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RANDY GOODMAN:
THE HITS INTERVIEW

Randy Goodman was a wunderkind when Joe Galante hired him as a product manager, then made the go-getter head of marketing during RCA Nashville’s late-’80s period, paced by The Judds, Dolly Parton, Clint Black, Ronnie Milsap and Restless Heart. Galante took the smart, adaptable and driven Goodman—a Kentucky kid who’d played in bands with Americana icons Kim Richey and Bill Lloyd—along with him when he went to New York to run the entire company.

That pop experience served the bespectacled musico well when Disney charged him with starting Lyric Street, which Goodman ran throughout its existence, breaking Rascal Flatts, SHeDAISY and songwriter Sara Buxton. When the label shuttered, Goodman took a sabbatical, exploring management with Maverick’s Clarence Spalding before returning to his stomping grounds, now under the Sony Music Nashville umbrella, at Doug Morris’ behest. Arriving at the beleaguered label group, he focused on signing—and breaking—new artists, and imbuing his staff with a sense of “Yes, we can.”

Two years into the mission, Goodman has a fistful of breakout newcomers—Cam, Old Dominion, Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Maren Morris—with #1 album debuts, while marshaling Miranda Lambert’s two-disc The Weight of These Wings to critical acclaim, Carrie Underwood’s Storyteller to unprecedented success and Kenny Chesney’s Cosmic Hallelujah through innovative delivery methods. More recently, Brad Paisley launched his latest in conjunction with a Sara Cannon cancer campaign, and Chris Young scored his fastest gold album, along with three #1s. As Sony Nashville’s competitive team reels in the most coveted new acts while breaking ground with the label’s superstars and baby acts alike, there’s no question that Goodman has more than turned things around.


A lot has happened since you arrived two years ago. What’s the biggest change?
What I said day one was, “Let’s break down these silos that have grown up and separated people.” That can happen within record companies; it can feel like we create via this assembly line. I wanted an organic approach, where the teams are touching everything throughout the cycle. Culturally, those were the things I felt I needed to deal with. Meanwhile, we were witnessing the continued demise of the physical, and digital was really peaking, then the growth of streaming. How do you monetize that? The most important thing was to change the storyline, the perception—we had to let the town know we could sign, set up and break new artists.

One of the things I thought we were doing a really good job at was launching new artists’ albums. From Old Dominion, the first act we launched with the new team, through Luke Combs, who just debuted #1, it was exciting to see, and that reinforced us. Look at all the new releases: With Cam, Maren Morris, Kane Brown and Luke Combs, we were consistently hitting over 40,000 units the first week, which most other brand-new artists weren’t doing. Now, we’ve got to see them all the way through, take them to high consumption levels.

You’ve had the biggest young-artist launches, culminating with wins at the Grammys and the CMAs. How did you pull that off?
It goes back to changing the storyline. If you’re perceived as cold, then a manager or producer is loath to bring you the thing they’re excited about. What we did in terms of signing Maren was massive. Jim Catino brought us her four-song CD. Three songs in, I said, “I’m in. Let’s go get her.” He said, “She’s probably going to another label”—they were way down the path at that point. I said, “Well, she hasn’t signed yet. Until she’s signed, let’s go after her—let’s be aggressive.” I’ll never forget—the music went viral in the office. Setting up and breaking new artists in this environment challenged us as a new team to flex muscles we didn’t know we had. Based on Cam and OD, we were like, “We’re doing this; we’re already doing this. We’ve just got to close this next one.”

You sold your hunger.
I felt what Janet [Weir] and Maren needed to see—because they already had music on SiriusXM and Spotify—was that we could articulate a vision and take what they were doing to the next level. We presented to them a plan. “Here’s where you are; here’s what being a part of Sony is; here’s what we believe you can do—and here’s how we can help you do that.” We told her, “We want you, we believe in you. Here’s a game plan to take you to that next level. We’re going to be urgent about it. We’re going to get you into the marketplace very, very quickly, because you’re already on that path.”

