10 Questions with ... Lauren Thomas
September 4, 2016
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
After a career in radio that centered in marketing and promotions, Thomas made the move to Nashville, first at Golden Music before moving to Arista Nashville as Promotion Coordinator in 2009. She took over the Midwest region for Arista in 2011, eventually adding West Coast duties. In February of this year, Thomas was elevated to her current position, which has her covering National duties for Arista, Columbia and RCA Nashville.
1. Thanks for taking the time for 10 Questions, LT. You have a unique job title - handling Dir./National responsibilities for all three Sony Nashville labels. One label is usually a 60-hour/week job. Tell us how you time manage three of them.
I check in with the VPs - Josh Easler for Arista, Shane Allen at Columbia and Keith Gale for RCA - on their priorities for the week, and where I can help and where they feel like it's important for me to dive in. It's really a game of prioritizing. On a broader scale, as I'm getting to know how each team works, I am kind of just finding my niche. I don't know how else to put it, but I've learned a lot about prioritizing when I'm on the phone with programmers - not only figuring out what works best for them, but also how I can figure out what is going to work best in the building based on our priority. It's really a strategy thing.
2. So you're kind of defining this job description role as you go along.
Yeah, a little bit. It's just been great to have the support and belief from [EVP/Promotion & Artist Development] Steve Hodges. We sat down and it's been a morphing process. But daily I support the VPs and the regionals. I'm backing them up, and then something that's been kind of cool for me in this job has been really getting to dive in on album launch stuff. It's something I was interested in as a regional, and when I was a coordinator I kind of got to get my hands on it. Primarily [Mgr./Promotion & Marketing]Jenny [Shearin] and I are tag-teaming the album launch projects, which I love! The first one I worked on was Maren Morris, and that release was awesome. Number one! That is a decent part of my role outside of backing up the VPs, regionals, and the syndicators. I work with all of the syndicated shows, also. They're kind of my niche.
3. I imagine that you can multi-task - so that while doing a market or station visit, you can handle all three label priorities in one stop?
Well, it's kind of like multiple choice at that point, isn't it? I guess for me it's looking at each station and figuring out what we need from them and also kind of managing that with the VPs or regionals. It could be "one stop shopping," but I never do anything without including the regionals, because I've been a regional, and I know that they're the ones that are digging in regularly and getting the work done. On a broader scale, yes, I could go in and try to knock out something for all three labels if I wanted to.
4. You took a pretty traditional path to this current position - Promotion Coordinator at Arista, two different regions, and now the next natural step is a national position. This is unique in that you're doing it for three. Would you recommend that same path for others who aspire to a career in record promotion?
I think there's no wrong path. I was just fortunate to be on both sides starting in radio and being the person that record reps came through to. Starting there was really beneficial for me because I got to see that side of it before I came over to the dark side. I think being a coordinator was one of the hardest jobs I ever had. You're involved in every aspect of what that label is doing - every artist and single and album launch. You touch every department. That really helped me figure out multi-tasking and prioritizing in this job on a different level. When it comes to the regional job, it was a natural kind of trajectory. I would recommend it. I feel good about it, but I also know people who maybe haven't ever worked in radio or records that make fantastic reps. However you can get it done is what I recommend. I am biased in the fact that I think promotion people from radio make great record reps.
5. I want to go back to the coordinator position. It's the hardest, most pressure-packed gig on the entire promo team. As you described, that person is at the intersection of everything - how the hell did you survive that and remain sane?
I was fortunate enough that there were three other coordinators in the building who coached me through it. One of them was the person I ended up marrying. We had a natural bond. But that was helpful because they were people I could go to when I had a question. They would help me figure it out. I think your team is important in that way. And lots of coffee is good. Haha! You've got to be alert. My job in radio was also kind of like that. When I was planning events in radio, it was like, what's happening now and where do I need to focus my attention immediately? When something went wrong I was the first person that got a call, and it wasn't too different in the coordinator position. If someone is on the road and they need something, you've got to prioritize what comes next. I would say the team around you is incredibly important, and lots of sleep; caffeine; and being organized.
6. You mentioned coming from radio promotion, which seems to be another easy transition to label promotion - that, and former programmers. But what is another good stepping stone for people who think they want to give this a try?
In our building alone on our team we've got Ali O'Connell who started in Radio Promotion; we've got Josh Easler who started in Radio Promotion; Keith Gale started in Radio Promotion; I think that that right there speaks volumes. At different levels we have people who started on that side. I think that is great. But I think too we get people who are great interns. [MCA Nashville West coast Regional] Anna Johnson was one of our interns. She seems to be doing really well. [Arista regional] Rusty Sherrill was in charge of scheduling bands for his university and figured out that he really wanted to do music and became an intern. He essentially graduated; so did Olivia Laster, our coordinator now. It's about trying to get in - even if it's a free, unpaid internship for credit, or reaching out to people who you think can kind of get your foot in the door. Olivia, our coordinator now - if you want to talk about organized! - holy crap! She's working on putting together an intern program here. I think that will be super beneficial because the people that we just named were talented interns. It's finding people who can help you get in or just kind of visiting your college counselor starting out and trying to figure out how you can get involved, but I love the Rusty story because he was interested in music and it was a different avenue than I would have expected. He liked it here so much; he paid an extra semester for an internship so he could get the job. That's dedication and passion.
