All Heart with Paul Cardall

Tony Martin: Hit-Making Country Music Songwriter

Episode Summary

On the seventeenth episode of All Heart with Paul Cardall, Paul is joined by country music songwriting veteran Tony Martin. They look back on Tony’s No. 1 hit-making career, which includes songs like; “Just To See You Smile” by Tim McGraw and “You Look Good In My Shirt” by Keith Urban. Tony is full of wit and humor as he shares solid songwriting advice and wise business tips for young writers seeking a lasting career in country music.

Episode Notes

On the seventeenth episode of All Heart with Paul Cardall, No.1 country music songwriter Tony Martin and Paul Cardall look back at Tony’s remarkable hit-making career. They talk about Tony’s father, Glenn Martin who wrote Charley Pride’s “Is Anybody Going to San Antone” along with Merle Haggard classics “It’s Not Love But It’s Not Bad” and “If We’re Not Back In Love By Monday. Growing up at the feet of stellar songwriters such as Sonny Throckmorton, Mickey Newbury and Hank Cochran, Tony learned what it takes to write a good song. Merle Haggard and other legends would frequent his parents home for picking sessions. Tony would create parodies and become a journalist in Chicago before his father challenged to write something serious. That first song “Baby’s Gotten Good at Goodbye” was cut by George Strait. In addition to songwriting advice, Tony, with his wit and humor, shares business tips for young writers seeking a lasting career in country music. All Heart with Paul Cardall is proudly a part of the American Songwriter Podcast Network

For more information on Paul Cardall, please visit https://paulcardall.com/ or find him on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Episode Transcription

- [Host] Hey, everybody, welcome to the American Songwriter Podcast Network. This is All Heart with Paul Cardall.

 

- Hello, everyone, I'm Paul Cardall. I am grateful that you are tuning into this podcast. And you may have heard some of the other podcasts. These guests that we've had on the show have been extremely inspiring, they have a lot of wisdom to impart, they are using their gifts to make the world a better place. And I'm new to this. I'm not getting paid, I've never podcasted before. I think a lot of us that do these podcast, it's a labor of love. We're excited to share with you people who inspire us. And that's where I need your help. I would love some constructive criticism, some feedback. If you could email my team your opinions of what I can do to improve to make this more interesting for you, please send it to management@stoneangelmusic.com or send it to me, management@allheartpublishing.com. Again, management@allheart publishing.com. I would sincerely appreciate it. And then also, if you're a fan, subscribe. Subscribe to this podcast, and if you know somebody who is going to benefit from learning all the things that we're talking about, please share it with them. ♪ My heart it beats for you. ♪ ♪ My heart it beats for you, oh ♪ I wanna take a minute and tell you about my brand new album, "The Broken Miracle." It is one thing that I have wanted to do a very long time. It tells my story. It's like a memoir album or a concept project. You have 11 songs that are just all instrumental, gorgeous pieces with a little bit of orchestration like I've always done. And then I have eight songs that share things I've wanted to share, and they pretty much tell my story. ♪ My life has been one struggle and another ♪ ♪ Roads with more dead ends than I can count ♪ ♪ I have doubted everything ♪ ♪ Who I was, what I believe ♪ ♪ But I know now a life saves ♪ We have several Grammy nominated artists on the record. I think you're going to enjoy it. It's going to uplift and inspire you. Like I've always said, my heart has been healed, and it's my life's work to use music to heal your heart, and "The Broken Miracle" can provide the atmosphere to have that process take place in your life. My guest today is a hit maker in country music. He's one of the most successful songwriters. He's funny, he's a cynic, he's witty, and it's a joy to be around him. If you've heard this song, "You Look Good In My Shirt" by Keith Urban, or "Just To See Her Smile" by Tim McGraw or even Joe Diffie's "Third Rock From The Sun," the writer is Mr. Tony Martin. And we had a Zoom call. He's not a big fan of the Zoom calls, so we joke about that in the beginning, but I think you're gonna appreciate and enjoy this conversation we had. There are so many business principles you can apply. You don't necessarily have to be in the music business to understand this. This is wisdom from Tony. So without further ado, my friend, Tony Martin.

 

- You know, when you're writing and you don't wanna go write, and you could say, you know, what do you say? How do you get out of it? They know you're home. They know, you can't say that I'm out of town. They're like, "You can still go online." I kept thinking, "What you can do?" Then I thought, "My computer has a virus." That'd be .

 

- It's funny you say that because I remember, you're with Anthem Publishing, I'm with Anthem Publishing. We had a big Zoom call, and yet, where's Tony? Where's Tony? And you know,

 

- I don't understand. What was even the... I remember one time they were gonna have a party.

 

- This was the party.

 

- Okay, this was the party. So they were gonna have a party and I'm thinking, "Oh, I don't even like going to parties when they're parties. How does this work?" I mean, normally at a party I'll just go find somewhere to kind of just sit in the corner, but how do you do that here? It always looks like the Brady Bunch. It's just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

 

- Well, I'm sure that's what inspired the entire Zoom thing. Was Marsha, Greg and Jan and all the folks.

 

- I think it's a great thing. I mean, this fabulous technology has kept me writing. If I was an artist, I'd go, "This is the only way I'd write. No one ever come to my house or get on my bus again." We're not in no sleep over. Just drop in, we'll write and then get it, you know.

 

- Right.

 

- I always thought being out on the road with the artist was like trying to flirt with your girlfriend while she works at drive up window at Dairy Queen on a Friday night and the home... and the football game is going on. I was just like, "I'm too busy."

 

- Well, and out there in the South, people coming through the drive-through saying, "Hey, it's our anniversary. Could you supersize the fries?"

 

- Yeah, for nothing stuff, right? So I was like, I get there's pluses and minuses to everything. So, you know, it's like, "Okay, I like some of this. I like some of this. I can do it for like two hours." But then I was like, "Okay, let's take a break. I can't just sit and stare at the screen all day."

