Scott Borchetta: The Rise of the Country Music Antichrist
The reason I coined the nickname had to do with the purity of genre terms. Borchetta calls Taylor Swift country when she’s clearly pop, and Justin Moore has been the primary culprit in the corruption of another important country term, “Outlaw”. We can argue back and forth if we should even care about the purity of these terms any more. This was a much more salient discussion when Taylor Swift was winning her first CMA for Entertainer of the Year in 2009. At this point that battle has been lost. The only question is if these terms are worth fighting to reclaim.
But disgruntled country music purists are not the only ones who look at Borchetta as the Antichrist of their music world. His rival label executives on Music Row must see Borchetta as just as much of a threat, if not even more of one to their way of life. If the prototypical Music Row executive can be visualized as the gray-haired man with a steak-and-potatoes gut spilling out of his navy suit, then Borchetta is the in-shape, sleek guy in a tight-fitting black spandex shirt taking office Yoga breaks and ordering in sushi. As the traditional labels in Nashville have been lethargic in their attempt to keep up with trends, Borchetta has been running circles around them, pilfering their talent rosters and penning historic deals that will re-shape the music industry for years to come.
It hasn’t even been a month since I claimed Scott Borchetta was the new “King of Nashville” after signing Tim McGraw, and since then Borchetta has been at the helm for two more huge decisions. First at the beginning of June, Big Machine expanded into the music publishing business, the one calm port in the calamitously-recessive music industry in the last decade. As sales decline, rights for the use of songs in TV shows, movies, commercials, etc. has remained steady. And then just last week, he inked a deal with Clear Channel that will earn performance rights for his artists when they are played on the radio, a deal that will likely shape how music rights are handled as radio expands and morphs into a more digital format.
The Clear Channel deal is a huge win for Borchetta. “The Big Machine Label Group is the first United States record company in history to have performance rights for our artists,” he told The Tennessean. The deal points out the other dichotomy about Scott Borchetta and his Antichrist identity: his rise to power has in part been the fault of Big Machine’s culture to actually take care of artists and extend to them a measure of creative freedom, ironically the thing same some traditionalists who hate Borchetta for his perversion of country terms and been clamoring about for years.
Scott Borchetta is just what Nashville and country music needed, while also being the sum of all of its fears. His gamble with Taylor Swift paid off in the sweetest run of spades one could possibly imagine, and now he’s not just a big player in the country music world, he is the biggest, and with the Clear Channel deal his influence stretches way beyond the country music realm. The Tim McGraw signing and the Clear Channel deal may not be the culmination of Borchetta’s rise, it may be the beginning of it, as all ties to the old oligarchy that governed Nashville since the time of RCA, Acuff/Rose, and Studio B, slip away from the market power amassed from the success of Taylor Swift.
So yes, though the term “Country Music Antichrist” feels wholly immature and unfair, it also feels expertly a propos.
Timeline of Scott Borchetta’s Rise
- Scott Borchetta starts Big Machine Records after DreamWorks Records dissolves where he was a top executive. It begins as a joint venture with Toby Keith, and is distributed by Universal Music Group.
- Borchetta sees Taylor Swift perform at The Bluebird Cafe in Nashville during an artists showcase, and decides to sign her, making Swift the first Big Machine artist.
- Big Machine signs Jack Ingram and releases the album Live: Wherever You Are.
- Toby Keith leaves Big Machine to start his own record label, Show Dog.
- Taylor Swift releases her debut album, Taylor Swift, which would go on to be certified platinum 5 times over, was #1 on the Top Country Albums chart for 24 non-consecutive weeks, and was the longest album to stay in the Billboard 200 in the decade.
- Big Machine launches a subsidiary label called Valory Music Group, signing Jewel and Justin Moore among others.
- Sunny Sweeny signs with Big Machine and releases Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame in March.
- Trisha Yearwood signs with Big Machine and releases Heaven, Heartache, and the Power of Love in November.
- Taylor Swift releases Fearless, selling a total of 8.6 million copies worldwide, and 6.5 million in the United States, making it the second best selling album in the last decade, and the best selling album in all of music in 2009. It is the only album that has ever remained in the Billboard 200 Top 10 for a full year. It also wins the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2009.
- Big Machine begins promoting Canadian acts Adam Gregory and Emerson Drive.
- Valory Music Group signs Reba McEntire.
