Over the past few years, Mark Wright, Executive Vice President of A&R for Sony Music Nashville, has become a member of the small, bold élite of Nashville music creators. His richly felt and arranged hit productions -- for artists as diverse as Lee Ann Womack and Brooks & Dunn, Gretchen Wilson and Gary Allan have rendered it impossible for people to think of successful cutting-edge country music without considering his name. Because he refuses to consign musical innovation, stylistic progress, and, not least, plain old artistic passion to the boutique sidelines of the industry, Wright has assumed his place, at 44, among Nashville’s handful of chief studio architects. His work represents broad-appeal country music not as a place of stultifying rules and conventions, but a land of genuine excitement. He seeks freshness right in the middle of the mainstream. Or, as Wright himself says, “It doesn’t do any good to be hip if nobody hears it.”
Music has always consumed Wright. As a boy he sang in the choir his father, a Baptist Minister of Music, directed in Wright’s native Fayetteville, Arkansas. As a Belmont University student he worked as an assistant to various publishers and producers, successfully finding his way -- “I wanted a key to the studio,” Wright recalls, into Nashville’s professional recording arena, which fascinated him. By the late-‘70s and early -’80s, Wright had already become a successful songwriter; today, his credits in that realm range from compositions recorded by Amy Grant and Reba McEntire to Kenny Rogers and George Strait. In 1994, Wright was appointed Senior Vice President of Decca Records, MCA Nashville’s now-dissolved sister label; five years earlier, he had worked as an A&R talent manager for RCA Records, a tour which ended with his co-production of the highly acclaimed 1989 multi-platinum debut of Clint Black. Just before joining Decca, Wright’s production of Mark Chesnutt helped spawn another significant platinum career; a little later, his work with Lee Ann Womack ultimately yielded a new superstar.
Wright’s tremendous enthusiasm for music itself, he says, motivated in the early-‘90s his return to full-time record company life. “When I was an independent, I ended up doing some records because I needed to make a living,” he explains. “But then I found myself being miserable. I found myself making music that I really didn’t believe in. I decided to go back to work for a record company so I could pick and choose what music I turned my attentions to. This has made me a much happier person. I really want to be passionate about every project. If I can’t, I just don’t think I can be any good at it. I need to be musically intrigued, musically satisfied.”