The Music Business Association’s annual conference will remain in Nashville through 2021, Billboard has learned. This year’s edition of the Music Biz Conference will be held at the new JW Marriott downtown May 5-8.
Since its arrival event in Nashville in 2015, the networking and educational conference, which grew out of the former National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), has seen attendance grow each year, which helped make the decision to stay in Music City an easy one, says Music Biz president James Donio. He says after moving from Los Angeles, the numbers have grown from 1,300 in 2015 to 2,200 in 2018.
In addition to roughly 100 panels addressing all aspects of the music industry, this year’s event features keynote addresses from Apple Music’s Zane Lowe, RIAA Chairman and CEO Mitch Glazier and Def Jam Recordings CEO Paul Rosenberg.
Other highlights of the four-day conference will include the May 7 Music Biz Awards & Hall of Fame Dinner, honoring Presidential Award for Outstanding Executive Achievement recipient Sony Music Nashville chairman and CEO Randy Goodman, Breakthrough Artist Award winners Kane Brown and Bebe Rexha, and Harry Chapin Memorial Humanitarian Award honoree Darius Rucker.
Donio talked to Billboard about the decision to remain in Nashville for at least three more years.
Were there any cities being seriously considered for the next Music Biz Conference outside of Nashville?
We always have to look at what our alternatives are, because you may not get the exact dates and space you need. In some ways it’s like a puzzle, where you have to fit the right number of available rooms to the available amount of [conference] space and dates. There always has to be a backup plan.
Certainly New Orleans has been talked about as a possible location. We’ve held the conference there twice, in 1989 and 1992, so it’s been a long time since we’ve been there. New Orleans certainly has a lot of the same vibe and quality as Nashville, but when we really compare the two, there’s really no contest when you look at what we’ve achieved in terms of growth and enthusiasm in Nashville. We’d be hard pressed to really want to move away from what we’ve accomplished here in Nashville.
What did the city of Nashville offer in terms of incentives to stay?
Butch [Spyridon] and the rest of the folks in the [Nashville Convention & Visitors Corporation] have really partnered with us and made us feel welcome and at home. They’ve certainly given us a lot of incentive to stay and are big believers in the marriage between Music Biz and Music City and want to see it continue.
Even in our short time here, we’ve been through three mayors [former mayors Karl Dean and Megan Barry, and current mayor David Briley] and they’ve all appeared and spoken at our conference. It really underscores how…until we made that move in 2015 there really wasn’t another event that the folks in Nashville could have the opportunity to attend that touches on so many aspects of the business without having to take a trip and leave home. That’s a big incentive for us to stay in Nashville, but also an incentive for the city to keep us here for the hundreds of attendees that we’ve attracted from that community.
Is there an expectation that staying in Nashville will help the conference continue to see the growth it has had since its first event there?
There was significant growth in those first three years, clearly, in that attendance more than doubled [since moving from Los Angeles]. Continuing that rate of growth for any entity would be tough, but we’re forecasting 10 to 12 percent growth, for at least this year.
Our growth doesn’t just come from those living in Nashville, as the number of international attendees grow each year as well. Last year we had representation from 17 countries. This year we have a major program sponsor from Germany, which will present some programming focusing on the German music market. That’s in addition to major programs focusing on the markets in China, India and Latin America as well.
How does the globalization of the music industry play a key part in this year’s conference?
Physical [media] is still a significant part of the music business in those countries I mentioned, but the streaming business is now the overwhelmingly dominant discovery and distribution model globally, which will have a running theme throughout the conference. I think we’re the only conference that dedicates half a day to metadata; there is a branding summit, dedicated to the relationship between brands and music. I think we were one of the first, if not the first, conferences to offer a financial literacy summit. There’s something to be said for all of the programs dedicated to monetizing music and trying to answer the question of how someone gets money, but then it occurred to us to answer the question of what a small business or an artist should do once they get the money.