BJ Hill is a shining example of what can happen with a little bit of patience and perseverance. Currently working as senior director of A&R at publishing house Warner/Chappell Music, he has become a major player on Nashville’s Music Row since graduating from Middle Tennessee State University in 2000. With his signing of Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood of Grammy-winning country group Lady Antebellum among his list of achievements, Hill has managed to build an impressive resume during his relatively short 11 years in the music business.
Originally from Ann Arbor, Mich., Hill heard about the recording industry program at MTSU while playing drums in a blues band during high school. When the band had the opportunity to cut an album, he became interested in the recording process. During his time in the studio, the record’s engineer/producer mentioned a friend who worked at MTSU and gave Hill his contact information. After checking out other colleges, Hill was most impressed with MTSU’s recording, production and technology program.
During his college career, Hill took advantage of various internships in the music business, including Warner/Chappell Music where he made some important contacts, which ultimately resulted in landing his current position. His impressive job title is a direct result of time spent at MTSU and the opportunities that presented themselves while earning his bachelor of science degree. “Classes were crucial building blocks as a starting point. You gotta have hands on experience,” Hill explained about the highly competitive nature of the music business.
Although originally picturing himself as a recording engineer, fate stepped in and changed Hill’s career path when he began working with songwriters venturing into the world of music publishing. “I love working with songwriters. Now I can’t think of doing anything else,” he confessed. “Every day is different. Sometimes my day starts off with an 8 o’clock breakfast meeting, while other days I might roll into the office about 10 in the morning and work until midnight.” The unpredictability of his job seems to be part of the excitement that keeps things fresh for Hill on a daily basis. He shared details of staff meetings, conference calls with the Los Angeles and/or New York branch offices, and the excitement of hearing new songs. No two days ever seemed to be the same as Hill continued to shed insight into the enigmatic world of a music industry professional.
While broaching the subject of technology and changes he has witnessed during his time in music publishing, Hill stated compact discs are still the preferred medium when it comes to listening, archiving and pitching songs. When asked if he thought digital downloading has made music seem disposable, he responded emphatically, “Digitized music isn’t the same as a physical product, especially when it comes to the illegal downloading of music. Artists should be compensated for their work.” He agreed MP3s definitely have their advantages, such as portability and their ability to be emailed, but the inability to hold an actual tangible product or recording in your hand unquestionably adds an element of disposability to music these days.
As the discussion shifted to the current state of the music business, which many describe as a dead or dying industry, Hill offered his opinion. “There will always be people who are passionate about getting their music to the masses. Unless something inconceivable happens, I don’t see the music industry ever going away,” Hill voiced, hoping to encourage current MTSU students aspiring to throw their hat into the musical arena.
When asked if he had any sage advice for current Recording Industry majors, Hill advised students to take advantage of as many internships as possible and do the best possible job while interning. “Try to network with previous graduates in the industry, but don’t feel you are entitled to a career.” He also stressed the importance of building relationships with other students as well as faculty who may evolve into valuable connections after graduation.
Hill’s greatest achievement to date is his tenacious pursuit of the publishing rights of Kelley and Haywood of white-hot trio Lady Antebellum at a time when other industry professionals considered them to be a high risk act. He then took a moment to reflect on what he has accomplished so far and confided how he thought his life has turned out all the better by not being confined in a recording studio as he had originally planned. “I get to see and work with various people during the day,” he explained. “I’m not stuck behind a desk or in a studio. This job also allows me the flexibility to raise a family and spend more time with them. I feel extremely lucky.” Lucky indeed, as Hill found himself in the company of Grammy night’s biggest winner, Lady Antebellum.
(BJ Hill (second from left) with Lady Antebellum at CMA week 2010)
In addition to his Lady Antebellum coup, Hill handles publishing duties for numerous clients including Wendell Mobley, one of Music City’s top songwriters, who has penned hits for Reba McEntire, Rascal Flatts, Trisha Yearwood and Carrie Underwood, just to name a few.
And finally, when questioned where he imagines himself in 10 years, Hill responded, “I hope to have an even more successful roster of writers and become a more efficient and passionate publisher. I also hope my passion for music continues to grow even stronger.”
BJ Hill has managed to carve out a successful and rewarding career for himself in the music business while enduring the ups and downs of corporate mergers, downsizing and illegal downloading. He has proven he has what it takes to succeed while overseeing his daily responsibilities in the artist and repertoire department at Warner/Chappell Music, one of the industry’s leading music publishers, whose roster includes Green Day, Madonna and Led Zeppelin. And to think it all started when he made the decision to attend college in a little town called Murfreesboro.