HITS Mark Pearson Delivers the Blow-by-Blow From the Music Biz 2014 Convention

What follows is a frequently updated series of dispatches from the Music Biz 2014 confab, an annual event formerly known as NARM. HITS’ retail guru Mark Pearson will continue firing away as the spirit moves him until the convention ends on Thursday night.

Thursday: Record Store Day Planning Meeting

This morning’s Record Store Day planning meeting played to a standing-room-only crowd. The panel was made up of RSD coordinators Carrie Colliton and Michael Kurtz and their counterparts from the U.K. and the Netherlands, Spencer Hickman and Marlein Parlevliet. Also on the panel were co-founders Eric Levin of Atlanta-based Criminal Records and CIMS Executive Director Michael Bunell.

Kurtz broke the meeting open with "Let’s just take a second here—we fucking did it!" to thundering applause and cheering that lasted for quite a while. These guys are in a very good mood.

The first order of business was the quantity of titles offered on the day. It had ballooned to almost 500 this year and many of the constituents said it was economically overwhelming for some stores. Bunell suggested that it be limited to 350 titles for next year, saying that they had to get more selective with what they accept as RSD offerings. "It should be an achievement to make the list," he said. Hickman agreed, saying that in the U.K., certain suppliers were looking at it as a pure cash grab. "Not all, mind you, but on certain titles sell-through can be a problem."

The eBay problem was also addressed. This is a constant complaint by RSD haters: that the product shows up on eBay at exorbitant prices. "We have to get eBay to take that product down," Kurtz said, "This problem sticks to us like tar." Super D’s Bruce Ogilvie was in attendance and offered to help get to the most influential people at eBay in hopes of getting something done from the top down.

Homer’s Mike Fratt brought up another sticking point with many of the participating indies. The fact that stores that only deal in used product for 364 days a year get to sell new RSD titles in competition with them. Colliton said that they were trying to fix the list of participating stores but also countered with the fact that some used record stores can use RSD as a gateway to selling new product year-round. Music Millennium’s Terry Currier argued that there should be a time frame given to transition to new product; this idea got a lot of support in the room.

Then there was guest star Don Was, who came to talk about his new Blue Note Dealer series of releases that the indies could participate in, getting better terms for selling year-round specialty titles. He was obviously very retail-friendly, recalling how, when he was a broke musician, he was befriended by Carl Thom, owner of Michigan-based Harmony House. Thom brought him to the 1978 NARM convention and introduced him around. Was never forgot it, and it was obvious that he had a love fest going in the room. The Blue Note Dealer series has 100 releases planned through October of 2015, with five per month starting in late May. 80 stores have already signed up.

Wednesday night: Music

Finally. There has been a real lack of live music this year at the convention. So it was nice to see RCA’s Bob Anderson bring in some impressive talent to the penthouse. A late-night performance (if you consider 10pm a late start) featured sets by Tinashe and Mali Music. The music-starved attendees packed the suite, and both acts were extremely well received. Today is the final awards luncheon. More on that in a bit.

Wednesday morning: Opening Session

The official opening session of Music Biz 2014 began, of course, with remarks from Music Biz President Jim Donio. After noting that the convention was going to be on lockdown due to the appearance of POTUS at the host hotel later that day, Donio got down to brass tacks. Discussing the name change from the 52-year-old moniker NARM to Music Business Association, he enumerated the myriad reasons for the making the move (chronicled many times over in HITS’ coverage), using terms like "coopetition" and citing the need to incorporate every aspect of monetizing music in the marketplace. Donio talked about the restructuring of the board to once again include content providers, which, surprisingly, was news to some in the audience, and he also focused on changes in the convention itself, including fewer days and shorter sessions.

He then gave a raft of positive stats for Record Store Day: "Indie stores represented 19.4% of all physical albums sold that week," he noted, adding that RSD 2014 was likely the biggest in the SoundScan era. "According to a recent report," he continued, "United Pressing, the largest [vinyl] plant in the U.S., has six presses running 24 hours a day, six days a week, and that is not enough to keep up with demand."

Donio ran a laundry list of stats from year-end 2013, trying his best to put as positive a spin as possible on them. For complete text of the speech (and all of said stats) click here.

But the big news of his speech was that, after years of the convention being held in LA, it will be moving to Nashville next year for the first time ever. That announcement was met with cheers from the audience.

Music Biz Chairman Rachelle Friedman then took the podium and, among other things, announced the new board: YouTube’s Fred Beteille, Microsoft’s Christina Calio, Redeye’s Glenn Dicker, Homer’s Mike Fratt, The Orchard’s Brad Naven, Super D/Alliance’s Bruce Ogilvie, Dimple RecordsDilyn Radakovitz, Amazon’s Ryan Redington, Spotify’s Steve Savoca, WEA’s Matt Signore, SME’s Darren Stupak, UMGD’s Jim Urie, INgroovesDave Zierler and Music Biz Director at Large Len Cosimano. The Executive Committee will be Baker & Taylor’s Steve Harkins as Secretary, immergent’s John Trickett as Treasurer and iTunesBrent Muhle as Vice Chairman.

She then dropped a bit of bomb, revealing that after 20 years on the board, she would be stepping down, and that the organization would be electing another Chairman in the coming months. I say "a bit of a bomb" because Friedman recently closed her legendary J&R Music store.

Donio then presented the Independent Spirit Award to Sub Pop founder Jonathan Poneman. Before he took the stage, there was a funny video reel that ended with the legend, "Sub Pop—going out of business since 1988." The self-effacing Poneman thanked his creditors, kneecap surgeon, co-workers, ADA, brick-and-mortar indie retailers, Seattle, the Internet and his wife.

