10 Questions with ... Jody Williams
August 17, 2014
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
As Vice President, Writer/Publisher Relations, Nashville, Jody Williams directs all writer/publisher relations activities in BMI's Nashville office. Williams joined BMI in May of 2006, after leading Jody Williams Music, a joint publishing venture with Sony Tree, where he successfully placed 125 songs with major label country artists. Williams began his career at BMI in the late 1970's, fresh out of college and en route to establishing himself as something of a Nashville wunderkind, holding creative positions for several major publishing firms. In 1987, he returned to BMI and rose to the position of Assistant Vice President, Writer/Publisher Relations. Later, Williams was lured into the publishing world again, this time as President of the Nashville division of MCA Music Publishing, which flourished under his leadership, emerging as one of Nashville's most awarded publishers. A Nashville native, Jody Williams attended the University of Denver and majored in advertising. He serves on the boards of the Country Music Association (CMA), Country Music Foundation (CMF), Musicians Corner, and the Nashville Music Council.
1. Hi Jody and thanks so much for taking time to answer 10 Questions! Your official title at BMI is VP/Writer and Publisher Relations. Many in Nashville see you hosting numerous #1 parties but clearly, your job is more complicated than that. Can you share a thumbnail of what your day-to-day responsibilities entail?
I oversee all of the activities of the Nashville Writer-Publisher Relations department. Our department is responsible for signing the most meaningful songwriters to BMI and providing them with administrative, creative, and industry networking assistance. And we also take a lot of pride in exposing them to new audiences through our many showcase events.
2. You're a Nashville native, so the music biz was right in front of you growing up. What inspired you to become a part of it?
My next door neighbor in grade school, the very talented Billy Crain, provided that initial inspiration. I'm a musician and always wanted a life in music. But once I realized that my particular gifts were best utilized in support of other creative people my career began to take shape.
3. I also noticed that you started with BMI out of college, left, came back, left again and then - returned for good in 2006. The company obviously holds a special place for you, correct?
For me BMI is always a perfect fit because we provide the broadest opportunity to serve songwriters I could ever imagine. We are a major positive force in this music community and in the city. We employ over 550 people in Nashville and provide more income to more songwriters than any other business. We view our role as a huge responsibility to the people we serve...songwriters, licensees, and our music community. And another thing: I married the receptionist 35 years ago and we are still going strong. That is special.
4. 2014 marks the 75th anniversary of BMI; how will you celebrate this incredible milestone?
75 years ago we threw our arms around every genre of music and influenced American culture like no other music industry entity. But the simple truth is this. BMI hopes to celebrate our 75th in the form of a win for our writers and publishers as it pertains to their income from digital sources.
5. The BMI website defines the company's role as one that "Supports its songwriters, composers and publishers by taking care of an important aspect of their careers - getting paid." How much more challenging is that role now, in a rapidly evolving world of digital streams, smartphone apps and so many other sources for music?
We operate under a decades old consent decree with the US Dept. of Justice that has not kept up with the demands of the modern, digital rights marketplace. We are working with the DOJ by providing them with meaningful data that can illuminate the need to meet the needs of this dynamic landscape and convince them to amend the consent decree. Because streaming music is the preferred method of consuming recorded product we see issue this as paramount. We have a new President and CEO, Mike O 'Neill, who is a dynamic leader, and properly focused on this issue and what BMI will become in the future.
6. What is the best piece of advice you would pass along to a songwriter just getting started in the business?
Be absolutely original. Be influenced by the music you hear without regurgitating the last thing you heard on the radio. Remember: the most respected songwriters in history were, and are, one of a kind. The only place you can get their kind of song is from them. When you do that, a franchise is born, and a long career is launched.
7. Speaking of songwriters, BMI co-founded the Key West Songwriters Festival, which I understand is approaching its 20th year. Be it radio, labels or other industry related folks, this event always has a huge buzz surrounding it. Why is it so unique and what can songwriters - and attendees - gain from it?
We invited over 150 professional songwriters to come to Key West, perform, and support each other, and have a great time. Relationships are started and new songs are written because this setting is conducive to that. Now major label artists showcase there and new artists are discovered there. There is no end to the success stories coming out of Key West. This was our 19th annual festival in Key West.
8. There are so many events BMI is involved with each year, but the crown jewel would appear to be the BMI Country Awards each November. What does it mean for songwriters to be honored there?
For our award winning songwriters of the 50 most performed songs on country radio it is that moment in time where they can enjoy the fact that all their hard work and dedication has paid off. Their dream became a reality. And we bestow the honor of BMI Icon to a legendary songwriter for their career long contribution. Staging these nights and sharing these moments with our songwriters and publishers is an honor. It's a classy event for these very special people.
9. We know the ABC-TV show, "Nashville" is fictional, but they do seem to portray the vital role of songwriters and songs pretty well. What are they getting right in this portrayal and what can they improve upon?
Of course the show takes some "dramatic license" to make things interesting, and they do. But for the most part, they are getting the songwriter part right. And more importantly the show is utilizing the great songs that are written here that don't necessarily make it to country radio. Executive producer Steve Buchanan makes sure they portray the songwriting community accurately, and he has done great job.
10. Many people who use All Access are in radio and they're mostly detached from the publishing world. What are a couple of things they should know about your business that could be helpful to theirs?
The one thing that is vital to remember is that many successful professional songwriters spend 5-10 years making $25,000 per year or less from their songwriting before their first real taste of success. They could easily find another line of work to make more money. But they don't, because they are called to write. These are the people who created your favorite song. They enhance our culture and add to everyone's quality of life.
1. Is it possible to pin you down and ask what your favorite song of 2014 is - so far?
It's a cut on Eric Church's current album called "That's Damn Rock & Roll".
2. Do you play any instruments and are you any good at them?
I'm a guitar nut and hope to play half as good as either one of my sons one day.
3. Have you ever tried to write a song?
I used to write bluegrass songs forever ago. But one of my favorites is a little rocker called "I've Got The Knowledge For Loving Girls In College".
4. Being a Nashville native, how do you feel about it being called the "it" city and one of America's hottest destinations? Wasn't it always a cool place?
Nashville has been the coolest place my entire life. I'm glad we are getting our due respect. But the beautiful soul of Nashville isn't dependent on a TV show or a bunch of great new restaurants. It's the people and their supportive nature. I absolutely love this place.