Universal Music Group Nashville VP, Marketing-Digital Accounts Annie Ortmeier was recently announced as one of this year’s MusicRow Rising Women on the Row honorees. MusicRow will feature Q&As with each of this year’s six honorees leading up to the event. MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row for 2018 also includes Faithe Dillman, Leslie DiPiero, Becky Gardenhire, Lynn Oliver-Cline, and Janet Weir.
Since joining UMG Nashville in 2013 as Director of Digital Marketing, Ortmeier has risen to the role of VP, Marketing-Digital Accounts, where she oversees streaming marketing strategy and analysis for all UMG Nashville artists, across all streaming accounts globally. Ortmeier’s career in digital marketing and commerce also includes time at Big Machine Label Group (Director of Interactive), Live Nation Entertainment (Merchandising Manager) and CMT.
MusicRow caught up with Ortmeier to discuss her music industry career, and advice she has for industry newcomers. MusicRow Magazine’s sold-out Rising Women On The Row event will be held Tuesday, March 27 at Omni Hotel Nashville.
MusicRow Magazine: When did you first become interested in the music industry?
Annie Ortmeier: I’ve always been interested in music. I distinctly remember hearing Patty Loveless’ [1994 album] When Fallen Angels Fly and I pulled out the liner notes and was enraptured by those songs and the people who made them. It was like I saw behind the curtain.
You went to college in Nebraska and then took an internship at CMT. How did that turn into your first music business job?
Growing up in Nebraska, that was our only other connection to music outside of radio. Growing up we didn’t have cable, but I would watch CMT at my friend’s house, so at least that name stood out to me as being an identifiable brand. I went above and beyond in my application and built a mini-book of writing samples, projects I’d worked on, made my own letterhead and resume. They called me back and offered the internship. I had graduated college at that point and was saving up money to move to Nashville. They offered me an internship at CMT.com and I guess this would have been 2004 and it’s funny to talk about today, but iTunes was a fairly new service, as was Amazon. I came here in January 2005 with an unpaid internship and at the time it was really interesting. I think CMT.com had just been born out of country.com which MTV had bought them away from Gaylord. There were nine or 10 people running the website. When the internship closed, they offered me a job to run CMT.com’s online store, which was a brand new position. It would grow to about 30 people working on the site.
This year, you were promoted to the role of VP, Digital-Marketing Accounts for Universal Music Group Nashville. How has that changed your day-to-day responsibilities?
The role hasn’t changed a ton, it’s really been a work in progress to get to that point. I came in running digital accounts, overseeing and running digital accounts and being a liaison with streaming services. That kicked off the streaming relationship and that has obviously continued to evolve and so my role has evolved.
I’m solely focused on streaming now. I’ve let go of a couple of other pieces I worked on in the past and work on the label’s streaming strategy as a whole, across all services that offer streaming, either audio or video.
With artists on the UMG roster who are album-driven and others whose music is more single-driven, how do you navigate crafting individualized marketing plans in regards to streaming?
What Universal has done so well is that their artists are not really similar. They all have very different lanes. In the past, I’d been offered other roles at management companies that would be focused on one or two artists, and I just felt like that would be detrimental to the creativity of what you can do. Having many artists pushes me to be more creative to accomplish what I can for this diverse roster. What I do with Chris Stapleton will be different to what I do with Sam Hunt. Stapleton, even in a streaming era, is still an album artist, and in the data, I see that people are not just consuming one song from Chris Stapleton; they are consuming every song.
Very early on when we were getting ready to put out Traveller, we knew that in Nashville people knew who he is and we know his incredible breadth of work as a writer and musician and vocalist, but if you were to find an artist profile on him at any service provider, you would see one or two songs. So, in order to combat that, I asked Chris, “Could we put together a playlist that pulls together every song you’ve ever written and put it into one place, so people can understand the depth of you as a writer, which would not be able to be found across streaming services otherwise?” He said, “Ok, that’s fine.” I got this list of songs from his publisher, 400 rows deep on an Excel doc of every song he had written or co-written. At the time there were about 101 songs of his on the streaming services, so I put these all together in a playlist we called ‘Written By…Chris Stapleton.” We launched that before his initial record came out. It just started to organically grow and after the CMA Awards [in 2015, which featured Stapleton’s collaboration with Justin Timberlake], it continued to blow up.