 

- But even as a veteran writer, how often are you doing actual writes via Zoom and what is that like during this whole COVID process?

 

- I'm doing it, at one point, and it was like five days a week. And I got with, which you know, Tim Hass, and was like, "Okay, we gotta scale this all of this back." I can do it three days in a row if I get four days off afterwards, you know? But I spend a lot of time before writing, in a co-writing situation, writing by myself. Working on things, doing things, either finishing, fixing, starting, hunting, looking. I'm generally, I'm an early bird person. And so I'm generally, most people want to write like at 11 o'clock, I'm going like, "I've been up since 5:00." It's like, I need something to do. So by 8:00, I have done everything else I can do and so, I just start writing. And so by the time we're on the Zoom, I'm like, maybe I'm ready to, you know, like, let's just, let's hammer this for about three hours, And then I'm like, "Guys," It's not like somebody's gonna sneak in and finish it while we're not here. I promise you, it still, the song will still be... It's like laundry, you know? No one's going in there and finishing your laundry. Leave it undone. You come in,

 

- Exactly.

 

- And switch it over, you know.

 

- That's like this, I guess, the Josh Turner hit that you wrote, "Time is Love." That pretty much sums up your life. 'Cause when I came to Anthem, I said, "When do we see Tony Martin? He's a legend, he's written all these songs. He went to the same university I know. Not a lot of people know, at Brigham Young University." And they said, "Oh, he... The minute he writes, he's gone, man. He's done, he's gone. He's with the family. He's a family guy." And I love that.

 

- Yeah. Well, and there's other things interesting about life, and there's ideas outside this room, you know. Let's go and get that. And like anything, dispel the output. I need to go on input. I like to read, I like to play golf. I like to hang out with my wife a lot. We like to go places and do things. So yeah, I'm a... I would be called a lunch pail writer. I come in, , boom. Punch it, and we do it. And I try to do it the best I can that time. A lot of people wanna try to finish it in that time. And hey, if it does, great. Nobody knows that the end product should seem like it has always existed, seamless, perfect sphere. I've always said all the time that writing is sitting in a little square room, looking at a little square screen and a little square chair with a little square table, staring out a little square window, trying to come up with this perfectly round thing as if it had always existed. And once it's out there, nobody cares how it came about. It just, it is.

 

- Well, and that's what's interesting about the entire music business is because, not a lot of people and not a lot of my audience really understands the process that behind the Garth Brooks song or behind the George Strait song, "Baby's Gotten Good At Good," nobody knows Tony Martin. And yet, you're the guy that made the song.

 

- But I like it that way.

 

- Why?

 

- That part for me, I'm a writer/nothing. Everything else, you know, writing, I like writing it and then after that it becomes labor-intensive. It feels like jobs. And you have to be places and at certain times and you have to take meetings. And this is just more of a . It creates something that becomes its own thing and it's out in the world. A lot of people in our business say stuff like, "Oh, well, songs are like your children." They think protective. And I think "No, it's just great some of them go off and earn a living." That's how... just wanna lay around in the basement and be artistic.

 

- I have not thought of it that way, but, you know, it's been 25 years since I got into the business. I built a catalog, you know, when I went to sell it to Anthem, it was people asking me the same questions, "Do you care deeply that it no longer is yours?" And I basically say, "No, because it's out there. It's out there, it's not mine anyways."

 

- Yeah. There's a moment... And you know, this pulse of... when you first created something, and a lot of times it's more fun when you have co-writers or people that you've co-created with or you're in the studio and it's fun. There's these moments of which it becomes this thing, and you're the only people in the world who know about it. Except that somebody next door has been trying to write to a different key and different meter than you and you're singing really loud. And you know those times when you have this great chorus that you can't quit singing it long enough to write a verse, 'cause it's so good. And so there's moments, but it's like you said, once you let go of it and it goes out, even when you take it to the studio and other musicians start playing along and the artist takes it and they are prepared to play it, it gets further and further away from you. You send your kid off to college and now you're just, "Hey, okay. You know, so long as you're not a Democrat, it's okay." Or whatever the situation is. But I'm with you, if it gets a life of its own, and I'm just happy that it sends me back money.

 

- The one thing I loved about when I moved to Nashville was you actually get to see songwriters perform their material the way it originally was. And first time I came there, there was a fundraiser for cancer that you were in around on a stage and you were sharing songs and another writer and you did "Just To See Her Smile," which is a Tim McGraw cut that you guys did. And it's different, clearly, and then all the production, you know, do you feel like you're kind of an architect and then you got all these guys that just go off and...

 

- Sometimes I feel like I'm the bare bones guy.

 

- Yeah.

 

- Just sort of like, "This is kind of it." Because a lot of artists will take it, "Just To See You Smile," will take it and... If you think I do right, you should hear my co-writer, Mark Nesler sing. That's like, that's great. But then when we heard the record that McGraw did on it, they lifted it even more. And in certain situation like that, I can play, "You Look Good In My Shirt" and I'm going, "Truth, if you wanna sing this stuff, go see Keith Urban do it live." This is just gonna give you the idea. It almost feels, once he gets it and does it, my contribution feels like, "Hey, I got an idea. What have you guys thought of that?" And that's it, you know. It just feels more like that. I like the story of the song and what it conveys or whatever the thing it is and the message, the feeling, the emotion, and then that's it. And then I put it out there just enough, whatever we think is enough that somebody could hear it and go, "I know what to do with that." I can help. I have one co-writer, a really great guitar player, Wendell Mobley, and I'll start trying to play some guitar and his favorite thing is he'll always go, "Give it to daddy." "I know what you're trying to do. Give it here." I feel like all my stuff is like that. Somebody's like, "Okay, give it to daddy. We got it."

