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MUSIC BUSINESS ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT JIM DONIO
THE HITS INTERVIEW
Jim Donio is marking has eleventh year as President of the trade organization long referred to as NARM and now officially known as the Music Business Association. Donio has a unique perspective on the business derived from years of experience with the myriad elements that make it tick. As the industry has evolved, he’s been charged with the task of keeping the Association relevant, while at the same time serving many masters in what has at times been viewed as a thankless job. We had a chance to catch up with the Prez as he was putting the finishing touches on the crowning event of the year for TMBAFKAN—which is short for the music business association formerly known as (and this is the last you’ll hear of it from us) NARM.

This is your eleventh year as president. How have the changes in the music industry changed the way you do your job?
It means you have to spend a fair amount of time every day keeping abreast of what’s going on in the business. It’s hard to be one step ahead in this business. Almost daily, there’s some announcement of some executive change, or some combination of companies, or an acquisition, a merger or some company going out of business. It’s not that this isn’t the case with other businesses as well; I’m just underscoring the point that, in this business, there is so much change. It’s such a dynamic business, and it means you’ve got to devote a fair amount of time to making sure that you know what’s going on when you have a job like mine.

Let’s talk about the official name change of the organization. What was the reason?
The business was changing and evolving. When we looked at the beginnings of the digital explosion of the business and the sort of upending everything, we began to think about the brands—the NARM brands. In 2007, we created a spin off of the convention that was called Digital NARM. So, we had a one to two-day conference that was part of, but not fully integrated into, the convention. Then, by 2009, it was clear that it wasn’t something that was separate. So we created a hub within NARM called DigitalMusic.org, for all of our digital initiatives. That went along for all of those years since 2009 with Bill Wilson, who we hired to head up Digital Strategy and Business Development, and underneath that, there was a whole set of work groups and initiatives. 18 months ago, we really came to a fork in the road, which meant that we needed to look at how we were being perceived. There was a sense that the NARM brand was telegraphing something from the past, and that the DigitalMusic.org brand, while forward-looking, wasn’t really the organization as a whole; it was just a subset. That necessitated a conversation. It was time for NARM to be sunseted as a brand, and within a minute of the suggestion of the Music Business Association, it was approved; everyone said yes. We’ve been using it as a tagline—NARM, the Music Business Association—for a number of years. We had been calling the convention “Music Biz” for a couple of years, as well.
What are some of the changes in the convention this year?
Over the past couple of years, one of the clear messages we got was to try to compress the event. People’s time is at a premium more than ever, so it’s three days. The first day, Tuesday, we’re repeating due to last year’s great success, the Metadata Summit, which was a two-day event last year and is a full-day event this year. It was very well-attended and created lots of energy; it’s fueled by our Digital Asset Management Group. That takes place on Tuesday. We eliminated with a Town Hall session in the afternoon. People said they really wanted more time for their private meetings, so we consolidated some events. We’ve got a full day of specialized programming that will lead right into the opening cocktail party, which has been sponsored by WEA and Warner Music Group for many years. On Wednesday morning, the opening breakfast this year, sponsored by Sony Music Entertainment, leads into the opening session. Among the differences this year, we’re not having a keynote speech.
 
What’s the reason for that?
The feedback from the membership was that they want to hear my speech; they want to hear what’s going on with the Association; they want to hear my perspective of what’s going on with the industry; they want to hear the data that I share; they want to hear from our Chairman. They appreciate and look forward to the award honorees, including the recipients of the Independent Spirit Award, which, this year, is Jonathan Poneman from Sub Pop, and the Presidential Award, which is Sylvia Rhone, President of Epic, who is the first woman to receive that award. To have a keynote after all that is almost anticlimactic. They feel that those speeches and remarks are enough, and they want to get into their private meetings.

Sylvia Rhone getting the Presidential Award is significant for many reasons.
Yeah, she’s the first female executive to join this fraternity of gentlemen, who, for decades, have been recognized by the Association with this Presidential Award for Sustained Executive Achievement. The key word there is sustained. This award recognizes folks who are survivors, who have been able to change, transform and, in many cases, have worked for different companies throughout their career and have brought different levels and aspects of the business to the companies they’ve worked with.
 

