10 Questions with ... Shelia Shipley Biddy
September 23, 2012
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
With over thirty years in the entertainment field, Shelia Shipley Biddy has celebrated many firsts. She was one of the first women to enter the male dominated field of radio promotion. She was the first woman to sit at the helm of a major record label in Music City. Her experience includes radio promotion, marketing and sales, artist management, record label operations, music publishing, and artist development.
Biddy joined MCA/Nashville as Director Of Sales and Marketing becoming VP of Promotion. Under her leadership, the promotion department successfully attained over 135 number one singles.
When MCA reactivated Decca Records, Biddy was named the Senior Vice President and General Manager - the first for a woman in Nashville. Under Biddy's guidance and vision, Decca Records returned to prominence with a roster that developed multi-platinum artists including Gary Allan and Lee Ann Womack.
Biddy ran her own full-service artist management and consulting company, and oversaw the launch of two indie record labels before taking on the role of artist manager at Hallmark Direction Company.
Biddy is currently the Director of National Promotion for Flying Island Entertainment. In addition to her national leadership responsibilities, she continues to call reporting stations in the northeast and southeast regions.
She was presented with the CRB (Country Radio Broadcasters) President's Award in March 2009 recognizing her significant contribution to the marketing, production, growth and development of the Country Radio Seminar and the multiple services that Country Radio Broadcasters provides to the country radio and music communities. In 2012, she was inducted into the SOURCE Hall of Fame - an organization she co-founded in 1991. SOURCE is a nonprofit organization supporting women executives and professionals who work in all facets of the Nashville music industry.
1) So what brought a girl from Scottsville, KY (pop. 4,000) to the big city of Nashville?
I moved to Nashville so that my first husband could take a job at WSM Radio. It was a major dream of his to work in large market radio. I had no idea he had applied until he came home and broke the news to me. His first job was working with Hairl Hensley doing over nights on WSM and he met some awesome guests down through the years. Celebrities used to pop in when they were in town. When I got my first job at Monument Records (home to Roy Orbison, Kris Kristofferson, Larry Gatlin), I found my first home in Music City.
2) What radio station did you listen to growing up in KY.?
I listened to WLCK in Scottsville, KY and WCDS in Glasgow, KY. I guess that is why I have always understood the plight of small market radio and always treated those stations with respect when I later worked at a major label.
3) You were one of the first women to enter the male dominated field of radio promotion. What made you want to get into that part of the music industry?
I loved journalism. My high school dream was to write for a magazine and perhaps one day author a novel. I really wanted to be a TV Journalist. I was only 16 1/2 when I first married so I grew up in and around radio people. I felt comfortable in that world. When we moved to Nashville, I got my 3rd Class Radio License and tried to secure an on-air job at an Easy Listening Station. They didn't hire me because the station felt it a conflict that my then husband worked cross town on radio. When I started at RCA, I thought I would probably end up in publicity but there was a young woman with a college degree already in line for any PR openings. The next area of interest was radio. I figured it was like doing a PR pitch. Radio promotion requires passion - ability to develop relationships - and an understanding of the mechanics of radio. Since I had been around DJ's and programming people for 10 years that seemed to be the perfect segue into a great career. There were no successful female promo reps at the time in country music. Joe Galante gave me my first chance to call on radio and promote music for his label. That was my start and I have never looked back.
4) You were also the first woman to helm a major record label in Music City.
What did you enjoy the most during your tenure and what was the least enjoyable?
The MOST enjoyable was having the ability to create a new company from the ground up. I got to hire and train the staff, design the company mission statement, logo and sign great new talent. I was in the office by 8:30am and seldom left before 8pm and enjoyed every second of it. I felt like I was writing my own chapter in country music history. I will never forget the moment I heard the voices of Rhett Akins, Gary Allan, Lee Ann Womack, Danni Leigh, Chris Knight, or Shane Stockton for the first time. We had an incredible journey creating the Buddy Holly "notfadeaway" TV Special and tribute album. Those were the best five years of my career! The LEAST enjoyable was January 21, 1999 when I was called in and informed that the label was being closed and that MCA and Mercury were being merged into one label.
