“We help develop new and proven artists to further their careers and sell product via the likes of Walmart, Best Buy, iTunes and Target,” Mike said. “We are also a developmental avenue for selective new artists that have financial backing.
“They pretty much pay their nut. They come to us. I put together a budget and consult them and actually help them start their own label. We’ll do administration for them and then help them get up distribution.
“We’re really the promotion arm. They pay us a fee up front. It gets expensive, but the money doesn’t all go to us. It goes to the independent contractor. It goes to the publicist. It goes to the manufacturer. It helps keep the doors open,” Mike said.
“Artist development is the most expensive part of breaking in an artist,” Martha said. “You have to know the ropes to go down. It costs $1.5 million to $2 million to break in a new artist with a major label. People kept calling Mike to pay for his advice.
“So a change in our business plan evolved to artist development: Putting the right artist in the right place at the right time with the right song with the right producer.”
Don’t confuse Lofton Creek Records with the book world’s version of a vanity press. The Borchettas are in business to sell hit records with talented singers and, hopefully, make money for all involved.
“We don’t take anybody that Mike doesn’t totally think can make it,” Martha said.
“If I picked everybody right, we wouldn’t be sitting here, but my percentage is pretty good,” said Mike, whose track record crossed the paths of more than 200 No. 1 songs in some form or fashion.
Going back to the early 1960s in Los Angeles, Mike, 69, helped in the development of the careers of such artists as The Beach Boys, The Lettermen, Wayne Newton, Dusty Springfield and Glen Campbell.
Over the past two decades he has abetted the success of Tim McGraw, LeAnn Rimes, Hal Ketchum and Heartland.
Sitting behind the big desk, which once belonged to Jack Warner of Hollywood Warner Bros. fame, Borchetta can eye the walls that are covered with photographs of himself with famous singers. Behind his back is a large framed image of McGraw and a golden disc of the big hit “Indian Outlaw.”
One block of space is devoted to pictures of the music executive with N.Y. Yankee baseball players and coaches. And there are also lots of photos of racehorses, Mike and Martha’s No. 1 hobby that combines pleasure and business.
Last week Lofton Creek, along with Capitol, Big Machine, Universal, Curb and Valory, was nominated by New Music Weekly magazine for Country Label of the Year, an honor it has won twice in the past five years.
Lofton Creek Records began as a label in Jacksonville, Fla., founded by a man in the trucking industry. He hired the Borchettas to helm the company in Nashville in 2002. They scored financially right off the bat with their music publishing arm, Borchetta-Shaffer Music, as part owners of the 2003 No. 1 Joe Nichols hit, “Brokenheartsville.”
They were about to phase out of the music business in 2006 when Martha discovered the group Heartland. Mike, who exudes enthusiasm and claims that he has never been motivated by money, flipped over their song, “I Loved Her First,” and sprang into action.
“I told the group, ‘I don’t have the budget to put this record out. If you want to pay for part of it, I’ll jump start it.’ So these kids paid $10,000, and we pressed the record and mailed it,” Mike said. “We began to get calls, not from people saying they wanted to hear it again but people asking, ‘Where do we buy it?’
“I had the kids come in and cut them a check and said, ‘Here’s your money back. We’re gonna take a run at it,” Mike said. “I don’t know how we did it with such a small staff. I went to every friend I had (in radio) over 30 or 40 years and said, ‘Just try this record. Play it.’ They said it was tacky and the production was terrible but it was a nice song. And I said, ‘Can I get you to play it one time? Just one play?’ Whenever the radio stations did play it, they called back within an hour telling me, ‘The phones won’t stop.’
“We probably sold 20,000 of the albums out of the office, and we were selling single copies for $10 apiece.”
Once they latched onto a distributor, who told the Borchettas that they planned to spend $500,000 on promoting and displaying it, Mike realized, “I knew we had a No. 1 record.”
Indeed, the first day into stores, the Heartland album sold 60,000 copies and debuted at No. 3 on the charts.
“It’s such a building process. What happens, where people make a lot of mistakes, they try to go from A to F without going A, B, C, D, E, F. It’s hard to keep people patient. I tell them it usually takes three years to make it, and they say, ‘I don’t want to wait for two more years.’”
Until recently, Lofton Creek Records was searching for new talent. They did well in 2008 with Mark Chesnutt’s album, “Rollin’ With the Flow.” After they sold Heartland’s contract, they began to concentrate on custom projects, such as Kristina Cornell, with whom they shot a music video in Watertown. These days, they are putting all their stock in two acts.
“The artist right now that we’re pushing, who has a record, ‘Nothing,’ on the charts, is Kelly Parkes. She is on the road now with our son, Brad, pushing the record. I think she’s gonna be a major player,” Mike said. “She cut a song this summer, ‘Girl With the Fishing Rod,’ which was written by Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum.
“And we’ve got two girls from California who came to us, Ashley and Jenny Cooke, and we took them in the studio last month and cut a Beatles song, ‘I Saw Her Standing There.’ We put it to ‘I Saw Him Standing There,’ and they really nailed it.