7. Let's shift gears here. Here's what radio says that is frustrating to them. That there are too many releases. I know you know this already. Radio is backed up. I hear stories - people tell me, "I've got 30 songs on my desk that I want to get to, but I just don't have the room. There's no place to put them." Is it realistic for labels to send less music and slow the onslaught of single releases for radio so radio can more easily digest and expose the music?
Well, I think that ultimately the stations have to do what's best for their station. I hope that they want to play our music. We take scheduling pretty seriously in our building, and we map out how quickly we release songs internally and try to think and strategize based on what we have coming down through the end of the year. I don't know if it's realistic, but I just feel like it's something we're paying attention to and trying to manage on our end, hoping that the product we put out is the best and that they'll want to play it. Regardless of how much else is out there.
8. Tell me about some of the Sony Nashville projects you're really excited about as you head into fourth quarter and early 2017. What has you really motivated and excited in terms of the music you're working with?
Well, I am just getting familiar with Kane Brown, who is a crazy anomaly. Nothing about him has been necessarily traditional. He was kind of plucked from the internet. "Used To Love You Sober" was doing so well, and we worked that. Now we've got him in with some new music he's working on, and I'm blown away by the way people react to him and his new single, "Thunder In The Rain.". I don't know how to explain it. The show he played in Vegas - girls were screaming like it was Justin Bieber concert. They were singing all the words to every song. Seeing him on tour with Florida Georgia Line - people's butts are in seats to see this. Technically, this is RCA's first single on him, since "Used To Love You Sober" was one we just kind of rode the wave on from his popularity on the World Wide Web. I'm excited to see how that develops. I'm really excited about more of the Tyler Farr stuff coming up. He's been working in the studio and I can't wait to hear more from him. He's singing better than I've ever heard him sing, so I'm excited for people to hear that as well. I love my LANco boys - they're high energy! They're upbeat and they are so much fun! I think "Long Live Tonight" kind of jumps off the radio. To be in the 30s - just a few weeks in - is pretty great for a brand new band! I'm pretty excited about that too! Their live show is crazy - just so much energy! I love it! I love energy - they have it!
9. You and KWNR/Las Vegas MD/Midday princess Lois Lewis are tight. You both worked the same region when she was with Republic Nashville. Now that she's a radio client, how is that dynamic working for you both?
Lois and I have such an honest working relationship, and it's not much different than our personal relationship. So much of what we do is based on having started in Phoenix radio. Funny story - Lois and I were kind of competitors and she didn't really like me, and now she was at my wedding and one of my best friends. We were just competitors - KNIX and KMLE. We've had to have some candid conversations. The good thing about Lois is that she's been in my position; she's been on the record side, so she knows. She can look at a chart and understand things that are going on in record land. So when I call her I'll say, "Listen man I'm hopeful this can work because of X, Y, Z," and she gets it. I have sent her numerous sales per spin numbers and what other iHeart stations are playing things. I know what she's looking for too. We haven't had one of those knock-down-drag-out conversations yet, and I hope we never have to. I hope we can just laugh through it. It's awesome because she and [Thirty Tigers] Gwen Foster and I have kind of come up through the ranks both in radio and records, and it's fun to have a group of gals that you can talk both business and personal with. I get to get on the phone and talk about her life and then dive into records. It's completely compartmentalized, but it works in a weird way.
10. You and RCA Nashville Coordinator Parker Fowler are married. You're not only both in record promotion but you work in the same building. How do you both turn off the business side of things and forget about work - or do you?
Let's not forget that my father-in-law, Greg Fowler, is one of the tour managers (For Jake Owen), to keep it all in the family. Haha! We give ourselves some time at home to talk about work, and we do our best to just kind of separate that step. Luckily, we're moving right now, so that's been a big bulk of it, and before that it was planning our wedding. We're coming up on our one-year anniversary, so we had other stuff to focus on. It has to be a conscious effort though. It's really easy to get caught up on work talk all of the time, so we have to make a conscious effort to say, "okay we're done talking about this. The end." But it's kind of cool too because Jake [Owen] came in to do a bunch of stuff for album launch and I didn't know Greg was going to be here with him. Haha! But it's great to have a family unit that understands why maybe I'm gone for six days at a time. Greg gets it; Parker gets it - he grew up with it. They both understand. We understand why Greg won't be home and we have to have Thanksgiving on Friday instead of Thursday - because Jake is playing the Macy's Day Parade. It's kind of a weird blessing. We're all kind of in it together.
Taking your hometown of Phoenix out of the mix - favorite city to visit?
Does it have to be a radio market? We got married in Big Sur, and I do love the Bay area. I'd like to say broad enough the Bay area. I would pick pretty much any part of California; that's cool with me. Make that coastal California. I could get down with Sacramento if I needed to. I love the West coast and the Pacific Northwest, too. Seattle and Portland when the sun is out is God's country. It's beautiful there. I've not been to the Northeast. I was born in New Jersey, but ironically that's probably the most foreign to me, so I need to get out there. Maybe I'll really like Boston. I'm not going to go in the winter. Any time they say "de-ice" I break out in a sweat.