Just around this most recent record [From A Room, Vol. II], I created [a playlist] called “Complete Collection,” with every bit of music on albums he’s worked on as an artist, with a few songs he’s written, or worked on, or collaborated on as an artist as well. Again, we didn’t have to do that much promotion behind those. I can see in that data that people are listening to the entire playlists. They are invested in Chris as an artist.
With Sam [Hunt], we started really early in 2013 or early 2014 where I was meeting some resistance when trying to talk about streaming or educate folks on streaming and lead people down the path of how powerful streaming could be as a marketing driver. We were in the process of signing Sam, and an opportunity came up and I asked if Sam might be able to do this showcase for one of our services and he said he would. He jumped on board very early and understood that he, as well as his audience and people he hung out with, they were using streaming services.
When we put out the record, we had a great adoption around the world because of the access of streaming. Those early days of Sam saying yes and being positive about streaming, it’s basically become an association in country music: Sam Hunt is streaming and streaming is Sam Hunt. So when we put out “Body Like a Back Road,” it just took off. I don’t think even we thought it would blow up like it did and cross over, but I still think streaming services in general and adoption of his fans on those streaming services early on has led to this success. The numbers we were putting up early on at the height of that track last summer—that one track was outstreaming entire albums in a week’s time, and something that still hasn’t been touched by another song in country, but I do think every week when I look at the chart we are edging up there…I remember early days when we would be lucky to have a song stream one million streams in a week’s time and now I count we have 40-50 songs that could be doing a million streams per week, we’ve got 10-15 doing 2 million-plus, and 5 or 10 doing 3 million or 4 million streams. That top number keeps creeping up. Sam really led the way there. I know all of us will start doing those numbers in the coming years with the adoption of streaming, but Sam definitely is an outlier and he started really early and got a lot of investment from young people in that medium of music delivery.
How do you keep up with the new developments in the streaming world—new platforms and changes on current platforms?
That is one of the hardest parts of my job [laughs]. Every single day, something changes that directly affects how I do my job, and that is scary but also really invigorating. It’s funny, but I have Google alerts on all of the services so I know as soon as there is a move or change. Generally, inside of Universal, we are at the forefront of these conversations, as are the other major and indie labels, with having these conversations with the services and getting those terms right. At least once per week, there is some new change that comes out and we have to get on the phone within Universal and outside of Universal to discuss, ‘Are we adopting that? Are we going forward with that?’ I’ll get in touch with my counterparts at other Universal labels and others in Nashville. Those of us who have worked in this space long enough really do rely on each other as things change.
What developments are you most excited about for 2018?
Every service has been coming to us in country [music] and saying they are investing in us in 2018. We’ve been hearing that for a few years, but this year, it is obvious that they are putting their money where their mouth is, and they are stepping up in a big way and investing in country and investing in the growth of country and streaming for fans of country.
As far as looking at streaming numbers in 2016 and last year, I think 2017 was more of a tipping point than people give it credit for, and I think 2018 will be the mass adoption in our format of our fans fully converting into streaming or fans that have already been there on streaming services that may have identified in the past as a rap, pop or hip-hop fan, are going to start converting over to country more and you will see more of that crossover.
What advice do you have for young women entering the music business?
It doesn’t take a degree from a music school from an education standpoint, but there is a lot of great literature on a daily basis that I use to educate myself on developments with platforms or legislation. I probably study legislation the most and this Music Modernization Act. What will that mean for everybody and for us and how artists get paid? That’s something everyone is paying attention to. So educating yourself on all those pieces of the industry—what’s happening in the live space, in publishing, in all the different facets of the industry. Having that knowledge when you are new to the industry and looking for a first job is going to set you up for success. It’s changing so fast, I don’t know a school that can change their curriculum fast enough to keep up with it.
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