(In the days leading up to the Billboard Country Music Summit, taking place on June 6 and 7 in Nashville, Billboard will be shining some light on our esteemed panelists with our "Better Know a Panelist" Q&A series, starting off with Topspin Media's Ian Rogers.)
Topspin Media CEO Ian Rogers is on the front lines of providing artists opportunities to monetize their digital presence. As such, the country music industry will be tuned in at the Billboard Country Music Summit June 6-7, when Rogers takes part in a power-packed panel called " Songs in the Stream: Social Commerce and the Future of Online Retail," which will take a look at how country artists can take advantage of the opportunities in digital marketing and social networking. Also on the panel are Patrick Faucher of Nimbit; Mike Doernberg of ReverbNation; Brian Peterson of Bandbox; J Sider of RootMusic; and Marcus Whitney of Moontoast.
Billboard.biz: What is the last new music you heard that got you really excited?
Ian Rogers: I can't stop playing the new Brian Wright record, "House On Fire." I learned about it via an email from my mom (who has amazing taste), who said, "Glad to see Brian Wright is using Topspin!" I wrote back, "I don't know who that is, but I'll check it out." I did, and it's incredible. Like hearing Ryan Adams' "Gold" for the first time.
BB.biz: Name one of the most memorable live shows you've ever seen.
Rogers: The best in recent memory was John Grant at the Autry Museum. I'm a huge fan of John Grant, and hearing that voice in that setting was awe-inspiring in the way live experiences are meant to be.
BB.biz: At this moment in time what most worries you and concerns you about the country music business?
Rogers: What encourages me is easy: country music has always respected the fan, which means they are very well-situated for the fan-centric future. I have a slight worry about some aspects changing more slowly than you'd expect, but I'm not sure if that's worry or impatience! Overall, I think country music is in great shape relative to the rest of the industry. Media is moving from a "mass market" to a "mass of niches," and country music is a large and healthy niche.
BB.biz: Is the relationship and level of cooperation between the various entities you work with-promoters, labels, radio, sponsors, management, ticketing companies-better or worse than five years ago?
Rogers: I think there was a dip in cooperation in the last five years, but it's on the upswing again. Powers shifted, but everyone realizes no one can do it alone, and we are all looking for strong partners who are the best in the world at what they do.
BB.biz: What recent deal, yours or otherwise, impresses you most for its creativity and success?
Rogers: Microsoft's acquisition of Nokia -- wait, what? They acquired Skype? Oh, nevermind... Seriously, though, some of the best "deals" are ones that aren't deals at all, they're in the way we all integrate into the Web. I'll take widgets, Facebook apps, iPad/Phone apps, WordPress Plugins, etc., over deals every day.
BB.biz: What is the most hopeful/positive development you've seen for the music business recently?
Rogers: One I've noticed emerging this year is the ability for design companies to earn a livelihood building excellent artist sites for much less money. Companies like Oniracom and Eyes and Ears Entertainment are able to build great sites for less than $2,000, powered by tools like WordPress, Expression Engine, Stagebloc, and Topspin.
BB.biz: Does the country embrace digital music delivery and/or e-commerce in earnest, and if not what will it take to make that happen?
Rogers: Some certainly do, to great effect. Some of the very best e-commerce-enabled artist sites and fan clubs in the world exist in country music. The problem is that great store design and fulfillment has been out of reach for many. Tools like Topspin bring pro-grade tools and execution to everyone inexpensively. Many of the artists see the vast majority of their recorded music and merchandise revenue coming from the direct-to-consumer channel. This combination of great, inexpensive, easy-to-use tools with the news that there's "real money" here is what it's going to take to grow this channel in the coming years.