“We are looking for very specific artists,” says Monument Records’ co-president Jason Owen, “ones who are genreless and are superstars, ones who connect, aren’t fluff and aren’t forgettable. That’s the stuff we’re going to sign: something where everyone goes, ‘We love this, but don’t know what to do with this…’ We do.”
And with that vision, Sandbox Entertainment founder and former UMG SVP Marketing Owen and Grammy-winning producer/writer Shane McAnally announce Monument, their collaborative label through Sony Music.
“I think a focus on singer/songwriters is key,” says McAnally. “I’ve always believed an artist that doesn’t ‘fit’ anywhere actually fits everywhere. We won’t be limited by perceived genres. We will make music, then let it find its home—because I find that accommodating a particular genre can water down the process of an artist’s evolution.”
Doug Morris and Rob Stringer are "two of my favorite people in the business,” Owen says. “There’s so much I can learn from them, and they’re both such good music people, beyond being definitive businessmen.”
Given that both men were involved with country sensation Kacey Musgraves, who defied all rules, as well as McAnally’s core involvement with Grammy catnip Brandy Clark and the all-star “Forever Country” and Owens’ career guidance of award sweepers Little Big Town, the guiding principles make sense.
“I’d work for years developing a sound alongside an artist,” says McAnally of the impetus to join forces with Owen. “then the labels decided what happened next. I really wanted to keep my hands on some of these projects and see them all the way through. Jason has an unbelievable eye for talent, and really shares my passion for music: to makes records and discover artists who fire him up seems like a good way to go about doing business.”
"I’ve always believed an artist that doesn’t ‘fit’ anywhere actually fits everywhere." —Shane McAnally
With the core staff based in Owen’s Sandbox offices in Nashville, Monument has full support from New York and Nashville as needed. The label realizes a vision Doug Morris and Rob Stringer have had: a label where the repertoire transcends formats.
“They’re two of my favorite people in the business,” Owen says. “There’s so much I can learn from them, and they’re both such good music people, beyond being definitive businessmen.”
Initial signings are songwriting sensation Caitlyn Smith (Meghan Trainor/John Legend‘s “Like I’m Gonna Lose You,” Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, Lady Antebellum, Jason Aldean) and postmodern country sensation Walker Hayes (the indie 8 Tracks, Vol. 1 Good Shit ep).
As McAnally, who remains free to write and produce beyond the Monument imprint, says, “They are on completely different sides of the singer/songwriter spectrum—and are both unlike anyone else.”
“Caitlyn, I would put her voice against any vocal diva living or dead,” Owen enthuses. “Her delivery will just stop you in your tracks. She’s a game-changer with this Streisand/Florence + the Machine thing, and I don’t say that lightly” McAnally concurs, adding, “Walker has tapped into something that feels very contemporary, but you can’t put your finger on it. He’s got his own kind of music that feels country, but also feels beyond country.”
Taking the name from Fred Foster’s upstart label, home to Kris Kristofferson, Dolly Parton, Tony Joe White, Roy Orbison’s “Only The Lonely,” Ray Stevens’ “Everything’s Beautiful” and Willie Nelson’s earliest records, Owen found the name on an early Little Big Town promo picture. “It was such an iconic, strong name,” Owen says. “We were close on a couple options, but when I saw that, I called Julie Swidler to see if Monument could be cleared. It had history. It represented the best of music, not genres—and it stands for something that’s going to last for ages, not just the latest trend or moment, which is what Shane and I are working to create with this label’s artists and music.”
Owen acknowledges his roots are in labels, but his and McAnally’s love is artists. “I am such a great believer—and Luke Lewis taught me this, especially with Lost Highway—great artists attract great artists. It all has to start with the music.”
For now, Monument has tapped Universal Nashville’s Katie McCartney to serve as SVP of Marketing and Label Operations to round out their team. Owen says, “She’s an animal, and she’s running point on all things Monument.”
With music being readied for release, Owen savors the challenge. After six years with Sandbox, an ongoing focus for Owen where he continues guiding LBT, Musgraves, Faith Hill, Charlie Worsham, Dan + Shay and Seth Ennis, among others, he’s fired up about the possibilities.
“I thought at some point I’d probably get involved with a label,” he confesses. “I like the way labels work: the structure and the teams. Having managed, I understand the career dynamics and the timing to know how and when to apply certain things from the label side. Working with Shane, we feel like we can connect the process for both sides, and create new models for those artists who defy the obvious.”
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