Roughstock Interview: Charlie Allen

Independence. We all strive for it.  Despite music still being in label-artist models, all artists still want independence. But the strong artists recognize the need to have a good team around them.  In a candid interview, River Run Records' artist Charlie Allen discusses them and other industry

Country music has, over the past couple of years, has seen an unprecedented amount of independent artists rise up through the surface and attained some success.  Charlie Allen is such an artist.  Earlier in this decade, Charlie Allen was signed to Parc Records out of Florida and scored enough success to tour the southeast behind his self-titled debut.  After that partnership ended, Charlie signed with another label before working with River Run Records to record his sophomore album “That Was Then, This Is Now.”

With the album available in stores like Wal-Mart and online in places like and iTunes, Charlie sat down one day to discuss his career, which started when he was just 7 years old.  Along the way gave some refreshingly candid views of the business and how relationships are important to a career.

Matt Bjorke: what did you learn from your first record that you took into the making the new album?

Charlie Allen: Just ability with writing and producers.  Getting to know people and actually believing in and trusting people. You go through a few record deals and you get wise to the industry.  It’s not just about getting the deal.  You have to think about who’s going to be working with you.  Who will promote it? The record deal is OK but you have to know if the people working with you truly like you or just think you’re ok.  You need them to believe in you.

MB: On that point, did the circumstances with the old deal leave you upset or bitter?

CA: I wasn’t bitter about it but it made me aware, more alert. Aware a bit more about the things I should do or didn’t do or shoulda did or shoulda done…

MB: Another artist said the same thing…

CA: Right, you just never know.  If you’re working with good people.  They treated me good in the old record deal and I learned a lot from it.  We met a lot of good people then, but this round has been a lot better.

MB: How did the title track become the theme for your album?

CA: Well, that song we cut four or five different ways before we got it the way we wanted it.  We liked the way it sounded and it worked as a metaphor for my career.  I love the song.

MB: do you have any other favorites? 

CA:  I love “Can’t Take Him Out Of Me.” 

MB: what was the inspiration behind the song?

CA: I was watching TV and the news program was talking about taking the bible out of hotels and other places and I just thought, “you can’t take him out of me.”  I then wrote it (with Steve Dean and Brian G. White) and didn’t think anything of it.  Later we realized it turned out to be a great song.  It wasn’t political at all; it’s just what I believe. I wasn’t trying to preach about it, it was just about the way I feel about the world.

MB:  So, how did the new record deal come about?

CA:  I was actually signed to Equity Records, working with Clint Black but it wasn’t working just right and it just fell apart all of the sudden, everyone felt like it wasn’t the right thing to do. I got a phone call to produce a record for Diane Delana (President of River Run Records)’s daughter and as I got to know her.  Next thing I know, another company had come along offering me quite a bit of money to sign with then, I wanted them to make her a part of a deal.  They didn’t want her and weren’t even in Nashville, whereas Diane was and was showing the willingness and ability to make stuff happen.  So, I was really cautious about that deal.  So we found investors and made it all happen.  We’ve done really well for ourselves, I think. We’ve had songs charting in the Top 30 for the last for years.  I’ve know people who’ve gotten a lot of money from labels and never got a song on the charts.

Promoters are everything for artists.  You need to have the right promoters behind your music. You don’t want a guy who calls stations and then reads ten to fifteen people down a list and say ‘how ‘bout this guy.’  Promoters can make or break an artist.

MB: Yeah, and many people don’t understand that side of the business.

CA: So I learned a lot on the last record deal about them.  I had promoters telling me what stations they called and this time around, I asked the promoters what stations they talked to and then I personally followed-up to ask the stations how they liked the single and some would say “we’ve been asking for it but haven’t received it.” So from there I knew exactly what the issue was and dealt with it.  There was a big falling out with the first promoter, I wasn’t trying to take anything away from them but for a long time radio has enjoyed my music so I wanted to make sure they had the music.   We had a Top 30 single in R&R when that happened.  We were with the big boys as an independent.  It was a big deal.   I learned a lot from that, promoters are everything. 

