Sony Nashville has two hands on the steering wheel again: After a search that went on publicly for more than three months and privately for over a year, the ink is dry on a contract for Randy Goodman to take over as Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Sony Music Nashville. Deals have also been secured for Ken Robold and Steve Hodges, top execs that Goodman will bring in to help lead the label group towards a new era following the March exit of former chief Gary Overton.4
Speaking with Billboard, Goodman stresses “how amazingly fortunate I am to have this opportunity. It’s very, very personal to me, because I’m really and truly going home. And man, I don’t want to mess it up -- it’s too important, and it’s so iconic. I’m looking forward to getting in there and being a part of the team, because they’ve been through a lot of speculation, and that’s not easy.”
Goodman is best known for founding the Lyric Street label in 1997, leading it through its 13-year existence before it was acquired and shuttered by Disney. Most recently he spent a year in management, working with Clarence Spalding at Maverick, the management one-stop headed up by Guy Oseary and launched last year, to continue working with Rascal Flatts, the biggest act that Goodman brought to Lyric Street. But when Goodman talks of “going home,” he’s referring to his 16 years working with Overton’s predecessor Joe Galante at RCA and Bertlesmann in the ‘80s and ‘90s, before a merger with Sony.
Galante offered words of praise for his one-time protégé in The Tennessean about Goodman’s imminent appointment. “I texted him and said, ‘I don’t think you ever gave me that much praise in the 16 years I worked with you’,” says Goodman, “And Joe said something like, ‘Well, I don’t know that you deserved all that kind of praise in those 16 years!’ So it was funny, but I was blown away by his supportive words, since Sony Nashville is made in his image -- not trying to make him a deity."
Continuing, Goodman says there’s been an steady stream of support -- “Kenny Chesney has texted me, because I worked with him when he was getting started there in the ‘90s. Most of the managers I have had a long-term relationship have texted me. They’re already going, ‘Hey, we need to get together and talk about this single.’ I’m like, ‘Guys, let me get my deal done!’”
Talk of the ink still being wet isn’t hyperbole -- papers weren’t signed until this week, even after news of Goodman’s impending appointment was broken by Billboard this past Monday (July 6). “It happened really quickly,” Goodman says, noting that he got a call from Doug Morris’ right-hand woman, Julie Swidler, “at most three-and-a-half weeks ago.” He’d had an initial conversation with Sony when the hunt for a new CEO began in early 2014, but he wasn’t eager to jump ship right after signing up with Spalding at Maverick, and watched from the sidelines as Morris and company quickly set their sights on manager Jason Owen as a top candidate. The courting of Owen continued well into this year before negotiations reached an impasse. “Julie had been talking a lot to artists and managers and staff,” Goodman says, “and I guess my name kept being brought up. So when the time came to pivot,” Goodman re-emerged as an immediate go-to as “somebody that they thought might bring some calm and immediate focus to what was going on.”
Goodman was also seen as a natural for the job way back in 2010, when Galante left, but some unfortunate flukes of timing interfered. Galante tipped his hat with his one-time lieutenant about his plans to retire and asked Goodman where he stood with Lyric Street. But Goodman had just re-upped with Disney, which held Lyric Street’s purse strings. Then Disney decided to restructure its music holdings and shut down Lyric Street -- an announcement that was virtually simultaneous with word of Galante's retirement and Overton's elevation to the top spot. “Obviously they had to put that plan together months in advance, so I wasn’t available. So it’s this serendipitous cycle… five years later. It’s unbelievable.”
Goodman brings a lot of institutional memory to the gig -- and executive firepower as well. “Ken Robold is a dear friend, and I’ve never had the opportunity to work with him before,” he says. “Bringing him into the COO position will give me a comfort level that the operational thing is being attended to, and that he’ll be able to tell me where we are from a business plan and financial perspective.” Robold was a competitor to Goodman back in the day, having spent 22 years at Polygram/Universal before a recent run heading Zac Brown’s label. As for Goodman’s evp of promotion and artist development Steve Hodges, “if you look at all the acts that are still on Capitol/EMI that are huge superstars now, Steve played an incredible role in all of those as the head of promotion for Capitol.”
Goodman is careful not to just emphasize the new regime when existing Sony Nashville staffers have been working hard under challenging conditions through a protracted transition. “There are really good promotion people there who’ve done a tremendous job just this past week,” Goodman says, pointing to freshman artist Cam’s second single, “Burning House,” which generated the most country radio adds of the week, on the heels of Old Dominion getting similar most-added honors in May, and Kenny Chesney’s “Wild Child” hitting No. 1 in June.
His initial order of business? “I think the first thing is to walk in and say, ‘Hey, what you’ve been dealing with for a year is over now, and everybody needs to just take a breath.’ My very presence says change. Some people aren’t good with that; some people are very good with that. But I think the most important thing for me to do is come in and say, ‘It’s all good now -- let’s focus,’ and let everyone know that mine is a culture of robust dialogue. These next few weeks and months, I’ve got to be the best listener that I can be, at the artist and manager and staff and also broader industry levels. And then very quickly I’ve got to make some assessments. I haven’t had time to really get into the meeting thing, but I can tell you that my plate is already full for next week, and that’s a good thing, because we need to get started.”