Make it A Triple
Like your favorite cardigan or a comfortable pair of classic docs (or Berks), the Triple A Summit returns to Boulder to once again unite Triple A’s best and brightest. It’s all happening at the gorgeous St. Julien Hotel and Spa, and of venues around town August 8th through 11th. (It’s not too late to get your registration on!)
As ever, this year’s conference promises a bevy of performances from both rising newcomers and Triple A stalwart stars. Brandi Carlile, Moon Taxi, Matt Costa and more flesh out an ever-growing list of not to be missed talent.
In addition to the musical treats bound for the Fox Theatre (and across the street), attendees can expect thought-provoking panels and discussion including nuggets from this year’s keynote, Thirty Tigers leader of the pack, David Macias.
Recently hailed amongst Billboard’s 100 Country Power Players, Macias is the man at the helm of formidable AAA success and a whole new business model with which to be reckoned over the past 16 years. John Ettinger, founder of the Innovation in Music Awards, recently shared this about the inaugural IMA executive award winner. “David Matias has become one of NASHVILLE’s most compelling characters, with a sense of imagination for what can be accomplished outside the normal path. I cannot wait to hear his angles on innovation.”
The marketing/distribution/publishing/merch all around beast Thirty Tigers boasts a roster that boasts Amanda Shires… John Prine, Trampled By Turtles, Low, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, The Avett Brothers, and Boulder performer Lissie…just to name a few. Lissie joins a list of nearly 30 announced artists…so far. As FMQB’s Jack Barton told Play MPE, “We’ve tried to truly curate the music that comes in. It’s not just been an exercise in commerce.”
The Summit (gotta love that, btw) is also an opportunity to reward the talent behind the music. Industry peers can tip their hats to their fellow programmers and promo peeps with a standout nod at this year’s awards. On the radio side, this year’s contending Top 10 stations include KBCO, KGSR, KINK, and WRLT. On the promo side, Brian Corona (Atlantic), Dan Connelly (Capitol), James Evans (Interscope), Karen Durkot (Concord Music Group), and Lisa Sonkin (Columbia) will await word re. the honors.
So, make sure you register for your chance to take in the panels, the live music, the music meetings with yummy beverages, and of course the face time with Play MPE’s own Laurie Gail!
Below is a list of performers on deck as of this printing!
Aaron Lee Tasjan
Blue Water Highway
Greta Van Fleet
Nalani and Sarina
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
St. Paul and the Broken Bones
The Devil Makes Three
The Mother Hips
The War and Treaty
Industry Spotlight: Flying On The Concord – Ayappa Biddanda
Amidst CMAFest, Bonnaroo, and with Boulder just around the corner, Ayappa Biddanda, Sr. Director, National Roots, Video & Tour Promotion at Concord Music, was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions.
Did you always have your eyes and heart set on working in the music? If not, what brought you to it?
I always had music in my heart, but growing up a first-generation Indian kid in Knoxville, I had no clue you could work in the music industry. I just thought music was something that magically appeared on the radio or on vinyl or in a cassette (that I would occasionally have to spool back in with a pencil).
While at the University of Tennessee, I was part of the Cultural Attractions Committee and the Issues Committee booking artists and speakers from around the globe. That gave me a taste that there was a possibility of providing a stage for world-class talent. Then I had the opportunity to help Peter Stuart (of the band dog’s eye view) sell his CDs & promote his shows as an indie artist. He signed to Vanguard Records and told them about me, which led to me joining the Vanguard Street Team while in San Diego. I moved to LA to pursue a Master’s of Public Policy at UCLA and also ended up interning at Vanguard where I was later offered a job in the Tour Marketing/Street Team department. After a few years, I moved to the Promotion Department under the tutelage of Art Phillips and eventually went on to run the department for Vanguard & Sugar Hill Records. The labels eventually became part of Concord Music where I joined their Promotion Team under the leadership of Jill Weindorf. I’m fortunate to have worked with all the amazing people I have!
What have been some of your most memorable experiences in music? (either personally or professionally)
It’s humbling to admit there are too many to list! Professionally speaking, the first time I heard a song I was working played on the radio (a Peter Stuart song on Indie 103.1 in LA), I pulled over and ran around my car in joy. In fact, each time I’m with a Band/Artist and they hear their new single on the radio for the first time (especially their first single), it’s always extra special. Being at a show and having the entire audience singing along to an Artist’s radio hit is also thrilling because you know there is a personal connection that’s been created.
A few other highlights that spring to mind: booking Matt Nathanson on The Howard Stern Show; booking Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats on The Grand Ole Opry; setting up an album event for Steve Martin and The Steep Canyon Rangers at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame; coordinating an unprecedented video premiere across MTV Live, MTVU, CMT Music, BET Soul, and BET Centric for Valerie June; being with O.A.R. on Capitol Hill in DC for Arts Advocacy Day alongside Norman Lear and Rep. John Lewis; booking Melissa Etheridge on the Power 106 Morning Show in LA to discuss her tribute to Stax.
