We're going places!

Hearts Bluff Music recaps the Billboard Country Music Summit Share Thisi

Billboard Country Music Summit 2011

The 2011 Billboard Country Music Summit was filled with the biggest industry big wigs discussing everything that’s currently prevailing the music industry. So whether the audience was filled with seasoned vets or newbie’s, like myself, the information they revealed hit the whole range of expertise. So, I took some basic notes…

Songwriters: Win, Lose or Draw? Content creation in the new digital marketplace

Bart Herbison (Executive Director, NSAI)
Dallas Davidson (Songwriter)
Rhett Atkins (Songwriter)
Andrew P. Kintz (Managing Director, Music Row’s SunTrust Bank)
Ben Vaughn (VP, EMI Publishing)
Linda Edell Howard (Entertainment Lawyer,  Adams and Reese LLP)

Infringement: Of course, when talking to publishers and songwriters you’re going to come across the issue of file sharing. Bart Herbison, powerfully stated the classic line, “file sharing is stealing.” I’ve heard it said at many publishing events, and it always elicits applause from the attendees. He gave the statistic that 1/30 songs are actually paid for, but he’s hopeful that number will change. Look up the IP Enforcement Act. Internet service providers are working to shut down websites that allow infringement, and they’re also targeting locations that provide internet where a lot of file sharing takes place, ex: coffee shops.

New Writers: A lot of questions were geared towards new songwriters, and how it’s possible to get their foot in the door based on this climate. In regard to how to build credibility, Dallas Davidson simply said, “bring it” and that you “must network. Because nobody is going to come find you.” He enforced that songwriters work their “asses” off everyday to write the best songs they can. Rhett Atkins, the panel’s other distinguished writer, said it’s important to “write your butt off” because writer’s names get carried around in this town. Andrew P. Kintz represents Music Row’s SunTrust Bank where capitol is provided to start and expand artist’s careers. He suggested getting your start a NSAI, because it ads some credibility to your name as a writer, “We get excited about a songwriter if the community is excited about them as well.” That seemed to be a reoccurring thought. Play shows, co-write, get your name out there, and if you’re any good it will be spread around to people who matter.

Artist Co-Writes: The main issue here is that publishers are spending more money on developing artist writers, than they are hiring new staff writers. The entire panel acknowledged that yes; it is much easier to get a cut if you co-write with an artist. In one sense, that really peeves people off, but it’s the way it is right now. Ben Vaughn made the very diplomatic comment that “the best song wins” regardless of who writes it. Rhett and Dallas have both written with artist writers and suggested versatility and flexibility in your writing style. On the other side, Linda Edell Howard pointed out that working with songwriters could really give that artist a chance to advance their career and figure out their own image and style.

Digital Marketplace: It’s a single driven town. With the availability to purchase individual songs online, a songwriter really struggles to keep a publishing deal unless their cuts become singles. Dallas mentioned that if the option is there, he’s going to write an up-tempo song because it has better odds of being heard in the consumer market. All panel members acknowledge that the massive drop in mechanicals is hurting their numbers, but performance income is up, and now incomes through digital streams are starting to become clearer. There’s also a rise in placement among videogames, karaoke, and TV shows.

Bart laid it out flat; we’ve been through these altering changes before. The first time was when Edison introduced the record, the second was the development of music on TV and radio, and now we’re here in the digital age. He maintained that we will figure out new ways to license and promote great writers and great songs. Apparently the numbers are already looking better.


Publishing: Red and Black Ink; Return of Investment and Entrepreneurship in a Business of Pennies – The New Roadmap

This panel was made up of names I’d been hearing for years – the who’s who of publishing folk. There discussion was somewhat redundant to the songwriting panel, but that’s only because they’re such relevant topics.

John Barker (Founder/President, Clearbox Rights)
Chris DuBois (Partner, Sea Gayle Music)
Pat Higdon (President, UMPG Nashville)
Doug Johnson (VP of A&R, Curb Records)
Carla Wallace (Co-Owner/VP Creative, Big Yellow Dog Music)
Jody Williams (VP, Writer/Publisher Relationship, Nashville, BMI)

Publishing: To sum it up – there is a loss of income due to a decline of mechanicals, but performance money is going strong, and digital incoming is starting to make up for mechanicals. As far as singles go, it is a single driven market, but a country hit is worth just as much as it used to be. There are so many outlets for songs, the challenge is to uncover the stones and figure out how to make money. As far as signing writers, it’s a bigger risk in terms of recoupment. The publisher really needs to feel they found someone special. Publishers are taking their time to develop a smaller roster of writers they really believe in.

