Welcome back. In part 2 of the Michael Peterson interview, he continues his discussion of what he calls the “seasons” of being a songwriter. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed doing it.
Peterson: My hard work, my stick-to-it-ness, my persistence, my passion for it, and a few fortunate relationships I had, lead to somebody inviting me to sign a record deal on a legitimate major label. That was my first record deal that wasn’t a custom project. It was a Christian label called Sparrow Records. Word Records and Sparrow Records were the two big Christian labels at the time. I got signed by Deniece Williams’ (“Let’s Hear It For The Boy”) publishing company. They had a production company and they signed me to my first record deal at Sparrow.
So, I found myself in another season. That season was now I’m not just another guy studying hard and trying to learn how to make records, I actually have a professional publishing deal. I’m actually writing with other people who are making real records that are getting on the radio.
It just helped shift the story I had about myself. I think that the story that any one of us has about ourselves helps generate our outcomes. So, because I began to see myself in more of a professional light, then of course, there were by-products of that to help me grow and be more professional in all of this.
So, I did that for a good ten years, and I was in that season. I was getting the occasional ASCAP (American Society of Composers and Publishers) check. I actually made some money on my songwriting that showed up in the mail!
Heading for my next season, I knew I liked playing songs that tell stories and I knew I like to sit with guitars and play for audiences. At that time, what was playing on the radio was grunge rock, and rap was just starting to emerge. There wasn’t a lot of the kind of music that I had grown up listening to, which was singer-songwriter, the era of the 70’s- James Taylor, Harry Chapin, Jim Croce, and John Denver. There was just an abundance of singer-songwriter artists. Pop music really went away from that. As I looked around, I thought, is there a market I could write for? Even though I was writing in the gospel and R&B arena, there was a part of me that was really interested in the singer-songwriter community and those kinds of songs. At the time, country music was really starting to pop. Of all the places I could plant some seeds, it seemed like a good fit for me.
Coincidentally I suppose, around 1993, a song that I had written ten years earlier got cut by this gospel group, The Imperials. The song, Taking Your Love For Granted, ended up going to number one on the CCM Charts. It was the last number one record that they ever had. They were the only group, as far as I could tell in my research, to have a number one single in four consecutive decades.
I had never had a number one song as a writer. Suddenly, I had a calling card. I had been signed with Deniece Williams- that was a nice calling card. I had a major gospel record deal. But, there hadn’t been any ‘trophy’ kind of success. There had been some nice acknowledgments and some opportunities, but I had never had a hit.
At the time, I was starting to get discouraged. I wondered if maybe I had gone as far as I could with this, and here comes this number one song out of the blue. It was just encouraging to me.
With that number one song in hand, I had a sense that maybe Nashville could be a better fit. Talk about a new season… I was heading into unknown territory. It was an unknown region of the country for me. I never really worked much in the South. I was entering into a new community of songwriters, a new genre of songwriting. I had a lot to learn.
Over about a three-year period, I went a week a month to Nashville. I just made a commitment that I was going to go because a professional publisher that I met there told me that nobody would take me seriously if I came once or twice a year. I decided to “believe in yourself even if nobody else does” and, “plant the seeds in the ground and go and build relationships”.
You hang out at writer’s clubs, and hear other writers and see where you fit, and meet people. It was all of that. That led to me being offered a publishing deal at EMI, and ultimately signing at Warner Chappell.
Suddenly, I was moving to Nashville, had a real publishing deal with $70-80,000 a year. That’s a real living. Somebody’s going to pay you to write songs. Yeah! That led to my record deal a year later. Then came my first three singles, all going top five on either R&R or Billboard, three number one videos on CMT. Suddenly, after years of slugging it out, in about a three year period, it was like the ships came in.
Continued next week…