“We are not physical or digital,” NARM chief Jim Donio proclaimed. "We are the music business.”
By Any Other NARM It's Still a Round-Up
From Our Retail Guy
This morning’s opening session of NARM’s Music Biz convention kicked off with a speech by President Jim Donio, who called this year’s agenda the most forward-looking in conference history, hailing the newest members of the association—including Acquia, BlackBerry, YouTube, Pledge Music, Coke, Hertz, metadata specialists Peer Music, Movielabs, The Associated Press and non-traditional music retailer like the Home Shopping Network.

“Reinvention isn’t easy, but it’s not impossible,” Donio declared. “Look at all the artists and companies in our business that have done it successfully.” He also stressed the value of the event, encouraged cooperation (obviously a message to those big-box retailers that did not attend this year) and coined the term “co-opetition.” “We are not physical or digital,” he proclaimed. "We are the music business.”

Though still bullish, the NARM chieftain expects the sluggish economy and continued reduction of the CD footprint at some retail stores to negatively affect the CD, and that track-equivalent albums and digital track growth are expected to plateau. He also noted that while current albums are down 2% this year, catalog is down 8%--marking a shift from the last few years. But he points to streaming as the fastest-growing part of the business.

Acknowledging piracy as an ongoing problem, Donio emphasized the need for a new Copyright Act, applauding Neil Portnow’s demand that “creators must receive fair compensation for the work” and called for “reasonable enforcement.” Donio also expressed excitement that by 2018, 80% of the cars manufactured will be sold with “factory-embedded telematics,” which was addressed in a panel yesterday. He lauded NARM’s continued participation in the Give The Gift of Music initiative and Record Store Day.

“In the weeks ahead, you’ll be hearing more detail about how we’ll continue to reinvent NARM,” Donio promised, calling for member participation to get it done (in what some saw as a shout-out to the aforementioned big-box folks). He closed on a personal note, relating that this marks his 25th anniversary with the association, and thanked the “late, great grand dame of NARM, Mickey Granberg.” He also thanked his predecessor, Pam Horovitz, current board chairman Rachelle Friedman and his life partner of 23 years, Larry.

He then presented this year’s Independent Spirit Award to Record Store Day; it was accepted by Record Exchange’s Michael Bunnell, Criminal Records Eric Levin, Dept. Of Record Stores Michael Kurtz and CIMS Carrie Colliton. Bunnell noted that it takes thousands of people to make this happen. Levin thanked Jim Donio (“It takes a lot for him to invite me back on stage,” he said--referring to a now-infamous NARM award acceptance of years ago when he had been grievously overserved--scoring a huge laugh). Kurtz rounded out the thank-yous by saying that RSD only existed because of the community, and that he was amazed at the international reach of this American export: “Even the French love us!”

After a very well received two-song set by Redlight’s sister quartet von Grey, NARM Chairman (and J&R founder) Rachelle Friedman announced the current board of directors, which included AEC's Mike Davis, Baker & Taylor’s Steve Harkins, Dimple’s Dilyn Radakovitz, Homers’ Mike Fratt, Microsoft’s Christina Calio, Muve Music’s Jeff Toig, Nokia’s Jonathan Dworkin and “our director at large,” Len Cosimano. This year’s executive committee consists of Amazon’s Craig Pape (Secretary), immergent’s John Trickett (Treasurer), and iTunesBrent Muhle (Vice Chairman).

UMGD honcho Jim Urie then presented Donio with a plaque commemorating his 25 years with NARM, noting that in 1988 Rain Man was the #1 movie, George Michael’s “Faith” was the #1 song, that despite the dreaded “long box,” the CD overtook vinyl sales, and that it was the year that Rihanna and Adele were born.

In accepting his Presidential Award for Sustained Executive Achievement, Tag Strategic’s Ted Cohen thanked a laundry list of notables with what he called his Top 40 list of people.

This year’s Keynote Presentation was a panel of four taken from the industry bible’s “40 under 40” list. Moderated by Phil Gallo, the panel consisted of Coca-Cola’s head of music branding, Joe Belliotti, UMPG and Motown’s Ethiopia Habtemariam, AEG Live’s Rebeca Leon and Epic’s Tricky Stewart.

Gallo started off asking about Artist Development. Stewart: “Great success takes great preparation.” He also noted that artists benefit from coming in ahead of the game when they are signed to a label deal. Habtemariam talked about the difference between when an artist comes in “already defined” as opposed to being in a position of having the label mold them. Leon talked about her company working closely with labels and A&R. Belliotti said that Coke loved working with emerging artists like Mark Ronson, to help “amplify their stories.”

Did labels fear that corporations like Google could start releasing their own records? Stewart said that branding artists using these big companies was a strategic partnership, but that “we have to be careful of keeping the artist as the brand.” Leon said that labels do more than people think, “not that Coke could not do it too, but there is a lot of value that comes from the labels.” Belliotti: “We are in the beverage business. We have no interest in being in the music business. We could never do what these people do and are trying to build both businesses.”

Gallo: "What’s the difference between a great song and a great track?" Stewart said a great song doesn’t necessarily make a hit record—"It’s different when you are trying to get to the masses. There’s no way to tell when something is going to strike a chord." Habtemariam agreed, saying, "You can’t predict when it will connect."

The talk turned to streaming. Stewart sees it as part of the evolution of music: "It comes back to the content. You want more access to music and I think it’s a good thing." Habtemariam called it the "future of the business" Stewart added that although he didn’t believe the physical marketplace was going away, "We must serve the consumer in whichever format they wanted." Habtemariam echoed that sentiment, saying "All we can do is to make compelling product. We can’t dictate the way that they consume it."



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