written by Autumn Marie Buysse
For our second installment of OMG! I’m A Songwriter’s pure writer series, I’m featuring none other than Downtown Music Publishing and Pray For My Haters’ very own writer and producer, Paige Blue. Some of her cuts include Lo Lind’s “Mantra (Say My Name),”Kat Saul’s “Nick Miller,” Midnight Kids’ “Last Time,”and Lacy Cavalier’s “Tea.”You might’ve also heard one of her songs in a Bare Minerals, Sephora, Patrón, Xbox or AT&T Direct TV commercial. Her song “Wow” from her sync project All Talk even landed a spot in an Apple commercial.
I drove to The Nations to sit down with Paige for coffee, and learn how she’s innovating pop music and empowering female artists from here to LA.
Ninety-five percent of the time, Paige fills the producer role in her writes, but regardless of whether she has her laptop or not, she wants to be fully invested in the writing of a song. While some producer/writers prefer to focus on the track, Paige personally doesn’t like to have her back turned to the artist. Before she even thinks about contributing lyrics, pitching melodies, or building a track though, she focuses on her first role, which is “facilitating a good environment to make [the artist] feel comfortable.” Paige makes sure to prioritize this, because “if they don’t feel comfortable, you’re not going to write a good song . . . my role in a room is to get the most honest thing out of that artist.” That’s probably why Paige is known for hosting sessions that last all day. “It’s like a hangout, we’ll just sit in my kitchen for awhile and hangout before we go to the studio.” Paige doesn’t want to write songs just for the sake of writing them— she’s always aiming to write a song that’s going to be something the artist wants to release.
When it comes to making sure an artist feels safe and comfortable, being a female producer has played to Paige’s advantage. “When people come to my house, they’re not used to having a producer in the room who’s not a male. I feel like the conversations that happen at my studio are sometimes ones that couldn’t happen [in a male studio].” A lot of the artists that come over to write with her have never worked with a female producer before. In Paige’s experience, women are more vulnerable in all-female environments, so Paige often loops in superb female writers to join her writes as thirds, so the artists she works with have an opportunity to be more open than they’re used to.
This 28 year-old pop innovator is originally from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a state without much of a music industry, but with a great music education system. Paige grew up taking piano lessons, learning percussion in the school band, and playing both in the church band while her mom sang in the choir. When middle school started, she brought her jazz band audition materials to her musical older brother for help, and joined the jazz band playing drum set. In high school, her life became consumed by drumline, and an angsty alternative rock band she formed with one of her friends and her older brother.
After graduating, Paige was planning on going to the University of South Dakota to major in business because “that’s what you do when you don’t know what to do.” However, when Avian Sunrise, an established alternative rock band, asked her to be their drummer, she cancelled her college plans. She started bartending part time, when she wasn’t touring and recording a full length album with Avian Sunrise. While she loved jamming on stage with her bandmates, she was always more drawn to songwriting and never felt the desire to be an artist.
When Paige was 21, she got married to her husband Ian, and quit bartending to work in music direction at a Christian mega church. Through this, she started making backing tracks for their worship teams, which is why she downloaded Logic Pro, and how she got into production. While she was also teaching piano lessons and drumline in addition to music direction at the church, she wasn’t focusing on songwriting, and she wanted to change that.
Paige and her husband both wanted to move, so when he got a great job offer in Nashville, they made the leap, with the condition that if they hated it, they’d just move in six months. Since then, six years have passed, so it’s safe to say they don’t hate Nashville.
Paige credits a lot of her early momentum in Nashville to the people she met when she first got here. Starting out, she’d get coffee with anybody even remotely related to the music industry. This mindset landed her in a coffee with an artist manager, a connection that might seem of no value to a pure writer, but this manager ended up being the person who introduced her to a woman who eventually helped Paige land her first publishing deal.
Through her old band Avian Sunrise, Paige was already affiliated with SESAC, so the manager she got coffee with connected her with Shannan Hatch, who was working at SESAC at the time. Paige met with Shannan and showed her the country music she’d been writing. Shannan believed in the work Paige was creating, and began advocating for her, doing everything from listening to her songs to introducing her to publishers.
Paige was still building tracks in Logic Pro, and she didn’t realize she was going to love production so much, or that it was going to be so instrumental in landing her a publishing deal. Shannan told Paige that if she kept developing her production skills, they’d find her a publishing deal within a year. Paige didn’t write for the next two months— instead, she watched every Logic tutorial under the sun. Paige had only been in Nashville for a year when she signed with Catch This Music, a small independent country publisher that’d been around for about five years at the time.
During the year Paige spent at CTM, she learned one really important fact about herself: she didn’t actually like writing country music. She began gravitating towards pop and sync, but CTM didn’t have pop connections or a TV/film team. During her time at CTM, she started discovering Nashville’s small pop scene herself, and launching a sync project called All Talk with fellow producer/writers Lo Lind and Stephen Schmuldt. All Talk remains one of her most lucrative sync projects to this day.
Paige’s CTM contract had an option after one year, so although CTM wanted to re-sign her at the end of her first term, she decided it wasn’t the right fit, and walked away in the hopes of finding a publishing company that could better cater to her goals. While she had relationships with other publishers, she had no offers until her deal was officially over, since publishers don’t like stepping on each others’ toes. Thankfully, a little while after her CTM deal ended, she got a call from Tony Esterly, a producer signed to Downtown Music Publishing. She was familiar with Downtown since they administered her catalog at CTM, but she’d never spoken with Downtown prior to Tony reaching out. She’d met Tony that year at the Durango Film Festival in Colorado. During the festival, each writer spends eight minutes each pitching their songs to music supervisors. Paige was in the same pitch group as Tony, which is how he first heard her material.
Tony asked Paige to grab coffee, and told her about the joint venture he was about to launch. He had an option coming up in his Downtown contract at the time that allowed him to launch a joint venture between Downtown and his publishing company, Pray For My Haters. Not only was this an attractive business opportunity for Paige, but Tony’s an experienced producer and mixer and the production feedback he’d be able to give her would be invaluable. She spent a few months working with Tony, and eventually signed with Tony’s joint venture with Downtown. This joint venture ended up being the perfect fit— she can send her songs to Tony for feedback whenever she likes, and Downtown has an established TV/film team, offices all over the world, and plenty of “badass women” working in them.
With Downtown, there’s no pressure for her to focus on any one genre. Right now, she splits her time evenly between writing with pop artists and fulfilling sync briefs, but her long term goal is to “make big hits that get synced because they’re big hits.” Until then, the hope is that her sync catalog will start rolling and racking up residuals, so that she can focus more on pop. “Sync catalogs take time to build, and it takes time to build relationships with the sync team, and for them to build relationships with music supervisors and get your name out there . . . that just takes time to develop.”
The turnaround time for sync briefs was challenging at first, since creatives often have 24 hours or less to submit a song for consideration. The time crunch has made Paige a faster producer and mixer and helped her develop “a whole different brain of songwriting.” When she works with artists though, the writing process is much more open, slow, and conversation-centric.
In her pop co-writes, she still approaches them with the classic Music Row mentality of discerning a lyrical concept first, whether the artist comes in with it, or they discover it organically in conversation. When they start writing the lyric, Paige wants to make sure it’s catered to the artist, because “if the artist doesn’t like the lyric, if they don’t feel attached to it, they’re not going to sing it.” While Paige’s writing spans the emotional spectrum, she’s always gravitated towards writing music that’s upbeat, fun and empowering. “If anyone doesn’t love Lizzo, they’re lying.” A long time drummer, she’s always thinking about the beat and how a body would move to the music, so even her sad songs tend to have energy.
Lately, Paige has been spending more time in LA, making trips to the west coast with her good friend Lo Lind to focus on hip hop production. Paige didn’t grow up listening to hip hop, but now she’s hooked. Hip hop has helped her get into rooms that she couldn’t otherwise— when she makes beats with producers with more clout in the hip hop world than she has, those producers often end up bringing her beats into sessions with big artists. Even though she doesn’t end up being in the actual write, she still gets credited on the song, by virtue of the track.
I’m excited about Paige’s releases this year, but what is Paige excited about? When it comes to the Nashville pop scene, Paige told us to keep our eyes on some of the artists she works with, like Lo Lind, Jung Youth, Marisa Maino, Caro, and Sarah Troy. To keep your eyes on Paige, you can follow her on Instagram at @paigeblue.