In 2003, Craig Wiseman says, he was starting to take certain things for granted.
By then, he was among Nashville’s most acclaimed and successful songwriters, penning hits for Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill. And somewhere between the No. 1s and the Songwriter of the Year awards, he’d grown a little jaded.
But that started to change when he crossed paths with a then-unproven talent: future country songwriting giant Luke Laird, who was still in search of his first cut.
“He and I wrote a song that Kenny Chesney put on hold,” Wiseman says. “And Luke was just so over the moon, calling me up at midnight freaked out. It reminded me: I was the kid calling people at midnight. I (thought), ‘I want to stay close to that.’ Right there when the dreams come true, when the blessings are fresh.”
He bought a house on 17th Avenue and turned into the offices for his new publishing company, Big Loud Shirt – named for the bright Hawaiian shirts he would wear to work (“There weren’t a whole lot of options back then,” he says.)
Since then, the name has been shortened to just Big Loud, but Wiseman’s company has ballooned. The “Big Loud family” now includes the original publishing company, a management firm and a record label that has produced distinct stars in short order.
On Saturday, Big Loud Records celebrates its 5th birthday. The label is now home to 11 artists, including chart-toppers Morgan Wallen, Chris Lane, MacKenzie Porter and Jake Owen, and even yodeling internet sensation Mason Ramsey. It’s also among several young independent country labels (along with Black River Entertainment, Triple Tigers and others) that are often matching the successes of the majors.
The label’s CEO/partner, Seth England, says that while the empire has expanded, they’ve remained a “song-first company.”
“Everyone would have an experience where you may have given your song to an artist or a label, and the outcome wasn’t quite what you (expected),” England says. “We’d gone through enough of those scenarios that we realized to continue our climb in the music business, we really needed to jump over and represent the recording and marketing, and learn to be great at it.”
There’s probably no better recent testament to that approach than Morgan Wallen. The 27-year-old is signed to all three arms of Big Loud – and scored three country No. 1s in as many years – but is still at the helm, England says.
“I don’t think I’m putting on a front when I say that Morgan Wallen is still the CEO of Operation Morgan Wallen. He really is. I’ve had to learn this running the company, the best quality a leader can have is identifying people you trust, and collaborating.”
It’s also been key for Big Loud to find voices that stand out, and place them at the center of recordings that seem bent on demanding your attention.
The booming sound comes from Joey Moi, the Canadian-born, Nashville-based producer and partner who’s handled production for every Big Loud Records release. Moi, who also produced four platinum albums for Nickelback, says, “I always wanted country to rock a little more.”
“When I got down here and met these guys, the new approach was to never be pigeonholed as somebody that has one trick. I started taking pride, and all of us did, in being able to create really individual personalities when it came to the records we were making. Obviously, that starts with an artist.”
And the Big Loud sound seems primed to expand. The company also just celebrated the first anniversary of Songs & Daughters, an imprint led by hit songwriter Nicolle Galyon that is devoted to signing female artists. Among publishing and management’s newest signees is Bren Joy, the 23-year-old Nashvillian who made waves with his 2019 R&B single “Henny in the Hamptons.”
“I never did see genre,” Wiseman says. “For me it was good music and bad music. I would love to have a pop or R&B No. 1, and I think that’ll happen with us. Not that it’s the goal or anything, it just seems like we’re already sort of in that area. We walk those blurred lines anyway, so why not? That’s always been my saying: ‘Let’s be careful not to under-dream this thing.’”