You don’t hear it often, but it’s kind of refreshing when a musician admits to something few fellow artists dare utter in public.
“I actually like the business part of the music business,” admits country singer-songwriter Rob Baird. Chatting before his December concert at the Kessler in Oak Cliff, where he opened for Jack Ingram, he goes further by saying, “That’s one of the reasons I got out of my record deal and started my own record label.”
On the heels of his recently released record, After All, the Memphis native and Texas Christian University graduate doesn’t have any of the usual artist’s qualms in discussing the oft-vilified end of his chosen industry. It’s not that he’s ignorantly, blissfully unaware of the darker end of the biz thanks to one massive hit record after another or something like that. In fact, he’s in the midst of a pesky legal battle that’s hindered new fans from finding his music as a result of a dispute between his old song publishing company and Spotify. It might be another year or so before people can hear his first two records on the popular streaming service. That’s half of his recorded output.
But still, Baird embraces the challenge of succeeding in today’s music marketplace. And as much as he relishes his fiscal independence, he treasures artistic independence just as much, if not more. Before moving back to Austin a couple of years ago, Baird lived for a time in Nashville to give the life of a songwriter with a publishing deal a shot. He was making money writing songs, which sounds like a dream come true, but it wasn’t.
“I was in Nashville during the whole bro-country craze,” he says. “And I got tired of just giving all my songs away to someone else. But it was good to be there for a while and to get myself into the mix and meet a bunch of people, so I don’t regret that part of it.”
Taking control of his business and his art is great, but even the boss has to produce to keep doing what he wants to do. Since his 2010 debut album, Baird’s albums have been filled with imaginative, country-tinged rock and blues songs telling the stories of dreamers, lovers and leavers. After All is another fantastic album that fans of rock gods Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen will appreciate as much as fans of Texas-based standouts Jack Ingram and Hayes Carll.
For an independent artist like Baird, once a new album is released, the need for that album to “do something” for their career is undeniable.
“You just never know what’s going to happen once a record is released,” he says. “I mean, I feel great about the record itself, but more than that needs to happen. I really hope this record helps me take the next step towards headlining more shows, staying on the road, you know, I just want to keep moving.”
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Even with positive national press and regular tours with well-known names in Americana and Texas country, some gigs seem to exist solely to remind Baird that he’s still not where he wants to be. As he looks around the ornate Kessler walls, he laughs about a time he played a gig in a “Dallas parking lot, where it started pouring rain and I barely avoided electrocution.”
Although Baird’s songs often cover heartbroken, desperate terrain, his outlook on his real life as a working musician remains realistically, almost pragmatically, positive.
“It can be a battle every day to keep going, to keep writing,” he says. “But I remind myself that it’s about persistence. I’m going to keep taking small steps, which is fine because I feel like things are clicking for me, and that’s encouraging. I’ve gone this far, so I’m not going to stop, I’m going to keep moving.”
Rob Baird performs at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1 at Fort Worth Live. Tickets start at $12.