 

- That's awesome. And with that, we should back up because your father was a songwriter. But you didn't set out to be a songwriter, you became a journalist in Chicago right after graduating from Brigham Young University.

 

- Yeah. I grew up with my dad, you know, around my dad, All those greats, I mean, Merle Haggard's in my house singing and writing. To me, he's just... I remember one time I said to my dad, when they were all sitting around. Back then they called them guitar-pulls. 'Cause, you know, somebody plays his song and you could reach over and pull the guitar to you It's like, "Let me play you one." And I said to my dad, I said, about Merle Haggard singing, I said, "I can hardly hear him." And, yeah, my dad goes, "Microphone can hear him." But these were people in my house, but it's just what my dad did. And if it didn't have a ball, I wasn't interested in it, you know?

 

- So, clearly you've had quite a few legends come through there. But at the time, did you understand the value of their work and who they were? Or were you just...

 

- Sometimes we like, and you know, I knew who they were. You knew they were, "Oh, that's a star." And a lot of stars in a room. Man, they're stars for a reason. And that's priceless, right? Some are very unassuming, like Merle Haggard. Some like Tanya Tucker were very like, as soon as they entered, you just... If I didn't know as a kid, I could tell you which ones were the stars. If someone just had presence. When they picked up a guitar and played or sang, you knew. When something went to this... You know like, hey, everybody was good. And now some we went to this whole off the chart level of good, you know? This was great. But you know, something I didn't think about it too much or anything, it was just what my dad did. And a lot of it wasn't always at the house. They always got in trucks and drove off. They fished while they wrote. They did things, so they weren't around. So you just didn't think about it. So then I sort of got into journalism, was a newspaper reporter. And so, I was doing that. And then I would just play or write songs that were parodies of other songs about news events and things and it kind of entertained them and stuff. And then my dad heard some of them and he said, "Have you ever thought about writing something serious."

 

- Right.

 

- So I wrote, I've tried a few things and I wrote, and the 10th one I wrote was, "Baby's Gotten Good At Goodbye," by George Strait. And so once your hobby pays better than your job, you start thinking, "Well, maybe I'll switch." And I wrote so many parodies that pretty soon people were asking me about the parodies more than my songs. And one writer told me, he said, "You might wanna quit that, or you'll only be known for that stuff." And it was like, you're just like writing just the funny songs and you could do them quick while you're having lunch, just joking around. But yeah, I kinda quit that.

 

- Tell me more about your dad and his career and kind of his roots.

 

- My dad was born in Cumming, Georgia, in Forsyth County. And, a long line of people that come from there, both his mom and dad's side. I can go to any cemetery in Forsyth County and I'm related to half the dead people in there. And so, but he grew up in the Atlanta area. They moved there and my grandfather had some... Think back when grocery stores were like neighborhood grocery stores and they delivered and things, and that's what my grandfather had. And then my dad grew up delivering for him and doing that and then went into the military and then came out and he had some stores, he kind of like his dad. He had a furniture store, started a used furniture store then it was new furniture. Then he had a little shopping plaza, that had different storefronts, somebody rented it out. And then one of those stores that we had was a music store, guitars and pianos and picks and strings and all that. And there was a... round the back there was a basement in the shopping plaza. And we lived in a little house at behind for a little while then he got some more anchorage out from there. But every Saturday down in the basement they had a jamboree. And my dad would go around to the shows of all the little country stars that came through Jack Green, Jeannie Seely, any of those old stars that came through and played Atlanta, they wouldn't necessarily always do it one night stand. They might do three or four nights, do the whole weekend or the whole week. And so my dad would go down to where they were playing and would pretty much make friends with the band and then tell the bands they had a store. And if they came by, he'd give him all the strings and picks and any of that stuff that they wanted he would just give it to them, and then anything they wanted to buy like guitars or anything, he would sell it to them at cost. Oh, and on Saturday morning, if you wanted to come by, "Yeah. We have like a little jamboree you can sit in and pick." And then Barry, as he's walking by, he would always say, "Oh and if your star wants to come, they're welcome too." And a hundred percent of the time the star would come too. Who don't want free picks and strings and you know, all this kind of stuff, and they had nothing to do, they're sitting in town. So they'd come Saturday morning and, you know, pick and play at the show and my dad got to know 'em, and was writing songs and doing this kind of thing himself, and he met Hank Cochran. A very hall of fame songwriter, wrote too many hits to try to list right now. And Hank was the one that told him and said, "Look if you wanna do this, you got to move to Nashville." So I think about 1968, 67, 68, I was about eight years old. We moved up here to Nashville. Lived in an old town called Hendersonville in the Lake community on the North side of Nashville. My dad did bring enough. He sold the plaza and sold a lot of that but he took enough inventory to open a little music store down in Madison, hired somebody to help kind of run it, and he gave it one year. Said, he'd give it one year, and he had a cut on right price was the B side or for the good times. It's I think it was "April's fool." "April's fool" was what it was. There goes April's fool. ♪ There goes April's fool. ♪ But right on the heels of that, right after that, he got, "Is Anybody Going To San Antone" on Charlie Pride. ♪ Is anybody going to San Antone. ♪ Within, you know, right there towards it, when the year was about it, he was gonna give it a year. So he had that and so he stayed in that. So he had a good run there late sixties, early mid seventies was kind of like his era.

 

- Henderson is where Conway Twitty was living. Johnny Cash was living.

 

- Lived there in Hendersonville, yeah. It was a very popular place because of the lake. A lot of those had property, you know, like Jeannie, had property on the lake.

 

- You saw a lot of those guys around, I mean you saw them.

