An Artist Again: A Conversation with Patrick Davis

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Brooke Stevens

In a career spanning more than 20 years, Patrick Davis has seen the music industry from two distinct sides – solo artist and staff writer. In addition to his releasing his own albums, Davis’s songs have been recorded by Alabama, Pat Green, Morgan Wallen and Guy Clark among numerous others. These days, Davis is back to writing for himself and you can hear the contentment in his voice. In addition to heading up the annual Songwriters in Paradise Festival, he was also featured in a 2022 Forbes article that focused on the revenue streams, opportunities and challenges of modern-day artists. Recently, Davis spoke with us by phone from his Nashville home.

Southern Stages: Patrick, thanks for your time today. Like so many others, I really enjoyed the Forbes article and your insight on the current state of the industry. Some artists say it’s a great time to be in your position given the access to listeners and modern avenues. Others say those same factors create difficulty and over-saturation.

Patrick Davis: Yeah, I think it’s probably somewhere in the middle. Depending on what color glasses you have on, it could be better or it could be worse. It’s definitely difficult today to make money through the avenues we once had at our disposal. When I was a kid, artists would go on tour and play 25 cities and wouldn’t go on tour again for two years because they made so much money from album sales. Now, every band you’ve ever heard of is on tour year-round because the only way to make money is touring. They are trying to figure out the streaming royalties and they still haven’t, so the revenue streams have dried up. The only way to make real money is to be on the road. I feel fortunate because I do enjoy playing shows. It’s extremely difficult to get noticed with all the noise – there used to be three TV channels and four radio stations. There is great music being made – It’s just really hard to find it. You’ve got to figure it out and make it work and hopefully flourish – the Forbes article was me trying to explain the reasons I do some of the things I decided to do.

Southern Stages: You’ve experienced life as a solo artist and staff writer through your publishing deals with EMI Music and Warner Chappell. How would you describe your writing process?

Davis: When I was a kid, it was whenever the spirit hit me. When you start writing in Nashville, it’s a co-writing machine, really. When you get in that world, they’re trying to get you to write four to five times a week and that’s what I did for a long time. It made me unhappy, because at some point you realize you’re just banging your head against the wall and I had to get back to writing on my own terms. About five or six years ago, I decided I needed to be an artist again. I always have an idea somewhere – in my phone, on a piece of paper or a lick on my guitar. I have forced it before, but I find myself happier when I let it sit there until I’m in the right headspace.

Southern Stages: In 2020, you released the Couch Covers album. How did you go about selecting material for it?

Davis: It was done to keep myself sane during Covid. I decided during the early days of Covid, “Well, this can’t last that long. Maybe since we’re stuck at home I’ll try to learn a cover song every day and put it on Facebook or Instagram.” I thought I would be doing it for a couple of weeks and I think did like 70 of them [laughs]. It was a lot of fun and it helped keep me sane during those insane first couple of months of the Covid year. After finishing those 70 days in a row, I got a lot of requests from folks saying, “You ought to record these songs” and in June 2020 I decided to pick 10 of them that I thought would work in a cohesive unit. We went in over a couple of days with masks on and cut those songs – I hope that I did them justice. It was something positive that come out of Covid for me personally.

Southern Stages: With a large catalog of material under your belt, how do you comprise your set lists these days?

Davis: I try my best to dig into older songs that I’m proud of that maybe didn’t get a spotlight put on them. Some of them got a spotlight because they were recorded by some other artists, but there are deeper tracks and I like going there. When you’re writing for a publishing house, you’re writing 300 to 400 songs per year. It used to be that I had to write 400 songs a year to get 20 good ones. Nowadays, I can write 20 and usually I can have 10 or 15 that I’m happy with. It’s a muscle – you get better. I think I can do an eight-hour show and not repeat a song [laughs]. Whether an audience has followed me for five months or 15 years, I want to be sure that they get a little taste of everything.

Southern Stages: If you will, talk about Songwriters in Paradise.

Davis: About 10 years ago, I got asked to go down to the Bahamas. Some folks that I am friends with own a resort and asked if I would go down and play. I said, “How about I bring a few of my songwriting buddies and we play over the course of a weekend?” and that just kind of parlayed into another day and another day. It gives me the ability to hang out with my buddies for four or five nights and that’s really the attraction for us. There are only 150 to 200 attendees that get to attend each night – it’s an in-the-round, Bluebird Cafe setup and we do two shows a night with six performers a night.