Lori McKenna Made Oprah Cry

Here’s exactly the kind of story that I wish I could tell more often. Catching today’s Oprah with Faith Hill, the show opened up the songwriting process and laid it bare as Lori McKenna played a song on the cream sofa that left Oprah in tears. She actually had to command Lori to stop playing. I worried that she’d be hauled away my minions, but it all worked out okay.

You see, until recently, Lori had been selling her indie CDs on CDBaby. If you like Patty Griffin’s recent forays into Americana, you’ll love this stuff.

Lori McKenna is a stay at home mom, playing the occasional coffee house gig and folk festival. She cranks out her most recent studio album in enough time to give birth to her fifth child, two days after the street date.

The songs are so good, that friends give the disc to friends… and the CD landed in the hands of a publisher, who put in the hands of Faith Hill… who eventually plucked three songs for her Fireflies record, which will net some nice royalties for Lori when it goes quad-zillion-platinum. On top of that, the gig netted what looks like a P&D deal with Warner for her and for the indie label that believed in her.

Here’s the takeaway from this tale: the same Oprah show featured the A&R person that helped develop Faith’s career… there are very, very few people within the label system today that can devote the same time and attention to artist development. Lori cranked out four indie recordings, and had to build up an audience wide enough (including touring in Holland!) to attract the folks who could at least get her songs into the hands of pluggers.

It takes people, it takes patience, but — most of all — it takes great songs.

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2 responses

  1. There’s a little something that doesn’t quite connect there Joe… Touring in Holland is hardly “playing the occasional coffee house gig and folk festival” The beginning almost makes it sound like luck, which it always partly is, but mostly it’s hard work and we all know that.

    No beef, just pointing it out. 🙂

  2. Joe Taylor Jr. Avatar
    Joe Taylor Jr.

    Happy to clarify… on her own weblog, she connects the dots a little more clearly than I do in my Cliff’s Notes version.

    The coffee house gigs let her build up enough of an audience to justify spending the money on her more elaborate fourth recording. That album (the one Wb is re-releasing) got a lot of folks’ attention. But it took lots of hard work and many long, tedious years to get there.

    My main point is that the songs stand out — folks hearing them were able to clearly tell a story about Lori to other folks, who became fans. Within that network emerged the connections she needed to break through.