'Follow the Money' Panel Says 'Fans Are the Investors' at Billboard Country Summit
'Follow the Money' Panel Says 'Fans Are the Investors' at Billboard Country Summit

money (L-R): Billboard senior analyst Glenn Peoples, Broken Bow Records Legal Counsel/CFO Paul Brown, artist Mike Farris, FLO {thinkery} founder Mark Montgomery, Bigger Picture Group CEO David Robkin, and Y Entertainment CEO Rick Stevens. (Photo: Michael Seto)

"Music is a connection from the ear to the heart," Mark Montgomery, founder of FLO {thinkery} said in one of the most retweeted comments from the "Follow the Money" panel this morning at Billboard's Country Music Summit.

Of course, it takes money to make that connection and panelists shared their expertise on not only the ways to fund ventures, but how to make sure it's the best case scenario for all involved. Rick Stevens, CEO of Y Entertainment Group, spoke of his company's initial interest in acquiring Warner Music Group and EMI. However, the focus shifted and Stevens says, "We felt we could build a better company by putting together something on our own... We came, we saw, and we headed in a different direction."

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Y Entertainment ramped up their involvement in live entertainment with the acquisition of Artist Group International (AGI) and Stevens says he views their future record company interests taking the shape of "an aggressive independent label... We're trying to create an integrated operation instead of disparate holdings."

Speaking from the perspective of an independent artist, Mike Farris discussed utilizing Kickstarter. And although he champions the indie route, he didn't have anything negative to says about his days with a major. "I had a rock band on Atlantic in the 90s. I never saw the label as the enemy," he says. "When we left, we owed the label a million dollars... They wrote that off. Thanks Hootie & the Blowfish and Jewel."

These days Farris goes straight to the fans. "They are the investors," says Farris, who raised $14,000 to fund his album. "It was extremely humbling to think that blue collar people put down their money just so I could have a chance to be heard."

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Farris says phase two starts tomorrow. "It doesn't end with the making of the record," he says, citing $10,000 as the goal of the new Kickstarter campaign. "You've got to market it... You've got to hire a big mouth we call a publicist."

farris Paul Brown, Mike Farris and Mark Montgomery laugh during the panel. (Photo: Michael Seto)

"It takes money to create a platform that allows the artist to get out," added Montgomery, but cautioned artists looking for investors to be wary. "Not all money is good money. Be careful about who you get in business with."

Montgomery said there are a lot of people with checkbooks who are dumbasses and he warned artists to be aware of who they were getting involved with and make sure prospective investors were properly vetted.

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Representing the label perspective on the panel, Broken Bow Records Legal Counsel/CFO Paul Brown discussed the label's successes. "Our core philosophy comes from the top, it's passion for music," Brown says, noting that it took seven years for the label to make money.

They had early success with Craig Morgan's hit single "Almost Home." Although people told them a ballad by an unknown artist that was over four minutes long would never be a hit, it was. "That was an important thing for us to learn early on -- If you go with your best song, that's your best chance."

Jason Aldean is the label's biggest success story yet, Brown proudly said, "We didn't break Jason Aldean. Jason Aldean broke Jason Aldean. We just gave him a chance to be heard."

monty Mike Farris and Mark Montgomery before the panel began. (Photo: Michael Seto)

Bigger Picture Group CEO David Robkin shared his company's approach. "Our model is we enter joint ventures with each artist," he says, noting they have a seven-act roster and four additional artists in development. "The artist is our business partner. We make decisions together."

When asked what made country music an attractive genre to invest in, Stevens cited the live component and publishing opportunities due to the strength of the songwriting community. "It's got legs," Stevens said of the country music business.