Carnival Music isn’t a publishing company, or a record label, though it does the work of both. It’s a music company, front to back, founded by industry veterans Frank Liddell and Travis Hill in 1997, not with the intent of using music to prop up a business, but to build a business that could find and nurture compelling, lasting music, and set the stage for compelling, lasting careers.
Liddell’s own career brought him to Nashville in the early ’90s, first to work at publishing company Bluewater Music, then to guide the work of Gary Allan, Lee Ann Womack and others as part of the A&R department at Decca Records. The rigidity of the more traditional Nashville music model left Liddell feeling cold and cornered, so he and Hill set out to create Carnival Music with a thoroughly different approach.
“I’ve always wanted to be sort of an island,” Liddell says. “I love the Atlantic Records story — it was a music-driven label, and the people that worked there were musically driven. They were, perhaps, competitive, but it seemed to me that they all championed each other. I’ve always wanted Carnival to be that: You’re protected if you’re here. If we like your music, we’re gonna help you get to where you want to go, and we’re gonna protect your music first and foremost.”
That long-haul sensibility felt right to Liddell as a music lover. But it’s also continued to feel like smart business sense, since Carnival’s successes have, by and large, come as a result of letting a love of songs lead the way, then standing by the writers who created those songs.