Interview: Chris Keaton – Music Industry Icon

Chris Keaton is an award-winning music publisher, artist management consultant and entertainment industry executive who resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

His lifelong career in music has included many years as a touring performer, a recording artist, songwriter and record producer. In 2016, Chris was honored by being inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. He is a member of the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and is also a twenty nine year voting member of The Recording Academy (The Grammys). He has also served as a judge in the Miss America Organization.

He is co-author of the booksThe Seven Stupid Mistakes People Make Trying To Get Into The Music Business and The Change – Volume 14.  His latest book, Dapper is now available.

Chris is a big believer in giving back and has served on many boards including the Nashville Ballet, the Virginia Museum of Transportation and the Advisory Council of Nashville’s W.O. Smith Community Music School. He also volunteers as a mentor in The Recording Academy’s GRAMMYU program.

What are some of your biggest accomplishments in the music industry?

Actually, there are quite a few.  Without a doubt, being allowed the opportunity to arrange and produce “Over The Rainbow” for Band of Oz, which culminated in me being inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame is one.  Meeting Don Everly and having him suggest I move here. After moving to Nashville, making the connections I have made are all big accomplishments which continue to pay dividends.  Meeting and becoming a business partner of the late Bill Aucoin (Kiss, Billy Idol, Billy Squire), meeting and working with the late Bo Goldsen at Criterion Music was another.  Having one of my songwriters, Mike Greenly write the new State Song of the Commonwealth of Virginia is a milestone which will outlive the two of us. Having songs I pitched recorded by Cliff Richard, Brooks and Dunn, Reba, Martina McBride, George Strait and Trisha Yearwood. And surviving being on tour in the 70’s and 80’s.  Coming u p then and touring bring back floods of memories and high (and low) points. As I tell people, the 70’s were not like today.  Not at all.  Consider this: every drug except heroin was considered recreational and with sex about the worst that could happen was you would get someone pregnant.  It was like a giant buffet.  And we went back for second helpings.

What made you chose the music industry in the first place, or did it chose you? 

My mother (who is now 93 and still kicking it!) taught me to play piano beginning at age four.  Music was always on our home and then on February 9, 1964, I saw The Beatles US debut on the Ed Sullivan Show and that set my sails on this course.  From that exact moment, I knew I wanted to be a rockstar (even though this was WAY before that term was coined).  I joined a neighborhood band at twelve and learned to play the sax and then played in bands and at nineteen I left college to tour with Gary “US” Bonds and later with Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. Among others I also toured with Sandcastle, High & Mighty, The Kings and Band of Oz from then until I was well into my thirties. My entire life has been in that pursuit and, thankfully enough, I am living that rockstar dream now.  Everyday I am surrounded and work with creative people. I play the piano and sax most every day. I have a world of friends and more opportunities than one can possibly handle. I do what I want, travel a lot and live in a permanent state of giddiness and gratitude. To me that is a rockstar lifestyle. In short, I am absolutely the most fortunate person you will ever meet.   And who knows, I may put a band together and go out and support the songs I call The Lost Tapes (Once More With Feeling, White Flag, Break Up To Make Up and, coming soon, a cover of the classic Sea Cruise) which may be heard on all streaming platforms. How’s that for shameless promotion?!

Who are some of the amazing people you have worked with? 

Bill Aucoin. Engineer and record producer Jay Messina, producer and Elvis sideman Tony Brown, Barbara Orbison (Roy’s widow), Rodney Crowell, Survivor’s Jim Peterik, Cidney Bullens to name a few.  

A host of incredible Nashville musicians including Jeff Carter (brother of Deana Carter and son of legendary sideman, Fred Carter), Pat Buchanan, the late J.T. Corenflos, Greg Morrow, Michael Rhodes, Billy Livesy and more. 

Songwriters such as the late Max D. Barnes, Tommy Lee James, Natalie Hemby, Mike Greenly, Jim Reilley, Maribeth Derry, Patrick Leonard, Stephen Sylvester. 

Maribeth Derry (All 4 One, John Michael Montgomery, Lonestar), Patrick Leonard (Madonna, Train, Pat Monahan), wrote a stage version of The Ten Commandments (produced by Max Azria / BCBGMAXAZRIA) in 2004 starring Val Kilmer and Adam Lambert (Queen).  Unfortunately, the show closed as fast as it opened but it created a lot of great music and memories.  Val is a delightful human being.  One quick Val story, he is an intense method actor who rarely breaks character when in a production.  During rehearsals for the show, he warned me (in his Moses voice), “Beware, the Egyptians are backstage.”