Then came the big moment of the morning, as Donio presented the Presidential Award for Sustained Executive Achievement to Epic’s Sylvia Rhone, the first woman to ever win the award. She joins the ranks of industry heavyweights including Clive Davis, Ahmet Ertegun, Dick Clark, Henry Droz and Urie. The following bio video reel underscored what a remarkable career Rhone has had. The footage included a slew of artist testimonials and an appearance by L.A. Reid, who asserted that Rhone is "not only the best female executive, but the best executive in the business."

Rhone took the stage, joking that, "After 38 years in the business, I guess I fulfill the sustained requirement. But c’mon, guys," she chided, "there are so many talented females in this business who are going to get this in the future. But, this really took a loooong time." She thanked all of her former employers and co-workers, saying, "Our business has been on a real rollercoaster, but change isn’t always a challenge. Change makes us figure out how to be better. It will all be defined by great music." She said how happy she is to join Reid and how blessed she is to be on the Epic team.

"I can’t tell you how much it means to me to get this award at his time in my life," she concluded, eliciting a heartfelt standing ovation.

Wednesday Afternoon: Heard in the Hallways

Hastings, which for the longest time seemed impervious to the slide in physical music product, is now apparently on the ropes. After two weeks of their garnering a credit rating of F, some indie distributors are being said to have put them on indefinite hold. Will any of the majors follow suit? Let’s hope not. Word has it that at the last minute they completely changed the lineup of conference attendees, with longtime head of music Phil McConnell not making the trip. This would be really sad news, because Hastings honcho John Marmaduke is one of the great gentlemen in our business and is in the final stages of a merger with Hendrix Acquisition Group. He is said to be leaving the company in July.

Tuesday Night Sizzle

UMGD did something last night at the Music Biz 2014 convention that used to be as normal as meeting at the bar—they ran a video sizzle reel. From the reaction of the crowd, you’d have thought they were giving away free cars. Having to cut off attendance as the room filled to beyond capacity for a reel created in partnership with Funny Or Die skewering the company, the convention and the industry at large. Music Biz prexy Jim Donio quipped, "It feels like a convention in here." Then it was time for all of the opening-night parties. WEA hosted the official Music Biz cocktail party, while RED was out in force in the hotel as well hosting its own affair. Off campus, Universal had their independents dinner off campus at Rock Sugar, while across the courtyard at Pink Taco (yes, that’s the actual name of the place), Rich Bengloff hosted his annual A2IM dinner. Opening ceremonies are slated for this morning. More on that later.

Bizarre as it seems, the convention will be shut down for several hours tonight. President Barack Obama is speaking at a massive charity event hosted by Steven Spielberg—and where is it being held? Right here at the Century Plaza. The hotel has been crawling with Secret Service, and everyone at the convention is having to change their dinner plans to somewhere they can get to by foot, because the streets surrounding the hotel will be shut down from 2pm until 10pm.

Tuesday, Mid-Afternoon: What the Market Will Bear

Talk in the hallways: Is Record Store Day starting to reach critical mass in how many titles the market can bear? This past April saw some 500 RSD titles offered, and that’s not counting unofficial specialty titles that were also created for the event. In the halls, even among the most RSD faithful, there is some skepticism that these huge gains can be expected to continue unabated. Thursday's RSD planning meeting should be interesting.

Tuesday, Midday: Metadata Presentation

The Music Biz 2014 convention doesn’t really kick off until Tuesday night, but the first order of business is all-day meetings on metadata—dry as dust, but really important stuff. The daylong session was summed up nicely with a presentation by Music Biz’s Bill Wilson and Vinnie Freda of Isolation Networks. For years the problem has been that no one can agree on a standardization of the process. Wilson says, quite rightly, "It’s not the technology but the people. Competition prevents meaningful collaboration." Well, that’s it in a nutshell.

But Freda reminded the crowd that when it’s possible to take financial advantage of a global culture, the majors have agreed in the past—like 45rpm for singles and 33rpm for LPs or cassettes instead of 8-tracks. So why have the book industry and the film industry already pretty much completed the task? "The book industry has metadata in its DNA," Freda pointed out." They’ve been delivering to libraries for hundreds of years." The e-book industry consolidated its metadata back in 2001, and e-books that use it have a 473% better chance of selling. Freda also contends that the music business is much further along technologically than the film industry in this arena, having already consolidated four distinct technologies from competing companies.

So why does Freda think that it’s now possible to get this done when the industry hasn’t been able to make any progress on it in over 10 years? "The majors now don’t get as much of an advantage out of chaos," he noted, "and the indies don’t have to risk has much money on an as yet unproven standard." In other words, it’s to their financial benefit. That being said, good luck.

Tuesday, Early Morning: The Gathering

The floor of the Music Biz 2014 convention is crawling with the indies coming off of a historic Record Store Day. Tim Baker of Sunrise Records in Toronto said that a little-talked-about fact was how well the One Direction album did on this most hipster of days. "We sold 200 copies in a heartbeat. Anyone that didn’t carry it should have their head examined. It’s a gateway drug, for God’s sake!" Tim further noted that Rough Trade, which didn’t bring it in, told him that 1D was the most-requested record of the day. The convention officially kicks off this evening with the traditional cocktail party.

Two heads are better than one. (6/18a)
Bugs is dancing in the street. (6/18a)
Pull up the Brinks truck. (6/18a)
Looks like we have a horse race. (6/17a)
Myriad lawyers, no waiting. (6/18a)
The musical tapestry we know as R&B.
Predicting the next big catalog deal.
Once we all get vaccinated, how long before we can party?
How is globalization bringing far-flung territories into the musical mainstream?

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