The stories of young female performers getting taken advantage of in music by predatory producers and managers are endless, and are nearly as common as the broken hearts of the artists who trek to Nashville every year trying to make it in the industry. Young women are especially vulnerable as they put themselves in submissive positions while seeking anyone who can promise them stardom. Meanwhile shady characters looking for much more than just another client troll the streets and the internet.
This storyline is so common, Dale Watson has written about it in songs, and it is a recurring theme in the television drama Nashville. Nonetheless, the drive for some young women to “make it” in music, and the sleaze factor of certain characters is so pronounced, it’s an all-too-common occurrence when a story surfaces of a young girl either being taken advantage of, or signing her rights away prematurely.
An especially disturbing account has surfaced out of Nashville involving an individual named Keith Messner, who was posing as a representative for Warner Music Group, including using the company’s logo, and reaching out to young girls via Twitter and email with big promises. With a bio of, “A&R guy, producer, mixer — country/rock/pop,” he would contact young female performers and ask them if they were planning to play or visit Nashville.
Even worse, an individual with the same name was convicted and sentenced to prison for molesting two teen girls in 2000 after luring them in by claiming he had cred in the music industry and would help launch their careers. “Messner told the girls he was close to a country music star and could help them begin singing careers,” says the report from McCall. Saving Country Music and other outlets have been unable to confirm if it is indeed the same Keith Messner in the two separate incidents, but the similarities are eerie.
From a Twitter account called “@Nashville_ar” that has since been deleted, Keith Messner reached out to a 12-year-old performer named Taylor Gayle saying, “U blow Taylor Swift out of the water. U will go far. Warner Music Nashville will be out in full force to see u perform at the Commodore. We are in your corner.”
Gayle has an upcoming performance at the Commodore Grille in Nashville on Thursday (8-11).
Keith Messner also sent Taylor Gayle an email,
It was great to meet you on Twitter. I was curious as to what your future career plans are? Do you have a manager to guide you with your career? Will you be coming to Nashville anytime soon? I’d love to see you play many of the venues here and get more exposure. You are an amazing talent. You’ve got a friend in Nashville.
Taylor Gale’s mother, Brandy Barnes, became suspicious. “I realized his email was not a Warner email address,” she tells Billboard. “He was asking in the email what her future plans were for her career … I then had a gut feeling I should check into him.”
That is when Barnes found the report on Keith Messner from 2000. Rick Barker, who runs an artist development firm called Music Industry Blueprint, reached out to Warner Music Nashville and confirmed that no individual named Keith Messner was employed by the company. Messner had also reached out to numerous other young female performers, and was following many of them on Twitter. During the investigation by concerned parents and artist representatives, Messner’s Twitter account was deleted. Twitter would not confirm if Messner deleted the account himself, of if it was after numerous individuals reported the account.
Keith Messner, or at least the Twitter portion of his predatory practice, appears to have been mitigated at the moment, but many other threats towards young performers, both male and female, loom out there as the dreams of stardom regularly get in the way of artists doing their due diligence to make sure they don’t end up with a bad deal, or worse.
“Taylor is performing at the Commodore Thursday night,” says Brandy Barnes. “We will be watching her very closely.”