 

- Oh yeah. More importantly, I saw their children. I saw their offspring, riding mini bikes and playing backyard football and stuff. So, but like I said, It was, when you grow up around something, it just is. And it just is a way of life and kind of, you know, it's just around. I think the biggest thing that I picked up more than anything was just being around songs. And a lot of people get into any type of music, grew up around it. Their parents loved it, they had records, their radio was on, but I had another side of it. I heard them sitting around playing it for each other. I heard their hits. I heard their things that were great, that nobody cut but everybody made 'em play it all the time. I heard their I just heard it all. And so I think at some point it felt like, I still, to this day, I feel like in my bones, I know what a great country song is. I just, I kind of just know.

 

- So the songs that don't make the records that everybody loves, you know, today you have songs that don't go on radio, and radio is a whole another ball game, but back then why would they not put them on a record if they were that great?

 

- If for any reason, it's, you know, you're dealing with a funnel, you're gonna write more than anybody is gonna cut, they're gonna cut more than they're gonna put on a record. They're gonna put out, they're gonna cut more on an album than they got put on a single, and nowadays it's changed so much now that I don't know what albums are, you know. What does that mean anymore? Cause it's changing, the streaming, are they gone? Look, man streaming pays the same. If my song is two seconds or 20 minutes, I'm writing some really short songs man. You think the Beatles had some short ones. I'll be writing 30 seconds songs, if I was an artist, and putting them out, pick it up.

 

- How many of those songs you heard as a kid that were never cut you're now funneling?

 

- Yeah. That's it? Well, I mean, you know, they were probably not, you know, at any given time to the artist wants to do a certain thing. They're artists, they're putting something that's out, you're writing it, but then they're taking what works for them. They're taking it the next step further. And so sometimes a lot of the songs that I think a lot of the writers were not necessarily, you know, maybe radio friendly, even in its day, it was talking about something else or it was just, you know, just didn't fit anything. I think it's the same today. I think it's the same today. You can just write something that everybody loves but nobody cuts. I got list of songs of which artists will come up to me, singers will come up to me at events and sing it to me. No same part of it to me. And I'm thinking, "Why don't you..." But they just, they love it, but it's not right for me. And I can understand, I can understand that.

 

- Yeah. You're growing up in Nashville, you're around legends who, you know, at the time there were stars now legends, even more so with the Ken Burns project on country music, which is amazing. You decide to become a journalist. You go off, you moved to Chicago?

 

- Yeah. That's where I got my first job. My wife, had a better degree than me. The kind of degree where people come to campus and interview you and say, "Please come work for us." And so she got a job as a buyer for JC Penney in Chicago. And so since nobody came to talk to me and I was at that point, collecting rejection slips, I was honestly paused, collected all the notes, you know, cause then one day I thought, "Hey, if I make it I can show all these rejections and stuff." So she got that really good job. So we moved to Chicago and then I went interviewing around there and I finally got it. I got a job there, worked for a couple of different newspapers in Chicago.

 

- And my dad is a journalist. He was a lifelong journalist.

 

- What did he write?

 

- Well, he was a broadcast journalist for KSL, which was the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake city, and his job was to cover religion. What moved you though from, you know, obviously you wrote this song, "Baby's Got Good," and George Strait picks that up. I mean, you went from parodies, you were just doing that for fun while you're doing all the news, the sad stuff, the violence, the...

 

- It'd be like, "Okay, I love basketball." A big black dude doing nothing but trick shots. And somebody comes over and says, "Have you ever thought about trying to jumper?" You know, just like lay it up, you know, kind of thing. And so I just sort of did it, just sort of you know, just saw, "Okay, well, let's just see what we do." And then I, you know. For me at anything, you know, when you're... it's tough when you're first doing something creatively because you know what it should be. Right? And what you're doing. Sometimes that gap is so far that it can be discouraging. you know? There was no pressure on me. I just thought, "Okay, well, I'll try it." So I wrote some and he really liked, he liked "Baby's Gotten Good At Goodbye." I mean, that's like just saying, "Okay, I really like that one." I don't know. I think growing up, my dad used to always say about country songs, "Keep them in the bedrooms and bathrooms," bedrooms and bathrooms. And I was going, "That would be so boring." To write every day over and over. That'd be like, not only are you gonna be a greeting card writer, I want you to concentrate on birthdays. Only birthdays. Never write anything about birthdays and children's birthdays. After 12, don't write anything after 12, and not too young, just like stay in the six to 12 year old birthday. Okay. Bedrooms and bathrooms, they don't... I heard a song on the radio by Mac McAnally and it was called, "It's A Crazy World, But I Live Here." And if you can hear it, and that's what he sings. He said, "It's a crazy world, but I live here. And if you can hear me singing so do you and I'm turning out my night light feeling satisfied there's nothing any one of us can do." ♪ I'm turning out my night light feeling satisfied ♪ ♪ That there's nothing any one of us can do. ♪ And I went, "You can write that?" Because I was just used to what they were writing about country music. I thought, and to me that suddenly became, "Okay, that's really interesting." So even though "Baby's Gotten At Goodbye" is saying she's leaving and all that kind of thing, there was something a little bit more intriguing that you could write about other things. Now I don't get those cut very often, but it suddenly, it was just, yeah, I was just a teenager, maybe 18 or something like that, when I heard Mac's album. I bought the album and I didn't go out and buy albums. Okay? I had Bob Seger album, I had a Bob Wills Texas Playboys album that I took off my dad at some event, you know, it was laying around. I loved that Texas since. I'd never heard anything like it. And I had that. And then I went and bought Mac McAnally's album. It was like second thing I ever bought. And I didn't buy a lot. I was a radio. I just listened to radio.

 

- As a songwriter in the industry, one thing I've noticed, I've kind of compared you to Jerry Seinfeld, you know, in the comedy world, because Seinfeld never goes to the four-letter words. He goes, "You've got to use some intelligence for your humor to last," and listening to a lot of your music, you always create these situations where people meet, but it's, you never say bar. I don't know any of your songs that, "say we met in a bar." It's, "We were in a room," or we were...

