Most people spend their birthdays having a party, playing 18 holes, surfing, taking in a game. Sony Music Nashville Chairman Randy Goodman spent his birthday in a cabin an hour outside of Nashville, engaged in quiet contemplation. For the man whose label has broken the supernova trifecta of Kane Brown, Luke Combs and Maren Morris, as well as taking ACM and CMA Vocal Group of the Year Old Dominion and neoclassicist Chris Young to the next level and maintaining altitude for groundbreaker Miranda Lambert, there was plenty to celebrate.

Beyond harnessing the power of the commercial shift with Brown, Combs and Morris, Goodman’s company continues to groom new acts—LANCO, Tenille Townes, Rachel Wammack—and carve out heritage space for Brad Paisley.

The Kentucky-born onetime drummer, entered the biz when he was hired by Joe Galante as a product manager, went to New York to help run RCA with his mentor, then returned to start Lyric Street, home to pop/country behemoth Rascal Flatts. At SMN, Goodman remains intrigued by new modalities of exposing music, at the same time never losing sight of the reality of an older-skewing genre primarily composed of late adopters.

You’re having a good couple of years.
We’ve certainly raised our expectations, and as a team, our confidence level. We showed we know how to do this. We challenged ourselves to be in there in new ways, to be disruptive. And it worked. We just had a great sophomore launch on Kane and Maren, while Luke continues to defy everyone’s imagination. We’re still on his first album, with five #1s—and it’s still growing.

What changed?
We’re leaning into what the future is. It’s a contradiction, but it’s about really looking forward. We also cleared out a lot of acts, so when Maren came along, we were able to hyper-focus and get the job done. People saw what we were doing, and that gave us momentum. People are knocking on our door now; they recognize the momentum and the greater confidence as more than just momentum.

Has your mandate changed?
We’re a major label; we need to produce a meaningful number of successful acts to maintain marketshare. We don’t want to cannibalize our success, so we still have to challenge ourselves to think in new ways, to continue to be disruptive. After four years together as a team, it’s been so incredibly intense and urgent, along with the disruption of the moment and the marketplace—and my greatest fear is how do we keep from getting complacent? How do we maintain that level of passion and urgency? For me, the two words we really have to focus on are “unique” and “compelling.”

Can you explain?
Everything is so disrupted on a daily level. The disintermediation has taken the leverage of how we “did it” out of the way, so we have to figure out how to make things that matter to the consumers. People are hungry for depth and meaning. Our analytics say people want more of that, and our format has a way of touching you, telling stories. We are at the vortex of art and commerce, so it’s a matter of what to do when you have content that also has great meaning—and make sure it translates. We just have to figure it out. It’s maybe more important to be able to say, “I don’t know,” to ask more questions. And to have fun with it.

How does social media play into all this for you?
As a format, we’re still behind on streaming [compared to other genres]. Social media does very well when it comes to hype, or a sense of how this is so right now. We ask ourselves, “What’s the long tail of this? Is it a trend or just trendy?” The question, obviously, is, will it plant deep roots? We have to look at how we sign and develop acts in new ways. Maybe some deals are short-term to help accelerate a moment that can also allow us to sign a Ryan Hurd for the long-term classic build.

It’s also quickened the game, even circumventing radio in some cases. Do you think it’s truly changed the topography of how careers happen?
[Laughs] Would bro country have happened at that level now? Maybe not. Things are wide open, which is why you see Kane with his social media, Luke with touring and his take on music, Maren with her messaging and ability to transcend—all creating meaningful careers beyond the way we “traditionally” do it.

With budgets for research shrinking, is radio looking to streaming? How is it changing the reality at radio?
In a lot of ways. For superstars, it’s another conundrum. Radio’s getting inundated with new, new, new, and the superstars who’ve had almost a reserved parking space are seeing that change. We’ve been training our radio partners to look at consumption, use those analytics. Now it’s the new early research, because you can see in a turbo-second if a single is working.

When records are taking 40-plus weeks to get critical-mass airplay, that’s a lot of manpower, hours, resources. I don’t want to spend 40 weeks because my pride said this song was a hit. If I see a better way, we should use it. With Luke Combs, conventional wisdom said the album was probably played out. But we looked at the numbers on “Beautiful Crazy” and we thought, “Well, let’s see.” It’s his fifth #1, and the album is still at the top of the charts.

Any other insights?
Yes, we realize our younger fans really are into everything. Luke’s people are streaming Drake. We see a lot of Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish on Maren’s fans’ playlists. Our artists are getting a better range, reaching more and different people.

What about the classic old-school fans?
We have a gap in our audience. That person who drives a truck that’s not set up to stream, the soccer mom who maybe doesn’t want to have learn one more thing, subscribe to something else. So, for us, the breakdown is #1 streaming, #2 physical, #3 digital. That’s a big part of our country consumer and the age breadth of our consumers. It’s challenging, because the accessibility to the product they want is very narrow. Target has scaled back the space they give to music; record stores are now more about vinyl. So how do you kick people out of the purchase pot? Heck, how do you tell people who’ve supported this genre, who still like music, “We don’t care about you anymore”?

What about those artists like Brad Paisley?
I have those talks all the time. You have to deal on an emotional level, then you have to worry about how to create a model that supports them. I’m not going to be in denial when they ask, “Am I relevant anymore?” I say, “You are, but we need to really look at what we’re doing.”

Do you worry the streaming is going to undermine your business?
When Joe [Galante] and I were in New York, we had these conversations with Dave Matthews and [manager] Coran [Capshaw] and said, “Now that you’re on a major label, maybe you shouldn’t be encouraging fans to tape the shows.” But it never disrupted the fan support. Those tapes were not just the social media of the day, it was the entry point to the community. I think this is the same.

With this new model, is breaking women going to get easier?
There has to be a broader dialogue, for certain. My first signing post-Tomatogate was Maren Morris, and she didn’t have a problem. Was it the song? Was it her? And iHeart just made Tenille Townes their On the Verge artist. Cam had a great deal of success with “Burning House.” Now we have Rachel Wammack coming into the marketplace, so we haven’t shied away from signing women—and we’re committed to staying with them as they build.

Radio has the metrics. Is it because programmers don’t feel what the women are singing about? Because coming from rock, there just weren’t a lot of women. Because of the way research is done? I don’t know. But what we’re doing on a case-by-case basis is fighting the best fight we can. I know what I’m tasked to do—bring compelling artists to market—and I believe signing women is a very significant part of it. So we are going to be indefatigable in our pursuit of this.

Because it’s so huge, and not going away, what are your thoughts on “Old Town Road”?
My counterpart in New York, Ron Perry, signed Lil Nas X and is having great success. Will it have critical mass at Country radio? Hard to know. Is it massive? Absolutely. If we’d signed it, that kind of streaming surge, without heavy lifting at Country radio, would give us the cover to reinvest in other ways. But would it have changed anything within country as we know it? I’m not sure.

Miranda is back in the studio.
She’s coming from a double album that was her diary; it was intense and didn’t have obvious radio songs, but it made a massive impact. I have no doubt she can come back with five consecutive #1s and go through the roof. I think she can show us why she’s such a dominant female in this format. She’s always said things that matter, that are important. It’s why she’s struggled a bit at radio, but she’s a real hard-ticket-selling headliner, and she’s still so young. I think she’s not close to peaking.

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