All those things excited her. It’s crazy looking back on that meeting; I didn’t know half the people who were there because I was just meeting them. Thinking back, I’m going, “Oh my God, if I were Maren or Janet, I’d have been sitting there going, ‘Man, this guy doesn’t even know the team.’”

The team—not me but the team—came together and were so energized and excited that we had this shot. I was willing to say, “Hey guys, we’re going to be aggressive, but we’ve got to kill at this meeting.” And everybody did. We all left that meeting going, “Damn—we can be badass.” So when we signed Maren and then did what we said we’d do with her, it reinforced our belief. And that’s what we needed—we needed big wins so we could breed confidence. From that meeting on, I never ever doubted this team.

Describe your business model.
My business model is about consumption, but also about new artists. I’m a venture capitalist, and they’re a new little company I believe in. I’m going to put my money and my manpower behind them. In return, I participate in all revenue streams. Classic venture capitalism. That’s how we now are with the new artists, because we participate in their touring as well. If a Maren Morris can go over and build a European touring base, where she can get the U.S. base to follow, it creates new demand. That’s great; I still participate in that revenue stream. But the connector is, how do you monetize it?

There’s something innovative about how Kane uses his socials that inspires people to embrace and consume his music at iTunes and on the road.
My experience—and this is more anecdotal than analytic—is that they land on someone like Kane and see this biracial, tatted-up guy who looks an Abercrombie & Fitch model. They go “Wow—this guy’s a country singer?” They watch the Instagram or Facebook video or stream him singing some traditional song, and it blows their minds. They tell their friends, “You’ve got to hear this.” That’s the amazing thing about social media—it’s immediate and it’s rampant. It creates this viral firestorm. He’s a conundrum. That’s not dissimilar to Luke Combs.

Our format is filled with a lot of great-looking guys. Which is not to say Luke isn’t attractive, but he isn’t a model-esque guy. People look at him, and go, “This is me, and you need to listen,” or “I’m going to send this out to my friends who think country music is all about models.” Here’s a guy singing real music—a real guy who dresses like you and me. That’s what turns people on about Luke Combs. Once they start listening and hear his story, which is all connected within social media, they find an extremely relatable, vulnerable guy. They’re compelled to want him to win, because they know the story. Social media lays it all out there in a very real-time way.

It seems like there are two different lanes now: new artists who are younger, doing social media and streaming—who aren’t afraid to throw their music out there—and more traditional artists.
There are certain artists who rose to fame before streaming and social media came about. The smart ones—the ones who are really competitive and want to continue in that game—are looking at what’s going on, saying, “This is the new environment; I’m going to figure it out. I’m going to dig in.” It’s challenging for artists who came up before, because it’s a whole new way they’ve got to learn, but it’s at the core of what marketing is now.

But with all these new modalities, which change so fast, how do you keep up?
When Kenny Chesney was setting up Cosmic Hallelujah, people were still doing exclusives with the streaming partners. Because Kenny had a relationship with Apple, they came in and wanted to do the big TV spot. We’re sitting there going, “Wow! We’ve never historically had the kind of dollars to create that kind of spot, much less buy the time with network television. That’s huge. All they’re asking in return is exclusivity.” Spotify and Amazon hadn’t pivoted yet, and Pandora hadn’t really changed either. We’re thinking, “OK, we’re going to get such a good look from these guys,” so we decided to do the exclusive. But by the time we dropped the album, things were changing. The other streaming services put us in the penalty box—in the fourth quarter! With Kenny Chesney! We paid a price for that, and we learned a big lesson.

