The Music Row publisher switched off the tape recorder and swivelled around in his chair, hands behind his head as if deep in thought. On the other side of the desk, songwriter Lee Owens waited for the inevitable verdict.

"This is Nashville," the man finally said, "the Country Music Capital of the World. Your songs are fine, son. Real good, in fact, but if you're going to be writing songs like this, you need to be living in New York or L.A., not the Country Music Capital of the World."

Ironically, a year or so later, a New York music publisher listened to the same set of songs and told Owens, “These songs are country. Have you ever thought about pitching them in Nashville?”

Owens had honestly acquired his diversity in writing, because though he had cut his musical teeth on records by the Beatles and other mid-sixties British invasion bands, his father was Doodle Owens, the renowned Nashville songwriter. Over the course of Lee's childhood and early adulthood, Doodle penned or co-penned such music industry standards as Johnny One-Time for Brenda Lee, All I Have to Offer You is Me for Charlie Pride, Right Left Hand for George Jones, and Fourteen Minutes Old for Doug Stone along with several hundred other cuts for artists ranging from Randy Travis to Elvis. So, one might surmise that good songwriting was in the genes.

The younger Owens had knocked around Music Row for over 20 years and at one point had been signed to a major publishing company, as well as having worked with 20 or so others.

The ongoing issue, however, was the difference between the songs he wanted to write and the songs that Nashville wanted to hear.

"My home was Nashville," Owens said, "but I felt like the market for my music was anywhere but Nashville." So he was determined to find a solution. The answer was an internet-based songwriter's music marketplace called KeyOnMusic . In late 2000 Owens, Nashville businessman Steve Haley and another partner put the fledgling business together in Nashville.

"The idea was to set up a new kind of on-line music source where anyone could hear and be heard," Owens says, "a place to swap licks and lyrics. A stage, if you will. It's a talent pool where artists still own their own music."

The site is a subscription-based service where songwriters can place ten 30-second song samples at a time. And, they can change their selections at any time.

Owens added, "Our marketing material says, 'They decide what's hot. They decide what's not, and who's going to be the next big sensation, but they don't own us.' I'm sure they will know who they are. But that being said, we're really not trying to go up against the big boys or the music biz status quo...we just wanted to offer a viable alternative. As a matter of fact, we see the site as also being a showcase where music labels and publishers can discover new talent. It really is a brave new world out there, at least technically speaking. Technology has now made it affordable for people to record a quality CD on their own. This has resulted in literally hundreds of thousands of home studios that sound as good as the big ones. Recent statistics say that there are over 100,000 plus ADAT installs in the world. It seems to pose the obvious question: Why can't those people at least have a chance to be heard?

Owens went on to say that the obvious goal of KeyOnMusic is to make songwriters accessible to the whole wide world through the world wide web.

"Here's one scenario," he says, "Imagine a bunch of college kids sitting around a dorm room somewhere in Alabama or Georgia playing guitars and banjos and writing songs. Let's say they go into a local recording studio, or for that matter even into one of their own home studios. They cut an album's worth of original bluegrass tunes, get an art student to do some sort of cover and then they put the whole thing together as a CD called something like Appalachian Apple Pie. Then they take four, five or even ten of the songs and put it on the KeyOnMusic website.

Okay, then let's assume there's some independent film maker in Australia wanting to do an original film set in Appalachian America. He goes to our site, checks out the bluegrass listing and sees Appalachian Apple Pie, listens to the selection, clicks on the link to the band's website (which they now have) and orders the CD. Bingo! He now has a soundtrack for his independent film."

Owens added, "Another goal of KeyOnMusic is education, and, although it sounds blatantly altruistic, it figures in big as far as what we'd love to accomplish with the site. We call this the Housewife in Des Moines factor. Picture a woman in Iowa who has always liked to play a little on the guitar or piano...someone who has, through the years, written a few songs. Maybe she's even played them at church or at school functions and has gotten some encouragement, or at least some positive response to what she has written. Where can she go to get her songs listened to? Or, for that matter, how does she go about getting her songs recorded, or copyrighted? Or, if she's really serious, critiqued, so she can actually make them better? She can't just necessarily call the local record store or radio station and say, 'Hey, I've got a wonderful song that I've been working on. Is there somebody there who will listen to it?' Maybe there's someone who will take the time, but admittedly, that's a long shot. However, she can go and click on KeyOnMusic and there is a section there that can tell her how to get her songs copyrighted, how to get her songs recorded, and it can even give her some valuable information about everything from using the right vocal microphone to tips on CD artwork.

"The main point that we keep trying to stress is the value of inclusiveness as opposed to exclusiveness. Everyone can feel at home here. There's a place for everyone.

So, is this the future of recorded music? Owens chuckled at the suggestion. "We're not quite that presumptuous," he says, "but I will say's a big world of music out there, and KeyOnMusic merely wants to make it easier for people to hear some of the great music that would probably not be heard within the confines of the existing system."

©Copyright 2005 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.