Moments where we can showcase Artists to new audiences who embrace their talent—that’s special and something every member of the team works to deliver. Really, every day I’m creating new memories as part of the Concord Music Promotion Team. Each member pours every ounce of his/her energy and talent to serve our artists while also lifting up their team members. Being part of a team that delivers artists their greatest successes to date is a rush every time. What can be better professionally than that?
Personally speaking, I once found myself on-stage in San Diego with my favorite band Counting Crows clapping along to “Hanginaround” during their encore—with Dennis Rodman also on that stage. All sorts of surreal.
Which 5 artists would make up your desert island soundtrack?
– Counting Crows—between their official catalog and the…oh, 150+ live bootlegs of theirs, I’ll have plenty of music to fill the island airwaves.
– Matt Nathanson—with him, I’ve been able to witness first-hand the passion, intensity, and heart that goes into creating albums, and we’ve also shared a lifetime of memories criss-crossing the country breaking his records.
– Indigo Girls—their songwriting and thematic range will give me plenty to feel—and think—about; plus, they’ll inspire me to harmonize with animals on the island.
– Oscar Brown, Jr.—his range of voice and extensive subject matter always challenge me to think about the greater world and how we fit within it.
– Tracy Chapman—the way she balances the political & the personal is awe-inspiring…and her song “The Promise” would be a fitting anthem while being stuck on an island.
What do you feel are the keys to success in the music business? (Related– what keys do you think are “universal” and what are unique to industry?)
A few keys to success across fields: dedication to the respective craft; follow-through; and respectful treatment of all those you encounter. A unique key to success in the music industry would include understanding why a good Tour Manager is so valuable—and ensuring s/he has the information needed to succeed.
Best advice you’ve received, and/or advice you’d share with those seeking to break into the business?
Advice nugget I’ve received: “Whether you think you can or you can’t…you’re right.” Advice I’d share: Love music, work harder than you ever thought you could, and don’t be a jerk.
When you’re not hard at work, what’s your ideal day?
The recent Father’s Day which was my first as a Dad was pretty ideal. I got to hang out with my wife and daughter, who just turned 7 months old. We listened to music, ate some good food, and I tried out some Dad jokes. I’m pretty sure she’ll get the humor when she’s older. Same with the baby.
Greatest challenges faced during your day to day?
Time! Every. Single. Day. A perpetually ever-growing To Do list and yet only 24 hours. That certainly keeps me looking forward to tomorrow!
What has been most rewarding about Concord Music in particular?
I had mentioned the exceptional Promotion Team I’m a part of earlier so that’s one. But also the range & quality of artistry at Concord Music is unmatched. Where else would I have the opportunity to work with artists ranging from Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, St. Vincent, Valerie June, The Record Company, The Revivalists, and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness to Marilyn Manson, Ghost, and Underoath to Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Cody Jinks, and I’m With Her to William Bell, Indigo Girls, and Chris Hillman to large portions of the Stax and R.E.M. catalogs to Denzel Curry, Kidz Bop, The Sound Of Music…all while we develop great emerging artists?! I’m still that lucky kid from Knoxville.
Industry Spotlight: Making it Rehn
We recently enjoyed the distinct opportunity to catch up with promoter extraordinaire Daniel Rehn. An entrepreneurial spirit to the core, Rehn was passionate in recalling a career path marked by successes within and beyond Scandinavia. Approachable and down-to-earth, Daniel is passionate in describing his appreciation for artists and dedication to their success. Having already launched Stockholm’s Artery: Music Group with producer Thomas Rushak and releasing works by Mwuana, Orkid, Cotis, Bellhouse to name just a few, Rehn has partnered once again with Rushak in launching NEXT of KIN CREATIVE.
Though his start in the industry was quite early, Daniel was initially charting a course towards a career in sport. “I started out playing basketball when I was eight years old, and basketball was my biggest passion outside of music. And being 5’10”, I realized that maybe basketball wasn’t the best option for me, especially in Sweden. We don’t have the same type of system as in the U.S. with basketball in high school. You actually have the teams outside of school. And one of my basketball coaches, he was doing music videos and he always saw me being in the gym, being a real gym rat. I’ve always been just completely submerged in myself, and in my passions, regardless if it was basketball or music. I was always trying to get better.”
It proved to be quite the fateful turn of events. “He asked me if I wanted to help out with some music videos. I was 16 at the time. Nothing major in production, I was just basically getting coffee and doing whatever was needed to make everything flow perfect. And that led to another video, and another video. And then he had this big opportunity to shoot an artist that was signed to BMG in Sweden.”
