CleveRock: So many songwriters and performers flock to Nashville because it is inarguably the hottest spot for an aspiring musician or writer. You were born and raised in Music City! Can you discuss how your Nashville upbringing helped shape and influence you during your formative years?
Tenpenny: I grew up in a town that has the best songwriters in the world and I fell in love with songwriting. It’s just as simple as that. I grew up in the business. My grandmother was a publisher. She ran Sony Publishing for 30 years. She signed songwriters and she signed songwriters and even songwriter/artists. She signed everyone from Brooks and Dunn to Taylor Swift for their songwriting side of the industry. And so I got to see a lot of artists that are starting off to make it. And I got to see a lot of songwriters that had nothing that became some of the biggest songwriters in Nashville. And I just wanted to be that. I went, I wanted to be a songwriter and I bumped my head earlier. I just, I thought they were the coolest people in the world.
The way songwriters come in and do their jobs is to wake up every morning and go write a song and see what happens. For me, being inspired and seeing success stories was extremely inspiring as a kid. I also saw horror stories. It could have completely turned the other way. All I needed was to see one and that’s all I ever wanted to do.
CleveRock: You attended Middle Tennessee State University and studied in its prestigious Music Business program. I’ve read so many horror stories of artists getting locked into bad deals, not getting paid their fair share of the money generated from their music, and just being stuck in bad contracts. As both a songwriter and performer, how important was it for you to study the business aspect of the industry so you did not end up being in one of those horror stories?
Tenpenny: It’s the most important thing! It’s the music business. If you come in there with this attitude of, that you are better than the business, then it is going be just a hobby for you., it won’t be a business. MTSU is the best of the best. It really is. I met so many connections there; so many friends. Some of thhe guys are still in my band. I have songwriters that I still write with. But more importantly, I learned about contracts and learned how to protect myself if I was given the opportunity to sign contracts. I’ve had to sign a lot of different contracts from, you know, publishing deals, to record deals to business managers, to business agents; to everything. Everyone starts getting a piece of the pie at that point.
You can be screwed very much. You’re gonna be working the hardest out of everyone and everyone else gets your money. You need to figure out how to protect yourself and your family forever. If you go and you go and make a really dumb decision, that will kill your soul. That will kill your passion for music quicker than anything. When you’re working hard, you’re tired, and you’re not seeing the fruits of your labor and you’re seeing someone else receive that. I did see that happen a lot growing up and I wanted to make sure that that didn’t happen to me. So, I learned about the music business. I live, breathe, and dream about the music business. I truly do. It’s fun and you can make it fun. There’s a lot of evil in the entertainment business Period. When you learn to protect yourself and navigate that, you kind of can try to avoid some of those moments that can get you down.
CleveRock: I want to circle back to your, your songwriting and your performing success here. We live in an era where so few people purchase entire albums anymore. Most people, myself included, dial up YouTube or Spotify or Apple Music to, get their music fix and try new music.
You have massed 1.5 billion streams and counting across streaming platforms. Given the world’s population is approximately seven billion, how much does that number mean to you as a writer and performer?
Tenpenny: It”s just crazy. I don’t know. It’s so cool. I’m just so grateful and so humbled by that. It’s just awesome. That’s all you want when you’re a kid picking up a guitar in your room and playing songs; trying to figure that out. You just want the world to hear them. I have been very honored and lucky to have people hear our songs and hopefully continue that. When they told me that billion number, it’s just crazy.! Now, if only that made me a billion dollars!