July 28, 2015
Randy Goodman's July 8th appointment to the CEO chair at Sony Music Nashville marks a return to the company he served before leaving to found Lyric Street Records in 1997. Goodman started his career with RCA Nashville, now a cornerstone of the Sony building in Music City, eventually rising to various executive positions during the '80s and '90s before his time at Lyric Street. There, he achieved success with Rascal Flatts and other artists, before parent company Disney shuttered the label in 2010.
Goodman's move back to Sony also filled a three-month vacancy in the position, created when previous CEO Gary Overton decided to move on. All Access chatted with Goodman about the personal, powerful meaning attached to coming back to where his career started.
But during this Power Player interview with Goodman, we also wanted to look ahead, wondering about potential roster moves, staffing, how the company will adapt to a rapidly changing music industry and his take on the state of Country music right now.
You bring to the table a perspective of having run a label before, having been at that label before and having been away from it for a few years. Does that experience refresh your point of view now that you're back?
You're right, it does. As you know, this business can become a grind -- particularly with the evolution that this business is in. It was beginning to evolve when I left Lyric Street, and now it's in a full-blown evolutionary period, where you're not talking about sales, but you're talking about revenue ... quantifying what that really means, and what it means to break an act. There's a lot of classic terms we've used to help us identify progress or lack of progress. And what's interesting for me is coming back into it from my stint in the management world. I've become very aware of it, when you're dealing with it in a much more drilled-down kind of way with the artists.
What's exciting for me is, I'm able to come back in to it and be a student, to a degree, asking questions and drilling-down on things. That's important, and sometimes when you get in the cycle of doing it, you forget to be a student. That's one thing that bringing a fresh perspective brings to it. But then also, just when you step away from something you've done for so many years and for so long, to do some other things, it brings new perspectives and new points of view to it. And that's refreshing, too, because it makes me think in a different way. That's a very positive thing. So I speak from a perspective level, from an energy level, and from a want-to level.
Is returning to the Sony building after quite a few years away from it a significant and powerful thing for you on a personal level?
It is. It was interesting, the night before I came in, met with the staff and addressed them - and I decided that because it was me coming back, I didn't just want to get up and be glib. It would be easy to get up and say, "Hey, good to be here. We'll be talking more. I'll meet all you guys." I really sat down and thought, you know what? I'm going to give my own little vision statement. So I really prepared some thoughts, because I wanted to come off sounding articulate. So, the staff could say, "Well, at least we didn't hire a bumbling fool!"
I wanted to have my thoughts together, so I was kind of reading my remarks to my wife and daughter, and I said, "Just tell me how this sounds, if it's too this or too that," and it hit me that - sometimes when you read something or are preparing something, and then when you start saying it, you're surprised by the underlying emotion. That was the thing that caught me when I was preparing my thoughts. There were a couple of points where it just took my breath for a second, and I thought, "Wow, when I get up in front of everybody and I look out in that crowd, I'm going to see a lot of people who I worked with and a lot of people who I know." A lot of them were managers there, like Dale Morris, who helped me cut my teeth when I was a 24-year-old kid out on the road with Alabama being a part of that whole thing.
When I actually got up and looked out at all those different people, it really was emotional. I was just thinking, "Man, I hope I can get through this!" I didn't expect it to be that way, but it was. I was walking through the halls here with somebody, and I was looking at the plaques on the wall, and said, "You know what, I worked every single one of these records." And that does have a very powerful connection.
So for me, I want to win. I want to win for the artists, and I want to win for the staff, and I want to win for Sony; but there's a very personal connection. If this is indeed the capstone to my career, it's a great one, because it's also very personal. On that first Monday on the job, after the charts closed, we loaded everybody up on buses, went down to the Country Music Hall Of Fame And Museum and went in to Ford Theater, where [Country Music Hall of Fame Museum Editor] Peter Cooper gave everybody this incredible history of what it means to be a part of Sony Music Nashville. Because it's RCA, and it's Arista, and it's BNA, and it's Columbia, and it's Epic, and it goes all the way back to the early 1920s with Eck Robertson and those kind of people. And I wanted that to be the way that we started our time together.
Peter did an amazing job, and it was just inspirational -- and aspirational. And then we went upstairs to the rotunda where so many of the Hall Of Fame members reside with their façades - you could trace them all back to some association to Sony. We had dinner together, and we just talked. We talked about what that presentation meant - what it meant to us now, and what it should mean going forward. So, yes, for me, just getting into these early days has been - without a doubt - steeped in a lot of emotion and personal passion as well.
You've been very candid about the formation of the team and how, in your own words, you had to work through getting over yourself just a little bit. To bring a sports analogy into this, the Cleveland Cavaliers with LeBron James were struggling a bit at the beginning of the year, but then they found their rhythm and ended up in the NBA Championship Series. It's not a perfect analogy, but you're in a similar situation in that you're put together with two guys, [EVP/COO] Ken Robold and [EVP/Promotion & Artist Development] Steve Hodges, who you've never worked with before. What do you hope to accomplish in terms of a working dynamic? Is it discovery first, and then you go from there?