It was during a video shoot in Sicily that Daniel began to glean the ins and outs of A&R, speaking with the artist’s manager. “I just started stalking him with questions in regards to the music, like the industry. I didn’t know what A&R was, I just knew that I wanted to work with artists in the creative sphere. I wanted to be involved in helping them succeed and reach their potential. I knew that that was really what I wanted to do, but I had no idea about A&R. I had no idea really about any position at a label.”
Take note, those pondering the merits of Nike and “Just Do It.” This…is clearly how it gets done. “He introduced me to the head of A&R for BMG Scandinavia, who became my mentor. His name is Peter Swartling, and I’m still working with him to this day actually. And I was 17, about to turn 18 when I went up to his office and he asked if I wanted to be his assistant. And so I started out being his assistant under BMG Scandinavia. And he developed, her name is Robyn, she was pretty big.” One could say that!
While Rehn clearly cut his teeth and learned a great deal in the role, almost apprentice style, he yearned to take on more. “Being an assistant, I felt that I needed more responsibility because I wanted to start to develop my skills. And if you’re an assistant, at least in my world, it’s hard to develop any further because at the end of the day, the responsibility’s not yours, which means that you’re always safe. So it doesn’t really matter what you do because you’re always going to be safe, because it’s not going to fall on you. I like to take calculated risks, and I feel that that’s where I do my best, when I have my back against the wall.”
It’s that spirit that appears to guide all aspect of Rehn’s process, including his approach with artists.
He spoke in particular about Mwuana. “He’s amazing with melodies, the way he phrases words, and the way his whole output, his charisma. And so I put the strategy together with him. We worked hand-in-hand. We went to Portugal to a little harbor village. We shot the first video with just him, me and his little brother Kevin. And I was hands-on and everything, because I like the grass roots. I love that, the whole thing about being involved in all aspects, I love it. You can’t always do it. And I did it with him, and we released EPs in 2015.”
Mwuana is one of many artists to whom Rehn has applied his unique philosophy. 2018 has seen the dynamo work with Alex Sparrow, described as a “triple threat” across film, music, and dance. The Russian-born talent has even appeared on Russia’s The Bachelor, Dancing with The Stars, and The X-Factor!
While Rehn clearly has clearly blazed quite a career trail, he’s not keen to spotlight it. After all, it’s about the music. “I never focused on myself as being its own brand. I always focused on the work will show and prove what I’m about and my capacity. I don’t have a Bio. I know it’s something I need in a sense in this day and age. But it also proves something, that I’m really about what I’m saying. You know it’s about the artist.” As NEXT of KIN CREATIVE’s Instagram proudly announces, “We Do Not simply aim to build careers, we focus on establishing entrepreneurs!”
Faces of Play MPE: Claire Carreras
The newest face around the offices of Play MPE belongs to Claire Carreras, Office Administrator/List Coordinator. We caught up with Claire about her new role, and her “double life” inside and outside the Play MPE’s walls.
“My career path has been…convoluted I suppose. I’ve been all over the place. Mostly due to the fact that I’m a musician. My early 20s was all about just finding work that would be flexible enough to allow me to still pursue the music and tour when need be and that sort of thing. Music has always been such a huge part of my life.” I ask what her band is called and she giggles “I’m currently in two bands actually. Two full-time touring bands. One’s called HEDḰS and the other one’s called BRASS.”
Claire clearly has both the head for music and for business, so it’s clear how perfectly suited to her role the position is. With a background in administration and inventory accounting, Claire set her sights on a business degree, all while continuing to play in bands after hours, a lifestyle she also feels uniquely suited to.
“Growing up I had an outside of the box childhood. We moved constantly. My stepdad was a flamenco guitarist. I grew up with a lot of classical guitar in the house. Other than traditional music, we really weren’t allowed to listen to a lot of music, like mainstream stuff, radio, certainly Much Music and other programs like that were strictly forbidden in my household when I was growing up.
After moving back to Canada Claire was introduced to a whole new world of music- and an entirely new guitar sound.
“My friends were listening to all this music and I’d go over to their house and I’d discover all of this stuff that I’d just never heard before and it blew my mind. And I decided, man, this is what I want to do. This is where it’s at. Electric guitar!? omg. Because previously, it was classical piano lessons two hours a day, ballet and classical flamenco. And that was all great and it really enriched my ear and my preferences but when you discover Korn for the first time, dude: You mean, I can do that too?”
Claire doesn’t limit herself to music, though. She’s also an avid artist, and an entrepreneur. “I’m actually launching a backpack line in the next couple of months. So I get to be creative in that regard again. I figured it was time to get back into the fashion a little bit, fashion and art. I’m a rabid artist. I draw and paint. I went to art school as a kid and all that kind of thing.”
The work/life/creative balance is one to which Claire pays close attention. “I’ve toured with a lot of really amazing bands that really inspired me in terms of their work ethic and how they manage to get their music out there and make touring work. How they manage their personal relationships when their constantly under stress and their attention is being demanded. That really inspires me.”
