Norbert Nix, Lesly Simon the Latest to Transition From Radio Promotion Exec to GM
For some record executives who are working up through the radio promotion team ranks, the ultimate goal is to someday help run a label. Many have succeeded. At Big Machine Label Group alone, top execs Scott Borchetta, Jimmy Harnen and Chris Stacey all came from the promotion world. Ditto for BBR Music Group executive vp Jon Loba, Reviver Entertainment Group executive vp/GM Gator Michaels and Universal Music Group Nashville chairman/CEO Mike Dungan. Before joining Country Radio Broadcasters as executive director, Bill Mayne worked his way up at Warner Music Nashville to become its senior vp/GM, and Shelia Shipley Biddy did the same at MCA/Decca.
The two most recent promotion execs to make the transition to GM are Triple Tigers Records’ Norbert Nix and Pearl Records’ Lesly Simon, who started their jobs in October and September, respectively. While both say there are parts of the gig they have had to learn on the fly, they agree that their experience on the promotion side well prepared them for their new responsibilities.
Prior to joining startup Triple Tigers — a joint venture among existing label Thirty Tigers, management firm Triple 8 and Sony Music Entertainment — Nix had been vp promotion at Columbia Nashville. Simon joined Garth Brooks’ Pearl Records following a longtime stint as Arista Nashville vp promotion. Both have since hired full promotion staffs for their labels.
Simon hit the ground running, with Pearl releasing three projects from Brooks in November, including new studio set Gunslinger and a No. 1-debuting holiday album. Nix and his team have been on a radio tour introducing their debut artist, singer-songwriter Russell Dickerson, and his debut single, “Yours,” from a previously released indie EP of the same name. They will go for adds in the first quarter of 2017.
Nix says he’ll eventually sign more acts, but for now he’s grateful to be able to “hyper focus” on Dickerson, which he says will help his team “create trust with radio that we’re going to be dedicated to that project.” Another advantage, he says, is that Dickerson is not “a brand-new guy. He’s up and running, doing a hundred dates a year,” and will be part of Thomas Rhett’s Home Team Tour in 2017. According to Nix, “Yours” has already racked up 30 million streams across all digital platforms, 22 million of them on Spotify alone. That, he says, helped build a story they can now take to country radio.
“I haven’t built a label from scratch [before,] so it’s definitely challenging trying to put all the systems in place,” says Nix, adding that the support from Sony and distribution arm RED has tremendously helped the Nashville team. “We’re building it every day, from staffing to insurance, worker’s comp; all the pieces of being a general manager. Putting all the pieces together is very exciting, [as is] moving forward with an artist we have complete faith in.”
Nix observes that among the key advantages he brings to the new role are the relationships he built with radio and the Music Row community at his former job. “I have friends in radio that are excited about this. They know that it’s a serious venture and that we’re here to win.”
Simon was drawn to the Pearl job because she “wanted to be a part of something that was independent and different.” As an indie label, she says, “We have the flexibility and freedom to work with our partners to share [Brooks’] music in the most creative ways imaginable.”
She became the label’s second hire, after Mandy McCormack, the senior vp radio promotion, marketing and artist strategy. While both women have a promotion background, Simon says, “Everyone has their own specific lane, so people aren’t stepping on each other’s toes. There are no politics internally, which is incredible.” She refers to herself and McCormack as “co-captains of this team.”
Continuing the football analogy to describe her job, Simon says, “What I try to do is make sure that nothing’s falling through the cracks and that I’m helping move the ball down the field. I just love being a part of the big picture of it all.”
Like Nix, Simon’s first job was to establish an infrastructure, in her case for a label that had existed as an imprint for years, but had never previously stood on its own with a full in-house staff. And with three major releases hitting the market in a two-week time period, she says, “We had a lot to do to expose the new music in a short amount of time,” including bringing a small number of key radio programmers and syndicated personalities to Texas for a remote broadcast with Brooks at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Simon also believes a promotion background provides a great base for the skills needed to manage a label. “The biggest thing that you learn in promotion is … you have to be able to work with individuals who all have different personalities and different needs to find that happy medium for everybody, the place with the radio partner and the artist and the record company where you really come together as partners. This [job] is just an extension of that.
“It makes so much sense to me that people that come from the promotion world move into other roles,” she continues, “because you have to have an understanding of sales, an understanding of social media and digital, an understanding of marketing — all of those are tools [you need] when you’re talking to a radio station … We’re really doing the same thing [as] a bigger, broader scenario when you’re talking about the label as a whole.
Simon thinks that promotion is one of the most exciting and unique parts of the business. “It really is a microcosm of the industry. The relationships built between promotion and radio people are some of the most important in the business. I have loved bringing that experience and those relationships to this team. It makes me a better executive.”
But like Nix, Simon is learning new skills as well. “It’s funny to see some questions come my way that I’ll have to pick up the phone and say, ‘OK, who’s the right person to talk to about that? Where do I find these codes, or who’s the right person for this?’ … I feel like I’m learning something every single day.” She adds, “Personally, I have never worked harder in my life, but I have never been more fulfilled.”
Simon’s position entails answering to a label owner (Brooks) who also happens to be her artist. But she appreciates that he’s a businessman who is “really thoughtful about the decisions that he makes,” as well as someone who “both inspires and leads his team.”
“I love being able to communicate with him directly about what we’re working on,” she says. “He understands the brand better than any of us. I mean, he’s been Garth forever.”