Whew! What A Week or Change Creates Opportunity

Nashville’s music industry has apparently survived what surely registers as a most unprecedented week. Viewed within a slightly wider time frame, the upheaval suggests that we are witnessing a critical moment where pent-up change is exploding through most every industry sector—record labels, publishing, touring, performance rights and industry organizations.

Large corporations move predictably, not quickly. Once a threat to profitability is identified, over time, they begin to act. Sometimes the home office repairs the damage with a scalpel, other times restructuring seems the best way to re-energize performance. Sometimes fiscal redemption can best be accomplished by acquiring competitors or content and growing market share. Over the past few months Nashville’s music community, our friends, family and colleagues have suffered all these strategies.

Labeling Change
When focusing on individual events one can miss the big picture. But when word exploded that Joe Galante was leaving Sony Music Nashville after almost four decades, it was like being splashed with cold water. No doubt the entire industry felt the shock. Galante’s role in the development of Music City is simply impossible to quantify. In his official capacity and behind the scenes he has been both a tireless supporter of country music and a skilled business innovator. Will Galante start a new entrepreneurial type label with funding from one of his many corporate allies and write additional chapters? Is he ready to settle down in the sun? The smart money is betting on more to come, but we’ll wait and see.

In retrospect there have been a number of label related changes. Lyric Street closed its imprint Carolwood before the new label’s first birthday, and then this past week Disney Music Group pulled out its scalpel and decided to essentially close the entire operation. Universal South was folded into Show Dog Nashville to improve performance and cut costs earlier this year. Capitol Nashville, enjoying strong sales and breaking new acts under Mike Dungan’s strong leadership created EMI Nashville to facilitate the launch of new acts. But even while EMI’s Nashville division enjoys record breaking success, its international parent faces uncertainty as owners Terra Firma struggle to repay debt, and avoid possible foreclosure.

Also restructuring is Warner Bros. under the new regime of President/CEO John Esposito. Warner Music Nashville’s newly revised image now includes three imprints—Atlantic Records, Reprise Records and Warner Bros. Nashville, serviced by two promotion teams under the leadership of recently hired Sr. VP Chris Stacey. Here again we see a compact, yet flexible structure designed to fit today’s challenges.

Publishing Change
Publisher turmoil also peaked this past week as EMI Music Exec. VP/GM Gary Overton announced that he would move from song pitcher to catcher, and helm Sony Music. Also announced was the promotion of Ben Vaughn to fill Overton’s vacated position. Several recent catalog acquisitions include ole’s purchase of Blacktop Music and Chrysalis’ capture of S1 Songs.

Also of major impact has been the ongoing reorganization at ASCAP under the new leadership of Tim DuBois. A number of tenured staffers exited from the performing rights organization this week. Change is always difficult, but one assumes that soon there will be new hires announced as well.

Tour De Change
On the touring side, this week also saw the acquisition of Joey Lee’s 360 Artist Agency by William Morris Endeavor. Lee’s client roster included hot property Miranda Lambert who is beginning to enjoy radio, sales and ticketing success.

Non Profiting Change
Also noteworthy, is the musical chairs parade of executive directors at organizations such as Leadership Music, the CMA and the Country Radio Broadcasters. Karen Oertley will move to LM and Bill Mayne was previously announced for CRB, but the lofty CMA position is yet to be filled.

Challenge Fosters Growth
Understanding the motivation behind all the above moves would fill a tome almost as large as the one cataloging all the possible rumors about where, what and how they might shape the future.

Seasoned industry observers however might counsel would-be seers with two-pronged advice—follow the money and understand the relationships and past histories of all the players involved. If you would divine the future pay close attention to the past and present. Riding a train of change is never easy, but it sure beats trying to stand in front of one. Creativity has always been the music industry’s secret weapon.

So take a deep breath, and lets get on with the business of finding the best music, the best songs and doing our best to expose it to the world.

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Category: Featured, Label, Organizations, Publishing

About the Author

David M. Ross has been covering Nashville's music industry for over 25 years. [email protected]

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