With the researching, data analysis and people-skills required in her role as List Coordinator, balanced with a mind for business sense, it’s clear that Play MPE has their gal!
Automatic for the People
Just when we thought, in the words of Barenaked Ladies, it’s all been done, in the way of streaming services, a new kid comes to the party by way of The National and Bon Iver.
As told to The Guardian recently, The National’s Aaron and Bryce Dessner have teamed up with pal Justin Vernon (Bon Iver, in other circles) to launch P-E-O-P-L-E, born of the 2016 Berlin festival of the same name. The two have partnered with entrepreneurs/hoteliers Berlin hipster hoteliers Tom and Nadine Michelberger in the creation of what they’re calling a “publishing platform.” Off the bat, tuned in Redditors are comparing it to BandCamp, but notes though “you can’t buy or download the music. It’s about “streaming and discovering.” Others have commented on the unique perspective the space offers non-musicians to get inside heads (and ears) of their favorite musicians. Currently, it’s not yet open to the masses, but, like Soundcloud, as Tom Michelberger shares, it’s “also not fully curated.”
True to their festival roots, the founders of people are promoting the launch by way of a week-long residency in Berlin featuring approximately 160 artists. The event promises known and unknown music with “the work itself lighting the way.” (Performers expected include Damien Rice, Nick Zinner, Lisa Hannigan, Anaïs Mitchell, Canny Leaneagh (Poliça), Camilla Staveley Taylor (the Staves), Kurt Wagner, Erlend Oye to name a few.
Bryce Dessner shared, “It’s trying to deformalise some of the artifice and structure that goes into releasing music, and to get a little bit closer to the creative and collaborative process, and to the people.”
Peeps can geek out to the lo-fi beta version of the site now, with the full launch happening in August. Beta.p-e-o-p-l-e.com promises “We want to create a place to evolve and share ideas around the year. That’s why we are in the process of building our own digital platform where the music from recordings, sessions and live events as well as visual art, podcasts and essays can find a home. For all the raw, the unpackaged, the experiments and the evolved ideas.”
In a statement, the team promises “We are a steadily growing group of international artists who have come together to create and share our work freely, with each other and everyone. We call it PEOPLE. It was born of a wish to establish an independent and nurturing space in which to make work (generally around music) that is collaborative, spontaneous and expressive in nature and where all unnecessary distractions or obstacles that get in the way are removed.
PEOPLE is for the benefit and development of the artists involved and just as importantly, for those who would like to access and enjoy the output. It is as much about the process of making work and showing all that openly, as the final outcome.”
Commercial Break: Non-Comm 2018
Once again, the convention gods are blessing us with one of the more chill, and music-y gatherings going. Putting the calm in Non-Comm, Philly is, as ever, playing host to a bevy of programmers, artists, and all around cool cats for this year’s Non-Comm (okay, okay, we’ll say “vention” too.) It all goes down May 15th to 18th, so, mark your calendars- now that you’ve got your taxes in, you got a month to go before you’ll be frolicing live music/panel discussion style.
And frolic you will. Artists on tap so far include Brandi Carlile, Belly, The Wood Brothers, alongside Nathaniel Rateliff (and yes, his Night Sweats), Angelique Kidjo, Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes, plus oodles more. Make sure you catch the panels wisely though– while still catching “Feed the Tree” live. I mean, c’mon!!
This year’s promise to tackle timely big guns. Opening day endeavors to predict and mold what’s ahead for Adult, Album, and Alternative listeners and programmers alike. Panelists won’t be afraid to drill down on the meaty issues, i.e. “Vitality and Sustainability,” and how they’re defined. What’s the secret sauce?
Drilling down further, topics will include the role of local music in that overall recipe. Also addressing the position of the medium overall, they’re heady questions, for sure.
“Women Who Rock” is a chance to take more than a moment’s look at women making waves and the issues impacting those working in this world we call music and radio.
Time will be devoted as well to NPR’s fabulously-named Slingshot, NPR’s group effort to introduce their picks for rising stars, led by KCRW, WFUV, WGBH, XPN, KEXP and more.
All of this builds up of course to the legendary Music Meeting. Yes, of course, with Songlines’ Sean Coakley.
All in all, it’s a chance for folks from the unique world of Non-Comm radio to revel and exchange ideas. And with that, there is significant overlap with folks in the commercial world. NPR news coverage recently devoted some space to AAA, spotlighting the swath of stations across both Comm and Non-Comm audiences. With more than 100 AAA stations nationwide, they’re cross sectioned evenly between commercial and non-commercial. And to be fair, AAA can be pretty broadly defined. (A former program director to my MD once told me “Programming Triple A is like herding cats.”)
