Jason Lee McKinney is an intellectual troubadour who writes and sings from the depths of an earthy soul; all with a business resume that would match most C level executives. McKinney holds a Doctorate, an MBA, and BA in Management. McKinney’s dissertation is a comparative study of downscoped specialization versus centralized diversification as organizational strategies in the transforming recording business.
McKinney’s live shows are fast paced, dynamic events that leave audiences exhausted, yet longing for more. McKinney’s easy charm stage presence aligns himself as one of the guys, without losing the distant aloof rock star vibe. McKinney commands the stage and the marching orders are a night to remember for everyone, every night, in every town, on every stage he plays. McKinney says, ‘I perform all out, every night, because all we ever have is tonight. That one night, on that one stage may be the only shared experience I get with a particular audience member and I will give everything I have to make sure they remember that night for as long as they live.’
Jason Lee McKinney has been through his share of strains and struggles from a difficult childhood filled with abuse and neglect to bad records deals and a lost marriage. Now McKinney is writing about that life, and it is more real and powerful than ever. He is the type of musician who is becoming the face of the new music business: a vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and a business entrepreneur with the skills, knowledge and vision to blaze the trail to profitability in the new music business. He has worked with music legends such as Tommy Sims (Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, and Eric Clapton). He has played over 2,000 shows, released five full-length albums and two EPs, and had four hits on three different charts (Take Me There and Boy Meets Girl on the Christian Rock charts and Hey DJ and Find Me on the CMJ charts.)
McKinney says, ‘The music industry is drastically changing. There have been technological advances that have disrupted the old model of monetizing music and have left traditional labels and the strategies they employ obsolete. These same technologies have opened the floodgates for new emergent models that in comparison hold similar risk to the average mutual fund from the NYSE and the potential to produce far greater dividends. Ultimately every investor is concerned with the time value of their money and in a very real way investing in the right recording artist whose business plan is targeted and focused in its scope combined with a solid marketing plan and killer music is a great way to make the investor’s money work for them. Plus it is a lot more fun than watching a mutual fund for 5 years.’
It is hard to imagine that with as much as he has worked and recorded, McKinney is not a household name yet. However, in 2006 while recording a new album, McKinney suffered two of life’s biggest losses on the heels of each other: first, his father died of cancer; and then, his high school sweetheart and wife of fourteen years filed for divorce. It seemed like the music left him, too.
For the first time since the age of ten McKinney was not involved with music’ he did not sing, he didn’t play, he didn’t write, he didn’t even listen. About a year after the divorce, however, he was going through his father’s records when he stumbled upon a stack of old albums, Leon Russell, Willie Nelson, Bob Seger, Van Morrison, John Prine, etc. On Seger McKinney says, ‘I was reminded that I knew every word to every song,’ he says. ‘Bob wrote about the human condition, common experiences everyone faces and appeals to people from all walks of life for the long haul.’ He wrote off this epiphany moment as a fluke, but he kept listening to the music of his childhood’ Seger, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Waylon Jennings’ opening the door wide enough for music to come back to him.
If vinyl was the gateway drug, going back to the radio was the hard stuff. For the first time in two years, McKinney began listening to music again particularly Americana, he also fell for the music being made in Texas, and discovered that while he was settling things in his own life, Americana music had become something for which he had an ear. Though he had heard and appreciated artists like Pat Green, Alabama Shakes, Randy Rogers Band, Zach Brown Band, Steve Earle, Steel Drivers, and Stoney Larue before, he had not yet realized the impact it would have on his own writing. Soon after, a friend of his, Scott Faircloth (songwriter and producer for Lifehouse), convinced him to sit down and write.
‘Scott asked me if I had written about the divorce and I told him, ‘I haven’t written about anything.’ Scott challenged me to just write whatever would come out and not think about selling records or radio, or demographics, just frigging write from the heart, from the pain, from the soul. So I just simply poured out my heart with him at the piano and me frantically writing and singing. Literally five minutes later the song was done and we were both in tears,’ McKinney recalls.
Though he had been writing for years and had a reputation as an articulate and clever lyricist as well as being a master of the hook melody, his writing had always been missing his story, his heart, and now it was there. For the first time, McKinney was bleeding on the page. By facing his losses and demons on the page, McKinney is able to write relatable music. His passion and energy is a perfect foil for his down-to-earth songs: it is hard to imagine anyone listening to ‘June 7th,’ ‘Don’t do lonely Well’ or ‘Lord Knows’ about his divorce, without getting a lump in their throat.
Likewise, McKinney easily integrates catchy upbeat summertime songs like ‘Long Long Gone’, ‘Better the Second time’; right alongside hard driving honky-tonk songs, ‘Two Steps’, ‘Whole Lotta Texas’; deeply rooted swampy blues ‘That’ll Preach’, ‘Old Man Johnson’ and ‘Rattle That Cage’; ‘and guttural songs of spiritual yearning and depth like ‘Strangest Places’.
He also talks about touring and the blessing and curse that music can be in ‘Strangers, Stages, and Cheap Hotels,’ and ‘Hardest Part’ which make it obvious that McKinney is taking the pain of the path of all he’s learned in his life and moving forward. Now McKinney is renewed, refreshed, focused, and forcefully leaving his permanent mark on the music industry not only as an artist but also by changing the way the business of music is done.