 

- I don't purposely stay away from that, but on the same token, you know, you write what you know. I don't hang out in bars. I don't drink. That don't mean a character in my song isn't gonna be, I mean, third rock from the sun. There's kids who, you know, there's a guy that goes out for a beer, leaves his motor running and kids steal the car and you know, it's not like I leave it completely alone, but I write it in the way that I know it. Plus I also want to write something that is as specific as possible, but as broad as possible. You know, where it's personal but universal, a person can identify with it but so can a million other people. So you're trying to leave room every time you write, you're trying to put in all the things you need but leave room for the individual, the listener, to plug themselves in it and identify with it.

 

- You simplify it. And I remember the conversation we had when we first started talking at Anthem and we went to lunch and my concept of songwriting, just, I thought I knew how to write a song, but there is a language, there is a language within country music that is so different, and you explained how you have to learn kind of the simple things that everyone can understand, everyone can comprehend and feel.

 

- So what makes country country? Why is country music, country music? And a lot of people, you know, I don't know if they do this in LA. Do they argue what rock and roll is? Do they argue what pop is? We do in Nashville. We have lots of... "Oh, that's not country. It can't be. That ain't country." And I'm going, "I don't know what that means. I really don't..." Because they'll go well, "Country is you got steel in fiddle," but Willie Nelson had neither in his band. I don't remember ever seeing with that in there. So I go at some point, what is country, and makes it different than rock and roll. A level rock and roll. Classic. Gimme Bob Seger all day and night.

 

- You get the Bob Seger man. You probably had the Bob Seger shirt, when you wrote, "You Look Good In My Shirt."

 

- It's like, I love that. I love that step. Anything in it's pure basic form, Okay? And it's been true what it sells. So at some point country, it's not steel, it's not fiddle, but it has this, a lot of time, at least a linear thought, to some extent. We're closer to storytellers, right? We are telling the story. Now that doesn't mean the story has to have a beginning a middle and the end. And I can tell you the story of this one moment where he saw the girl for the first time or she left him, or, you know, anything you wanna talk about or sitting there thinking about something like it's a crazy world, but I live there. There's a feeling of a story and there's more in that, whether it's a three frame cartoon or a one frame cartoon, there's a whole big story in it. I think that makes, most of the time too I think you know what a country song is talking about. It's not kind of like, "I don't know, but boy it just sounds cool." They're more kind of, at least the young ones have accused me of being that. That's what they say when I'm... And I think when they're saying, "That's old school," I'm kinda, "Okay, that's old fashioned. All right. Let's try to work on that." I'm open. I learn.

 

- That's awesome. So tell me how you kind of built the business side of things, because I know that you sold your publishing entity to LA, which is now Anthem Entertainment, you became a songwriter and then you own the Baby May music, catalog of about 600 songs. Was that an independent company or were you guys...

 

- No, everything I've done. I've done it in partnership with people. For same reason a lot of people have partners because the other partner does something that, better than you or something you don't do or don't want to do. I don't consider myself particularly good in math. I don't, you know, I'm a generous tipper cause I can't do math in my head. I just go to the high side. But when it's my money, I get real good about math. The one thing that stuck in my dad or that my dad said that stuck in my head was catalog, catalog, catalog. You can't have too many great songs. And that's, what's, that's where the value. So like a lot of the young people will come and you know, will say, you know, "What is my business?" And they laugh. They go, "Well, you write songs?" I say, "No, that's what I do. What's my business?" And then they go, "I don't get it." And I just say, "Copyrights. Copyrights is the business."

 

- Yes, it is

 

- Protect copyright, create the copyright, collect, you know, exploit it, do these things. And so, I like a partner who does all of those things. I'll create, you exploit, and cut in we work together. So Baby May was in conjunction with Bill Ham who was the manager of ZZ Top and had Clint Black and he had a publishing company down in Texas and we were partners for a long time. He only recently passed away like last couple of years. He was a great partner, easy you know, he was just Texas, you know. "I did it my way. How do you want to do it your way? Let's do that together." You know, kind of thing.

 

- It's beautiful.

 

- And so you build that catalog out once you feel like you've got a catalog and you're gonna go somewhere else, you might sell that catalog. By the time I sold all my... I think I'd sell you know, like four or something. So you build them up and then, and it's really more like if you're just thinking business, it's just diversifying. If I'm gonna reach up into the future and I'm gonna take that money now and let you collect what it's gonna be and you're gonna pay me for that and I need to go put that in another asset class. So I've got money coming in from the music. It's not all just music business, you know, you've gotta go invest in other things.

 

- It's like real estate. The song is a piece of property.

 

- That's right.

 

- Every time you create a song, it has value.

 

- Yes. Please understand that if Washington DC would understand that it has value we could give it away. Yes. That would be a glorious thing. But yeah. And a catalog is nothing but, if you put tech into real estate, but a collection of properties.

 

- Yeah.

 

- You know. Or an apartment complex.

 

- You bring up the government, you bring up the, you know, the politics of songwriting. Explain what you're saying because songwriters, they create these songs, there's a very low cut, and now the industry is trying to create a way to just give more way, but still collect.