There are specific nuances attributed to Non-Comm, for sure. Jim McGuinn, PD of Minnesota’s the Current shared, “The non-commercial stations are much more freewheeling, willing to take chances and play a wider variety of sounds and styles and dig a little deeper into albums and artists. ”
And as Dan Reed expounded to Play MPE, “When you get to Non-Comm radio, Our P1s give us money so the intensity’s up a little bit. The good thing about Non-Comm stations is most of the people who support these stations and are P1s and are members of our stations expect us to take chances to some degree. They expect us to play more new music. They expect us to make mistakes sometimes. Our hardcore listeners, people that really care about the station, understand it’s a continuous experiment trying to find the right kind of stuff to play. I find them very forgiving, the public radio audience… That sense of ownership is there.”
What It Means to Be Americana
In an era so famously divisive about what it means to be American, we tip our hats to what it means to be Americana.
A farmer once described radio listeners to me as cattle, connecting with their herd– commuting each day, in unison, joined by a common frequency broadcast inside their vehicles. Often times, there is overlap– or crossover, in radio speak- in those audiences and formats.
Many NonComm stations are Triple A. But, not all Triple A stations are NonComm. Lots of Triple A stations play Americana. But not all Triple A artists can be defined as Americana. With all these distinctions, audiences, and stations often-times served by swirlingly simultaneous conventions, it’s befitting to pay each their tribute.
Defined by… some authority, Americana has been described as “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles, including country, roots-rock, folk, bluegrass, R&B and blues, resulting in a distinctive roots-oriented sound that lives in a world apart from the pure forms of the genres upon which it may draw. While acoustic instruments are often present and vital, Americana also often uses a full electric band. (Let’s meanwhile, tip our hats as well to the unnamed professorial responsible for that primer!)
As ever, Play MPE has been pleased to… Play our part in sharing some of Americana’s finest with the world this year.
Legacy Recordings gave us Johnny Cash: Forever Words, featuring Alison Krauss & Union Station, Ruston Kelly & Kacey Musgraves, Kris Kristofferson & Willie Nelson, Brad Paisley, Elvis Costello, John Mellencamp, Chris Cornell–and, as they say, more.
Not to be outdone, mind you, countless other recent gems, including those from: Son Volt (Thirty Tigers), Motel Mirrors feat. Amy LaVere, John Paul Keith & Will Sexton (Last Chance Records), Red Wanting Blue (Blue Élan Records) Rita Coolidge, Greyhounds (Bud’s Recording Services), Rosanne Cash (Sony Legacy), Anna & Elizabeth (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings), Dave Alvin & Jimmy Dale Gilmore (Yep Roc Records), Joshua Hedley (Red Light Management—Third Man Records), Loreena McKennitt (UMe), Secret Sisters (New West Records), Kacey Musgraves/Golden Hour (MCA Nashville). (For good measure, Kacey is sitting high atop the Billboard Americana chart as of this writing).
With all that talent in just a cluster of a recent sampling, it’s no wonder that Rolling Stone gave some real estate to the format in 2017, rightly noting its rising popularity: “(in) the last few years (it’s)become a commercially viable format in the pop marketplace.” Also noted is the presence of a Grammy category and -behold- a Merriam Webster definition.
Recently made available on Amazon Prime, Sir Doug and the Genuine Cosmic Groove. The award -winning documentary was written and directed by Texas music journalist Joe Nick Patoski, an homage to the life and music of Doug Sahm, called one of the greatest and under-celebrated pioneers of modern roots music. (John Allen, President of New West Records shared this about the former child prodigy: “I think he’s the definition of Tex Mex. His band was phenomenal.”)
Americanafest is just a few short months away, and promises to be an appropriate celebration, with well over 250 artists performing, September 11-16 in Nashville. Those already announced include the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Leeann Womack and Friends, Alejandro Escovedo, Mary Gauthier, and Kim Richey to name just a few. As always, Laurie Gail, Play MPE’s VP of Label & Radio Relations, will be in attendance. Hit her up at email@example.com.
To whet your Americana appetite further, check your Play MPE account for the hottest Americana releases from the previous month:
1. Various Artists – Restoration: The Songs Of Elton John And Bernie Taupin MCA Nashville
2. Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour MCA Nashville
3. Old Crow Medicine Show – Volunteer Columbia Nashville
4. Neko Case – Bad Luck Anti
5. Various Artists – Johnny Cash: Forever Words the Music Legacy Recordings
6. Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey to Lubbock Yep Roc Records
7. Neil Young – ROXY – TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT LIVE Reprise Records
8. Pete Yorn & Scarlett Johannson – Bad Dreams Capitol Records
9. Son Volt – Waking World Thirty Tigers/Transmit Sound
10. Glen Phillips – Amnesty Compass Records
Industry Spotlight: Rick Barker
Conversing with Rick Barker, one has an immediate inclination to do more and be more. It’s befitting an audience with one whose music industry template background has organically led to the position he happily finds himself: keeper and sharer of the blueprint.