It’s about the money, and you need it to make it happen. Does that make 360 deals easier to swallow?
That depends, but by and large, it’s really about us participating to a certain degree on touring and on merchandise, if we bring in sponsorship. The declining revenues create greater pressure on overhead and promotion costs—which is why from day one, I’d been thinking if I get lucky and work hard, maybe I can get John Zarling to come over here—and he’ll help us with that. That was a vision he was able to build while he was at Big Machine. That’s another area that we’re bringing in, and a lot of times it’s not necessarily a paycheck, but we’re going to our artists and saying, “We’re going to be able to bring to the Brad Paisley campaign marketing dollars we wouldn’t normally have, because we’re aligning with a partner.” Part of this change is how we continue to bring our manager partners along and let them know about this new paradigm. I want to be really honest with them about the pressures we face, and why it’s important that we go find dollars from somewhere else to drive their brand.

Let’s talk about branding. Is it an extension of artist development? Do strategic alliances serve to define the artist?
All of the above. “Brand” is an overused word, but it’s still very relevant. You build an artist brand by having unique and compelling songs that are hits, over and over again. That’s why Kenny Chesney sells out stadiums. Artist development is how you take all that and tell the story. Branding is the story.

In the past, artist development was linear; now it’s three-dimensional. If there are more opportunities, how are they applying to your artists?
Luke Combs is out there doing the road work and social media, beating it up. Old Dominion, same thing, and working with SiriusXM. Maren was already doing shows and had made a name as a writer, with music on Spotify. Kane was doing shows on social media. Signing someone who’s never been in the marketplace before is the classic approach, and that almost doesn’t exist anymore, which is wild.

The interesting thing about the dimensionality of artist development is it’s happening months, if not years, before we come into play. We’re here to help you to turbocharge it. What I always say is I want to know the artist’s vision; our job is to articulate that vision to a broader audience.

How important is having those big acts?
Incredible cachet, for starters. You could say Sony Music Nashville is Waylon, it’s Willie, Dolly, Keith Whitley. It’s The Judds, Brooks & Dunn, Tammy Wynette and Alan Jackson. Kenny Chesney and Miranda Lambert represent the current perception—and reality. From a revenue standpoint, these artists are huge parts of what drives our revenues and marketshare. I was out as the sales person on both of those projects, because they’re that important to me.

Obviously, having someone on a Miranda or a Kenny tour has impact.
Huge. There’s nothing more fun than to have an artist on a Kenny Chesney show. Radio and accounts are there, walking out into a stadium, and it’s a whole Sony Nashville bill. Nothing makes me prouder. You can’t even begin to put a value on what Kenny has meant to Old Dominion; they typically wouldn’t get the chance to be on that kind of stage.

You’ve just done a massive deal with Tim and Faith. Knowing their managers, they didn’t sign for peanuts. You have to believe you’re going to monetize that, which again speaks to the power of the big act.
I’ve known Faith forever. I’m just starting to get to know Tim, but I’m a huge fan. Like Kenny, he’s been around for a long time and continues to reinvent himself. But the two of them have always been signed to different labels, so they were never really able to do an album around their touring together. That was exciting and really appealing—what an incredible way to bring together two great artists. But it’s also a great piece of business—and another way to build what we’re trying to do from an infrastructure perspective. It’s a gamble; you put a lot of money in the middle of the table with the belief that because the artist and the managers have so much riding on it as well, we’re going to get the music we need to really drive this project.

What to you is a win on that project?
For me, there’s an external win and an internal win. The external win is a business win, the internal win is that we achieve the revenue goals that we set for ourselves based upon the cost of the deal. We achieve the return that we said we wanted to achieve based on the deal we have to make. That’s the internal business deal.

What’s that number?
I can’t tell you. I would get myself in a lot of trouble [laughs]. Let me put it in a different metric for you. I would say that on the Tim and Faith project, we have to get somewhere in the neighborhood of a 600-650,000 consumption level for us to be going, “This was a good deal for us.” But it’s also Tim & Faith. I want them, and everyone involved with them, to be happy they made this move. I want to do good work. I want people to see we can deliver for them at a very high level, like we’ve done with Miranda, like we’re doing with our new artists. That’s the external thing, the win. We do that, and we have a Tim record, and we’re talking about what a Faith record looks like.

