Last week, Kacey Musgraves won a total of four (4) GRAMMYs for Album of the Year for her latest album, Golden Hour, which she can add to her growing list of accomplishments. In addition, Kacey won awards for Best Country Song, Best Country Performance and Best Country Album.
As before, I’ve been getting questions from people about my producing involvement with Kacey before she became famous. My friends and family know some of the story, but not certain crazy details, so here it goes —
The first thing to know is despite whatever is written in her official biography, Kacey had a long history of recordings before she moved to Nashville.
After Kacey signed to Universal Records Nashville in 2012, her management company wanted to make it appear as if Kacey was a brand new artist – with no past. They removed from distribution and omitted most references to all of her prior recordings out of her biography, including the three (3) albums she released while in high school — except they couldn’t do that for the recordings she made with my label, Triple Pop.
The recordings I produced with Kacey were during her time in Austin in 2008, right after she graduated from high school, when she was just 19 years old and which are owned by my label. At that time, YouTube was still new, the digital revolution had just started. The music business was in decline.
I had no idea that I would make any money with my new digital label, Triple Pop. With limited resources, I scouted MySpace and Craigslist for up-and-coming singers. I also had a full-time job. My record label was just something I operated out of my spare bedroom in my spare time, to keep myself creatively inspired.
Social media, for the most part, was only on the old clunky Myspace and that’s where I first discovered Kacey Musgraves.
I immediately knew she had the talent; she was a diamond in the rough.
I listened to a couple songs Kacey had posted on MySpace from her three (3) self-produced albums: Movin’ On (2002), Wanted: One Good Cowboy (2003) and Kacey Musgraves (2007).
Although the songs were straight forward generic country songs with titles like “When It’s Peach Pickin’ Time in TX”, I remember hearing her voice and being mesmerized.
She had great raw talent to become superstar but she needed better songs to sing, I thought. This was a young Kacey Musgraves, before she became the country pop superstar she is today.
I got in touch with Kacey and we met up outside a yogurt shop in North Austin. Kacey told me she just graduated high school and had moved to Austin from Golden, Texas to pursue music. Nobody knew her name. She had no following to speak of and had just struck out at her first attempt in Nashville — she appeared on the TV show, Nashville Star, a year earlier when she was 18 years old but she failed to place (she came in seventh).
I told her my prior background in producing albums with Dee Dee Ramone, The Alarm, The Call and working at the talent agency, ICM. I could spot talent.
I pitched her my idea to record a couple cover songs together in the studio to see how we worked together. I agreed to pay for all the studio time, as well as pay her a session fee, and release the songs on my label, Triple Pop. If it all worked out, I told her it was my intention to produce her original songs afterwards and use “social media” to market all of it.
In 2008, saying “social media” to market music (or anything else) was sort of a crazy new idea – the next frontier that had yet to be explored. And recording with new musicians is always risky – there are personality and timing issues and it takes time and money to rent good recording studios.
I pitched Kacey about five song choices to her including “Yellow” by Coldplay. She was to choose two (2) of my suggestions to record in the studio – she chose “See You Again” (Hannah Montana) and “Apologize” which was a hit song by OneRepublic written by Ryan Tedder, which reflected her interest in pop music.
I remember trying to persuade Kacey to record Coldplay’s “Yellow,” as I thought it was a better song, but she passed on it. During the recording sessions, Kacey was professional and focused. She wanted the songs to be ‘just right’ and we spent a full evening recording and mixing the recordings.
Here’s my rarely seen personal video of Kacey in the Brain Machine Recording studio in Austin, Texas performing “Apologize“:
Kacey was very pleased with the recordings — she later performed “Apologize” live at a charity event:
After the session, Kacey invited me out to see her perform at Momo’s, a local bar in Austin. I got private concert from the future GRAMMY superstar. I remember showing up and it was just her grandmother, the bartender and me in the audience. She was a great live performer, too.
Afterwards, Kacey invited me out to lunch. Although she was young, Kacey struck me as being very wise beyond her years.
Kacey asked me for advice and asked if I would manage her. We talked about recording some original songs together in the future.
I could sense that she needed direction on what to do next. I told her to working keep with other songwriters to develop her songwriting craft and come back to me with the original demos.
At age 19, Kacey wasn’t fully developed yet as a songwriter – she hadn’t yet developed her clever wordsmith craft for which she has become famous for today.
Triple Pop released “See You Again” on iTunes in 2008 and we used YouTube to market it. Download sales were modest. Kacey ended up in Nashville a few years later. We lost touch.
When I heard Kacey’s first major label album was going be released in 2013, I went back into my archives and luckily found the digital CD master for “Apologize” which I had thought was lost.
My indie label, Triple Pop, released “See You Again” and “Apologize” on a digital EP on April 9, 2013 on all digital services.
Her manager soon made an offer to buy-out the Triple Pop contract.
I decided not releasing the recordings wasn’t truthful to Kacey’s history. In 1953, Elvis Presley walked into Sun Studio Studios in Memphis and recorded his first songs.
Elvis’ tracks were also acoustic guitar cover songs: “That’s When Your Heartache Begins” and “My Happiness” by The Ink Spots. Luckily, producer Sam Phillips released both songs and they exist as a recording artifact of the evolution of a legendary musician.
I passed on the offer to sell the contract, although at the time there was no certainty of her success, but I still believed in her talent.
Within a couple years, the snowballing of her achievements began to gather steam – and in 2015, it hit — “Apologize” went on to become Kacey Musgraves’ #1 most streamed song on Spotify, racking up nearly 35 million (35,000,000) streams by 2018.
For an acoustic track, it’s commercial streaming success still astonishes me to this day.
Spotify staff added it to some of the biggest playlists in the entire world. Between 2015 and 2018, “Apologize” was her #1 most streamed track worldwide. Along with digital downloads, it’s over halfway to RIAA Gold Certification – maybe in a couple years we’ll get there. Fingers crossed!
In 2014, “Apologize” charted in Billboard’s Hot Singles chart at #23, marking my first Billboard chart entry as a producer and label owner.
The combination of “Apologize” with Kacey’s voice was just magic — her fans recognized it, too, and they made it into one of her biggest commercially streamed hits.
Oh, yeah, and Kacey finally performed an acoustic version of Coldplay’s “Yellow” live for Prince Harry in the UK in 2015: