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  Jim Allison, Producer
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NNS Records

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Q&A with Country Music Producer Jim Allison

Having spent the better part of 25 years in Nashville, country music producer and song writer, Jim Allison, has recently taken his talents to the Northeast, where he has set up shop in Southern New Jersey with a recording studio, Nashville North Studios, and record label, NNS Records. We caught up with Jim at his studio in Linwood, New Jersey and did a little Q&A for our readers.

How did you get started in music and how did you end up doing country music?

I learned trumpet in grade school and picked up piano by listening to my two sisters practice their lessons. When I heard The Beatles and Motown records I knew I had to play guitar. Besides it’s kind of hard to sing while playing a horn!  

In the south central Pennsylvania area where we were you heard all kinds of music on the radio- pop, country, bluegrass, r&b- just about everything. Plus my father was a big band buff so that was in the mix as well.
My first band, The Rumors, was formed at age 13. We played the popular songs and a few of our own. But we were all from professional families (my father was a doctor) and it was assumed we would all go to college, so we did.
I started out pre-med but while dissecting a cat corpse decided I would be an English major! Dissecting words was much more to my liking. But even through college and graduate school and several years as an English teacher I continued performing live with my own bands. It became pretty clear that music was my thing so I started playing full time. I performed in about half the states in the U.S.- got to see a lot of the country, but I was always most interested in the lyrics of songs. This led me to Nashville, where I started having my songs performed by major label artists in the mid eighties.

You’ve had many successes as a songwriter during your time in Nashville, can you tell us about some of your most notable achievements? Who are some of the artists that you’ve worked with that country music fans may recognize?

My proudest achievement was a #1 record by Reba McEntire called “What Am I Gonna Do About You.” The song is nearing two million airplays on radio which I find mind boggling! My twenty-five major label cuts include Razzy Bailey, Earl Thomas Conley, Linda Davis, Mickey Gilley, Con Hunley, Brenda Lee, Charley McClain, Jo Dee Messina, Daron Norwood, Eddie Rabbitt, Connie Smith, B. J. Thomas, Jett Williams, etc. And a song of mine called “Fade To Blue” was on LeAnn Rimes’ Blue album which has sold 10 million units! I’ve also had three #1′s in Canada.

I started my own studio in the eighties and recorded George Jones, Ray Stevens, Blake Shelton, Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum, and a lot of hit songwriters while also producing a Billy Ray Cyrus project that landed his Mercury Records deal and a Greatest Hits album for country legend Del Reeves, that is available here at NNS Records.

How did you end up opening a studio in New Jersey, and what has it been like to work with artists so far removed from the Nashville scene?

Well, music is my love and no matter where I’m located I carry with me the skills I honed with twenty-five years in Nashville. My other love, who is now my wife, was also the very first girlfriend I ever had back in seventh grade! So Judy and I now live here in Linwood, New Jersey.

We are very close to the beaches and Atlantic City and there are a lot of really talented music people in this area. Plus, I still have a studio in Nashville where we are able to take advantage of the great Nashville studio players and then bring the tracks to New Jersey to record local acts. Kind of the best of both worlds…

With today’s talent competitions, so much focus is put on the voice, but how important is song writing? Should artists looking to be heard, whether it be with a demo or otherwise, lead with covers or original material?

If you have a truly great song, you could have a hit record even if recorded by a mediocre voice. But a great voice is going to have difficulty getting heard with a weak song. So, to me, the song is everything! Sure you can go to your favorite karaoke bar and wow the crowd with other people’s hits, but an aspiring act is going to need strong material to break through.

What is your take on the current and ever evolving music industry and how does it compare to how things were 10-20 years ago?

Music is and has always been a very important thing in our lives. It will always be with us. Unfortunately, many of the major record labels of the past are no longer with us because they did not want to evolve with the times. Twenty years ago your favorite hit CD that you had to have probably cost you $20 and may have had one or two hit songs on it.

Today, the consumer is able to download the hit they like and forego purchasing an entire album. $1 versus $20- guess which business model won out! LeAnn Rimes’ Blue album sold over 10 million units in the late nineties. Taylor Swift sells around three million.
But the good news is that more and more acts are now able to be heard thanks to the internet and digitally downloadable music.

What is your advice to young singers and songwriters trying to make it both in and out of Nashville today?

Thousands and thousands of singers and songwriters go to Nashville every year in hopes of “making it.” Several will break through. The odds are very slim. And, for better or worse, a huge percentage of music people in Nashville dedicate their lives to making their living off of these aspiring artists. So the singer’s Mom and Dad shell out thousands and thousands of dollars only to have their dreams dashed by a mediocre product done in haste. My advice? Check out NNS Records!