By Peter Cronin
With over 100 major label cuts to his credit, there's little doubt that Tim Johnson puts a lot of stock in songs and songwriting. And big country hits like Diamond Rio's "God Only Cries" and Jimmy Wayne's recent career-making smash "Do You Believe Me Now," along with production successes including young country upstart Blaine Larsen, make it clear that Johnson knows his way around Nashville's major label system. But, having seen countless great songs and songwriters go unsung, the SESAC singer/songwriter is busy working to change that system from within.
"I could go on and on about the great songs that, if we could only get them out there, people would go, 'Oh my gosh, that's where the real music that hasn't been homogenized and image-oriented, is being created.' That's what people are buying now – the song."
Following through on that song-first philosophy, Johnson, along with business partners Rory Feek and Jeff Skillen, established the Song Trust, an organization that taps into the Ipod generation's single-track buying habits by making the song the star. Johnson and company are seeking out unsung songs, songwriters and artists and offering consumers an alternative to the star-driven, major label paradigm.
"The Song Trust is a very new, outside-of-the-box concept," Johnson says. "Our motto is, 'The song is king.' It's about the music. We're trying to create product and also help some new artists that maybe the labels have turned their backs on. And there are ways to monetize that."
The partners proved that theory with their very their first release under the Song Trust moniker, "Bring Him Home Santa," which was made available for download from the Song Trust website prior to Christmas 2007. The song, a heart-tugging plea from a child to her active-duty dad, charted respectably and inspired an online response that was immediate and overwhelming.
"We had over 500,000 hits, and our website just went crazy " Johnson says. "We re-released it this year, and next year we're putting out a Christmas album for kids to support the whole thing."
Growing up in the tiny logging community of Noti, Oregon, Johnson was fortunate enough to learn about the power of music from one of the best – songwriting legend Mickey Newbury. And like Newbury before him, Johnson is intent on bringing something new and exciting to the Nashville mix, and with a big pile of hits and the Song Trust on his side, he's off to an incredible start.
"This is a more direct route to the people, and we feel like it's the future of our business," Johnson says. "Songs need champions."