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 involvement with Kacey before she became famous. My close friends and family know some of the story, but not certain crazy details.
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 and signed with Universal Records.
After Kacey signed to Universal Records in 2012, her management company wanted to make it appear as if Kacey was a brand new artist – with no past – so they omitted most references to all of her prior recordings out of her biography, including the three (3) albums she released while in high school.
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.
To put the era into context, Facebook was brand new. YouTube was still a new platform, the digital revolution had just started. The first iPhone hadn’t even been released. The music business was in decline. Producers who were experimenting with artists doing cover songs on YouTube was a new thing.
I had no idea that I would make any money with my new digital label, Triple Pop. With limited resources, I scoured 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 condo in my spare time.
Social media was still 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 in the music business. She had no fans and actually had just struck out in Nashville.
Kacey had 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 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 you are going to use “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 cover song choices to her including “Yellow” by Coldplay. She was to choose two (2) of my suggestions to record in the studio – she selected “See You Again” (Hannah Montana) and “Apologize” the hit song by OneRepublic, which reflected her interest in pop music.
I remember trying to also 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.
Kacey Musgraves, Brain Machine Recording Studio, March 2008
Kacey was very pleased with the recordings. In fact, she later performed “Apologize” live at a charity event:
Kacey later invited me out to see her perform at Momo’s, a local bar in Austin, and 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, but nobody knew her name.
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 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 suggested she move to Nashville and work 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 songwriting craft for which she has become famous for today.
I remember Kacey telling me she was going to hit the road for awhile.
Triple Pop released “See You Again” on iTunes in 2008 and used YouTube to market it.
Kacey ended up in Nashville a few years later. We lost touch over the years.
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. I also found the videotape of the recording session.
My label, Triple Pop, released both “See You Again” and “Apologize” on a digital EP on April 9, 2013.
Her manager made an offer to buy the rights.
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. They 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.
We passed on the offer to sell, although at the time there was no certainty of her success or that I would make any money from the masters. It was a risk.
Within a couple years, the snowballing of her achievements and acclaim began to gather steam – then, 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. Spotify staff added it to some of the biggest playlists worldwide.
Between 2015 and 2018, “Apologize” was her #1 most streamed track worldwide.
In 2014, “Apologize” charted in Billboard’s Hot Singles chart at #23, marking my first Billboard chart entry as a producer.
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: