UMG Nashville topper Mike Dungan, who’s had an extraordinary run of late with Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan, Dierks BentleyJon Pardi and an array of other hit acts, and has just dropped the long-awaited follow-up from Chris Stapleton, will receive the Presidential Award at this year’s Music Biz confab. So he’s got all that in the plus column, which should offset the drudgery of talking to us.

Say a little about the Music Business Association. Obviously, it’s morphed substantially over the last decade. When I came up, NARM was pretty much the most important event of the year. The biggest artists came and performed there; it was really fun. I’ve been there for 30 years now, which is one reason this means so much to me. The Association has changed—it’s different faces, younger faces, a lot of people from the digital space. But I still have a lot of friends from the independent space who are not only managing to hang on, but growing their businesses through vinyl and other things. Music Biz is still the trade organization for the consumer link between us and the rest of the world. Without them, we wouldn’t have a platform to share our goods.

As the biz shifts to an access model, do you think there will always be a place for ownership?
I used to think there would always be a place for ownership. I’m less certain of that now, and I have witnessed my 60-year-old friends who have gone from physical straight to easy access via the streaming models, and I do believe that, in the near future, ownership will be a thing of the past.

What do you see as the steps for getting the late adopters to streaming, whether it’s the 35+ audience, or the country, rock or other genre listeners?
I think the biggest problem is that the consumer of a certain age really has no idea what it is, and none of these services have done a good job—not even close to a good job—of reaching out and saying, “This is what it is. This is how easy it is. You should do this.” They target everything at millennials, as they should, but when you do that, you can’t stand back and complain that the rest of the audience hasn’t followed suit.

You have to invest a little bit, especially in country music. We depend on both sides of the coin: the younger, very music-focused fans, and the more passive fans. To have real success, you need both. We continue to get the younger, more active, more engaged fans who are streaming; witness what we’re doing with Sam Hunt, Keith Urban, Luke Bryan—we’re very much in this business. But if you want massive numbers, you need both. For the most part, 50-year-olds don’t understand at all. They may have heard the reference to Spotify or Apple Music, but a lot of these people just figured out downloading three or four years ago.

How do you see the change coming about?
A lot will happen through osmosis, and I think that is the assumption these streaming services have made—that eventually they will be so omnipresent that everyone will figure it out. As a music marketer, that’s kind of how I’ve approached my business in Nashville. When a lot of people here were focusing on the very predictable, slightly older, slightly less engaged audience, I was always focused on a younger one. It’s why we sold so many records in the early 2000s when a lot of people weren’t. It’s a function of focusing on that.

It’s also a function of what artists you elect to work with and which ones you want to sign. Every one of the artists that we have big success with now was an outlier then, and their first adopter was a young person. I made the assumption that when we got Keith Urban up and running and loud enough among the young people, then everyone else would figure it out. I was right. I did the same thing with Luke Bryan and Eric Church, and I was right. The streaming services are probably right in their assumption about that as well, but in the meantime, it frustrates those of us who’re looking for the dollars that come from that older audience.

You mentioned Keith. You’ve got a Chris Stapleton record that just came out. Keith’s record just went platinum. What’s the state of the album?
It’s less and less important every day, and that’s evident. Inside this company, we look at a sales-plus-streams business model—all the interaction that the fans have. We can clearly see that albums in their totality are decreasing, both physical and downloadable. I think people are just so busy, and there’s so many other things to occupy their time, that they’re picking and choosing the songs that they want.

On the schedule for the 2017 confab is a panel called “Music Policies in the Trump Era.” What do you view as the primary challenges and opportunities, from the industry’s point of view, of this political phase?
Honestly, I don’t know what to make of it. It’s a very pro-business atmosphere out there, but business is also subject to incredible lobbying presence. I think that the more this administration makes decisions favoring large business, the more lobbying will be applied to that process. I don’t know how much of that is going to change in the end. As both a guy who makes his money in the music industry and as a person who’s just a citizen, I’m not happy with withdrawing funding from the National Endowment of the Arts. Because you’ve seen that famous quote from Churchill: “If we’re not going to support this, then what are we fighting for?”

Congrats again on the award.
Some of the best times of my life have been in former NARM conventions, and I’m honored this organization has chosen to honor me in such a grand way.

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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