- Steel Magnolia signs to Big Machine Records.
- Big Machine joins with Universal Republic to create a new record label imprint, Republic Records Nashville. Sunny Sweeny becomes a Republic Nashville artist.
- Republic Nashville signs The Band Perry.
- Taylor Swift wins first CMA for Artist of the Year, the youngest artist to ever do so.
- Rascal Flatts signs to Big Machine, releasing Nothing Like This in November.
- Brantley Gilbert leaves label Average Joes for Borchetta’s Valory Music Group.
- Taylor Swift releases album Speak Now, which has so far been certified quadruple platinum with over 4 million albums sold. The single “Mean” went on to win two Grammy’s in 2011.
- Scott Borchetta partners with Live Nation Entertainment chairman/Front Line Management Group CEO Irving Azoff to form B.A.D. Management.
- Big Machine signs Thomas Rhett.
- Martina McBride signs with Republic Nashville from RCA.
- Eli Young Band is signed by Republic Nashville, and releases Life at Best.
- Taylor Swift wins second CMA for Artist of the Year.
- Valory Music Group signs The Maverics in Februrary.
- Big Machine Records Signs Tim McGraw in May.
- Big Machine sets up its own music publishing division.
- Scott Borchetta crafts a historic deal with Clear Channel to pay performance rights for Big Machine artists played on radio, while setting the stage for how digital rights and online radio will be managed moving forward.
June 18, 2012 @ 12:54 pm
I had typed a whole rant obout the term “country” but I think I’ll hold that back for now.
I have long argued that, in order to pay out performance royalties in the digital age, we’d need a really big machine, so to speak. It seems it would require nothing short of an ability to track and control all distribution of digital information. In turn, it would require tracking and control of economic transactions.
Then there’s this: Revelation 13:16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:
Revelation 13:17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.
So yeah, I’m gonna keep an eye on this performance rights issue.
…and if anyone wnats to calculate the number of the beast from verse 13:18, look at Hank 3’s “Straight to Hell” album then google images for 666, vav, or waw. Not that that’s a secret.
June 19, 2012 @ 8:54 am
What? Lol, don’t get that last part, but ok.
June 19, 2012 @ 11:23 am
…the last part: Look at Hank 3’s “Straight to Hell” album cover. \
Do the shapes of the IIInot resemble the hebrew or aramaic letter/number “vav”? vav = 6 so 3 of them would be 666, Being “Straight to HELL” I think that was intended.
June 19, 2012 @ 1:40 pm
I guess… It’s kind of a stretch, though. And I believe in a lot of wacky conspiracy theory type stuff.
June 19, 2012 @ 2:30 pm
I’ll admit I’m definitely LOOKING for things but Hank 3 doesn’t really hide his fascination with Satanic imagery.
If 3 signs with Big Machine for the performance rights, that’ll be some shit. Time to call on Eric Church, “Country Music Jesus”. lol
June 21, 2012 @ 2:45 pm
What’s with the swastikas? Lol. Are they supposed to be pagan ones or nazi ones? I don’t really care and I’m gonna love III either way, just curious.
Dawn Of The Dan
June 19, 2012 @ 2:46 pm
I always thought they were railroad spikes.
June 19, 2012 @ 4:31 pm
Now you’re just seeing things. 😉
June 18, 2012 @ 12:57 pm
I remember reading a comment from Billboard writer on his power when the Power 100 list released: “He has the power, but how effective is his strategy to use a power that big?” And it’s hard to deny that the dude is smart with his latest moves.
June 18, 2012 @ 2:53 pm
Usually when people get this big this fast, corruption and bad decisions start creeping in. That is where a good, founding philosophy that trains the vision is important. Borchetta reminds me a lot of Mark Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks basketball owner and venture capitalist. Mark has a lot of misses, but makes enough big hits that he take take the losses. I think the next big shoe to fall will be Taylor Swift’s next album. All the chatter is that it’s going to be something bold and in a new direction. Its success could send Big Machine and Borchetta into a whole new stratosphere. Its failure may mean he settles into place right next to his big shot Music Row neighbors and co-exist until he hits on the next big thing.
June 18, 2012 @ 3:29 pm
Taylor Swift’s next record is supposed to be “bold” and “in a new direction?” Is she putting out a real country record? That’d be bold and in a new direction…
June 18, 2012 @ 6:50 pm
i see the sarcasm but you could very well be right. Everyone is trying to cash in on “going back to there roots”
June 19, 2012 @ 8:10 am
Meanwhile Taylor was recording a rap video with B.o.B. this weekend.