“The fact that Sylvia has worked for all three companies and the way that she has nurtured and had such an artist-centric approach to her career in this business is admirable.”


It’s very interesting that when you look at the community’s population, there may have been appropriate candidates in the past, but for what ever reason, Sylvia rises to the top, and she’s certainly, extraordinarily and eminently deserving. The fact that she’s worked for all three companies and the way that she has nurtured and had such an artist-centric approach to her career in this business is admirable. And, obviously, her longevity demonstrates how respected she is. It was just the right thing for all the right reasons. She was very humbled, very excited. It’s a serious honor. It’s prestigious; you’re joining a group that includes Dick Clark, Don Cornelius, Ted Cohen, John Marmaduke, Jim Urie, Henry Droz, Paul Smith, Casey Kasem, Okio Morita, Ahmet Ertegun, Russ Solomon, Jack Eugster and Bob Higgins.

Also, this year, we’re bringing back the Humanitarian Award. It’s going to Dee Snider, who was the front man of Twisted Sister. He’s an amazing philanthropist; he appeared on The Celebrity Apprentice and donated his winnings to the March of Dimes. He’s also involved with a number of charities. Also, I’m so thrilled that Sandy Chapin, who is Harry Chapin’s widow—the award is named for Harry—will be coming back this year to help present the award to Dee.

The Break through Artist of the Year is Ariana Grande from Republic Records.
The Outstanding Achievement Award is an award we have not given for a couple of years. It’s going to go to the Frozen soundtrack, which has been a phenomenon for the past almost seven months. It upended a number of records in terms of the stats, so we thought that this was an exciting time. It’s a phenomenon; there’s no other word to describe it. It’s great to have something so positive, affirmative and exciting to honor.
 
Let’s shift gears and talk about the synergy between the Music Business Association and Record Store Day.
This is a place where they are able to commune with each other, but also a place where they are able to both solicit and bring strong, secure support from their trading partners in regards to the kinds of things they want to do as coalitions, as marketing groups, as organizers of what is now a worldwide phenomenon.

Record Store Day has risen up from all of the challenges that the music business has experienced over the past decade to signify, to symbolize and to deliver such a powerful message about the importance of these local businesses. They are both culturally and commercially important in the particular communities they reside in. They’ve become crucial parts of their communities, and, now, we’re talking about 2,000 stores around the world, in almost a dozen countries. It’s incredible what they have been able to accomplish. We recognized them last year with our Independent Spirit Awards, very deservedly so. It’s almost referred to now as another holiday. Artists have rallied around it; the trading partners have rallied around it; music fans have rallied around it. It’s just incredible. It’s an incredibly positive, affirming day for the music business. I think it’s done a great deal to elevate the profile of these stores. As you said, so far, we have close to 70 delegates coming to Music Biz this year. For the past four or five years, they’ve been using the convention as a focal point for that level of discourse—for that conversation to take place—and we’re thrilled.
 
Something that you had said to me earlier—this is less of the party convention than it used to be, and more business-focused than ever.
Yeah, it is. You know, we’ve compressed the time so it allows everyone premium time to have their private meetings, to learn, to get some information, to get some education and dialogue going on key issues and trends and developments. So yes, it has become a serious get-together. That’s not to say that there are not opportunities for people to kick back, relax and enjoy themselves. Some of the biggest deals happen in social settings and contacts get made in social settings. What we’ve tried to do is create as good of a balance as we can between the times of the private meetings and the public programming that we have. That was the direction that the convention work group gave to us, in terms of honing the schedule, trying to still do everything that everybody wants to do and allowing enough time. It’s a place where business gets done; it’s a place where the foundation is set in those few days for what will be the Association’s agenda for the next 362 days when we come together again. That’s why we now have these sectors, as are part of the reorganization—a Physical Sector, a Digital Sector, an Information Technology Sector, a Knowledge Sector, and we will be activating sectors for Legal and Business Affairs, Artists, Managers and Touring. So that’s six sectors, and each of those sectors will have work-groups that are involved in the various projects and initiatives that we do, whether it’s some sort of style guide, which the digital groups had worked on, or creating the Music Startups Network, which is a very important tool that is going to grow more this year.

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