FAVORITE ROCK SONG“Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones
COLLECTS Sports cars
I GREW up in the San Fernando Valley of Southern California in the 1970s. My friends and I were into bicycle motocross, and into skateboarding in empty swimming pools. Those activities shaped my generation.
My father was in record promotion in Los Angeles. He worked for Mercury Records, Capitol Records and RCA Records. My parents divorced when I was about 9. In 1978, my dad moved to Nashville and opened an independent record promotion company, Mike Borchetta Promotions.
I attended College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., for a year, but college wasn’t for me. I was curious about life beyond Los Angeles. I was also playing in new wave rock bands that were pretty bad, and I was looking for a way out.
At 19, I decided to visit my father. I took my bass guitar and a suitcase of clothes and never moved back to California. Almost as a dare, I joined a country band, but quit after eight months on the road because the band was going nowhere. During the day, I worked in the mailroom at my dad’s company and helped him promote country singles.
I wanted to go back to playing rock music, but it wasn’t easy to find musicians with the same work ethic I had. I also became frustrated with club owners who didn’t know the music business. On the other hand, I found that if I put forth 5 pounds of effort during the day, I’d get a 10-pound return.
Watching my dad, I learned what worked and what didn’t. I knew just enough about music to be dangerous, so I decided to try for a job with one of the major labels. I wasn’t that great of a musician myself, but I knew the business and could explain it to others — especially the artists.
In 1985, I went to work for MTM Records, Mary Tyler Moore’s Nashville record label, and stayed three years. After that, I spent two years as an independent promoter, then worked for MCA Nashville Records, DreamWorks Nashville and Universal Music Nashville. I held executive positions in promotion and artist development.
I was fired from one job when I got too involved in the creative end. I was spending time on the road with the artists while the executives were staying in their offices. But you can’t stay in an office and know what’s going on in this industry; you have to be on the street and see what moves people.
I started Big Machine Records in 2005 because I thought I could run a record label more efficiently than I’d see others do. If you look at the people who started the big labels, they all gambled. The first artist I signed was Taylor Swift. I met her in 2004 when I was still at Universal. The Swift family sent me a package with a demo record, and I was fascinated. Shortly afterward, I signed Danielle Peck, who had been dropped by another label, and Jack Ingram, a Texas artist.
Not everyone in the industry would have taken a chance on a young female artist like Taylor. I was not getting calls from country radio stations saying, “Do you have any teenage female singers?” But I felt there was opportunity in country music for talented young women.
We now have two additional labels in the Big Machine Records Label Group: the Valory Music Company and Republic Nashville, a joint venture with Universal Republic in New York. We have 15 artists across the three labels, including Rascal Flatts, Reba McEntire and Martina McBride. Keeping each label small allows us to give all the artists maximum attention.
I’ve loved race-car driving for years. When I started Big Machine, my main investor and my first artists asked me to give it up because it’s so dangerous. I can understand that, for now. Paul Newman, one of my idols, raced into his 70s. I’ve got plenty of time.