Nashville may be known as Music City, but it's also "music business city," and that is singularly true for the country genre. Sophisticated, ever-evolving and remarkably successful, the country music business will be explored from every angle at the third annual Billboard Country Music Summit, staged in association with the Country Music Assn. (CMA) and set for June 4-5 at Nashville's newly renovated Cannery Ballroom.
This year's event will offer insightful Q&A sessions with Willie Nelson, Dwight Yoakam and Rob Light, managing director of Creative Artists Agency (CAA) (see story, page 68).
Also offering the artist's perspective, Capitol Records Nashville artist Luke Bryan will take part in the "Artist Development Case Study" panel, an in-depth discussion with key players on a career that's seeing significant growth and great promise. Bryan's team, including manager Kerri Edwards at Red Light Management and agent Jay Williams of William Morris Endeavor, will break down the strategic moves that have taken Bryan to headlining status and what comes next.
International country artists will get a turn in the spotlight on June 4 as Chevy presents the CMA Global Artist party, hosted by Australian duo O'Shea at the Stage on Broadway. The event will feature Joe Robinson, High Valley, Gary Quinn, Vickie Evans, Bob Corbett, Lisa McHugh, Gene Watson, Morgan Evans, Jess Moskaluke, Adam Harvey, Emerson Drive and Craig Morrison.
Here are highlights of the rest of this year's agenda and panels as of press time. For the latest updates, go to billboardevents.com/country, and follow news from the summit on Billboard.biz and Twitter (hashtag #cms2012).
THE MANAGER ROUNDTABLE
Given the wide scope of the summit, it's only fitting that the event will begin by offering the perspective of country music managers with the Manager Roundtable, sponsored by Thrillcall. Publishing, recording, marketing, promotion, touring, digital, branding and artist development: Today's managers touch it all. Moderated by Country Weekly managing editor Ken Tucker, the round table will host some of the most innovative and successful managers in country music, who will discuss their strategies in an evocative session that'll set the tone for the panels that follow.
The managers taking part in the session represent some serious artistic and commercial fire power: ROAR partner Will Ward (Zac Brown Band), TKO Artist Management president T.K. Kimbrell (Toby Keith), Spalding Entertainment president Clarence Spalding (Jason Aldean, Rascal Flatts), Morris Management Group president Clint Higham (Kenny Chesney, Martina McBride) and Rothbaum & Associates president Mark Rothbaum (Willie Nelson).
THE VIEW FROM THE ROAD
In country music, success at retail and radio generally parallels success on the road, a connection not always seen in other genres. As is the case throughout the music industry, touring in country music is critical to an overall career, and country as a format has been successfully developing new headliners. Touring has become, for most artists, their most lucrative and consistent revenue, and the summit will address this critical sector from two angles: buyers and sellers.
"Buyers (And an Artist) Talk Business," introduced by Bridgetone Arena VP of booking David Kells, will be the first of two touring-related sessions. The panel will tap into the expertise of promoters and producers to examine what it takes to make a show or tour profitable. Moderated by Ray Waddell, Billboard executive director of content and programming for touring and live entertainment, the panel will include Brock Jones, VP of booking for Global Comcast; Live Nation Country Music president Brian O'Connell; Jason Kane, managing director of entertainment for RodeoHouston; Ali Harnell, Nashville-based VP for TMG/AEG Live; and veteran live country music executive Tony Conway, CEO of Conway Entertainment Group. The artist's view will come from singer/songwriter Shooter Jennings, who, as the son of the legendary Waylon Jennings, was pretty much raised on a tour bus and carries on his father's legacy as a powerful live performer.
The second session, focused on touring and sponsored by Global Spectrum, will offer the seller's perspective. Booking agents play a pivotal role in building an artist to headlining status and maximizing a touring strategy that ensures long-term box-office viability. Moderated by Ryman Auditorium GM Sally Williams, the session will feature agents Rob Beckham (William Morris Endeavor), Curt Motley (Paradigm Talent), Marc Dennis (CAA) and Lance Roberts (Bobby Roberts Co.); Buddy Lee Attractions president Kevin Neal; and New Frontier Touring president Paul Lohr.
THE GREEN STUFF
Increasingly, private equity is funding the development of country music careers, with investors often filling the role that record labels once did in providing the funding it takes to get an artist - or label - off the ground. "Follow the Money: Who Is Investing in Country Music and Where" will examine investment in the overall music business from fan-funded campaigns like Kickstarter to Wall Street capital investment firms putting millions of dollars into the music industry.
Moderated by Billboard senior editorial analyst Glenn Peoples, the panel will include Y Entertainment Group CEO Rick Stevens, Bigger Picture Group CEO David Robkin, Broken Bow Records president/CEO Benny Brown, FLO [thinkery] founder Mark Montgomery and artist Mike Farris.
PLAYING WITH THE BRAND
Consumer brands have been tapping into the popularity of country artists and events since before the Martha White Flour and Grand Ole Opry relationship of the 1940s, and as brands increasingly look to music artists and events to reach consumers, country is high on their radar.
During the panel titled "Corporate America: What Brands Like About Country Music," blue chip brands currently active in country music will discuss what it takes to tap into the corporate sponsorship market and what makes for a great partnership for the brand, the artist and fans.
CMA senior VP of marketing and communications Sheri Warnke will moderate the panel from the unique perspective of the CMA. Panelists, all with specific, current partnerships in and around country music, will include ConAgra VP of sponsorships Chris Sinta, Chevrolet national promotions manager Phillip Caruso, Shell Oil Products U.S. public relations and media planning manager Aimee Cronfel, Clorox director of entertainment marketing Drew McGowan and CMT senior VP of integrated sponsorships Anthony Barton.
