When Jim Catino left his position as Executive Vice President of A&R at Sony Music Nashville after 20 years with the company, many in the industry were wondering what he would do next.
Prior to his exit, Catino has spent the majority of his career working in the major label ecosystem, as well as some time at MCA Music Publishing, Giant Records & Publishing and DreamWorks Publishing. One could have assumed that Catino was tired of “the system,” working with and for a big corporation.
But as Catino shared with MusicRow, that isn’t the case—the reality is quite the opposite.
“My history has been at major record labels. My dad was in the music business. He worked at Capitol for decades and was always working with major record labels, so I’m kind of a major label baby,” he says. “[Now at my new company,] I’m a friend to major labels. The goal for the record label side of my company is for my artists to be courted and upstreamed to a major label. I believe in what majors can bring to the table to create superstars.”
Catino’s company is split by his passions for both recording artists and songwriters. On Droptine Recordings, Catino works with buzzy newcomer Cody Hibbard and breakout starling Dalton Dover, who aligned with UMG Nashville late last year.
On the publishing side, via Droptine Music, Catino is partnered with Sony Music Publishing and shares office space with the publishing giant on Music Row. He works with Dover and Hibbard as well as songwriter Tommy Karlas, who has hits with Blake Shelton, Montgomery Gentry and more, and Russell Sutton, who has written two recent No. 1s, Elvie Shane‘s “My Boy” and Nate Smith‘s “Whiskey On You.” With Sony Music Publishing, Catino also works with Kent Earls and Kane Brown‘s Verse 2 Music on Alex Maxwell. He’s partnered with Warner Chappell on songwriter Wesley Davis.
Through both sides of his business, Catino is able to focus on his favorite part of the job: artist development.
“I left Sony because things had changed so much [in the music business], but also because I was hungry to do something different and hungry to do what I really love to do. As an executive at that level at a major corporate label, I was pulled away from a lot of the day-to-day rituals of A&R: finding new talent, diving into the music and really helping build not just momentum, but the foundation of an artist’s career.”
Catino’s first victory for his company came with a pop artist he met during the end of his tenure at Sony, Thomas Day.
“I had my eye on this guy and had created a really good rapport with him and his family. He’s from Brentwood, Tennessee, which is where I grew up,” Catino says. “When I announced that I was leaving Sony, the family was urging me to [work with him].
“I started fishing around with some of the New York labels to see if there was any interest. There was a little bit of bubbling interest, but nothing solid. [Sony Music Nashville Chairman & CEO] Randy Goodman was cool enough to say, ‘Let’s make a deal and we’ll upstream this to one of the New York labels. We’ll fund it for you and help get you started. We want to do business with you down the road, so this could be a good way to start it.'”
Day is now aligned with Arista out of New York, has nearly seven million followers on TikTok and will hit the road with David Kushner in August.
Next came Dover, who met Catino through producer/songwriter Matt McV. With their heads together, the three began independently releasing Dover’s music, which caught the attention of other industry members. When he aligned with UMG Nashville in October of 2022, Dover had earned a place on Spotify’s Hot Country 2022 Artists To Watch list, along with a spotlight as Billboard’s February Country Rookie of the Month and a nod for MusicRow’s 2022 Discovery Artist of the Year.
After success with tracks “You Got a Small Town” and “Baby I Am,” Dover is currently working his first radio single, “Giving Up On That,” which was the most added song at country radio with 60 first-week stations. The track also garnered over a million streams in the first two weeks of its release.
“Honestly, I didn’t call one record label [about Dalton]. Every label called me once they saw the numbers growing. That’s the goal—to have labels excited and passionate,” Catino says. “I want to help build enough momentum and a good foundation where they’re getting an artist that has the knowledge and the experience to go walk into a radio station or a bigger media look. I want them to understand enough about digital campaigns and socials to jump right into a real business plan at a major record label, so they’re not doing that development time [after they get to] a major.”
With two success stories and bubbling new act, Catino is starting to get calls about Hibbard, who he discovered while diving into streaming services on the lookout for new artists.
Hibbard is a former pipeline worker from Adair, Oklahoma who has made waves with tracks “We Speak Country” and “Looking Back Now.” After aligning with Catino’s Droptine Recordings, he signed a publishing deal with Droptine Music and Sony Music Publishing earlier this year.
“Cody is a fantastic live entertainer and has a really consistent streaming base. [He’s having success] with multiple tracks. It’s not just about one viral moment,” shares Catino.
Two years into this career chapter, Catino is feeling recharged and eager to get to work each day.
“I’m super happy. I’m rejuvenated and excited to be part of young artists’ careers. It’s always been my main passion,” he says. “It’s the most fun when you find something new and help it get to a place where it starts to really take off and grow with the fans. That’s why we all get in the music business at the end of the day.”
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