May 5, 2015
Newly minted INgrooves Music Group Amy Dietz is a veteran of indie retail, getting her start as an assistant buyer in a three-store hometown Minneapolis mom-and-pop chain known as Title Wave, which eventually expanded to 15 locations. She moved on to stints at indie label heavy metal label Red Decibel, housed in the headquarters of her hometown's fabled Twin Tone Records, home of the Replacements, then was hired at WMG's indie distribution company, ADA. When INgrooves acquired Fontana Distribution from UMG in 2012, Amy's name was thrown in the ring for the GM slot by a consultant, citing her experience with indie labels and distributors. She's proven the perfect fit.
How has the modern-era distributor evolved in the post-Internet age?
We've gone through a lot of change, but at our core, we're responsible for getting our labels' music out to all the services that are available to consumers, wherever they choose to consume music. Obviously, what's changed are the places where that music is available, from Amoeba, Electric Fetus and Best Buy to iTunes, Spotify and Pandora. There's a lot that goes into digital distribution; it's not just pushing a button. Where a distributor adds value is in setting you up correctly to monetize -- all the non-sexy stuff, like having the correct metadata, making sure someone's minding the digital store. It becomes a river of pennies, hopefully nickels, dimes and quarters that you should be paying attention to ... It can be more complicated than picking, packing and shipping a CD. And, it's also about the data we're getting back from these services for analytics, enabling us to do the heavy lifting for the labels by helping them make use of that information.
Selling music is more of a piecemeal business now.
There are so many revenue sources. You might work slightly differently with each of the digital services, many in different niches, trying to get in the game. In some ways, we're getting closer to music publishing, where there are smaller amounts of income from more places. It's not quite as straight-ahead as it once was. The rights and income are a little more fractured, so it's a matter of getting those lined up. And making sure you have the means to be able to manage the many places this revenue is coming from.
You've said your biggest thrill comes from artist development.
That is definitely a huge part of what I find exciting. I'd take it even a step further. It's not only building something from the ground up, but working with artists and labels that have a clear vision of who they are and what they're looking to do. I find it incredibly gratifying to work with labels that have built a brand for themselves. They're not necessarily selling millions of albums, but they understand their artists' goals, and how to spend appropriately to achieve them. It's those kinds of artists and labels which I've worked with for the most part of my career. And we would like to help them achieve their vision by offering the services they need to grow. Think of Strange Music and what they've been able to build, not only with TechN9ne, but that entire ecosystem, or J&R Adventures with Joe Bonamassa. I love hits, too, but it's interesting and fun to work with developing labels and artists.
What is the future of physical product?
There are a lot of stores that are still thriving and more are opening every week. It's not the Tower Records world where you have mega-stores with thousands of SKUs. Those who have managed to create a rapport with their customers and connect with their community will survive, and I think we do miss that in the digital world. And that's what you're seeing with the resurgence of vinyl, deluxe packaging for the fans. Or in-store events, like midnight releases and Record Store Day. From what I'm hearing, there are a lot more young kids in record stores than there used to be.
On Spotify, you can't have that identity of being an uber-fan, a way to show you're not just streaming, but actually invested in the artist. That's why physical is having a bit of a comeback, but it will never be what it was. Still, it's an interesting dynamic. People thought CDs would be gone by now, so it's fascinating that there's still a market for them.
How do you balance musical taste and the bottom line in signing a label or artist?
Everyone here is a big music fan. We wouldn't be able to do this without that having some effect on the decisions we're making. We have a group of people involved in business development, each of us with slightly different backgrounds and tastes, so we keep one another in check, if we feel someone is going off the rails. It's wanting to work with well-rounded people you like and trust, that you believe in. That could be everything from kids' music to underground metal.
What is your take on Spotify? Threat, salvation or something in between?
It's easy to be black and white, to hail it as a savior or demonize it as the devil. But we're in the world that we're in. The toothpaste is out of the tube. You can't just put it back in. People are listening to music through streaming services and other models. It's great for music as a whole, as far as opportunity to hear these artists, but it's a matter of educating people that they're still value in it ... that it shouldn't be free. Artists have to talk about getting people to sign up and pay for these services. But it's important that people understand music has as much value as the merchandise or any other product being sold by the artist. We have a really strong relationship with Spotify, and want to create a partnership between them and our labels. They've really helped us work with artists, and even break a few ... We have a deep relationship globally with them. I think they want to do what's right for the artist overall.
Have you experienced any sort of prejudice as a female executive in the record industry?
I've always been fortunate to work with many different people, from my Title Wave days, our marketing person was a woman, who was always tremendously supportive. Helped me find my way when I was an assistant buyer. I never thought much about it. From my independent background, I used to work in the Twin Tone building, which was a mix of different types. I also was around a lot of dudes when I worked in the heavy metal hardcore scene, but never felt like it was weird for me, that I was unwelcome, or didn't know what I was talking about. At ADA, I was given the same opportunity, so it was never an issue. At INgrooves, we have many women working at all different levels here.
Way too many to name, but the two buyers I worked with at Title Wave - Ted Singer and John Kulstad -- were such music fans, so to be surrounded by that was just great. It was a job but it didn't feel like one. Certainly at ADA, Andy Allen was a huge mentor. The entire group of people were a real interesting mix dedicated to a common goal - helping labels achieve their goals as their passionate advocates. Mitchell Wolk, who succeeded him and practiced a different management style, was also at his core, a real music person. They all helped push me. I was super-blessed for them to want to share their knowledge with me. I feel INgrooves also has a lot of that.
What's in the future for INgrooves?
I'm really focused on evolving what we're doing for the independent label community. That's the core of our business, has been and will continue to be. I'm pretty bullish on the future of the music industry. We continue to go through fairly seismic shifts in how people consume music and that can be painful and scary. Music remains an important part of people's lives. We just have to educate people on what their options are in terms of how they can support the artists they appreciate.
Your proudest moment?
Probably the overarching thing is the relationships I've built over the years and continue to build. Certainly, there have been successes for both labels and artists. But I feel lucky to have had the kind of career where I've forged lasting bonds by working in the trenches with people. And know that I have their and their artists' interests in mind. I think there are a few people who'd say they were happy to have me with them in the foxhole.