5) You've mentored many industry executives that currently sit at the helm of several Nashville entertainment companies. You seem to have a proclivity towards identifying talent. Tell us what you look for when seeing talent in artists?
There is SO much talent out there. It isn't enough to have a great voice or an attractive body. It is a combination of things. Every day, you can hear talent but it may not be unique enough to break through. I look for a voice that doesn't sound like what I am already hearing on the radio. During some of the highest ratings for country radio, every artist stood out uniquely on the radio. Think about these voices played back to back: Clint Black, Alan Jackson, Trisha Yearwood, Wynonna, Garth Brooks, Dixie Chicks, Reba McEntire, Vince Gill, Alabama, to name some. Today, many of the voices on the radio blend together and thankfully a few stand out like Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift, Gwen Sebastian or Toby Keith. To answer your question, I look for a unique quality in the voice, a passion and desire to sing whether they get signed or not, and someone who knows who they are musically. A label and manager use their experience to enhance what the artist does musically. They should not be there to change them and mold them into something else. I think today's social networking is allowing artists to develop their styles long before they arrive in Nashville and that's a good thing.
6) You are now working with Flying Island Entertainment's Gwen Sebastian who appeared on the hit show "The Voice" and who has a very cool single out "Met Him in a Motel Room." Can you tell us what it's like working at an independent label as opposed to a major?
It is challenging. I love the freedom and creativity that we have on the 'Island'. Everyone can offer input and creative ideas. We have a diverse background and each person on the team has something special to add to the mix. I often feel "we have to build it so they will come'. As an independent company, we have to work harder and prove ourselves every day. Missteps are not allowed. We have tools to compete and so do the majors. At the end of the day, I still believe that great music and great artists will rise to the top if you can maintain your staying power.
7) Being on radio tours can be very exhausting. What do you do to keep you and your artists' energy levels up?
When I worked for major labels, I had it made. Today, as a regional myself I have to plan the travel - confirm the visits - book the travel - navigate and drive the car to all of the appointments - then navigate to the hotel and get the artist checked in first - then get to the room at 10pm to check email and write up my daily reports, post Facebook photos, and try to sleep. I work hard so that the artist never has to worry about any of the details. All they have to worry about is being their best when we walk in that door for a show or a radio visit. And, caffeine helps too!
8) What is one of your favorite cities to visit on a radio tour and where is your "must go to" place in that city
I love to go to New York City. A little shopping and dinner in Little Italy and I'm in Heaven.
9) What else does Flying Island have coming up that you would like to share with us?
Every day at Flying Island is a new day. I never know when I will get a call about some great new music project that requires a savvy promotion team. Right now, we are gaining momentum with Gwen's great single, we are working new singles from Levi Riggs and Flynnville Train. This week, we ship a new single from Buffy Lawson (formerly of Bomshel). Beyond that, you never know and that is what keeps it exciting.
10) What advice would you give to a person who wanted a career in promotion?
Know what you are getting into. Radio Promotion is a job that never ends. It is detail and relationship oriented. It is competitive. You will work long hours, drive for hours on end in a rental car, have flights canceled on your way back home, stand on your feet backstage until you ache all over, seldom be thanked, seldom be recognized for your efforts, and you will love every minute of it. You will get your thank you when you stand at the back of the stage looking out - watching fans sing every word of a song you worked all the way to number one and you will see that artist get their very first standing ovation. That will be your thank you. Can you handle it?
1) What's the secret to great tasting, home grown tomatoes?
Great soil, a lot of sunshine, a little water and a Mama who talks to them
2) What do you think is the greatest, modern day invention?
Cell Phones with Email & Texting - Now I can work 24/7
3) If you didn't have a career in the music biz, what would have been your 2nd career choice?
Veterinarian or a Zoo Keeper- I missed my calling. I love animals.