As Music Biz kicks off its second year in Nashville, it seems like the perfect time to check out our Q&A with the convention's overlord, Jim Donio, who talks branding, the future of the biz, the importance of having a watering hole of sorts for musicians, managers, attorneys, publishers, start-ups and more.

Let’s start with talking about Music Biz’s second year in Nashville. Could you recap the successes you had last year, and talk about how you’re building on that this year?
Our attendance jumped about 40% from the prior year. We had been in L.A. for four years, which were all really good conventions, but something about the shift to Nashville added a dimension and an energy that we really, quite frankly, had not experienced for quite some time.

There is a music community of musicians, managers, attorneys, publishers, start-ups, etc. in the Nashville area that probably may not have been aware of our event—and certainly had not attended it before—and certainly academia came in great numbers and helped to change the fabric of the get-together.

The other interesting element was that we had outgrown the space that we were in even before we arrived in Nashville last year because of the jump in attendance. We did move to the Renaissance Nashville, right across the street from the Ryman Auditorium, and this is our largest conference program that we’ve ever had. We have 180 speakers and more than 100 separate sessions, discussions, and events, which is more than we’ve ever mounted in our 58 years.

We’ve got a bunch of new sponsors. Pandora is sponsoring a live music event, and we’ve got Dropbox sponsoring a luncheon at which we will honor Cheap Trick, Little Big Town, the T.J. Martell Foundation, Sam Hunt and Halsey.

This year, there seems to be a big focus on branding. How is it going to be addressed at the convention?

 Epic's Meghan Trainor ponders calling her next single "DONIO."

There are two undercurrents or threads that you can see through the program. One is the extension of the dialogue about the business, artists and music to include—in a very direct and meaningful way—conversations with brands and conversations with marketing professionals around the business, and in different aspects of the business, about how the relationship between music, artists, management, labels, brands and commerce are all intersecting in a really significant way.

We have companies like Coca-Cola, Bose, Absolut, CAA, William Morris and many others as part of this brand and partnership summit, which is a new component that we’ve added to the convention.

John Van Hala from Crossfade Partners, formerly an executive with Universal, has assembled some great conversations and panels that are going to illuminate the importance of the relationships with brands and cultivating these partnerships.

The other thread, which is not a surprise because it’s something that Music Biz has really emphasized over the past four or five years, is data. It’s metadata, consumer intelligence, market intelligence and social data—all of those important touch points. We’ve had a metadata summit for the past three or four years and now we’re having that again. It’s such an integral element to the business that’s so access-based and information-based and is evolving, so these conversations are ever more important. We’re putting a little bit of a spin on it at this year’s summit—we’re looking at it from a global perspective.

You have a session on women executives for the first time, Finding Your Voice: Music’s Leading Ladies Speak Out. What drove that programming decision?
It struck us that Music Biz and NARM never had five female executives serving on our board of directors at the same time and we have that this year. This is an opportunity for us to shine a spotlight not only on them, but on female executives in various aspects of the industry and talk about life and work balance, how they have gotten to where they are in the industry, hear what kind of advice they can give—not just to other women, but to anyone that is trying to build a successful career and future.

In terms of a lineup, we have Cindy Charles interviewing Vivien Lewit from YouTube, Deb Berman interviewing Candace Berry from Universal, Amy Dietz from INgrooves, Kelly Rich from Big Machine Label Group, Christina Calio from Microsoft, and Dilyn Radakovitz from Dimple, the last five serving on the Music Biz board of directors. The piece de resistance is an interview with Mary Wilson, who was one of the original members of The Supremes. We’ll close out the program with Judy Tint interviewing the Love Junkies, who wrote “Girl Crush.”

"It struck us that Music Biz and NARM never had five female executives serving on our board of directors at the same time and we have that this year."

You’re honoring the T.J. Martell Foundation this year. They’ve been connected to the music industry for as long as I can remember.
They’ve been involved with the music industry for 40 years as one of the prime philanthropic and charitable organizations. We’ve been bestowing an award to extremely deserving individuals and organizations called the Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award for almost 40 years.