Artist Co-Writes: The opinions here are generally the same as the first panel. Doug Johnson said that it’s great for an artist to write in order to develop their sound, but in the end the best song makes the record. He used Garth Brooks as a great example. Garth wrote, but he also cut songs he didn’t write. He had a balance of the best songs. Chris DuBois’ pointed out the dilemma that can be about politically positioning a writer with a certain artist camp, because in the end you’ve got to be making money to survive. Using Josh Kear and Lady A as an example, Carla Wallace said that artist or not, you need to have a good match.

Indie Publishers: This discussion here was whether it’s a good time for indie publishers or not. Carla said it was great, because “it’s not about following money. It’s about following the music.” Ever the realist, Jody Williams stated that to stay afloat you’d have to have hits, because singles might not cut it. Doug Johnson suggested modestly building a quality catalog and working with investors.

Publishers as Record Labels: Is it a good idea? Chris DuBois used Sea Gayle, their imprint with Sony, and promotion of Jarrod Neimann as an example. He initially didn’t think it was a good idea for publishers to act as a record label, but it seemed to be a natural extension of what Sea Gayle was already doing. After examining their roster, they saw some artist potential. Now a day, artist development is now not solely a record label deal, but it can start with a publishing deal and getting them to back you and develop you as an artist.

New Talent: I feel this section works best in quote form –

“You never know who’s going to be the next hit maker.” “Come with credentials (meaning a good catalog and talent).” “We want to hear your music”– Jody Williams

“Good news travels fast in Nashville, be here and be heard.” – Doug Johnson

You don’t necessarily have to be in Nashville to get a deal, “but it’s helpful to be present in your publishing office.” – Carla Wallace

“It’s nice to work with a young kid who has the feeling they can change the world.”

“Our doors are open, but everybody’s busy.” – Doug Johnson

Quick notes:

iCloud: It’s hard to tell, but it seems to be a good deal for publishers.

Terrestrial Radio: Country radio is still the most popular format, it’s going to be around for a long time, and its how publishers make a bulk of their money. Though digital radio is the future.

Free downloads/Free use: Publishers need to figure out how they’re going to get the best value out of a song. It isn’t right that they get a discount when everyone else is getting paid at full price.


Songs In The Stream: Social Commerce and The Future of Online Retail

Mike Doernberg (Co-Founder/CEO, ReverbNation)
Patrick Faucher (Founder, Nimbit)
Andrew Mains (VP Artist and Label Relations, TopSpin Media)
Brain Peterson (Co-Founder, BandBox)
J Sider (CEO, RootMusic)
Marcus Whitney (CTO/Entrepreneur, Moontoast)

They each represented different music sites, all with the overall goal of driving fans to hear, buy, and share music (and buy sharing, I mean in a legal non-file sharing way). As any music businessperson will tell you, we’re all in a “limbo” or sorts. How do we deal with digital media? After years of efforts, and models like MySpace, it seems they’re finally starting to hone in on what works for fans and music lovers (everybody?).

Social Commerce: the buying and selling influenced by others (friends, family, peers) –  The official definition of social commerce, given by the panel of experts. In this digital age it’s easier to be influenced by those we interact with online. The consensus was that it’s more important than ever for artists to make their presence known online.

Facebook: As fans, do we realize how important Facebook is to the music industry? People spend their entire workweek trying to figure out the best way to use Facebook to promote their artists. At CMS all these guys could talk about was how important Facebook was to building the artists career and fan base. J Sider of RootMusic explained that Facebook drives traffic to artist’s websites, and offers the biggest form of exposure. Facebook has the business model to sustain and grow with increased fan/artist interaction.

Digital Future: No matter what, the constant is the relationship with the fan. The fans want to be involved with their favorite artist’s career. So while Facebook is the now, in the future there will be completely different outlets. It’s too soon to tell, but either way, the fans will be a determining factor.

Country Music Artists: Country music artists are far more engaged with their fans. Marcus Whitney said, “The artist who engages in social media is likely to see a better pay off in terms of sales.” They encouraged artists of other genres to follow their country counterpart’s example.


Superstar Q&A with Kenny Chesney

Kenny moved to Nashville in ’91. He immediately began songwriting and working with other writers, and they grew more prestigious as time went along. His first record deal was on Capricorn Records. The label doesn’t exist anymore, and Kenny’s career went nowhere there. Interestingly enough, he’s grateful that he didn’t “make it” then. He was able to stay under the radar while learning about touring, fan interaction, and the music business. In ’95 he was signed by Joe Galante at BNA Records and released All I Need to Know. The next few years were a struggle for him. His singles were doing really well, his albums were selling, but he felt nobody knew him and who he was. He was just the guy who sang those songs. The moment his life changed was the moment he decided to “stop trying to be George Strait.” He realized he was trying to emulate George’s career, but he needed to become his own singer, and songwriter.