How have you seen the industry change aside from of course social media ? 

Several major changes: No more CD sales which translates into less opportunities for songwriters to earn a decent living.  In example, when CDS, tapes or albums were sold, each song on the project earned $0.095 or nine cents US even if it was never played on radio.  These songs were referred to as “album cuts”. If the project sold a million units, the songwriter and publisher would split about $100,000.  Not bad.  Nowadays, the “album cut” part of the business has vanished and only hit singles pay any real money anymore.  But on the positive side of the coin, there are SO many more opportunities for songwriters to have songs placed in and earn money from film and television, commercial and even video game placement, as well as revenue from social media.  And to your point, social media is how many artists are discovered these days. It’s astonishing to me! But these days enterprising independent artists are having better luck and more revenue than ever before.  Fans can easily find the music they love, share with others and the artist benefits. It is certainly more work than it used to be but if it were easy everyone would do it.

What is the theme of your podcast Random Acts? 

Well, the title says it all.  Actually, the name came to me when I was in a phone conversation with my friend musician, drummer, record producer David Johnson and he suggested I should have a podcast.  At that moment, said, “That’s a great idea and I’m going to call it Random Acts!” He asked, “Why?” And I responded, “because I can talk about any topic at any time.”  So, if you listen it is all music based and linked with crazy stories, memories and interviews with random people. And the main theme is that we plant seeds of love and joy, no negativity.  Because as you well know, there’s quite enough of that out there!! It makes sense to me!  It’s also a shameless way for me to promote my business and my books (Dapper, The Seven Stupid Mistakes, and The Change).

As a behind the scenes music connector what exactly do you do? 

As Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently stated in his best seller, The Tipping Point, “Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.”

That, in a nutshell is me.  Songwriters, artists and creatives of all types approach me and I assist them in getting ahead in the business through my vast network of industry contacts.  By telephone, email, text and in person, I connect people to each other. I help people. I share songs from songwriters to artists and producers seeking same, I introduce artists to producers and record labels.  

I suppose I am the consummate “middle man” not unlike my heroes of the past, Mickey Most (who was not only a record man but a Dapper gentleman), Al Gallico and Bill Aucoin. It’s a wonderful job because I truly help people by taking things “off their plate” and allow them to do their thing.  As I remind my clients all the time, “Do what you do best: write songs, create, be the best artist possible and let me do the rest!”

My mantra is “connect, inspire, deliver” and I stirve daily to achieve that.

What is the Macy’s Celebration Team?

 ((Sorry but I can’t talk about it in any medium without prior approval from Macy’s Corporate))

What are some mistakes people make when trying to get into the music industry? 

I think the Number One cardinal sin is sending music without asking permission or “spamming”.  Unsolicited material is the worst. It is not only infuriating to the receiver, the practice is downright rude. Opening an email with a 40 mega bite attachment is the quickest way I know to have the entire email and attachment deleted immediately. Then, invading the personal space and private life of music executives.  I cannot possibly count the times I have been approached while with family at restaurants, grocery stores and the link by emerging artists and songwriters hawking CDs.  And to be perfectly honest, most of those CDs go directly into the trash.  

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying be a wallflower and keep your creativity or artistry or your songs to yourself but there is a time, place and a correct way to do everything.  Emerging artists and songwriters should learn these practices. There are actually many more examples in my book.

Why Nashville? Because it truly IS Music City, not just country music city. My wife’s grandmother encouraged me for years to go to Nashville and I resisted saying, in effect, “there’s no one there but a bunch of hillbillies in cowboy hats.”  

In early 1993, I had a company called Perfect Score which produced music for television and radio commercials (jingles) and we had a budget big enough to go to Nashville and hire top notch musicians. I was absolutely blown away by the level of talent of these largely unknown (outside of the business) musicians and I began to have second thoughts about my prior assessment of Music City.  

Late that evening in an after hours bar, I had the good fortune to sit next to Don Everly who, after a lot of alcohol was consumed, slapped his hand on his knee and said, “You boys oughta move down here!”  I thought so, too.  So, at 2:30 AM, I went straight to the payphone, called my wife and said, “Honey, we’re moving to Nashville!”  She replied, “You’ve been drinking, haven’t you? Call me tomorrow.” And she hung up. The next day we talked and six months later we were living in Nashville. This town hosts a vibrant rock, r&b and jazz scene, a world class symphony and ballet company, a great live music scene and all of the arts are very much supported here. 

Chris Keaton:



Twitter: @chrisjkeaton

Instagram: @chrisjkeaton

Interview by Eileen Shapiro 

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