", Liz Hengber, Jay Knowles, and Dave Turnbull. And then there's Trent Willmon, who's just released his self-penned debut single, "Beer Man," with an album produced by Frank to follow later this year. Trent was Sea Gayle's first signee and his singing provides a not uncommon illustration of the trust and camaraderie shared by its three founders. Brad recalls, "I was out on the road. We hadn't been a company for a month, I think, and I get a call from Chris asking 'When are you back?' I'm like, 'Well it's going to be like two weeks.' And he said, 'Well, then, you'll have to hear him after we've signed him!'"

That trust -- the ease with which the three Sea Gayle founders work and function -- is a key to the company's creative and financial success. Frank says it results from having a "similar vision, agreeing on what great music is." Brad notes, "We are three different people. We each have our own individual strengths and I don't think there are any egos at all when it comes to each other. And that is really important."

Coinciding with the Sea Gayle's success of the past five years, each of the three principals has seen his individual career take off. Brad's growing status as one of Arista Nashville and country music's top artists brings with it a busy touring schedule and countless other demands. Frank's success as Brad's producer has made him one of Nashville's most in-demand studio talents, a reputation that continues to grow with two platinum and three gold albums to his credit. And Chris, like Brad and Frank, finds himself consistently sought after as a songwriter -- with two #1 singles under his belt including Mark Wills 2003 six week #1 single "19 Somethin'."

Each has been unavailable at one time or another but the spirit of friendship and trust that provided the impetus for Sea Gayle's creation makes it possible for business to go on "as usual." Further proof that their founding ideals are intact. "We each stay busy enough doing what we do, and we admire each other from afar. We don't work so closely together that we step on one another's toes," Chris notes. "Everybody has a separate role within the company."

Admittedly, it's Brad's schedule that often carries the most outside demands. "If Brad wanted to have too big a role on the creative decisions, it would make it very difficult because his lifestyle is such that he's very difficult to get in touch with. But he gives Frank and me the freedom to make creative decisions," Chris says.

All three Sea Gayle principals say that kind of thinking allows the venture to function efficiently. Yet they're anything but silent partners, removed from the creative process. Day-in and day-out, Chris can be found at the company's offices offering creative input, support or criticism as needed...as are Brad and Frank when time allows. "It's not about three guys that fund a company," Chris says. "If we don't maintain a creative involvement in the writers and what types of songs they're writing, it defeats the whole purpose. The vision for this company grew out of us working together on songs." Frank agrees: "As opposed to focusing on necessarily making money, we're trying to make some great music."

To that end, Sea Gayle has kept its roster relatively small. All three founders are quick to insist that they're "learning as we go," but all three also believe they're taking a correct and prudent course. "I think if you're starting a publishing company, the way to make it work is to not dig a huge hole right off the bat," Chris points out. "And that's what has made it fun for us --– finding young writers that are hungry and that have not had success, signing them for a reasonable amount of money, and then watching them grow. And, along the way, we're not accumulating huge amounts of debt." To the nods of his partners, Chris adds, "Our goal has always been to keep overhead costs as low as we possibly can."

One "cost" all three partners agree is absolutely essential to Sea Gayle's success is staff song plugger, Liz O'Sullivan, who shops the company's "wares" to Nashville's top artists and labels. "Liz cares so much about songs and loves them so much that my current single “Whiskey Lullaby" was pitched to me by Liz -- and we don't even publish it!" Brad notes. Chris adds, "She's a very big part of this company and our presence in Nashville. She's very well respected and I get compliments about her constantly from other writers. It makes me feel good that she's out there representing our company." Liz's efforts on Sea Gayle's behalf has netted its writers cuts by a long list of country artists that includes Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, Patty Loveless, Terri Clark, Lee Ann Womack, Tracy Lawrence, and Darryl Worley. And those writers have given her plenty to work with, including number-one hits like "19 Somethin'" recorded by Mark Wills, Brad's chart-toppers "He Didn't Have To Be," "We Danced," and "I'm Gonna Miss Her," and the previously mentioned "It's Five O'clock Somewhere."

And there are no doubts that there are more hits to come. Though the principals have no desire to grow the company exponentially, they wouldn't run from the chance to add names. "Who's to say that somebody won't walk in the office next week and just blow us away," Chris says. "But out goal is to continue to grow, not too big, not too fast. We want to maintain the creative spirit on which the company was founded. It's all about songs," says Brad, "And it always will be."

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