With 15 years of radio under his belt, the booming voiced former morning man and voice of Big Machine Radio, tackles the industry and way more with topics like “The Best Advice for Young Artists Trying to Stand Out” and “Being Your Authentic Self: Knowing Your Strengths and Goals.” Ideal for anyone, particularly those in transition, the podcasts are as thorough and motivating as a conversation with the born storyteller.
Barker shared with us a bit about the trajectory from radio guy, to Taylor Swift manager, to guru in the position of bequeathing his knowledge to those navigating these wild music biz waters.
“My whole life I wanted to be on the radio. I’ve always loved music, I just never had the skill to learn an instrument, or the patience and I wasn’t brought up with the luxury of having disposable income, to be able to take lessons or things like that. But when my mom and dad divorced, we ended up in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and we were part of that Muscle Shoals sound. My mom’s boyfriend was Roger Clark, he was a drummer for Paul Anka and on the Muscle Shoals documentary that was on Netflix. Roger is thanked in the credits as being one of those that helped. So, we got brought to Muscle Shoals, I spent a good portion of my youth in the South. Mobile disk jockey, I was the kid that would record the countdowns, how the DJs did it. I tried to emulate that, when you could go back to the days of having cassettes and being able to do all that. Ended up with some personal issues that went on in my life with a drug addiction and things like that. But when I got sober in 1989, the first thing I did was is I got an internship at KISS FM in Los Angeles and it was what inspired me to want to do more. I ended up as a producer for Hollywood Hamilton, ended up as part of his live show from Disney Land, and in 1991 got my chance to be on the air full-time in Santa Barbara and did a whole radio career in Santa Barbara until Scott Borchetta brought me out and hired me up at Big Machine Records.”
Candid in speaking of his sobriety, Barker shares his experiences with others facing challenges.
“What I tell children right now and will I tell kids, and when I speak at colleges…I’ll be 51 years old here in a couple of weeks and I’ve been sober for 26 years, so over half my life. I try to explain to them, it’s not really what you do, it’s what you do after. We’re all gonna have obstacles thrown our way. We’re all going to have certain things that come our way. So it’s up to us to be able to get through those and move on and hopefully share your experiences with others so they can grow from it as well.”
That tendency towards sharing knowledge served Big Machine’s roster and beyond. Upon connecting with Scott, Barker had begun a program called Nashville To You. “It was the only program that ever was getting artists paid on radio tour. I helped with Sugarland and Little Big Town and Rodney Atkins and some of Scott’s other artists, Julie Roberts, and Josh Turner was the first artist that went out on it. So I’d kinda gotten on his radar. Then when him and Toby Keith decided that they were gonna split up, Show Dog and Big Machine, he was going to let Toby keep the promotion staff, and then he was going to hire his own promotion staff and I was the first guy that he hired on the promotion side. And it was awesome because I didn’t know what I was getting into. One of the things that I asked him early on, I said, “Scott you could hire anyone you want,” I said, “Why me?” And he goes “I’m gonna say this as a compliment, but it’s not going to sound that way.” He says, “You’re too dumb to know any better.” And I’m like “How is that a compliment?” “Rick,” he says, “I’m starting this label with a regional act out of Texas named Jack Ingram, Daniel Peck who’s already had an unsuccessful attempt at it at DreamWorks, and this 15-year-old named Taylor Swift that no one’s ever heard of.” He says, “A lot of people will use that as an excuse on why it’s not going to work. You just need to go in one direction.”
A teacher at heart himself, Barker is quick to acknowledge those, including Scott, from whom he’s gleaned lasting lessons. “He always taught me to think different. One of the things he always used to teach all of us was “start at crazy, and work backwards.” And that was crazy! The label he was starting, at the time he was starting it. We were having trouble breaking female acts at that time, and he’s starting a label where two out his three acts are female and one of them is a teenager.”
Barker shared more about the early days launching said teenager’s career. “It was a slow process because Taylor had just been writing music up to that point. So the way that I got brought into the picture was he’s like “Hey, let’s take her out on that little tour that you were doing and let’s give her a chance to know radio, let’s give radio a chance to get to know her.” It was a great opportunity. One is that she was eager and willing to do the work and two that he trusts me, and we already had this process set up before. We’d seen it work for other artists, so it was a great opportunity for her to able to come in and really get her feet wet learning radio while she was introducing them to her music and, more importantly I think, her personality and her work ethic.
“I’ve always been a teacher at heart. I always tell people I’m a terrible manager. The latter part of Taylor’s stage was my whole day was spent telling people “no” on her behalf. That really sucks for someone like me because I want to get out there and I love the early part, I love the development side, I love the building the fan-base side, I love the trying new things. I love that innocence of “new.” As things and success starts to happen and things start to come along, that kinda goes away. I was never wired for that. It never really worked out well for me.”
For those of us inspired and looking to mimic the blueprint, if you will, Rick shares a tip.
