May 27, 2014
With Top 40 and Country radio both enjoying immense nationwide popularity - while attracting similarly youthful demos - and more Country hits crossing over into Pop, it makes perfect sense that Republic Records SVP/Promotion and Artist Development David Nathan would segue to the SVP/Pop Promotion post at Country powerhouse Big Machine Label Group. Nathan is now in the eye of a Country and Pop mainstream hurricane, with a goal of optimizing the crossover potential of both labels' talent. Here's his view of the Top 40 and Country radio terrain from the catbird seat.
How did the new opportunity come about?
This has been in the works for a while. I started talking to Scott Borchetta and Monte Lipman almost a year ago about transitioning into this position, as I felt there was a need to have a presence for Big Machine Label Group in the New York offices. It's also going to give me the opportunity to grow as an executive.
How will this new position impact you in terms of breaking talent?
In my new role, the key responsibility will be to identify the songs from any artist on BMLG that may have the potential to cross to Pop, Adult, Alternative, AAA and even Rhythm. Then working with Charlie and Gary's team, we will strategize, impact and deliver hits.
Is there more crossover potential between County and Pop nowadays - and if so, how will your new role help facilitate that?
Absolutely. Just look at what we have done with Florida Georgia Line w/Nelly, The Band Perry and obviously all the success of Taylor. Everything can't cross, but we are the best in the business at finding the right ones and executing 100%. Again, with new energy and excitement, my role is to identify the hits that we want to cross and partner with Republic.
Is this more for established talent crossing over, or is it actually easier for new artists to cross over?
Obviously, established talent with a hit will be a little easier as they have history. However, in this hit-driven world, if we have a huge song like "Bottoms Up" by Brantley Gilbert, which was #1 a few weeks back at Country and will sell close to 300,000 in its first week out, we are going to go very hard to cross it to Pop and Adult ASAP.
Can you define the mentality of Country and Pop programmers nowadays? Are they more or less receptive to Crossover?
Programmers look for the strongest music and what fits onto their playlists best. I love the programmers, however, who are unafraid to take a chance every once in while and don't just rely on research as the "be all, end all." Everyone still has a gut.
How many "slots" are open to such crossovers on most radio stations on average?
From what I have experienced in the past at Pop and the Adult formats, it's probably one or two, at most. But, again if the song works, sales are there and social numbers are there, it is hard for a programmer to argue.
Can you see Pop artists crossing over into Country radio as well?
Absolutely. It is probably much more difficult. But when you have an artist like Colbie Caillat or Jack Johnson, who have honestly both toed the line, it is a much easier conversation. Look at what Darius Rucker has done with his career.-- a #1 record with "Wagon Wheel" after all the success he had a while back with Hootie.
How are Country/Pop crossover hits impacted by burn?
Listen, a hit's a hit's a hit. Everything, for the most part, experiences burn. When there are five, six or seven stations playing the same record (even with different mixes), it will burn out quicker. That's why we wait a minute before crossing from Country.
Are there any differences in working records to Pop vs. Country?
Well, I never worked Country radio and in my new role, I still won't, but I have to assume it's the same basic premise.
What's your take on NASH radio as a concept and as vehicle for breaking new acts?
I love this new format. Listening to NASH in New York has honestly changed the way I think and promote radio. We love when a radio team can put a plan together and launch it successfully. NASH will hopefully continue to allow us to do this.
Ditto NASH Icon?
Scott Borchetta is brilliant. To find a way to bring music back and focus on it again is simply awesome. The Motley Crue project is perfect. Bringing old hits back with new current artists performing them is great.
In general, are you satisfied that radio is doing enough to break new talent?
Well, we could all do more. That's the beauty of being creative and forward thinking. I do think what Tom Poleman, Bob Pittman and their team have done specifically with the iHeart brand is unbelievable. The pool parties, the trips, the awards show and, of course, the festival are all amazing. Platforming and cross-promotion are very important in breaking and continuing the development of all artists.
If you had your druthers, would you want radio to play fewer records more, or more records fewer times?
I would want them to do what is best for the format and their station. I hate commercials, so I would love to see more music being played. Period.
Describe how radio's reaction to PPM impacted the way you work records to them.
In the beginning, it was much more difficult to attack programmers when they gave us feedback based on PPM. But now with all the research options out there -- Shazam, iTunes, Instagram, Twitter, Spotify, etc. -- there is much more to look at and take an overall snapshot of how a record is performing.
Are you spending more of your energies on satellite radio, Google/YouTube and other platforms?
Not necessarily. Everyone is a player in the game and we look at every opportunity to expose our artists seriously and the same.
How has digital technology impacted the way you work records?
That has been huge. Just from the way we service our music now to tracking the successes and the failures to sales and real-time analytics. It's amazing how much you more you can learn in one day.
One of the assumptions in music radio is that it's cyclical, where music trends become more popular until it peaks, then lessens in favor of the next music trend. Could this current pop/Country convergence change or alter radio's cyclical nature?
I go back to what I said earlier. If the song is a hit ... reacting, requesting and selling ... then the smart programmers will play it. So yes, while radio definitely plays music that is cyclical, there will always be constants on the charts.