 

- Yeah. And I don't know that I quite understand the modern music thing that's so hard to understand it. I understand that it's for us. I don't understand all the details of it. I think that when we de-value something and make it... It's not all just that. It's not all Spotify or Pandora, everything, it's also the, we fractured it up. You're not doing mass media as much. We still have radio. We still have some mass media, but in how it's being paid. From the very beginning songwriters were basically given a rate. There's a rate. And we're told, "You get X number of cents." So we started at one penny. For each piece of music sold the writer, publishers, everybody split that one penny for each one sold. We've made it all the way to nine point what nine point something cents, and a hundred and something years. And now we've kind of gone backwards and now we're going... Cause it is. It's new tech time. Okay. This is new land. How do we figure? What's the stream worth? What does that mean? How do we factor that in? Well it's 0.0006. And I was going, "Wow, you know that's kinda, that's hard." So it gets harder and harder for a songwriter to make a living the more you slice that and slice that and slice that. So that at some point everything that comes about as a benefit, I think artists can benefit greatly from Spotify. When you think of the artists who have who are able to create audiences who've never, you know, mass audiences. But as far as the songwriter who just writes songs like me this hits getting a lot tougher. If you don't have that radio hit it's really tough to make it. You can't, it's just hard to give something big enough to slice it up that thin.

 

- Plus, it's very difficult to actually get into the system when you have so many people creating.

 

- Yeah. I don't know what they call it, but even ours, I always call, I say, "How do you get out of the weeds?" Like how does anybody even know you're there? Like I'm thinking if there... if I go on Spotify which I don't, you know, I don't go on it too much. My kids have it and show it to me. I either figure, most of the time now I figure, I can either spend the day learning new technology or I can write another song.

 

- More catalog. Make more catalog.

 

- I'm a big subscriber to the full bucket of water theory of the mind, and once I get a full bucket, I can pour new information in, but some information is gonna spill out and I'm pretty sure one day they're gonna show me how to use this new technology I'm gonna forget my way home. So I was like, "I don't wanna do it anymore." That might sound old. But I can't, I can't, I can't. I can't lie with a man, you know? So I think there's some really smart people at NSAI who are out there, you know, working for us, and all the songwriters who do it who go to Washington, who've made our cases. I have gone with them a couple of times trying to make these cases, and I think we've got people on our side, I think it's good. I think the other entities are gonna fight their fight, and we're gonna fight our fight, and I think somewhere, I believe in the, you know, the better angels are gonna win.

 

- Right.

 

- We gotta stay accurate. We gotta push it. But I think in the end we'll be better off, it'll be better down the road as most all progress is you know. If we'll embrace it and then, you know, get our fair share, I think it'll be great.

 

- I think this is also one reason why a lot of songwriters who become artists and try to pretty much own everything so they are in complete control. That's been my path, write it, own the label, own the publishing, build it like you say, because then you get to a place where they give you a retirement check because you've worked your tail off.

 

- Right. What's it like anything it's like you build a business. So for me, the biggest battle at one point, that I kind of waited into was for a while, when we sold these catalogs, because we were the creators also, we did not get capital gains tax. We built something, we built a business on every other business. You sell it based on the game and you're taxed on the game.

 

- Right.

 

- And we were taxed for the full price of it back when when I first sold first catalogs and things. And so a lot of the times I went to Washington it was like, there's a certain unfairness in this, because my partner, Bill Ham, we both sold our shares and he paid half the taxes and trust me, he has ZZ Top and Clint Black, and he reached out to me, okay? But he paid half the tax I did cause he paid on his game. And so we weren't just creators. We would create... this side of me is creating but this side has to take care of business.

 

- Right.

 

- You know, I have to put roof over our heads, just like anybody else. We've got to send kids to school. We've got to make sure they got shoes. And you've got all of those things, you know, that you have to do today. So at some point I think, you know, having a fair market and the pricing, what is different for songwriters that most people don't realize is we are one... and I'm not versed enough to know, but I don't... What other business are they telling us how much we can charge in which we are not part of a cap and trade. We're not pulling the fish out of the Lake. We're not overgrowing, you know, growing too much corn. Like I'm telling you if there's anything, there's not enough great songs. You can't do enough, okay? And trust me, the not good ones are gonna get weeded out. You know, they just, they do. So I don't know how many places are told how much they can charge and get paid in which there's no limited resource or anything there's no cap and trade involved. So I don't pretend to understand it enough so please edit out any of this. If it ends up in-

 

- No man, I think-

 

- I have no sources, I'm not corroborating any of this. I'm just saying, it's just hard all the work in songwriter who's nothing else. It's hard.

 

- Knowing what you know now though, would you have still pursued the path?

 

- You know, I have actually been asked that by a couple of young songwriters starting now. And I go, "I don't know." Because I didn't grow up when you grew up. I didn't grow up under the influence that you grew up under. I mean, I'm seventies rock and roll, you know. And so, but when I think of myself, I go, "Okay, what is innate in me?" I didn't start in it for money, you know. Very few people do any of this starting for money, 'cause there's no money in the beginning. And certainly not that its steady. And so, I remember thinking, "Wow, if I could just have, you know, just a couple of songs on a BMI that paid me this I'd be so happy," you know? And just like anything else, you know, it's never enough. Just a little bit more. I think at some point there's still a part of me I think I would have done it just simply because I like being in the room writing the song. And if there's any chance that it can get out of the room on its own and go out into the world and just be staying and just be out there that's enough, that's generally enough for me. It was in the beginning. It is now the end that all my children have moved out and I'm a hippy master and I've got a nice nest egg tucked away, you know. I can say that. In the middle, I'm not so sure I wanted to say any of that. I don't know.

 

- Dolly Parton told me in a group of people that she had, you know, we asked, "Do you ever get tired to coming to these things and giving advice?" She said, "Well, I dreamed myself into a corner." And I thought that was such a wise thing because it is. You know, sometimes it's better not to know. You know, that's just the journey, you know?

 

- That's why every old person tells a young person "Do it while you're young." You need the energy and you don't need to know. you don't need, you know, just like, you show my kids the picture of my wife and I, the day we got married and you know, we're just standing there. We really didn't spend no money on a photographer. This is actually, we're done married, and somebody took a,

 

- Polaroid comes out.

