With his unique gift for finding the extraordinary in ordinary life, Chris Wallin has established himself as one of Nashville's most sought-after songwriters.
For the past several years, Wallin has topped the charts with classics-in-the-making for the industry's biggest stars: “Love Me If You Can” by Toby Keith, "Don't Blink" by Kenny Chesney, “I’m Tryin’” for Trace Adkins, “Something To Be Proud Of” and “Speed” by Montgomery Gentry.
Raised in the small town in East Tennessee Wallin was influenced by the likes of Jim Croce, James Taylor and Merle Haggard, as well as his own musical family – especially his mother, a singer herself. She recorded and performed in Nashville for a time, and the experience made an indelible impression on the seven-year-old Chris.
He began writing songs at age 12 and, perhaps inevitably, moved to Music City several years later, making the dues-paying rounds of writers nights and songwriting contests. He caught a break when his songs caught the ear of a small publishing company (co-owned by eventual Taylor Swift collaborator Liz Rose), helping to launch him on a professional career that has led to award-winning collaborations with fellow hit-makers like Jim Collins, Craig Wiseman, Tim Nichols and Jeffrey Steele.
Wallin has worked hard to achieve his place on the “A List” of Nashville songwriters, and doesn't take his status for granted: Chris says “Back then I used to buy 50 or so McDonald's 29 cent hamburgers a week and freeze them solid. I could eat all week on $15 … They weren’t bad, except the last few get a little crusty from freezer burn.”
Artists who have cut Chris’s songs include Lorrie Morgan, Montgomery Gentry, Sammy Kershaw, Tommy Shane Steiner, Trace Adkins, Michael Peterson, Anthony Smith, Jeffrey Steele, Confederate Railroad, Neal McCoy, Brian Mccomas, Brad Paisley, Joe Diffie, Diamond Rio, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and many more.
1....How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first song when I was 12 years old. 26 years.
2....Tell us about the very first song that you wrote and what inspired you to start writing?
My first song was called "Those Were The Days When Memories Ran Away". I still have the lyric sheet.
3.....Who are your biggest influences?
Well, my mother made a record in Nashville when I was around 7 years old. We lived in an apartment that was built on top of a bar on broadway called "The Turf". Mama sang there at night and that was my first taste of nashville. It was kind of a bad scene on broadway back then. So I would have to say my mother "Joyce Ann Carpenter" most of all, then Jim Croce, Merle Haggard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, James Taylor, and many songwriters I have met in Nashville that have kicked my butt with there songs and let me know I have to get to work.
4.....What was your first big break?
5....How long did it take to get your first publishing deal and how did you get it?
I think this story answers both of these.
I had been in town a year or two and I had met the owners of a publishing company called "King Lizard Music" (Kinglsey Brock and Liz Rose) while they were judges at a songwriting contest at the "Gibson Guitar Cafe" on Broadway. I won second place, I believe, so they gave me their cards and I periodically played them songs and had meetings with Kingsley for about a year. Back then I use to buy 50 or so McDonald's 29 cent hamburgers a week and freeze them solid. I could eat all week on $15. Anyway, One day I got a call from Ford Motor Credit and they told me I was behind on my car payment and they were about to repossess my car (a sports car I bought back when I did manuel labor for a living, Yuck!). My payment was $430 a month! I was flat broke. I had been living on my 401K from my old job back home and some temp jobs here and there. I talked them out of the late charges somehow, (If my wife and I ever have a child and it vanishes you never read this). They said If I brought them $860 that week they would let me keep my car. It might as well have been a million dollars. I was on the verge of going home. I had sold my computer and everything else nailed down but couldn't come up with the money. The phone rings and it's Kingsley Brock from King Lizard Music. He wants me to come down and talk to him about signing with his company as a staff writer. Before he could hang up I was knocking on his door. He offered me $400 for my "schedule A" (All songs I had written up to that point) and $250 a week in bi-weekly payments. Because it would be easier to keep books he said he would say that I started on the first of the month (it was the middle). So in other words he could write me a check that day for $900. I took the check and like to have never cashed it (No checking account). I went to the closest Kroger and I Western Unioned Ford Motor Credit $860. That was a Tuesday. The next day I walked into a McDonald's and ordered 75 29 cent hamburgers, a large fry and a diet coke. If you have never done that, please try it, you owe yourself.
