It's every artist's dream: Finish a set, and an impressed stranger walks up and offers a record deal. Any number of bands will tell you it doesn't happen that way, but Oklahoma City singer/songwriter Ashley Windham won't. That's how she ended up signed to Tate Music Group.
"I was playing a gig at The Mantel," she said. "There was a party going on."
That party was attended by Brianne Webb, A&R director for Tate.
"I'm always listening to music while I'm out," said Webb, whose ears perked up at Windham's acoustic guitar and dusky alto pipes. Webb struck up a conversation with Windham between sets, and kept the conversation going with Windham's father, who was acting as her manager.
Two weeks later, Windham was officially signed to the Mustang-based, national record label.
"It all happened quickly," Webb said.
The speed is not the only rare element of Windham's signing, as Tate rarely scouts for new talent. Many artists submit their work to the label for distribution, but only 8 percent are accepted.
Windham's sound clarifies some of the mystery behind her quick turn of events. Her adult contemporary pop style includes several influences that strike a chord in modern listeners' ears.
"Her originals would appeal to pop fans and country fans. She would appeal to wide audiences," said Webb. "She has good lyrics about relationships " and a girl's take on them " that girls would relate to."
The new material Windham is working on with guitarist John Cross incorporates even more sounds.
"We want it to sound more folky and funky," Windham said. "We'll have some calmer songs, but we want people to get up and dance."
That work ethic is another piece of the puzzle in her overnight success. For the first thing, "overnight" is a relative term; she's been playing for eight years in both Texas and Oklahoma.
"She works hard," Webb said. "She knows that it's hard work, playing small venues on weeknights. But she was playing out, and it got her a record deal."
That deal led her not only to April's release of "Hand Picked," but CD signings, placement in national book and music retailers like Barnes & Noble, and even a nationally televised commercial which played on MTV, Fuse and Spike TV.
"Coming from nowhere, and not winning a contest or anything, it's all about marketing," Windham said.
But she hasn't let all the exposure go to her head.
"She knows she's talented, but she's not this diva artist," Webb said. "She's passionate. She believes in her music."
Keeping her tempered is the knowledge that she's not where she wants to be yet. Windham, a music and social studies teacher by day, hasn't made the jump to full-time artist, but is working on it. She hopes to release a new EP in late spring 2011, as well as keep playing shows as a duo, trio or full band, depending on the event.
"That's what I've been working with Tate on: getting my name out so my music can grow and grow and grow," Windham said.