Best Advice: Kenny’s publisher at Acuff-Rose told him, “You’ve got to write a song today. Your future depends on right now,” and “you are what you write.” Greg Beckett told him to “put a smile in it.” Referring to Kenny recording in the studios. It made Kenny realize he needed to put personality into his songs. A huge moment for him was when his manager Dale took him to a record store to show him he’s not just in a competition with male country singers, but with everyone who’s making music, he must stand out.

Touring: Kenny started on the George Strait tours, which featured days full of music from Country’s biggest acts. Kenny would finish his set and stay backstage to watch all the other acts. “That’s how it’s done,” he thought and knew that’s what he wanted to provide for his fans one day. He knows the stadium tours weren’t the safest choice, but his experienced team really invested in him and backed him up. – Now, before every single show, he’ll finish his sound check and then go sit in the very back row of the stadium or arena, just to see how far he has to project to reach each and every person in the crowd. Kenny also talked tailgaters.  He remembers sitting quietly on his tour bus and seeing all the fans having the time of their lives in the parking lot, “there’s life out there!” he said to himself. After that he started surprising fans by showing up at tailgates, often offering pitchers of margaritas. He knows his fans are “passionate, hard working, life loving, music loving people” and they’re the people he’s making the music for. He likes having the ability to interact with them.

Notable Quotes: “I’m not doing a great job to try and win Entertain of the Year, I’m doing a great job to be able to keep coming back year after year.” – On giving his all on tour

“I’d like to think I haven’t written my best song yet, or played my best show. I just want to keep trying to get better.” – On not losing inspiration


Superstar Q&A with Carrie Underwood

We all know how Carrie got her start. Just recently, she surpassed Kelly Clarkson as the most successful American Idol. Sure, she was basically handed fame, but she’s a great case study when it comes to how she’s grown as an artist over these past years.

Artist Writing: Carrie used the classic quote “For me, personally, the best song wins. Hands down.” I wonder if every artist knows they all say the exact same thing… Anyway, Carrie explained how she was nervous to start writing with some of Nashville’s biggest writers, but now she’s just having fun with it and her confidence grows at every session. As far as writing while on tour, she can’t do it. Her mind doesn’t multitask in that way. She’s either touring or writing. But she does say she’s happy to write with writers and artists of all genres, because she’s influenced from all communities and she never knows what type of song they’ll come up with.

American Idol:

How American Idol has progressed since her year: The contestants can use social media to reach out to fans.

On whether Scotty McCreery is too country: No! There’s something for everybody. She thinks Scotty is great and encourages him to keep doing what he’s doing.

On Idol as a singing competition vs. a voting competition: That question offends her. She thinks it’s just the American public voting for what they want and the talent they like.

Grand Ole Opry: She claims she “kissed major butt” at the Grand Ole Opry. She made it very clear to them that she wanted to be a part of their community and she’d do whatever it took. The first time she stepped on the Opry stage was “magical” because she’d never been before. Other special times include Randy Travis surprising her with the Opry invite, and Garth Brooks being there to induct her. It makes her proud to see kids out in the audience, because they’re a whole new crowd being introduced to the Opry.

How Great Thou Art: She and Vince knew they really wanted to do something special, but they were having trouble picking a song. They decided to do “How Great Thou Art” because they both knew it so well. Carrie calls the duet a “great moment for (her) heart.” After it was performed, Reba approached Carrie and thanked her for performing the song on national television. That stunned Carrie because she hadn’t even realized how powerful it could be to perform a religious song to a wide market.

Quick Q&A:

Do awards still mean as much: Yes, it’s a great opportunity to acknowledge and thank everyone. She admits she’s a better loser now, than when she was first nominated.

Will she do a Christian album: She’d love to do gospel, maybe Christmas. She just takes opportunities as they come.

Praise for her work ethic: She credits her parents for teaching her to always be on time and always show up prepared.

Working on Soul Surfer: She likes to be a part of something that tells a story of faith and overcoming struggle. That’s often why she chooses such emotional songs, because they connect on a deeper level.


Thus concludes the write up! Feel free to leave comments and share with anyone who might benefit. Please be kind, I do not claim to be a journalist, only a decent note taker.