10 Questions with ... Jeff Walker
February 16, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
Born and raised in Australia, Walker graduated with a degree in Economics from the University of Sydney and quickly earned his Chartered Accountants certification, the Australian equivalent of a Certified Public Accountant. After moving to Nashville to pursue a career in finance with Price Waterhouse, the lure of American Country music proved too strong, and Walker took a position with Con Brio Records and Publishing.
In April of 1980, Walker took his experience and a leap of faith and formed The Aristo Media Group. He integrated the word "aristocrat" into the company's name to communicate his vision of a company that prided itself on upholding the highest standards of excellence.
Walker made his next major expansion in 1991, founding Marco Promotions. The company name is a reference to the Italian radio inventor, Guglielmo Marconi. Not surprisingly, this new branch was created specifically for radio promotion operations. Since its launch, Marco Promotions has played a significant role in garnering national and regional hit records for artists like Garth Brooks, Taylor Swift, Gretchen Wilson, The Dixie Chicks and Trisha Yearwood.
Walker's contributions to the community in general have spanned several decades. He continues to serve on numerous boards, including those of the Country Music Association, Country Radio Broadcasters, among others. His international involvement has led to voluntary board positions for the Canadian Country Music Association and the Contemporary Country Music Coalition in Australia. In addition, Walker served as Executive Producer and Talent Coordinator for the CMA Music Festival's Daytime Stages from 2003-2008.
1. Jeff thanks for taking time for All Access 10 Questions! You've been a member of the Country Radio Seminar (CRS) Board for 34 years. That's incredible! How did your involvement begin?
I attended my first CRS in 1977 at the Airport Hilton when I was working with Con Brio Records. Biff Collie, one of the CRB/CRS founders the head of Con Brio Records promotion team and he encouraged me to attend. In January 1980 he enlisted me to become a Board member with the help of Charlie Monk. Charlie encouraged me to run for his position of Treasurer as he didn't mind giving his time but they did not want to end up doing time!! My time on the board has been among the most fun, and rewarding experiences of my career.
2. During your 34 years with CRS, you've attended the event through three of the format's most significant movements: Urban Cowboy, the 90's, or "Garth" era and our current explosion. How have each of these eras impacted CRS, in your opinion?
Like the country music industry CRB/CRS CRS has had its share of up and downs over the past three-plus decades - The Urban Cowboy era really took us into the mainstream and introduced a whole new audience to Country music. The 90s really saw change with the huge boom of the early decade, the advent of Soundscan, and the significant impact of those metrics on how Nashville was perceived in the music industry. Later, the telecommunications act of 1996 introduced deregulation of broadcasting in a big way, and changed the nature of how we interact as an industry. Today the challenge is the broadening of the format musically and the increased consolidation of radio.
CRS has always managed to adapt to changes in the industry by identifying the relevant, and soon to be relevant issues and by recognizing and nurturing new talent. I am very bullish about both the organization and the event itself in the coming years.
3. Talking specifically about the annual CRS event each March (This year in February), tell us Mr. Treasurer, how has CRS has been able to dramatically improve the look, the agenda and the entertainment value of Seminar while at the same time, actually decreasing registration fees? That seems nothing short of amazing.
Industry support of the event is so important and we have the support of many sponsors who see the value of the event. Also while the composition of both radio and record side of the business has changed. The number of people wanting to be involved has grown. Through initiatives like the special rate for currently unemployed programmers, CRS is able to bring opportunities to folks who have been displaced, and are looking for their next job. It is the best networking opportunity for the people in the country music industry and that is why it continues to grow.
4. Another noticeable evolution for CRS is the board structure. It's always been an impressive collection of industry professionals, but the organization seemed to have increased the 'pay grade" of volunteer board members, so to speak.
As the event as grown, we have enjoyed increased participation from the top executives, thinkers and innovators in the industry. After 4 decades of CRS, the seminar is ingrained in the fabric of today's industry leaders, many of whom started attending early in their careers. What is so good is that every year CRS seem to replace 3 or 4 board members with new members who have a fresh prospective. As the longest tenured Board member I have seen many great industry executives make very valuable contributions to the board.
5. And separate from the board is the agenda committee for CRS. How do they continually come up with fresh ideas for the event curriculum?
As the radio and records industries are constantly changing it is important to populate the Agenda Committee with people who can identify with the key issues of the industry and who can provide input and their expertise on where the industry is going. The selection of the participants is very well thought out. The agenda itself is drawn from a combination of suggestions collected from prior attendees, and discussions among the board and agenda chair about what topics are most urgently in need of addressing. The agenda committee then determines the specific ways in which the topics are explored. They contribute so much energy and creativity to make the agenda meaningful every year.
