Think You Know It All? Think Again
March 13, 2014
"It is what we learn after we know it all that really counts"
- John Wooden
Twenty-five years ago, 12 music industry leaders in Nashville had a great idea. Assemble other influential stalwarts of Music Row in a single room, all-day, once a month. Design curriculum providing a 360-degree view of every conceivable aspect of the music business. Emphasize communication and dialogue between larger groups and -- most importantly -- individuals. Six months later, emerge with an ability to better understand each other, differing business realities and the entire Nashville music community.
And thus, a program called Leadership Music was born.
A quarter-century and more than 1,000 alumni later, the program continues to attract industry elite who seek that wider perspective. And when I say people seek Leadership Music, I'm not kidding. Participation is no mere layup but rather, a high-percentage three-pointer that involves a pretty rigorous application process. Last year's attracted 200-plus candidates for the 2014 class. Less than 50 eventual members were chosen.
Recruiting is on for Leadership Music 2015 through Monday, March 31st and I'll tell you how to apply a few paragraphs from now. But since the soon-to-be chosen class marks an impressive, 25-year milestone for the program, I thought some Leadership Music love was in order.
The original idea was inspired by then-Warner Brothers Nashville label head - now Curb Group CEO - Jim Ed Norman, after he participated in a program called Leadership Nashville. Collaborating with business leaders outside the music business helped Norman identify an opportunity for him and other label heads, who also participated in the Nashville program.
"We all had some similar, practical experiences with problems; deals that couldn't get done. Issues communicating with artists or publishers, or between record companies and performance rights," recalled Norman.
"Everybody knew each other and the informality of getting business done had started to break down," he added. "So maybe a formal program that brought people together and that had very informal characteristics – building relationships and teamwork – would be helpful."
And the timing for this concept -- early 1989 -- was perfect because the Country format was percolating and about to erupt, taking over as a mainstream form of music embraced by music fans and mass media outlets.
"We could see this energy building," said Jim Ed. "At Warner Brothers, we had Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam. Arista had Alan Jackson. Garth was coming along. We could see there was an opportunity beginning in Nashville that could be maximized by better communication."
Another characteristic identified by Norman and the 11 other Founding Council members was the lack of understanding many wildly successful people in the music industry had for other aspects of the business they rarely touched. This was somewhat, but not altogether a revelation to Norman.
"One part was a surprise, because of Nashville's reputation of being a small town where everyone knew each other. But on the other hand, it was not. My professional life starting out as a musician, then an orchestral arranger, producing, publishing and starting my own company, was a more horizontal experience. I realized you could build a successful company in one discreet area without knowing about other areas. Even that one facet, though exciting and magnificent, was self-contained in many respects."
The early years of Leadership Music established a concrete foundation that exists to this day, says current Exec. Dir. Debbie Linn. "[The Founding Council] got it right the first couple of years and they stayed with the program." The original 12 members devised key, fundamental program days of education that continue to this day: Media, Record Company, Live Music, Studio/Audio and Songwriting/Publishing. All are done in the dynamic of a relatively large class.
Part of the program is a torch-passing process from one class to the next, says Linn. "We have program day advisors who are there to help guide the committee. The co-chairs are from the last graduating class. The committee is a combo of other members of the graduating class and alumni who have gone through the program."
As participants rise to greater authority and power with in business, says Norman, "They might carry with them a greater sense of getting further by resolving issues with an understanding of another person's point of view. And for me, there was always a strong hope we could get the music industry to come to a better understanding about the community in which they lived."
Well, more than 1,000 alumni members can't be wrong. And for CBS Radio WYCD/Detroit PD Tim Roberts, Leadership Music's original aim has apparently had the desired effect. "I like to consider Leadership's program a 'Master's Degree' for anyone interested in improving the way they manage and maneuver in this complex business," says Roberts. "This experience has not only allowed me to meet some amazing and talented people in the music industry from every facet, but really is a much deeper dive into every single silo of the music business. You truly get to see views and opinions from every perspective, a view you wouldn't get anywhere else except in the Leadership Music curriculum."
Another member of the original Founding Council, former Sony Music Nashville Chairman Joe Galante, told me that moving forward, there are two areas of responsibility needed: one from participants, another from the companies they work for.
"Beyond the information, what's needed is true leadership; it's not just about going through this, then walking away. I would ask, 'Who's gonna fill their shoes?' We need another generation to take on that responsibility. It requires people who will stand up and find new paths to networking, mentorship, and communication ... people who will pass along the program's teaching and develop bench strength within the format."
Galante reminded me that that no other sector of the music industry has developed a similar program to Leadership Music and threw down a challenge to companies within our format: "Give us your best talent; decide who the best person in your organization is to participate, rather than just picking someone to randomly apply."
Galante recalls within the Sony group during his leadership, there was somewhat of a selection committee inside the building that identified potential, future industry leaders who they determined would benefit from Leadership Music, from a personal and organizational standpoint.
Think that's you, or somebody in your company? Awesome! But there is a Monday, March 31st deadline to submit an application. Find it here here.