How much great music, as with the Miranda record, comes from this being Sony Nashville, where music is supported?
That’s everything. What you just said should be our mission statement. It’s the moment where Miranda calls the day before we go into the studio to hear her new music, and she goes, “I’ve been putting this call off.” I’m thinking, “Uh-oh, what does that mean?” She says, “You’re going to hear 24 songs tomorrow.” I’m sitting there thinking that’s incredible. But then you’ve got to put on your marketing/promotion/executive hats and figure out how you do it.

We could’ve given her every reason why we shouldn’t do it: The marketplace is telling us you can’t; you’re going to have to price it higher than everybody else; you’re going to stick out like a sore thumb; it’s too much music in this consumption/streaming world; it’s going to be hard for people to digest this. There were all sorts of reasons for us to say this doesn’t make sense. That was a discussion we had the next day. But there was never a doubt in my mind after hearing it—and hearing her talk about it. We had to do it—it was the right thing to do. You have to have a reason to make a double record, and Miranda’s The Weight of These Wings was a concept album, a story, a diary and a book with 24 chapters. It would’ve been diminished without any one of those chapters.

Then you have artists like Carrie Underwood, who… You’re smiling.
That was a big deal. It hurts… You look at those things and think, “Here’s an artist who’s been here all these years, and she left her catalog?!” I say that with a huge exclamation point and question mark. She came off American Idol, so she never looked at other labels. You go through the boxes you want to check for a superstar artist—airplay, sales, an incredible tour—and the team did everything they should’ve done, what would be expected. So I feel like I’m the one who let everyone down. I couldn’t convince her to stay. The team did everything they were supposed to, but in my role, I didn’t close it. I feel bad for the team as much as anything.

Do you think that fresh blood is needed in these creative relationships?
Absolutely. I called Joe Galante about this. In my early days at RCA, Joe was the VP of Marketing and Promotion, the guy making it happen. I was working for him. Dolly had been there from day one, and she decided to leave. Joe worshipped Dolly; they were really, really close.

When the news hit, I walked into his office and it was dark. I couldn’t see him. He’s sitting on his couch, and I asked if he was OK. He said, “No.” After I asked, he invited me to come in and sit down, I told him I was sorry about Dolly. I remember him saying, “Sometimes an artist just needs a new lover.” And I thought “Wow—I get that.”

Doug Morris had a big hand in bringing you over here.
He was the guy who gave me the job.

And Rob Stringer is now…
My boss; he’s the new CEO.

How does that change things?
Rob comes in right out of ColumbiaAdele, Beyoncé, The Chainsmokers and David Bowie. Rob is this incredibly powerful, energetic operator, meaning he’s coming out of doing what I do every day; we’re operators. We’re moving the operations right along: signing acts, breaking artists, setting them up, having the day-to-day dialogue with artists and managers about what it takes to get things done. What I know Rob’s going to bring to this is on a real operational level. I’m excited about working with and learning from him.

How important are boots on the ground? With big radio, the Internet, there’s more one-stop shopping than ever.
That’s another part of what makes what we’re doing tougher from a manpower and overhead perspective. We had more people in the past, but there are more outlets that we need to be touching. I was talking to Dungan about this—about what keeps us up at night. We agreed it’s the same thing: What I struggle with is that I’ve got to get streaming to scale. Our team is stretched thinner now and wear more hats now than they’ve ever worn. Even though I may be the CEO, I’m still visiting the radio conglomerates and chains and getting accounts while doing whatever it takes to make sure that I’m a part of the charge. I’m not that general back there in the tent calling strategy and bomb strikes; I’m out there on my horse with my sword unsheathed, leading the charge. Because if you don’t, it’s not going to happen.

How big is physical?
We’re close to 50-50 out of the box on physical and digital versus streaming. We’re still selling records in Wal-Mart and Best Buy, and digital is a big part of it with iTunes downloading; that’s something our people do. But more and more, the streaming services are becoming intuitive. For us, that physical part is still big, so we can’t discount it. Just when we were writing that epitaph, you see certain segments that still want that physical thing. But there’s no doubt streaming is going to win.

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