When Gary Reamey retired from his role as Sr. Partner at financial services firm Edward Jones after 35 years there, he wasn’t quite ready to kick back and relax.
A lifelong lover of music and songwriting, Reamey would meet every six months or so with former work partners who shared his creative zeal. Three years ago, the group ventured to Nashville.
“I read an article in the New York Times about a company called Pivot Planet. If you wanted to learn more about songwriting, or any topic, they connected you with people. I looked at three or four pictures and bios, and I chose the guy who looked like James Taylor,” he quips. “So, that’s how we got here.”
The James Taylor look-a-like was longtime songwriter and publisher Steve Leslie. “Brand New Strings,” his title cut for Ricky Skaggs’ 2004 album, earned Leslie a Grammy. He has also penned 20 Darryl Worley songs, including “Tennessee River Run” and “Second Wind,” as well as songs recorded by George Strait, Kenny Rogers and more.
In addition to years of experience in Nashville’s songwriter circles, Leslie ran his own independent publishing company for several years. From 2011-2014, Leslie was an adjunct professor of songwriting at Belmont University.
They met at music industry haunt Noshville in Nashville’s Green Hills area.
“It was immediately like I’ve known these guys my whole life. We spent a good part of the day doing some mentoring and they sent me some songs ahead of time,” recalls Leslie. The group, which included Dave Skinner, Howard Lopez, Dan Terry, and Rob Boyd, would end up co-writing a song called “Masterpiece” later that afternoon. Garth Brooks would later put the song on hold.
The group began exploring options for launching a publishing company. As the idea developed, Reamey and Leslie proved to be the most committed and passionate about the project. Leslie gave Reamey “probably thousands and thousands of pages of publishing information to read,” recalls Reamey.
Leslie later visited Reamey’s home in Naples, Florida. In four days, the duo crafted the business plan for SNG Music, with a vision to create a home for top-shelf country songwriters, and the goal of always having a tune in the top 20 on the country charts. SNG Music opened in 2014 in Nashville.
Currently, the roster includes Leslie, Reamey, Marianne Allison, Abbey Cone, Bobby Fischer, Zarni de Vette, and Marty Dodson, who signed with SNG Music in July. He penned Billy Currington’s “Must Be Doin’ Something Right” and “Let Me Down Easy,” Carrie Underwood’s “Songs Like This,” Kenny Chesney’s “Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven,” and more. His song “Bounce” topped the K-Pop charts in Korea, and earned him Asian Song of the Year honors in 2013.
The boutique company’s model focuses on country music, and on keeping its roster at six songwriters, in order to fully engage in developing the writers it represents.
“You can’t be all things to all people,” says Reamey, sitting in a writer’s suite just off Nashville’s Music Row area. “You can do it two ways, based on my business experience. You can either be boutique or try to be the biggest, because anything else in between is tough to run as a business.”
He adds, “I’ve done big. Edward Jones was 40,000 employees and 12,000 offices and 4 million clients and I loved it. But as songwriters owning this business, we needed to stay boutique, and we needed to be very selective in whom we represent. Those writers need to be talented, to be driven to write great songs, and have a music philosophy that is consistent with SNG. They also have to want to help mentor and give back to other songwriters.”
SNG Music is a private partnership, and 100 percent owned by its employees. Each songwriter receives co-publishing on every song they create, and each contract has one-year mutual renewal options.
Additionally, each songwriter develops an annual business plan, outlining what they hope to accomplish in the year ahead. The plan can involve anything from identifying specific writers they hope to co-write with, devising paths for getting songs heard and/or cut by specific artists, outlining writing goals, and recognizing networking and performance opportunities.
“It’s the first time a publisher has ever asked me to do that,” Dodson says. “When they first mentioned it, I thought, ‘Well, my business plan is to write a song tomorrow better than the one I wrote today.’ Gary is great at bringing these business principles into what we do because what we do can be artsy and loose. It helped me really look at what do I want to accomplish and how can I get there? How much time do I need to spend mentoring other people and pitching songs, and working on ideas? Now, I consciously spend more time pitching songs. I block out time for it. It has helped me be more balanced as a writer.”
“It also takes care of addressing expectations that they have and things that I’m accountable for,” says Leslie. “We can have a meeting and talk about where we are. If we didn’t accomplish something, it’s ok, why didn’t we? So Gary brings that great structure here.”
“One of the benefits to it being a private company owned by the employees is we can take a long-term view of things, from a business and a songwriter/development perspective,” Reamey says.
“As an example, Zarni and Abbey are newer writers. They have talent and we’ll take the time to develop them in whatever way it needs to happen,” he adds. “In my old business, we used to say, ‘We are not driven by quarterly financials. We make our decisions based on what is best for the company.’ A lot of times we will say, ‘How will this impact us five, 10, 15 years down the road?’ We can pass this on to the next generation and let them do what they need to do.”
“We want to leave a legacy company,” sums Leslie.