COCKTAIL PARTY TALK
The sponsorships conversation will continue with the opening cocktail reception and round-table discussions that will conclude the summit's first day. Professionals from specific sectors of the country music business will take on pertinent issues in an intimate, interactive format. Topics will include sponsorships, touring, digital and social, legal and business management, recording, production and publishing.
THE ROYALTY SEARCH
New to the summit is a round-table discussion titled "Why Can't Your Money Find You?," sponsored by the Harry Fox Agency. The round table will discuss a topic of significant importance to anyone in the songwriting or publishing business: How do you make sure you're getting paid? Taking part will be HFA senior VP/chief investment officer Lou Trebino, VP of client services John Raso and client services senior adviser David Schneider.
ONE SONG'S PATH TO SUCCESS
The often-used phrase "it's all about the song" is never more true than in country music, and the opening session of the summit's second day will focus on a specific song and its path to the top of the charts with the "Makin' Tracks: The Journey of a Song" panel featuring Thompson Square.
When Thompson Square performed "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not" with a backing band that featured Vince Gill and Keith Urban at an April 10 fund-raiser for the Country Music Hall of Fame, it added another dimension to a song that changed a number of lives. Certified platinum by the RIAA, the title served as the breakthrough for the act, which is the Academy of Country Music's vocal duo of the year; the first No. 1 for Broken Bow's Stoney Creek imprint; and the first hit single for the NV production team, a four-man unit that includes three members of Jason Aldean's band.
Thompson Square and several key people associated with "Are You Gonna Kiss Me or Not" will explore the hurdles and triumphs in its path, including the duo's Keifer and Shawna Thompson; songwriters Jim Collins and David Lee Murphy; Broken Bow new-media specialist Lynette Garbonola; and NV's Tully Kennedy.
ALL AROUND THE WORLD
Acts ranging from Taylor Swift to Brad Paisley are laying the seeds for careers that expand well beyond the shores of North America with hopes of broadening their touring and record sales. At the same time, international artists that play country music are finding success in their own territories and attempting to make a mark in the United States. Key players in the international country music space will weigh in on the current environment on the global country scene.
Moderated by AristoMedia CEO Jeff Walker, the panel will include Ted Ellis, VP of Corus Entertainment and president of the Canadian Country Music Assn.; Roots Music Exporters president John Lomax III; Universal Music Group Nashville VP of marketing Tom Lord; Paul Zamek Enterprises/Global Consulting president Paul Zamek; ABC Records Australia A&R/label manager Tim Holland; and singer/songwriter/producer Victoria Shaw.
"We have once again assembled a superb cross-section of global industry professionals for this year's panel," Walker says. "These individuals are well-versed in country music and familiar with the issues and opportunities our genre faces on an international scale. With the increased ability to market and merchandise product around the world through platforms like iTunes, it is obvious that the globalization of country music is on a fast track forward."
MAKING 'FRIENDS' AND FANS
There's no doubt that social networks can be an effective tool in connecting with fans and selling tickets. But which artists use them effectively, and how, exactly? This is the topic of "Artists and Social Networking: How Effective Is It Really?," a panel that'll pull back the curtain on what actually works in social networking and offer surprising insight into what doesn't.
Moderating this "social reality check" will be BubbleUp Interactive senior VP of brand strategy Pinky Gonzales, and the sure-to-be hot topic will be batted around by Country Music Chat founder/host Jessica Northey, Warner Music Nashville VP of consumer and interactive marketing Jeremy Holley, Thrillcall co-founder Jonathan Leone, Sony Music Nashville VP of artist development, marketing and Web initiatives Heather McBee and RootMusic founder/CEO J Sider.
BLOCK AND TACKLE
The vital role of radio in country music will be addressed with vigor in the closing sessions of the summit during "On Air: The Radio Block," sponsored by Sony Music Nashville.
The panel titled "Check the Research and Ask the Consultant: The Method, the Madness, the Answers" begins the afternoon of programming, dedicated to country radio. The phrase "let me check the research and ask our consultant" strikes fear in the hearts of country music promotion people everywhere, or at least makes their hair stand up on a daily basis. Billboard has assembled an all-star team of respected country radio consultants and research professionals who will demystify the role of the consultant and the importance and misconceptions of music research.
The panel's moderators will be Republic Nashville president Jimmy Harnen and Gregg Swedberg, OM of Clear Channel's KEEY-FM Minneapolis. Consultant panelists will include Albright & O'Malley Consulting VP/consulting partner Becky Brenner, Hart Media/Bullseye Research owner/president John Hart, Joel Raab Associates owner/president Joel Raab, RCA promotion VP Keith Gale, Rusty Walker Programming Consultants president Rusty Walker and Charlie Cook, president of McVay/Cook & Associates and director of programming for West Virginia Radio.
"Billboard will assemble the most important heavyweights in the programming consultation and audience research fields for a fiery discussion about the essential, but often maligned, work that consultants do," says Billboard senior chart manager Wade Jessen, who programmed the session. "These are the players who are most likely to identify trends among country music's most active consumers and always have the unenviable task of communicating those trends back to the music industry. Together, Harnen and Swedberg will shine light on research and audience trending by questioning a panel of seasoned experts in the field."
Then, Clear Channel Media and Entertainment chairman/CEO John Hogan will sit down with Billboard editorial director Bill Werde for a candid discussion about radio's current and future role in the media conglomerate's portfolio, listening trends, artist initiatives and why and how the country format continues to play an essential role in Hogan's thriving company.
"Country music's primary marketing force is country radio," Jessen says. "Although that's not exactly a news flash, country radio's muscle in the media world is continually being challenged in the digital age."