When Lyric Street Records went out of business last summer, LSR artist Trent Tomlinson didn’t hesitate a moment. He decided to put his new album out himself.
“Fans have been waiting for three years,” Tomlinson says in a phone conversation the week before Thanksgiving. “The LSR record never got released because of the company’s demise, but I wasn’t gonna wait any longer.”
And Tomlinson’s huge army of fans couldn’t be any happier.
“I put 12 songs on the album,” he says, “and they’re the best 12 songs I ever wrote. I didn’t go by the old formula that says you have to have so many ballads and so many tempos. I just put the 12 best songs I had on one record.”
The first radio single has been “Cross My Heart,” which like everything else about this project Trent is paying for out of his own pocket. Competing with the millions of dollars the major Row labels to get radio airplay is brutally difficult, but as he’s done throughout his career Tomlinson is succeeding, slowly but surely.
“It’s hard to get promotion, but I’ve got a lot of great friends at country radio,” he says. “In cities where they’re playing the single, like Charlotte, NC, and Des Moines, it’s blowing up the phones. I’m gonna be working that single for a long time.”
The week after we spoke, Trent planned to mix the last two songs on the new album.
“Then immediately we’ll put the album up on iTunes to be purchased,” he said. “Doing an album and promotion yourself is definitely expensive and that’s the bad part about it. But you have nobody but yourself to blame, and I like it that way.”
Lyric Street, the country division of the California-based entertainment giant Walt Disney Company, closed its doors last summer. Rascal Flatts stayed onboard a few months until the radio promotion ended on its final LSR single, then the few label employees who remained were let go.
Labels in Nashville come and go with the tough economy these days, but Trent has remained close pals with many of the old LSR gang, including label co-chief Doug Howard. The two remain very close friends, and Doug is still one of Trent’s strongest supporters.
“Lyric Street Records was great, I have a lot of great friends that worked there,” Tomlinson says. “I hate that it went down the way it did at the end, and afterwards I shopped around for a deal or two here and there. The people at those other labels were into the music, but the timing was off.”
But once again, this Missouri native and son of a former pro basketball player kept right on going. He was writing and recording some of the best music of his already remarkable career, and Trent knew it. Besides, he had one weapon in his favor where he could compete on a totally level playing field with even the biggest record labels and radio promotion outfits.
That was social media.
“The people that’s gonna buy this record, they’re really been Twittering,” he says. “I think the social media is where our business is headed. It’s a huge part of our industry, to create awareness.”
He also retweaked his biz strategy slightly to account for an economy that was still sluggish.
“I dropped my live show price down,” he said. “I’m not making a lot of money on the road, but we’re bringing music to new people.”
Besides, with the final mixes and manufacturing pending for his new album, Trent knew he was about to have a product that would become a major part of the merchandise (known as “merch”) table at his shows, and create a significant boost to his income.
It’s also an album he’s tremendously proud of, which Trent admits in the case of the last album Lyric Street was about to release on him, wasn’t always the case.
“With that album, there were lots of opinions from the label,” he said. “They said, `no more drinking songs,’ but that’s what I do! That’s my crowd.”
So on the new album, Tomlinson says he went thru “every single song I’ve ever written in my life,” and came up with his 12 favorites. Some were “stone cold country things,” including many ballads reflecting his early love for stylists like Earl Thomas Conley, Vern Gosdin, and Waylon Jennings.
For Tomlinson fans, and for Trent himself, this new record will truly be a long-awaited musical dream come true.
By Phil Sweetland