The music industry has seen drastic changes over the last decade plus. As major record labels lost their grip on hard sales of vinyl and CDs to file downloads and streaming services, the door has swung open for independent artists to have a fair shot at getting their music heard without the aforementioned gate keepers of all things music. But while the Goliaths are no longer needed for artists to be heard, the services they did provide of A&R, producer recommendations and overall support were valuable to artists. The potential for independent artists to fall into the trap of those who would churn out a product (sub par in many cases) and not really care about the bigger picture has become even more of a reality today than ever before. Especially considering the digital age allows just about anyone with a computer to call themselves a producer, studio owner, label, etc. So, it's even more important for artists to find trusted people to work with. If you talk to any of the artists who've hired Charlie Kelley as a guitarist or producer, they'll most likely tell you two important things- they trust his judgement and they can count on him,
Arriving in Nashville in the summer of 1990, Charlie hit the ground running. By the fall of that year, he was touring with Charley McClain, followed by Tom Wopat of Dukes of Hazzard fame and Doug Stone. Over the next 15 years, he toured with Jamie O'Neal, Billy Ray Cyrus, Keith Urban, Trace Adkins, Laura Bell Bundy, Bryan White, Randy Owens of Alabama and many others. With these artists and as an artist himself, he's appeared multiple times on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The View, Nashville Now, Prime Time Country, The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon, the Grand Ole Opry, Fox and Friends, and Music City Tonight.
In addition his work as a sideman, he was also an artist signed to Dolly Parton's label, Sony/Blue Eye Records, as well as Rising Tide, a division of Universal records, as a member of the highly-acclaimed trio, The Buffalo Club. The band's first single, If She Don't Love You, produced by legendary keyboardist, Barry Beckett, was a top 10 record in early '97 and was followed by a second hit single, Nothing Less Than Love. He's written for Sony Tree and Famous Music publishing companies, resulting in songs recorded in Spain, Greece, Belgium, and Australia, as well as the US.
whether it's in the studio or on the stage. He's been a part of just about all sides of the industry, in both the big label era and the current age of music-making and with both signed acts as well as independent artists. His experiences add up to make him a trusted musical partner and valuable team member.
A few years back he was asked to produce a project. Having recorded and produced his own songs on a four-track recorder in his high school days, he took a stab at it because the project reminded him of his interest in the musical puzzle. Charlie views songs themselves as kind of black and white sketches and the recording and production of songs as the oil painted versions. The rhythms, parts, instrumentation, and arrangements become
a pallet of paints to bring songs into what will hopefully be a
framed up work of art."The producer's job to me, is to help an artist fully realize their song and the recording of the song is where the producer's art comes in, but you have to have an idea of what that final picture looks like and know what to do to get it there and make it as ear-friendly as possible. The artist has to trust you to do that because they're turning over their dreams to you." That's his approach whether it's his own music or anyone else's and he looks at each song he works on as having the potential for both artistic integrity and commercial viability. "In the end, isn't that what most artists really want in their work?" says Charlie.
A singer himself, Charlie brings a little more perspective to the vocal booth than non-vocalist producers may offer. He understands how intimidating recording can be for new artists and the vulnerability of the raw truth the studio environment presents to the inexperienced singer. With that in mind, he works to put people at ease and offers different ways to sing certain key words and lines in a lyric in order to create the most emotion. His voice-over work for companies like Home Depot, Infinity, Hershey's,True Value, and Quaker State, to name only a few, comes into play as well because he understands how the slightest inflections can completely change how a listener perceives the message. "That's even more important when it comes to songs, " says Charlie. Suggesting different ways to help singers get "'inside the lyric" can be a big value to both inexperienced and professional singers alike. Charlie adds, " Since the vocal is the most important element of a song, great singers need to be great interpreters of a lyric."
Charlie's productions have been nominated for four Grammy awards, highlighted in feature films, and his score for the PBS documentary Surviving Colon Cancer was nominated for an Emmy. His instrumental compositions have been used in various spots over the years and he's been commissioned to write theme music for several TV series shorts, most notably Short Cuts, a Great American Country network series which helped launch Taylor Swift's career.
Having had such a varied career as a sideman, a recording artist, a staff songwriter, a record producer, a composer, and voice-over talent has given Charlie a wealth of
knowledge. "I've just tried to pay attention and learn something from every person I've worked with. After you've been around really great talent for awhile, you start to mix all that information with your natural instincts and you just begin to have a feel for things, not just for music in general, but what the songs are asking for. Plus, I care about the end result, probably too much sometimes, but I have a hard time settling, no matter how big or small the project or budget is. I always want the music to be as good as it can be."