Nashville is a tough town for aspiring artists. You spend years starving, observing, collaborating and honing in your craft in hope of eventually being heard by those that can advance your career. But there are also exceptions to the rule, and Ashton Shepherd is such an exception. The singer/songwriter from Leroy, Alabama was discovered and signed to a major label within a matter of months. And she never had to leave home to do it."It's not that I thought that other people weren't talented or smart, but I just felt like there was some kind of different way for me and I didn't know what it was going to be," Shepherd says, speaking by phone from her home in Leroy. "I just felt that if I could find the right person, then why can't all of this happen quickly? Why does it have to take six years to get a record deal? It's happened so fast and I still live here in Leroy, Alabama."
Shepherd's debut for MCA Nashville - Sounds So Good - will be released on March 4. The album's first single, "Takin' Off This Pain," is already in heavy video rotation on the CMT and GAC networks. The 21 year-old's path to a major-label signing is a story worth telling and Shepherd still seems amazed by it all.
"I was entered in a Colgate Showdown in June of 2006 and I won," Shepherd says. "I got to open for Lorrie Morgan and one of her sound engineers actually overheard me singing one of my original songs. He said, 'You ought to come to Nashville and make a demo.' He said it would cost $2,000 a song, so we went and borrowed the money to make a three-song demo in August of 2006. I found some Nashville contract lawyers on the Internet and I called the first place I saw. The lady there befriended me and we became really good friends. She introduced me to Shelby Kennedy at BMI and he took me to [MCA parent company] Universal in January of 2007. It has all been such a puzzle - it's amazing how every little thing impacted it so much. The record deal was signed in April of 2007. In August, the record was sent off to be mastered and the single went to radio on September 17."
Unlike many emerging artists that are handed songs to record, Shepherd already had a number of original songs that she had written over the years. This catalog of material placed her and the label in the enviable position of selecting material for Sounds So Good from a lengthy list.
"Right after I got the record deal, I was asked how many original songs I had," Shepherd recalls. "I said, 'About 150.' They got me a computer and asked me to put down what I thought were my best songs. They asked for roughly 40 songs, so me and my husband picked out 42 songs and sent them to Buddy Cannon, my producer. We picked the 11 songs for the album from those songs. I didn't mind which ones were picked because they were all my songs."
In addition to being discovered and signed so quickly, Shepherd has also been fortunate to remain in Leroy during this whirlwind time in her career.
"Unless you've got a publishing deal and you're a writer that writes with other writers, there's not a lot of need [to relocate]. I've always been a real homebody - my first time on a commercial airline was June 26th of last year. It's so nice for me and my husband to actually be home when we're home. We've got a two year-old boy and it helps us that we're near my parents and my husband's parents," she says.
But while she still calls Leroy home, Shepherd admits that things aren't exactly the same for her since being discovered.
"Really close friends start to look at you differently and they don't mean to. I just laugh about it - I'm just the same person."
Links: Ashton Shepherd on MySpace.