Breaking into the Biz: Music-Making Evolving in NWA

NORTHWEST ARKANSAS -- The music scene is expanding in Northwest Arkansas. With the arrival of Crystal Bridges and a new AMP in the works, the arts are now in the spotlight and it's impacting everything from tourism to tunes. Now, a little bit of Nashville is showing up here.
Barrett Baber is a Fayetteville High School teacher by day. But by night, he's living out his dream on stage. And it's taken a lot of hard work to make it happen. "I've been making music now for 15 years in the state of Arkansas and am just now really starting to see some of the fruits of that," he said. In January, Baber found himself on a national stage, playing a pre-grammy concert in L.A. Winning the Grammy Gig of a Lifetime contest may just have changed his life. "No one really understands the gift they gave us by voting for us and sending us to California," Baber said.
The song that sent him to Hollywood, "Drop Dead Redhead," started in a Bentonville studio. Neil Greenhaw founded Haxton Road Studios in 2011, after living in Nashville for several years. "I love finding new talent and I love taking artists where they are and being able to help project them to the next level." He said there's a reason he chose to set up shop in Bentonville. "It's exciting to be a part of what's happening in Bentonville and the surrounding areas, the downtown district, the arts district, entertainment that's coming in."
Greenhaw has some help developing local talent. Kenny Lamb is a multi-platinum songwriter and producer, who spent 17 years in Nashville, working with artists like Justin Timberlake, Jason Aldean and the Backstreet Boys. With ties to labels on Music Row and Los Angeles, Lamb is in tune with the music industry. "It's all about outlets. We can write all the great songs we want and work with the best talent but you have to know where you're going with it," Lamb said.
Together, Lamb and Greenhaw work with local artists on everything from song writing to image. "How are you going to set yourself apart? That takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of work with development," Greenhaw said.
Country rock group Backroad Anthem worked with Haxton Road Studios on their latest album. "Since then they've taken off," Greenhaw said. "Last time I looked they were at 15 or 16,000 likes on Facebook and they're opening for most of the major country acts coming close to Northwest Arkansas."
Fayetteville singer Madison Watkins also stepped up to the mic. "The day her single released she got an email from one of the biggest record labels in the world, saying, 'hey we're watching you,'" said Greenhaw.
Lamb and Greenhaw say they're even starting to see a little bit of the Music City, coming here. "We had an artist from Nashville come here and record this year, come and record her EP."
Platforms like Fox's "American Idol," and NBC's "The Voice" open up new avenues for artists to showcase their talent. "In the past month I've had three or four people in Northwest Arkansas that have either auditioned in the past or are currently auditioning," Greenhaw said.
Both say social media has changed the game. "You can get songs out there on an independent level that can start to create royalties, a following, a fan base and eventually reach you up to a platform that may put you in a position to sign a record deal," Lamb said.
The duo says new artists should embrace the journey, because it takes a lot of hard work to stand out from the chorus of voices. Something they say Barrett Baber is succeeding at. "He's out there playing live and he's networking on social network sites but he's also putting out great content and the talent's there to back it up," Lamb said.
And Baber's not planning to fade from the spotlight anytime soon, saying, "Keep making music, keep writing good songs and let the people respond to it as they have and you know I feel like if we do those things, then good things are going to happen."

For more information on Haxton Road Studios, check out their website and Facebook page.

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