MB: So you were skeptical about that label who wanted to throw a lot of money at you.  Wasn’t that cash offering an advance against the future recordings? 

CA: It was.  They offered me $100,000 but it wasn’t about the money for me.  I have to believe in who I am working with, who’s working with my record, who’s my publisher, who’s doing what for me.  So I said until you can do that, the money means nothing to me.

MB: Country music, unlike most other genres, has a lot of ‘secondary’ markets, which are charted by charts like Music Row Magazine.  But these markets sometimes are missed by the big companies.  Do you think that these radio stations have helped you build your career, where a major market station might not give you a chance?

CA: You know, any radio station that you can get and continue to have play your records, are a gift.  There are a lot of stations that will play your song once but it doesn’t help.  So the stations that believe in your music help build the career.

MB: And by doing that, they help people get to know you and like you.

CA: Yeah, now there is a tracking method that you can show to Wal-Mart that shows your record is played in Mississippi and the store will put your record in their stores. I think that’s great for artists, I really do.  I think that people look over a lot of things sometimes, that I missed out on, not really knowing about the ‘why’ of it.  So anything radio can do, is good for my career.

MB: I have often been confused as to why Billboard/R&R and Music Row charts are completely different when looking at those charts. 

CA: Well, there are two systems and they work differently.  We really don’t know, we’ve had a lot of great response but you don’t know until that add-week.  So, it’s all about the people you work with and promoters.  They talk to radio people every day; they can make you and break you. 

MB: I think that the secondary markets charted by Music Row were very important in building Randy Travis’ “Three Wooden Crosses” into the hit it became so for people to ignore or discredit those markets is probably unwise…

CA: You bring up a good point because we had a song that was going into the 50’s at R&R and we had promoters calling us saying ‘it’s time to drop your song.’ Everybody said ‘it won’t affect you’ but sure enough, once those stations dropped us, we lost our chart spot in music row.  So they can’t tell me that everybody isn’t watching everything.  Something’s going on and they pay attention to those markets.  So some DJ’s can make you or break you.  When you come to a station you have to be ready to knock them dead with your song.  You never know.  Sometimes, you can do that and still not have a guarantee that they’ll play your song.

MB: Or they’re looking at their blackberry while you sing the song and  are clearly not interested…

CA: Well, I had to sing through an intercom one time on an interview. 

MB: What are your thoughts on the state of the country music genre itself, you know the some people who say ‘that’s too country,’ and so on?

CA: We’ve heard that.  We’ve heard  ‘we can’t play that’ or it’s ‘too loud’ or it’s ‘not my kind of song’ or that it’s ‘too rock and roll. 

MB: Well then they shouldn’t play songs like Montgomery Gentry...

CA: It’s a matter of opinion and unfortunately those voices matter when you’re trying to get radio airplay. 

MB: True, but at the same time they’ll play certain songs because they’re released by a band like Rascal Flatts or Brad Paisley…

CA: The only thing I can say about that is that country music is what it is right now.   Unfortunately, we didn’t make it that way. A lot of people who play it that way did.  They kept pounding it in our head over and over and we kinda forgot the format of country music.  I tried to keep my stuff traditional based and they said it was ‘too country.’ So you’re damned if you do damned if you don’t. 

All I can say about music is that it’s a learning experience and you’ve got to keep reaching for the stars.  If you want it bad enough you’ll keep doing it. 

There are a lot of people in music that well tell you things that will never happen.  I hired a publicist that promised me the world and never delivered, not once.  So when I got my current publicist, they’ve been nothing but great and real and delivered what they promised.  You have to have people that believe in you, and if you don’t, you ain’t got nothing.  You also have to believe in yourself. So if you believe in yourself, and have people who believe in you then you can get somewhere.

To read the album review click the album cover image above.  To visit Charlie's MySpace, click the image below.