June 19, 2012 @ 10:33 am
Maybe bold as in more pop than she is now. I just can’t imagine her doing stone cold country.
June 18, 2012 @ 3:21 pm
Triggerman, Do you think the deal with Clear Channel will remain exclusive to Big Machine? Do we now we sit back and watch all the big name entertainers flock to Big Machine and it’s many tentacles to take advantage of the performance rights deal or will Clear Channel grant other labels similar deals? We may need some anti-trust legislation if Big Machine remains the only company to offer such a deal with Clear Channel…haha. That’s f$@%ing scary… Not to mention the fact that Gaylord Entertainment group was bought by Mormons.. These certainly are strange times we are livin’ in…
June 18, 2012 @ 8:40 pm
I’m not exactly sure what is going to happen with this Clear Channel deal, though I tend to trust the business experts that are saying this relationship will be massive in reshaping both the radio and music rights realms for years to come. It also might end up in the courts.
One thing I noticed when researching for this article is that Borchetta has a partnership with Live Nation’s Irving Azoff, who is Billboard’s #1 Power Player in the same list another commenter Yoggy mentioned above.
Azoff owns the mega-huge Live Nation promotion company that also houses Ticketmaster etc. etc. You bridge a big label with the biggest concert promoter, with the biggest radio station owner, you could have a music monopoly the likes of which the world has never seen. I think it is about the seamless control and monetization of music across all platforms.
June 18, 2012 @ 7:03 pm
Hi, SCM. I just found this website. It’s great! Thanks.
June 18, 2012 @ 8:30 pm
Thanks for reading!
June 19, 2012 @ 8:07 am
i don’t have anything in particular against it but for my money, big money = bullshit. or vice versa. if ms swift’s next release is a twangy old school style LP you can count on everybody else to join the parade. what the hell we gonna do then, willis?
Michael Anthony Curan
June 19, 2012 @ 10:41 am
Taylor Swift was and is never a fan of traditional country music. If ever she’ll tackle roots music, i think it’ll be on the direction of The Civil Wars or Rhythm Angels and the likes…
June 19, 2012 @ 11:42 am
If Taylor Swift did a real country album (Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette etc.) It would not be an album of her own roots, it would be more of a ‘discovery’ for her and would be new to her fans. To most of us it won’t be real and it may not even be good but if it turns her fanbase on to real country, I’m all for it. I just doubt that that will happen now, maybe later on but probably not yet.
This would be different than the trend of namedropping (Brantley Gilbert etc.) because the way they use Merle’s name for example, they can’t be familiar with his music. Maybe you can “crank up” some Waylon but I don’t think cranking Willie and Merle will send you sreaming wild into the night. They act like it’s AC/DC or something.
May 10, 2013 @ 12:30 am
I was thinking the exact same thing the last time I heard Gilbert’s “Country Music Be Country Wide.” He mentions cranking up “AC/DC, Hank, Skynyrd and George Strait” like Country is something that you “jam” to. Sure, there are some rowdy songs, but it’s not nearly as shallow or banal (or at least not the best Country, anyway). I love AC/DC but I don’t think they should be in the same room with George Strait or Hank Sr./Jr., much less the same song (in presence or name).
May 10, 2013 @ 1:24 pm
Sorry, it was “Kick it in the Sticks.” I was half asleep when I posted that comment, so I got the songs mixed up.
November 1, 2012 @ 7:39 am
Don’t jump the gun. This guy is no more of a threat than any other millennial music mogul. He’s merely a symptom of a poison pop culture gone wild. His label just inherited the same toxic bad ass rap/grunge attitude that bastardized country a long time ago when heartland homeboys were looking for an answer to street thug music. If the best of country is still in the rear view mirror, agenda gatekeepers don’t want timeless traditional real people country western tunes to put mature folks at ease. Instead, they want pop virgin rants and mad show dog ditties for redneck population control. That’s the niche that Borchetta’s label fills and his filly Swift won’t grow up musically until she’s well laid or suffers in life from the downside of fame and fortune.
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September 23, 2014 @ 7:49 am
[…] Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Records”™ CEO, has ruffled quite a few feathers among country music purists due to the control he has over his artists and the way he markets them. […]