6....Where are you currently writing?
I'm in negotiations right now for a new deal. I'll tell you in about a month.
7....Do you believe you need a publishing deal to get a major cut?
I think that staff writers are the writers you are competing against. Some people are mislead by thinking that you have to be better than those writers you see at a writers night or party, when it's the people you don't see that you have to worry about. These people are writing every day sometimes 6 or 7 days a week. If you expect to compete with them then you better put in some time writing and knock them out with your song, so they don't care who you are or where you came from. Trust me that's a mother of a song. People have gotten cuts without deals, but the odds are already stacked against you. A deal isn't all about getting songs cut. Its about meeting people and co-writers that you know throughout your career.
8....What was your first major cut and how did it come about?
My first cut was a song called "3 Seconds" recorded by Lori Morgan and Sammy Kershaw. It was the only duet I've ever written and it was pitched with a very rough guitar vocal. I sang both the male and female parts on the song . I still can't believe they heard the song through that work tape. The day Jeffrey Steele, Anthony Smith and I finished the song we started "I'm Tryin" which was cut by Trace Adkins later on.
9....Is it true that after you get your first cut, it is easier to get other cuts?
It might get a song or 2 heard more, but your songs still have to be at a certain level. There's no secret rule that everybody knows. Now that you have gotten a cut that everyone is suppose to slack up on you and let you into the inner circle. It still comes down to what the person who is making the decision that day thinks of your song. If I stop playing some of my friends working at the record labels great songs, they stop taking my calls. The song comes first, not the relationships. "Without great songs there are no relationships in this town" by Scott Gunter.
10....What do you believe is the secret to getting your songs recorded by major artists?
Find out what you do the best and do that till you drop. Also be flexible. Know your co-writers and how you write together. Are you the editor? or are you the blabber who spills out lyrics (but think there all great). Maybe your the guy who always has a great idea. Know who you are in the room that day.
11....What is one of your greatest moments in your career?
Not long ago I did my first show with a band near my hometown in White Pine, TN. The Sheriff came up on stage with a proclamation signed by the Mayor of Jefferson County and declared April 18th "Chris Wallin Day".
12....What is one of your worst moments in your career?
Any bad moment has been dwarfed by the blessings I've received along the way to where I am now.
13....What do you think of writer's nights and do you think they benefit the writers? In what ways?
Writers nights are a great way to meet co-writers and form your own click and come up the ranks with your group. Pretty soon someone gets a break and it helps everybody.
14....Do you co-write with other writers and how do you choose who you write with?
I co-write with people who impress me. I want to learn from other writers. I am blessed to have of the best songwriters in Nashville as friends and co-writers. They teach me, every writing session.
15....Do you co-write with aspiring writers?
Not very often. To tell the truth for me to co-write with an aspiring writer I would have to NOT write with a group that I have had success with and know we will write a great song together. That being said if I hear someone that blows me away with their songs, I have no problem with asking anyone to write with me.
16....Have you ever had writers block, and if so, how did you get over it?
When I have writers' block I have a "hook session". I get a co-writer or by myself and just think of hooks all day and write them down. I make it a point not to write a song that day. JUST HOOKS. I have never cured writers' block by breaking my stupid rule and starting a song.
17.....Do you think you need to have a fully produced demo of your song to be able to pitch it, or can you use a work tape (guitar-vocal)?
I always go with a clean guitar-vocal, or all the way with top musicians. Either let them use there imagination to fill in what they want to hear or show them what the song could sound like recorded properly. Anything in between with corners cut or subpar musicians will pull them away from the heart of the song. These people listen to $700-$1000 a song demos all day long. When you pop in a $230 demo believe me they know it. If it gets in the way of the feeling of your song, simply leave it out.
18.....What "tips" do you have for writers when they are going to a meeting with a publisher or someone in the business?
Be respectful. When publishers sign writers they have to trust them with the keys to their, sometimes million dollar buildings. You can be a heck of a songwriter and be a thief, or a putts.
19....Is there anything else you would like to say to aspiring writers that you feel will help them?
If you're thinking "I'm going to set Nashville on fire with my songs and it won't know what hit it". Your wrong. If your thinking "It can't be done so why even try?" Wrong again.