 

- And that was it. That's our picture. And it's windy and the hair's getting blown and we're overdressed for where we look and on. And I tell my kids, look at the picture. I said, "You have no idea how much those two young people do not know."

 

- What's it like to raise a family in the music business particularly out there in Nashville.

 

- I don't, I mean, a parent view, you have better that question ask my kid. I was raised in one.

 

- You were raised in one.

 

- I was raised, I was a kid in one and I've been a parent in one. And I just, I don't know how much it was like any different than anybody else's thing. You know, it just, you, might've got to say, "What does your dad do?" "Well, he writes songs."

 

- Right.

 

- Which might sound cooler than selling insurance or something. I don't know. But it depends on how good your dad is at songwriting too because you know, that kid's selling... his dad's selling insurance and he's got jet-skis and you don't. But so, you know, who knows? I don't know how much my kids, even my wife a lot of times will say, "What was that one song we wrote for..." you know. And I like that. It just, you know, to me, it just feels more normal. Normal.

 

- Been in the industry, has that helped your kids kind of see through the smoke and mirrors at the mirage of fame because they understand the process? Because when you understand the process, it seems like...

 

- I think they understand the process of writing a song. And I think they can apply that to making music. I have one son that liked to make music. He doesn't do that now he's in real estate. And so, I think they understand that it is work. It is work. It doesn't look like work. I remember one time I was laying on a couch and a guitar was down beside the couch and I was just laying on, kind of had my eyes closed, and I was kind of half sleeping. And my daughter came through with her friend and she told her friend to "My dad's working." And I thought, "They get it." They get it. It don't look like, but I'm working

 

- The brain, that brain. What's the most painful hit song you've, the process, the most painful hit song you've got.

 

- I don't know. I don't know that I equate any of them with pain. You know, some trip longer than others. I think maybe it might be, I'm always amazed when a woman can have more than one baby. You don't remember what that pain was like. Maybe it's like that. Maybe birthing songs it's like women having babies. I don't remember anything.

 

- Oh, I thought there was a lyric. I thought there was a lyric you were writing.

 

- No, because I'm going, when it's done, it's so wonderful. But I remember, I know songs in which I'll take one, writing the last... Jason Aldean, "A Little More Summertime." Jerry Flowers and I got together and we were writing and just, he kind of had a little melody, and was kind of looking for an idea and we spent the whole day talking and trying different ideas, and then I think eventually, you know, he plays bass for Keith Urban I think maybe he had to go catch the bus or something. So we kind of ended, but right at the end, It just sort of fell out, I just went, "If we just had a little more summer time." And I thought, I didn't even know what it meant. I just went, "That's just kind of cool. There's something cool about that." And we didn't do nothing, I bet it was a year and it just laid around, you know, nothing to it. And then one day I was with Wendell Mobley and we didn't have anything. And I said, "You know I got this one thing with Jerry." And he went, "Can we..." we bought the three of them had written together and that's, so we've kind of gotten... So I had this little idea and I've thought about it and I actually kind of had like a little verse with it. And the melody changed and change and change. I think Wendell and I might've got together over about a half a year. we picked it up three, four times, and then put it down. And when Wendell went, "What if the courses drop out," and you know, that's some would have just hung up in their sky, you know, like that. Like a dropout kind of thing. And suddenly it went, here I am.

 

- Wow.

 

- You know. And so then suddenly it became a lot easier. Now, was that process in front of it painful or hard? No, because I will put it down and work on something else. I don't know that I equate anything with pain. I've had a lot of painful where I lost this single.

 

- This is what I'm talking about. This is what I'm talking about. If it's okay, I mean, you just recently lost one. The Tim McGraw album.

 

- I lost the cut. Yeah. I lost the cut. I lost a lot of cuts. I've always, very early on I decided, okay, what did I need to do is, is to, natural human tendency is to, whatever you got, to think of the next thing. That's what you do. As soon as you open your last Christmas present. "Okay. Now for my birthday, I want..." Right? You go to the next thing. So if somebody likes your song, you say it's on hold. And if they hold it or they cut it. If they cut it, it'll be a single. If it's a single, it's a hit. If it's a hit, I'm a millionaire, right? That's a natural human thing to go, boom, boom, boom, out that way. I decided I would flip it. Everything. I would go one back. If they go, "Hey so-and-so put your song on hold," I'd go, "Cool, they like it." If they cut it, I go, "Cool, it's on hold." If they say, "It's gonna be a single," I'm going, "I made the record." Except that turned out to not be true one time. I had the first single, lost it, and then got dropped off the record. So, but I think a lot of times just... At that work best for me just to sort of temperate back your expectations. Because once again, once the song leaves the room, that's my child, I'm the dad. It's out in the world doing things and I'm not. I don't give any sight anymore. There's a lot of smart... Like at number one parties, they throw them for the writers, but there's a lot of people that made that thing a number one song. Who might even work harder and more hours at it than I did on my part. Right? I appreciate it all, but every time we do it, I wanna make sure all those people understand that, I understand everything that they did. Everything that they did. All the hours that they talked over radio stations to get it on there, all their effort, all their time, all their push, and all the, you know, the hours the artist puts into that. You know, it's just, it's amazing. I couldn't, it's...

 

- You know, this is an episode... this is a podcast about people who are all hurt. You're obviously one person who I have a lot of respect for because you know how to separate the business from your personal life. You're a man, a devoted family man. You're a man of faith. Your church is very important to you. When all is said and done, and Tony's in a writer's room somewhere on the other side, what is it that you hope people remember about Tony Martin?

 

- As a writer, Look, I remember playing in golf down in Florida with Gerry House. And Gerry House had had a... He was a radio disc jockeys and like a hall of fame legend radio morning personality. Very, very funny. Very, very clever man. And very thoughtful. And he had had the brain, I think it was an aneurysm. He had said something one time we were playing golf, and he said, "You know, there's really, people want to have mattered." Right? Or, excuse me, he said, "They want to matter."

