When a young artist follows the age-old advice, “To thine own self be true,” she may not reach the brightest star on the map (or any at all). In light of those odds, Cam Ochs has proven that making deliberate steps toward the most hopeful outcome without unrealistic expectations has led to the ultimate destination.
“I was a very conservative person starting out, and I think everyone [involved] kept a pretty level head about it,” said Ochs. “I think everyone around me saw where it was going and I like to think it would go that far. This music’s not copying anyone. It’s not reverse engineering (‘This is what’s working on the radio so let’s steal that and use it’). It all very much came from within this group and the writers that are involved and all of us made an effort that it was going to be a really fresh sound.”
A native of the San Francisco Bay area, Ochs moved to Los Angeles after college, where she began collaborating with producer Tyler Sam Johnson (OneRepublic Taylor Swift, PINK!). Ochs and Johnson finished some demos intended to attract Faith Hill. The intentional pitch failed, but a roommate’s interest that followed a “pass-the-potential-hit-along” path led to Scott Siman, who had managed Tim McGraw. Siman liked the song “Fall Madly In Love” for Maggie Rose’s “Cut to Impress” album, released in 2013.
“That’s how I got to Nashville. That was my first cut. I decided to come out and not only explore writing for other people, but also to write these songs for myself and to sing them,” said Ochs.
“I had an offer for a publishing deal, but if you go in too soon, you don’t have the same value—no one knows what your potential is. I just felt like I knew what I could do. I had this need to prove myself on my own before we got into the Nashville system of publishing.”
To that end, Ochs launched a Kickstarter campaign and produced 10 songs with Tyler Sam Johnson and a team. They received support from L.A. producer Jeff Bhasker (Alicia Keys, Kanye West, Beyonce Knowles, Bruno Mars), which gave it credibility and momentum.
“It takes someone big to believe in you for other people to give you a shot and Jeff has a great ear and just got it and from that point we got the tracks to the best spot we could,” said Ochs, who admits the only sidetrack she had in the entire process of getting her record deal was when she and Johnson received a call from producer Mike Will to work on a track (“Maybe You’re Right”) for Miley Cyrus’s album, “Bangerz,” released in 2013.
“My manager, Lindsay Marias, who’s been with me since the beginning, was aware you only get one chance to make an impression in Nashville, because it’s a small town.
“We did a really good job of keeping it under wraps so no one really knew who I was, [but] the one person who sort of found me was Michael Bryan, the program director at WSIX. The guy who does his jingles somehow followed an Instagram photo of an engineer who worked for me [and] reached out to me on Twitter.
“We were getting ready to go to the label. He said, ‘I will put this on the radio right now.’ I said, ‘Right now? Because there’s no label involved. I don’t know what that means. That doesn’t happen normally.’
“He said, ‘It means you’re going to have more leverage than before. You’re going to have a shot without having a label involved.’ I have to give him credit. He just put it up. [We] got a big response from that at the same time we were going to labels. With Jeff [Bhasker] attached and everything, it made people pay attention. It put me in a great spot. We got to choose where we wanted to go.”
“I sat on his couch and sang, ‘Burning House.’ He started singing with me midway through,” Ochs said.
After the meeting with Morris, Ochs returned to Nashville to meet with the Sony team here, but she returned to New York to perform “Burning House” at Morris’s request at Songwriters Hall of Fame gala June 12, where he received the Howie Richmond Hitmaker Award.
Although Ochs admits she felt overwhelmed when Michael Bryan put her song on WSIX, she also said there are advantages to having a label when selecting a single: what kind of song is appropriate for the time of year and who else is will be putting out music at that time.
“You have to be aware of the whole landscape. They [the labels] are good at planning that with us,” Ochs said.
“I heard the statistic that you’re more likely to get hit by lightning than to have your song on the radio. After getting down this road—on the radio, on country air check, to have your name and your label next to your name, when (initially) I had no label. We’re gonna have a really good go of it.”
Ochs currently is touring in Sweden. She will begin touring again in the United States, with Dan & Shay, in October, including a stop in Nashville October 15 at Cannery Ballroom. To listen to “Down this Road,” “Burning House,” and more of Cam Ochs’s music and for more information about Cam Ochs, go to camcountry.com.