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Country artist Summer Dean is ready to get the party started at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo

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Courtesy photo
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Brooks Burris
Fort Worth singer and songwriter Summer Dean will perform during the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo at the Bud Light Roadhouse on Jan. 14.

In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, country singer and songwriter Summer Dean spoke with arts and culture editor Marcheta Fornoff ahead of her performance at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.

AFMW-Summer-Dean_mixdown.mp3

Fornoff: You are going to perform here at the stock show and rodeo on the Bud Light stage. Can you discuss how you got into the business of being a singer and songwriter in the first place?

Dean: Sure. Well, I’ve always kind of done it. I did it in college and then I started thinking, well, maybe that’s not the route to take. That’s too risky. That’s not what women do. (That) kind of thing.

So I kind of didn’t think about it. I always kind of did (music) in the background, but never really gave it my all. And then in my late 30s, green lights just started happening in my life with writing and singing and stuff like that. So I started giving it more attention, following what is in front of you and your path.

At the age of 39, I quit my full-time job of teaching for 10 or something years and decided to go for it.

I think I write a lot more than I do anything else. And, there’s a lot that goes into it more than just what people see. What people see is what is on the Internet and what is on the stage. So I just decided to run it like a business instead of a hobby. It’s been pretty good. (I’m) pretty proud of myself.

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Fort Worth Report
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Admission: There is no additional cost to patrons who purchase a daily ticket to enter the stock show grounds or attend the rodeo. More information here.

Fornoff: That takes a lot of guts. Can you peel back the curtain on some things that people don’t see when you are running this as a business and just not as a hobby?

Dean: Absolutely. Well, everything is expensive these days, so some things I do behind the scenes is work on how to reduce my overhead. And then there’s licensing and publishing of songs. If a song that I write, or that I have the rights to, (I work on) getting them onto a show or getting other artists to sing them and cover them. And then there’s booking all the shows with my agent, and then there’s looking for opportunities with the management, the label all the way down to analytics of our social media and all the streaming.

I finished writing and recording the next album. So now we’re doing album art and all the credits that go in there and then getting the songs to the master and the person that’s going to master it. Then it goes to the press where they are going to cut the vinyl … and then you get test pressings. So we’re going through all that right now.

Fornoff: Was it hard to go from primarily writing for yourself to letting someone else sing your songs?

Dean: I write every week. I try to do at least one (song) a week, and I’ll never let myself do less than one a week. That doesn’t mean that every one of them is good. Anybody will tell you this, most of the time they’re bad. And you just keep on writing. You steal from yourself. It’s like, ‘I don’t like this song, but I really like this part right here.’ And I’m going to turn that into a song in itself. And you just kind of constantly work on your craft.

When you’re writing with somebody else in mind, I think somewhere deep down, you are putting yourself in it. Your style or some recognition that you have about what you’re writing about. And then sometimes I’ll write for myself and realize, ‘Oh, I’m not meant to do this’ or ‘Somebody else is meant to do this. Who would be good for it?’ And we work on sending it to those people and hope they like it.

You just keep working knowing that maybe one out of 20 will be good. One of my favorite writers, Bruce Robison, who I’ve been working with to produce my next record, he’s like, ‘It just takes one or two really good songs that you’ve written and the right person singing them to totally change your career.’ So I’ve been focusing a lot on that because the overhead is very small.

It doesn’t cost much to write a song and get it to people. When you’re touring on the road, overhead is big. You got to pay all the musicians, all the gas, all the hotels, all the food. So, as a business person, you’ve got to look at where you can make the most money. That doesn’t mean you don’t tour, but you’ve got to look at where you make the most money and try to make that more common.

Fornoff: I’m sure this is really hard to choose, but do you have a favorite one or two songs that you really are hoping could be the one to kind of tip the bucket over?

Dean: It’s funny. Your favorite songs are your favorite songs for different reasons. There are favorite songs because you like them personally, or I like where they came from. And then what the public likes is usually the opposite. And so you can have a favorite song because it’s made you a lot of money or popularity. Or you can have a favorite song, even though hardly anybody’s listened to it, but personally, you just like it.

With the next album that’s coming out, it’s full of songs that I’m really proud of. I’m 42 now. I’ve never been married, have no kids and I write from that perspective. I don’t write songs about being in love because I’m not. And I don’t write too many songs about honky-tonking because I’m 42 and I’m tired of not really doing that anymore. You write what you know.

There’s a lot of this next album that I’m proud of. I’m proud of the songs, and I don’t know what the public is going to like.

When you let the business go and you let the art in, it’s kind of like, I have to just do what I think is great and important and put it out. Let the public think what they think and like what they like. You like different ones for different reasons. Like I said, if it makes my business go round, then that’s my favorite song.

Fornoff: It’s not a perspective that we get to hear a lot and it’s certainly not (common) in top 40 hits or on the radio. I’m curious where you drummed up that courage to share that story that’s important but not always talked about.

Dean: You know, it’s not a story of independence necessarily as in like, ‘I don’t need a man and he cheated on me, so I’m going to burn his truck.’ That’s not the perspective I’m talking about. It’s just like I said earlier, you write about what you know. When you write all the time, you’re going to write about a lot of different things, and it just so happened that that perspective came out a lot. As a woman, I want to be honest and authentic. I write that I feel sad or depressed or lonely or whatever the words are … self-deprecating even about the fact that I didn’t end up with a family and a husband and all that. Women can relate to that feeling.

But then also right from the perspective of, why am I feeling bad about myself? This is just life. Maybe it’s not the norm, but it’s going to be more normal the more I talk about it.

You asked what gives me confidence to be that vulnerable about what I’m writing is, I’ll go for it and I’ll sing it on a stage and women and men will come up after the show and connect to it. I think that’s what helps me want to keep going. Like if you can keep your art a balance of it being personal but also being effective and reaching (others) that’s important. I mean, it’s still just good old country music because that’s fun to me, but there’s a lot more substance on my next record than my prior records.

Fornoff: Can you give us a preview of what your setlist will look like this weekend and what people who go to the show can expect?

Dean: You’ve got to build your setlist around what you’re doing, so this show is not about me and my songs. This show is about the legendary Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. It’s Ranch Rodeo weekend and people are at the rodeo and they’re going to party and have a good time and celebrate Fort Worth. We’re not going to be filling the room full of sad songs. We’re going to keep it upbeat with a lot of songs of the first two records. They’re going to get people dancing and two-stepping. It’s going to be a good time.

Fornoff: Is there anything else that I didn’t touch on that you want to mention or you think is important to know?

Dean: There are tons of good bands that are playing and there are other tents. But it’s a whole experience (at the stock show and rodeo). You can come in and shop the trade show and watch the stock show and then stick around at night to go to the rodeo and then go to the dance. It’ll be a great time and I’ll hopefully play a tiny part in helping you have a good time.

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.