 

- Right. They want to matter. And if they don't matter anymore to have mattered. And that's what human, you know, the thing. It's kind of similar like, people need hope, people need love, people need water, people need, As a writer, I appreciate that, my community of writers appreciate what I do and go, "Yeah, he was good. He did good. He worked hard. He did that. I liked that." I appreciate all that. But if I'm on the other side, and at the end of the day, I want, I wanna mean something to my wife and my kids. And that's what I want. That's what means anything to me. Cause I'm telling you, I take that out, I don't know how much I do this, you know, you would lose a zest or something, you know. For anything that you do, once the things that matter aren't in it,

 

- Right.

 

- And this isn't, you know, I don't know. I think about it. I hope the other side's more interesting that I've got things to keep me occupied.

 

- Anybody over there that you'd love to write with?

 

- Yeah. I don't know. I don't know.

 

- You don't think about those things?

 

- No, I think I don't, I think a bit like, "Holy cow, there's gotta be something way more interesting than listening to radio, you know, over there. It's gotta be better, right?" You know. I was working on a song and it started, you know, and this was one of those, 'I don't know where it would go, what it would do," but I started out with, you know, so like when I get to heaven and then I see God, I'm gonna have a lot of questions, but I think he's gonna have some questions for me too, you know. And then, you know, you're scared into the questions that he's gonna ask you you know, Cause that's what we always say. "Well, when I get there, I'm gonna ask him," I'm going, "Don't you ever worry about what he's gonna ask you?" That's what I worry about. He's gonna ask me some questions. You gonna be ready.

 

- You need to write that because you write. Everybody's writing these "When I get to heaven," songs but it's like, "When I get to hell."

 

- Yeah. I don't know. I think that there's, you know, there's something bigger and better. And I say bigger and better because I go with the, when you're talking about heaven, I don't care how good you think it is. It's bad. And I don't care how big you think it is and who's all gonna be in it. It's bigger. It's bigger and it's better. It's beyond comprehension. We don't know it. That's why I say like, for me, when I start thinking in that, toward that direction, I start going. I get a feeling when we get there it's gonna be like starting kindergarten again. You know, it's like when we started, you can be like babies again, you know? And then just think of it. That'd be great to be that capacity to suck up new information and things like that, you know. To be learning and to feel, and to see and feel and be in that type of situation with people, you know. Meet people. I know in this life, when people go, "This is your second cousin." My mother does that a lot. Okay. Being in Utah, from Utah, which cross. I can't go visit her in Utah. "This is " She'll go through this whole age. And I go, "I can't frame it in my head. How am I related to you?" And then at some point, I finally came to the conclusion, "Oh, I'm related to everybody." Aren't we?

 

- Well, you do a genealogy chart, which is what Utah, you know everybody. That is the map and we're all connected. It is amazing.

 

- They'll go up and come down. I'm related to I mean, you know, pick somebody. I know I can go high enough up and come way enough down, your list, exists grant. Yeah he's your relative. So at some point you're going, maybe that's the point. We're all God's children. We are all really.

 

- Wouldn't it be nice if people kind of all saw this big map this genealogy thing and go, "Yeah, we are connected." Would that change our current situation?

 

- Yeah. I think the broader you look out from yourself, situations change. I get in this discussion all the time "Do people change," and I go, "I think they change," but here's how I would think they change. I think they change perspective. And when you change perspective, it changes you. Like the apostle Paul, right? The guy's going a hundred miles an hour persecuting saints. Jesus shows up, talks to him, he's going a hundred miles an hour the other way, converting the saints. But who's Paul. Paul's a hundred miles an hour, right? He just changed direction. So I think that that's the capacity that God's children have. That you change that perspective, you'd be amazed what people will do. And a lot of times we get to kind of focus in our side. I do. When I'm sitting in a room, writing a song, what am I thinking about? I'm thinking about, it gets down to not even a song anymore. It gets down to just this one half of a phrase and it's not laying right or I don't like this one line. That's the human nature here on earth. We kind of get hold the row you're in.

 

- I think for me that's the beauty in it all is God is very detailed. Everything is very detailed from you spending that moment trying to kick that certain phrase, that certain note, that certain song. Everything is detailed.

 

- It's like when I was growing up and we went to a... Well it was part slaughterhouse and they made hot dogs. And yeah, I didn't want to eat a hot dog for 15 minutes. You know, it was really... Turned me off hotdogs for 15 minutes. By the end, when they gave me a free sample I thought, "I'm okay, put some mustard on. I can eat it." But boy, I'm telling you when I saw it made, you don't want... That's when, then suddenly that cliche made sense. They don't wanna know how it's made. Just enjoy it. Just enjoy it. It's like to get away from your song, Paul, get far enough away from it. Have you been far enough away from one of your songs that you now hear it like I'm listening?

 

- I tend to not listen to a lot of the stuff because my music is all pain. There's a lot of pain in my music because it's very emotional, it's very therapeutic. So I tend to not go backwards because it's like my... It's an autobiographical journal. All those emotions are things I experienced and coming to Nashville I'm like, "Oh, I can write some happy stuff."

 

- May I suggest you use your imagination? "I wonder what it feel like if someone was happy?" I wonder what they feel like?

 

- Well, I'm happy. I'm really happy. But for whatever reason, it's like-

 

- Eat some chocolate, play the piano.

 

- Go to a slaughterhouse and then eat a hot dog.

 

- Yes, let's do that one. Eating as much chocolate ice cream as you want and write a song while you're doing it and see what that is.

 

- You're awesome. Thank you so much, Tony. So appreciate it. On behalf of American Songwriter and All Heart. Huge fans of you. Thank you for everything.

 

- Well, you're an easy hang Paul. Please edit this. Edit it.