Country Radio Seminar: Do Dollars for Record Promotions Make Sense?

Above: From Left: Scott Mahalick of Portland, Oregon’s KUPL; Chris Stacey, Senior Vice President of Promotion at Warner Music Nashville; Nate Deaton of San Jose’s KRTY; Damon Moberly, Vice President of Promotion at Mercury Nashville; and John Shomby from WGH-AM in Virginia Beach.


If a record company spends $75,000 to bring an A-level artist to a city to perform a full-band show for a radio station event, is there a way for that label to recoup that cost? “It's not about money,” some will say, “it's about value."

Label executives made a plea to programmers to come up with new, creative ways for artist performances to make more financial sense at a panel discussion Friday at the Country Radio Seminar in Nashville. As a course of business, radio stations nation-wide regularly request that artists come to perform at a wide-range of station events, and labels are feeling the pinch.

“The record industry has been in big trouble for the last decade,” said Chris Stacey, Senior Vice President of Promotion at Warner Music Nashville. “We need to educate radio to learn what goes into the cost of what we do,” he added. “When you make the ‘ask,’ think about what your radio station can bring to add value.”

With major country stars, station promotion ideas included doing something different (and cheaper) with them, like acoustic “guitar pulls” where listeners get a new experience and artists enjoy the change.

“WKXC in Augusta puts on a great guitar-pull event; they bring in a charity to benefit, and provide first-class sound and lights,” said Damon Moberly, Vice President of Promotion at Mercury Nashville.

KUPL in Portland, Oregon, has grabbed star artists for non-performance events when artists are performing locally anyway later that night - like a recent “Bike ride with Lady A” where select listeners got to ride bikes with the band members. It didn’t cost anything or burn a tour date.

Star artists aside, the economics of breaking a new, or “baby” act can easily hit a quarter million dollars. Even just travel and expenses add-up for simple station visits with free acoustic performances, often in station conference rooms, before the artist has had a hit song.

These days, many country stations invite listeners to take part in these new-artist conference-room performances. “And you may not fill the room if they haven’t heard the song,” said Moberly.

Programmers who considered “value driven” record label partnerships include panelists Scott Mahalick from Portland, Oregon’s KUPL, John Shomby from WGH-AM in Virginia Beach, and Nate Deaton from San Jose’s KRTY. All three endorsed bringing in listeners to participate in these “baby act” performances, and selling the events with newbies by highlighting the big-name artists who came before them.

“Listener’s want to see live music,” said WGH’s Shomby. Sell it to them as “This could be the next big thing.” WGH has a partnership with a local club called the “Eagle’s Nest,” where labels know they can bring artists to perform with top-notch sound, lights, food, and sometimes a station-provided hotel room. Performances are always acoustic so there are no full-band costs.

KUPL in Portland has a different model to strengthen its partnership with labels and artists, with its formally-sponsored “Bing Lounge” performance space. Think “TRL meets MTV” said Mahalick, “it’s a unique experience for artist showcases.” By providing the “Bing Lounge space, artists get everything from a “sexy” green room to easy parking space for their tour buses. Listeners can walk away from the meet & greet with their artist-photo already delivered to their phone, email, or Facebook page. “We sell this to listeners by pointing out previous Bing Lounge successes, artists like Luke Bryan, Kip Moore, Justin Moore,” said Mahalick. “We tell them, come see what’s next.”

At KRTY, the station’s Rodeo Club bar puts on 35 lives shows a year, and has a unique system of putting new country artists up in front of other artists already booked into the club as acoustic, opening acts. “We’ve had some interesting things happen,” said Deaton, like Sugarland opening for David Ball, and Lady A opening for Keith Anderson, when these now huge acts were new. The Rodeo Club’s economic model is to charge admission, with revenue split between the headliner and the station.

“When we route an artist through San Jose, we make sure we’re going to put an artist in front of one of Nate’s shows,” said Stacey. “He’s created a business model that works and maximized the promotion for our artist, who then builds a fan base with that performance.” Mercury’s Moberly noted that if stations would make new artists feel welcome and special, they’d want to come back, which is key when and if that artist make the big-time. “When Sugarland was on their promo tour,” he says, “we have a picture of them performing in a station conference room with someone using the copy machine in the background.”

The panelists laughed, agreeing that dismissing an artist performance like that, no matter how unknown the person is, doesn’t help strengthen any relationship between radio and records.