“I read a book called The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard, and the premise of that book was “make a difference and make a living sharing your knowledge and experience with others.” And what was happening about that time is I was with Taylor until 2008, and when I left in 2008 all these dads were showing in Nashville with their daughters in sundresses and cowboy boots, thinking that as the magic formula. “This is what made Taylor successful, she was a teenager and she wore sundresses and cowboy boots.”
“What I realized was that there were a lot of people, and good people, that were recently out of work because of the changes that were taking place, and they were advising these families and these people who came to town, “Here’s what we’ll do, we’ll get everybody that played on the Carrie Underwood record, we’ll get the same people that shoot the videos, we’ll hire a radio promotion team, we’ll go out on radio tour.” A couple hundred thousand dollars later, these poor families were no farther along than when they got here. What I realized early on was that there’s no Chamber of Commerce for the music business. It’s like the wild wild west. Whoever you run into, they’re going to tell you what the best plan is, and at that point everyone knew one plan: record a song, take it to radio, and cross your fingers. And I’m like, “That is the most ridiculous thing that I’ve ever heard.” The way that the internet is changing and the way that the ability to get direct access to your fans and the cost of recording has gone down and the ability to put your own music up for sale and the ability to put your own music up now to be streamed, why are we spending all that money? And now we’re not selling CDs anymore so the record companies were going from splitting dollars to splitting percentages of pennies.”
And, as Rick explains, Play MPE is indeed a part of the process. “Play MPE is a tool that delivers your music to these radio stations, but it’s up to you to build up the relationship with the radio stations and it’s up to you to give radio a reason to play your music. There’s no shortage of pretty people that can sing, there’s no shortage of good music that’s out there. Your music’s gotta be great, and Play MPE is a tool that delivers that, but there is so much that you need to do on your own to be able to take advantage of that. It’s like, your car drives you to the restaurant, your car does not eat for you or pull out your chair or order for you, it just drives you to the restaurant. That’s what Play MPE is, it’s a car that gets you to the location that you want to be at, but it’s up to you to create a buzz.”
Barker expands on the nature of building a career in 2018’s music industry. “The artist development needs to be on the artist. Create a buzz for yourself. Stay independent as long as you can and then that way if you do decide to go into a partnership with a label, you’re now a partner, you’re not an employee. So I decided that I would go out and invest in myself and learn as much as I could about the digital marketing space, learn as much as I could about psychology and human behavior, understand the decision making process when it comes to making online purchases, and then I would go out and teach that to as many people as possible.”
Rick wouldn’t stop there, though. There are classroom-worthy pearls to be absorbed, just in conversation. “What people don’t understand, especially independent artists, is they think they’re in competition with every other independent artist. Who they’re in competition with are the people already signed to the labels, the people already on the radio stations. The radio program director, in my opinion, has one job, and that’s not to lose their job. It’s not to make my artist famous, it’s to make sure that they’re playing music that is familiar and will keep their audience from tuning away. That’s it, that’s the only job. Now, if you can go out and create a buzz and if you can go out and create an opportunity for that radio station person to partner with you, to say, “Hey, we want you to check out this artist, he’s got blank blank blank.” If you give the DJ something to say besides, “here’s this very unfamiliar person you’ve never heard of and sounds like everybody else that’s out there.” That’s not attractive.
We’ve gotta give people a reason to want to get on board with us, and social media gives us that opportunity to get our music out there. Companies like Play MPE, Spotify, CD Baby, they give us the ability to get our music out to the masses. One of my mentors said to me, “If you have a message that can change people’s lives, it’s your responsibility to find them, it’s not their responsibility to find you.” So, that’s what I do on a day to day basis.”
With an infectious go forth and prosper attitude, Rick expounds about what’s ahead, including a return to artist management, with Trent Harmon. “He’s got a fantastic new song. Him and I grew a lot over the last year with some of the trials and tribulations that I was witnessing him go through that made me a stronger person, by all means made him a stronger person. I’m excited about the new podcast that I’ve started. And I’m just excited right now that there are more and more opportunities for independent artists to go out and create their own buzz. There was a time when we were so dependent on someone else to validate us, and that’s not the case anymore, and I’m excited about that.”
And we’re excited to hear more!
Faces of Play MPE: Sandra Boenisch
This month’s ode to MPE-er is to a CFO-er, Sandra Boenisch. As a word girl myself, I’m always doubly impressed by numbers folks, and hope some of those applicable skills will seep through osmotically…Gave it a shot here and learned there’s more to Mz. Sandra than numbas!
Now in the role of CFO, Sandra shared with us a bit about her background. Having come from a financial services- inclined family (dad and sister are both accountants), Sandra left the auditing world five years ago, setting out as a consultant to public companies, before ultimately putting roots down with Destiny. “In my consulting role I was only focused on doing the financial reporting, but now I’ll be getting more into how the rest of the business world works. There’s still been a lot to learn, even though I had some familiarity in the past with Destiny as a consultant. I technically have been CFO of another company before, but I wasn’t even in the same city. It’s a New York company. So this is the first time where I feel like I’m actually part of a team. In a lot of ways, it’s a first time.”