6. CRS was out in front of the transition to PPM measurement and in recent years has devoted entire tracts of seminar to the digital aspect of radio. What is the next, emerging issue radio faces and what can CRS provide attendees that will help their business?
Radio will have to continually adapt to competition and lifestyle changes. The latter is having an impact on TSL and the competition is not only coming from within radio but from the new devices and delivery methods available to everyone. Also the syndicated vs. live and local issue is going to be interesting to watch. Finally, smaller market stations are going to have to embrace the social media tools available to them in a much greater capacity. In general they are not maximizing the potential engagement of their listeners online or on their websites and social media sites.
7. If you had to pick one or two panels that most excite you about CRS 2014, could you share a little preview with us?
That is a tough question narrowing it down to two; but I think that the two research panels - one by Edison and one by the CMA will be the most attended sessions There are also several panels focused on new technologies and maximizing digital opportunities - I think this is one of the best Agenda's in years.
8. Besides an always relevant and compelling agenda, CRS is famous for its "oh wow" musical moments. With terrestrial radio just one of many ways to expose music now, how have you convinced label partners to keep participating - and not only with new artists, but the superstars too?
Radio is still THE major conduit for breaking new artists - The seminar provides an infrastructure to introduce new music and new artists to radio. If these artists sought the same exposure on radio tours it would cost thousands and thousands of dollars. The unique relationship between artists, records, and radio that exists in country exemplified in the continued participation of artists who no longer "need the exposure". It's like a reunion with radio for the major acts, all of whom have benefitted greatly from this event earlier in their careers. This year's New Faces show is testimony to the quality of artists the format is producing.
9. OK, and now, putting you on the spot, Jeff: You have attended CRS for decades. Are there one or two of those "oh wow" musical moments that stand out for you?
As this year is the 25th anniversary of the class of 89, I would have to say the ASCAP 1989 luncheon where the industry was introduced to Garth Brooks & Alan Jackson. - What a luncheon treat - Have had many New Faces moments; but the two that stand out to me are Tim McGraw's "Don't Take The Girl" performance - I just knew the song was going to be a big hit and that Tim was going to be a superstar; and last year when Taylor Swift surprised Florida Georgia Line; it was really fun.
10. You're also a longtime CMA Board member and were recently honored with the Jo Walker-Meador (No relation) Award ... congrats, and tell us what the Jo Walker-Meador Award recognizes - and don't be modest!
I have always been a strong advocate of growing the format of country music around the world. The award recognizes the outstanding achievement in advocating and supporting the country music's marketing development in territories outside the US. It was especially an honor to receive the Award from Mrs. Walker-Meador herself. In future I would hope that more radio groups would expand their programming to overseas markets
1. Your 'day job' is serving as President/CEO of Aristo Media Group, which celebrates 34 years in April of 2014. Congrats again on that, and tell us what services Aristo provides for those who may not know.
I believe we are one of the longest running independent companies on MusicRow. The AristoMedia Group provides 5 services: Press & Publicity; Video Promotion, Duplication & Distribution; New Media/Digital Marketing and under the Marco Promotions umbrella secondary and tertiary radio promotion and dance club promotions. One of the challenges has been evolving with the changes in the industry. Staying on top of the technology curb has necessitated the on-going re-development of the job functions and changing/adding new services
2. All these years with CRS and you are rarely in publicity photos because you end up wrangling everyone else for them. So tell us: what is your dream photo-op? What artist or celeb?
That is a tough question - I occasionally jump into a photo. Every year I make sure I am in a photo making a muscle with the Muscular Dystrophy child ambassador - being able to set up photos with these kids and celebrities is a thrill itself. As for dream photo op I guess it would be with Paul McCartney. The Beatles were such an important part of my musical lifestyle growing up in Australia. While the Beatles are not known for their country music roots, Paul did record some music in Nashville in the 70s.
3. What's the difference between Australian and New Zealand? And how did a guy from down under end up being such a big-wig in Country anyway?
I went to Google and found out that there are a lot of differences; but in my mind New Zealand is Australia's little brother - Both are great in their own way and certainly have some of the most beautiful geographical locations in the world. Perhaps the biggest difference is that there are no dangerous animals in New Zealand. Nothing there can hurt you. Australia, however, is home to all 10 of the world's most poisonous snakes. As well as the very dangerous and lethal Funnel Web Spider, Blue Ringed Octopus, Box Jellyfish and even toxic caterpillars that will kill and eat you. So, there's that.
I really don't consider myself a "big wig" but thanks for the compliment. I do know that I've worked hard, love country music and love to give back to the industry which has been very good to me, my family and my company.