Donio shares his guitar-shredding secrets with Third Man/Columbia's Jack White.

We’re adding the T.J. Martell Foundation to that list of illustrious recipients and Laura Heatherly, who is the CEO, will be accepting the award. Laura is one of the foremost female executives heading up T.J. Martell.

Another impressive lineup is your list of artists who are receiving awards this year—Cheap Trick, Halsey, The Monkees, Little Big Town. It’s really a broad selection of artists receiving awards this year.
Years into their career, Cheap Trick was just inducted into the Hall of Fame, they just released new music and are on the charts again. Little Big Town won so many awards with “Girl Crush” and they are four of the nicest, most deserving people you could ever want to meet.

I have a very personal connection to The Monkees and their music. The Monkees’ first album was the first album that I ever received—for my 10th birthday in 1966. Certainly, as a 10-year-old getting that first album, I would never have imagined that almost 50 years later I would be presenting them with an award celebrating their 50 years, an outstanding achievement for anyone in field.

I think they captured something iconic and have become iconic in the way that they utilized humor, music and visual images. It’s great that we can bring everybody together within a couple of days and honor The Monkees and honor Cheap Trick and also recognize the amazing currency of a group like Little Big Town and the artists who are going to have superstar careers, like Halsey and Sam Hunt. It’s the full spectrum. That’s what we are. We aren’t any one aspect of the music business. We are the entire business.

And this year, your presidential award is going to John Esposito of Warner Music Nashville.
John’s iconic in his own right. He has amazing wit and personality. He is philanthropic. He’s been a renaissance man in terms of his career from retail

Donio, Epic's Sylvia Rhone and Sub Pop's Jonathan Poneman form a short-lived supergroup.

to distribution to label, going to Nashville and transforming Warner Music Nashville to the top of its game with its artist roster and its role in Nashville in the industry, rising to the chairmanship of the board of directors. We always love to recognize people that have done outstanding work, but that we consider to be good people and people that everyone enjoys celebrating their careers and success. There’s no better example of that than John.

Talking about awards, another thing that’s cool is that the Country Music Association is celebrating the anniversary of the televised CMA Awards show, so they’re sponsoring the awards breakfast as a way of highlighting that awards celebration.

You have Dropbox—an essential part of my daily workflow—coming in as a sponsor. What’s their connection to the music industry?
Having Dropbox, a collaboration platform that has been around for a while, as a new sponsor is something that provides an essential tool in so many aspects of many businesses, but particularly the music business with companies and creators being able to collaborate even if they’re on different floors of the building or on a different continent. I know that they have ideas about how they can continue to evolve what they do in the service of the music community, so we’re thrilled to have them added to the agenda.

"Today's music business is not yesterday's music business, so you look at who's
part of Music Biz, who's leading our organization, who are the leading voices."

Where do you see the organization’s role in continuing to move the industry forward to have the best success possible?
Today’s music business, is not yesterday’s music business, so you look at who’s part of Music Biz, who’s leading our organization, who are the leading voices. When we look at the stats for the year-end in 2015, you look at the physical business, the streaming business, the download business, and you look at how everything has reached a point of equilibrium where they’re all coexisting and they’re all important. There will be opportunities for voices that represent the varying constituencies and models to continue to be heard and to lend their expertise to how the business continues to grow. That’s what we do best. We’re a forum for all of that.

While we are providing a platform for these important discussions, which are all critical, it’s also really critical that we look at how we’re building the next generation of leaders, of people with vision who are going to lead this business. We’re pushing 2,000 students who are now part of the association and many of them will be coming to Nashville to participate in the event. Music Biz sees education as a very important pillar of our organization.

Donio, Big Machine Label Group ruler Scott Borchetta, Epic's Meghan Trainor, rock legends The Doobie Brothers, NASH Icon's Martina McBride and Music Biz Chairman/YouTube exec Fred Beteille, just before rolling the biggest doobie ever.

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