We spoke of Play MPE’s enviable atmosphere, one which is part of a mix that continues to ensure longevity and low turnover. “Everyone is very nice and works hard because it’s a smaller company. And I like that the company has a very diverse culture. I have enjoyed so far the social events and company lunches.”
Sandra makes time for those social events around her busy schedule as a mom of 3 kids, ages 10, 8, and 5. Time on weekends can include time at the gym, time outdoors/gardening and skiing. “We’re just teaching our kids. We just went to Big White for spring break and our youngest, who’s five finally learned to ski, so now we can all ski together, which is very exciting.” Sandra will be ready for the slopes as a regular Cross -fitter. Myself, being more of a spectator, I ask for some color commentary for those less in the know.
“It’s a fitness class where each day you go it’s something different. So they’ll put the workout of the day on the board, called the WOD. There’s maybe 30 different movements used. Some of it is Olympic weight lifting-type stuff, some of it’s gymnastics, like pull-ups and that sort of thing. It’ll be some sort of mash-up of those exercises that everyone does together. So it’s competitive, and never boring.” It’s all about confusing the muscles, right?
It’s quite a different schedule from the pre-parenthood days, of course, when Sandra spent time as a model. “After high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do yet and I got invited to do some modeling. So I went to first to Toronto, then Chicago and over to Europe for a bit. It was fun for a time, but it wasn’t for me. I didn’t particularly like traveling as much I thought I would, and I’m not fashionably inclined. So, it wasn’t really for me, but it was a good experience for sure.
After about a year I decided to move back home and do the CGA program. I had always enjoyed finance and numbers, and this was good because I could do it while working. I really enjoyed the program and the work.”
And the rest is history. From modeling to auditing, Sandra is now surrounded by music geeks. (Sandra gives a shout-out to one of her favorite artists, Hillsong, from Australia.) In fact, Sandra’s family even schedules “music video nights,” during which they each take a few turns picking a music video to share and enjoy, often in themes of rock, or 80s, 90s, or Christian music. They have the chops to create their own group too! Sandra and her son play piano, while her daughter sings and husband plays guitar.
Sandra’s humble, though, and quick to note “My music knowledge is terrible. But I really like listening to all kinds of music.” We’ll let everyone else duke it out what year Scritti Politti released “Perfect Way,” sleeping soundly knowing Sandra’s got the books covered.
Music lovers, all of us, we can all put ourselves back in that crowded venue, during that perfect encore, during our favorite song. Wishing we could return to it again and again. Back in the day, that meant geekily scouring obscure catalogs of muddy, poor quality bootlegs…perhaps feeling a bit guilty about the contra band. More recently, we would eat up hard drive space, bit torrenting our way into the wee hours of the morning, trying to find that Dylan cover Robyn Hitchcock and Peter Buck played in Boston. Well, I have anyway. Still searching.
I’m wishing Exit Live was around that night in April, 2013.
The company has launched a platform for artist and fans– delivering live music to nearly anyone, anywhere. Founded by tech gurus and music fans (our kinda peeps), Exit Live is available in every country but just these four: North Korea, Somalia, South Sudan and Timor-Leste.
Guaranteeing artists 80% of sales the moment fans make a purchase, the company aims to provide a secure and morally sound route for artists, bands, and other ensembles to share their recorded works and still maintain control of their music and sales.
Founder of Exit Live Giorgio Serra says, “Right from the very beginning we have built Exit Live from the artist’s point of view. Artist first, always, Giorgio Serra, founder of Exit Live says. “It’s a passion for everyone involved and it’s about making a change for all artists. It’s been a labor of love for all of us involved and we want to empower artists and make sure that they are rewarded transparently, properly and when they choose. There are many negative issues when it comes to artists being compensated properly. We want to change this and I hope that Exit Live will be a positive step in that direction”.
They’ve cut out the long wait for distributors, promising a record “as the last verse of an encore is still being heard.” The platform isn’t just for sweaty club shows. Classical enthusiasts have a new means to hear current works for their favorite performers, perfect accompaniment to a Sunday evening making dinner.
British Mezzo-Soprano Dame Sarah Connolly says, “So many people tell me how sad they are to miss x, y & z concert. Exit Live will provide them (and me) with the chance of sharing concerts in places not covered by radio stations. I would encourage artists and Festivals to get on board.”
An equally ringing endorsement comes from the equally esteemed conductor Suzi Digby OBE. “Exit Live is an innovative platform that all artists and ensembles can use successfully, providing their audiences with concert recordings quickly and at a price that is decided by the artist. The ability to receive payment immediately and with such good favorable rates for the artist, I can foresee Exit Live becoming a trusted part of our audience engagement”.
Think peeps can help me with that April 24, 2013 Paradise show?