“We’re going back in the studio this week to cut two more songs. We’ll co-produce that with Darran Smith, Tim McGraw’s band leader. Right now those are the only two Lofton Creek acts on the label and the two we are going to concentrate on.”
Martha and Mike moved the label office to Mt. Juliet in 2006 as both had lived here for more than 25 years.
“Everybody who comes out here says, ‘This is the way Music Row used to be.’ But the main reason we’re in Mt. Juliet,” Martha said, “is because we love Mt. Juliet. We wanted to show Mt. Juliet what Music Row was all about. You know, there are so many musicians out here that play every day on Music Row, and I don’t think there is any other record label, other than ours, sitting here with this kind of talent.”
Martha moved to Mt. Juliet in the early 1980s, a single mom from Cookeville who had experience in the banking industry. She joined forces with a CPA to start a management company for country music star Don Williams.
“I found a lot of creativity in the music business but no business. There was nobody dotting all the ‘i’s and crossing all the ‘t’s, and I saw a huge opportunity,” Martha said. “She’s overly detailed, and she drives me crazy,” Mike said, “but she’s the nuts and bolts and the details. And she keeps me straight.”“If you just take away all what I do from him and let him just be creative, just get out of the way. It will happen. We didn’t realize that, but we’re perfect business partners,” Martha said of the duo dubbed “campus sweethearts” by their Music Row peers.
“What is it about our relationship that keeps it fresh? Our morals and our virtues are the same,” Martha said. “And he does what he does and I do what I do, and it doesn’t bump too often.”
The two met in 1992 when she managed a singer on Curb Records, and Mike gave into her every demand for the artist. It took several months for Martha to catch on to why Mike was so easy.
“We’ve been together ever since then, started a lot of businesses, got seven healthy, wonderful, beautiful, successful children and five grandchildren,” Martha said.
All seven of the children work or have worked in music business. Two work for Lofton Creek: Brad Taylor promotes artists on the road, taking them to meet deejays and program directors, and Adele Borchetta works from Cleveland. Travis Taylor, formerly with Warner Bros. Music, today serves as director of communications for the City of Mt. Juliet. Chris Borchetta is developing a rock artist on the West Coast, while his brother, Mark, creates videos in Los Angeles. Scott Borchetta is president/CEO of Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift, Rascal Flatts, Trisha Yearwood and others), and his sister, Angela, works with him and also promotes singer Jewel.
For Mike the music industry called to him at 17 when he booked and promoted a Bo Diddley concert in his hometown of Westport, Conn. Successful in his first venture, he followed with shows featuring such acts as Dion and the Belmonts, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon and Conway Twitty.
“I was doing all the booking, raised the money for it, hired the police, got the insurance, hired the theater. Everything that was to do with that show, I single-handedly did. And I bought advertising on the radio, designed the tickets, selling the tickets, collecting all the money,” he recalled.
He moved to Hollywood in 1960 at age 19 and took a job as a record promoter for $40 a week. That led to 18-month gig as the youngest promoter in the history of Capitol Records before he enlisted with RCA and later Philips Records.
Along the L.A. way he either helped start or rejuvenate the careers of such acts as Wayne Newton, The Four Seasons and Dusty Springfield. He drove through Nashville in 1976 and knew this was the town he wanted to work in. In 1979 he bought his house in Mt. Juliet, moved his family and made the leap to country music.
In 1988, Borchetta became the vice president of the newly formed Curb Records Nashville, a job he loved for the next six years.
“In the first year-and-a-half we had Hal Ketchum. I took Hal around to all the radio stations. We had ‘Small Town Saturday Night’ at No. 1. It was the most played record of the year (1991). Then two years later we had Tim McGraw.”
He relays the tale of how he discovered McGraw (or was it the other way around?).
“Tim McGraw was referred to me by Bruce Wendell, a friend of Tug McGraw (Tim’s father), that I knew from Los Angeles, and I told him to send a tape, and then Tim came in without an appointment. I was sitting in my office when a kid walks in the front door, walks by the receptionist and walks into my office. He had a hat on this big, and said, ‘I’m Tim McGraw.’ I said, ‘Kid, get out of the room. I’m on the phone.’ After I got off the phone, then I said, ‘Kid come on in.’ I was as rude as I can be.
“He comes in and sits down, and I say, ‘Whatta you got?’ ‘I got a tape.’ I said. ‘Leave your number, I’ll call you.’ He said, ‘Can you listen to it now?’ I played the song. Halfway through the first song, I turned to him and said, ‘You’re a star. You got a contract.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘You’re a Curb artist as of right now.’”
A few years later when McGraw was being interviewed on TV by Larry King, King asked him what was his big break in country music. He answered with two words: “Mike Borchetta.”
The connection led to Lofton Creek Records promoting an album for Shawn King, Larry’s wife. And Larry King is now talking to the Borchettas about making a comedy album.
Lofton Creek Records is a small indie label in a community that is exploding with new homes, new businesses and new development, so who knows what the future may hold for these ambassadors of “Music Row East,” who know how to make things happen when they match the right singer with the right song.
The late legendary rock ‘n’ roll deejay, Wolfman Jack, may have put it best: “Mike Borchetta puts people with people to make things happen.” Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.