Don Cusic

“I always knew I was going to be a writer!”

Interview with Don Cusic, professor at Curb College of Music Business
© Lilly Drumeva-O’Reilly.

On September 13th 2013, I strolled from my hotel, the Scarritt-Bennett Center, on 19th Ave South in Nashville to Music Row. I had an appointment at 10 a.m. with Don Cusic, professor at the Curb College of Music Business, part of Belmont University.

Don is also the author of many country music books. He is the writer of one of my favorite songs – “It Rains Everywhere I Go.” It was recorded by Lynn Morris. We had an interesting conversation in his office. Don autographed for me two of his books: “Discovering Country Music” and “Eddy Arnold – I’ll Hold You in My Heart.” I enjoyed reading them and have a pleasant memory of our meeting. Here is what he shared with me:

Tell me about the college and what do you teach?

I teach the history of the recording industry. And I teach international music business. I write a lot of articles, books and songs.

What do you cover in the history of the recording industry?

Everything: blues, country, pop. I start from 1877, the invention of the phonograph. I cover a little bit about the minstrel shows, variety shows, in order to get up to there. When I teach about country music, I start with “Fiddling” John Carson, the first commercially successful country artist. Then I move on to the Bristol sessions, the recordings of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. Nashville doesn’t really come into the scene until World War II, the 1940s. And the “Nashville Sound” develops in the late 1950s, early 1960s.

What other subjects are taught in the college?

We do Copyright Law, Music Contracts, Concert Promotion, Artist Management, Audio Engineering… a wide variety.

Can you get a master’s degree?

You get a Bachelor’s degree here. The only Master’s are Audio Engineering and Business Administration.

How did you become a writer? What is your background?

I grew up listening to country music. I was in several bands. I graduated Journalism from the University of Maryland and moved to Nashville. I have also an English minor degree. I always knew, even from sixth grade, that I was going to be a writer!

You are the author of 25 books. How did you do it?

I just kept writing. Step by step, every day a little. I research and write together. I was always working on several projects.

Do you include field research as well?

Oh yes. I do interviews all the time. By living in Nashville, I have access to all the information: trade magazines, archives, etc. I know all the key players. That makes a difference. And of course, the more you do, the better you become.

You are also a music producer?

Yes, I produced an album of Bobby Bare and a tribute to Eddy Arnold.

How many students are in the college?

About 1500.

When was it established?

In 2003, by Mike Curb. He gave a lot of money to Belmont and they named the program after him.

Who are your alumni? Anybody famous?

Yes, Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, Chris Young.

What is the “Leadership Music Program”, you are an alumnus yourself?

Their offices are right across the street. They select a group each year. And then we spend a day with different organizations and firms. For example, we had a visit with the publishers. Music professionals know what they do, but they don’t always know enough about the others. It is a very intensive 1 year program.

How big is country music in the whole music mix in the US?

Well, it is not as big as pop and rock in terms of sales or in terms of fame. But there are more country radio stations than in other genres. Country music is many things. There is bluegrass, western music, singer-songwriters, Americana, commercial country. It is a big umbrella. Bluegrass is loyal to a sound. Country is loyal to the market.

How old is the country listener?

When you are 15, you connect with music the most. It becomes an important part of your life – the years between 15 and 20. And country music has a lot of “converts”. Young people don’t like country. They like pop and rock. But when they get 30-35, they turn into country. They want something different. But also they want to be reminded of the sound from their teenage years. So, that’s why the pop and rock influence is so strong in commercial country music.

Why is modern country music male dominated? There are more men played on country radio?

That varies through the years. Women are the major buyers. A woman wants an artist who represents her point of view. That’s what Loretta, Tammy and Reba did. At the moment there is no such female who could appeal to women in their 30s, 40s. That’s why they turn to the good looking guys. A female artist has to be a spokesperson. Miranda Lambert is doing it a little bit.

Why are the new country songs mostly about party?

That’s the trend at the moment. Why do you live? To have a party! Country music is the music of the white working class. They work hard from Monday to Friday. They take orders from somebody else. And Friday and Saturday night is their time to party.

Why do you like country music so much? Why do you write about it?

I like the people. Since an early age, when I heard it on the radio, I liked it immediately. My favorite acts were Hank Williams, Roger Miller. Those were big influences on me. I always connected with country music. I was a country boy. I grew up on a farm.

Thank you Don. I will enjoy your books.

Lilly Drumeva