It's a really interesting question, and it's a unique thing. When I was at Lyric Street, there wasn't this immediacy; you were building something. So you were able to go around and pick and choose people you knew really well, and that created kind of an instant bond. Like I said, that was the kind of thing that I thought when the Jason Owen thing was off; everything that had been involved in the Jason plan was going to go away as well. So, it surprised me at first. I have to say I've admired Ken from afar for a long time. Anybody who can walk the line between a Luke Lewis and a James Stroud and a Toby Keith ... all those characters, you say, "Okay, if that guy can manage all of that, there's some brilliance there, and I want that to rub off on me as well."
During the time I was away, I got to know Ken because oddly enough, we worked out at the same gym. And he and Joe would work out together, so we began to build a friendship on a social level that had nothing to do with business, which was cool. I always respected Ken from afar, and I had no doubt that he was going to be the consummate executive. I just really didn't know what those dynamics would be.
With Steve, I had never had any kind of in-depth conversation with him. However, his reputation preceded him, and I was always impressed with what the Capitol crew were able to do. So when I sat down with both of them, I knew they were coming from a great place of strength, because of their experience and their credentials. Then Steve began talking to me, and I was going, "Wow, this guy is a consummate promotions guy, but he's talking in strategic terms." Which, obviously, really connected me to him. And he's talking about that vision and how that would work, and I'm going, "Okay, this guy is talking my language."
Ken is the same way. And Ken and I have that personal relationship, and I know that will grow with Steve. The interesting thing about it is, sometimes when you're put together with people who you don't have that good of a relationship with or you don't really know that well, and you're running and gunning, it forces you to be communicative, it forces you to maybe over-communicate or over-extend the invitation in to a meeting, because I want both Steven and Ken to understand that I do respect them, that I understand what they bring to the table, and that I'm not going to be micro-managing them. But that I expect them to take their years of experience in working through the system.
An interesting thing about the dynamic is that I want to make sure I give them the latitude that they deserve because of the level of their experience, and also that I give them that level of respect, and that I will give them my thoughts and opinions on it, but I also have to let them make the decisions about their respective areas. It's almost like a dating analogy, or even with the Cleveland Cavaliers thing. You've got to come in and assess your team and figure out how to talk to each person. It's making me be more thoughtful and deliberate about my actions with them, how I communicate with them, and how we talk to each other in front of other people. It keeps me on my toes, so to speak.
Everyone wonders what kind of changes, if any, this triggers inside the building, in terms of the roster and also promotion teams. With the tradition that you mentioned - all the lore and legacy of that imprint and brand - but one of the traditions in the last 20 or more years has been the incredibly strong promotion teams that have existed in that building. Do you foresee anything that may shift on that level, or the artist level?
On the promotion team, that's one of the things that Steve and I talked about when all of this began to happen. One thing you can do is look at the chart share. Obviously, these guys have a report card, and that's chart share. Even when they didn't have a CEO or a quote leader or whatever it is, they were out there doing the daily work to make sure that their records were working through the system. That speaks highly of [RCA VP/Promotion] Keith Gale, [Arista VP] Lesly Simon and [Columbia VP] Norbert Nix and their work on that. And it's important to me that I call them out, because they really have been the internal leadership. They've proven that.
Early on, what we are going to be doing - and Steve, more specifically - is going through an assessment of all that and the focus. But right now, we go, "It seems to be working, so how can Steve bring in his leadership and strategic vision to kind of turbocharge that?" I'm sure he's going to get in there and make some assessments, and some dialogue has to occur. But I don't foresee any kind of immediate changes happening in that department in the near term.
As you know, these are the men and women who are driving the records on a day-to-day basis, and it's going to take some time to really assess that. But the immediate assessment is, you look at the chart share, and you go, "Well, they're doing it." The real question is: What will Steve bring in to that whole thing? Part of what he wants to do is expand their thinking and their view into more of an artist development thought process. I think that's positive and very much indicative of some of the shifts that are going on within record companies.
I'm still in the process of meeting with managers and artists. Particularly with the managers first, just to get a clear sense of what's needed and where they are. There are several things in the pipeline - several big projects that are going to be coming that we have to really focus on. The thing for me is really looking at it and saying, "Okay, what are those things out there right now that are showing us life and reacting in the marketplace - that radio is reacting to, that consumers are reacting to?" So those are the things we're going to really have to put the focus on and prioritize and go after, because as I've said over and over again and will continue to say - we need to bring some acts through. We really need to show that that's something we can bring to the table, and that we've got a team able to do that.
From the artist thing, it's going to take a little bit of time, and we're going to have to make some assessments. All I can do is look at it and say, "There's a gut instinct you're going to have about it, but at the same time, if there's something out there in the marketplace that is working at radio and it's selling records, and people are being compelled by it, then we need to throw down behind it and go get it." So a lot of it is going to be who is in there - there are people in the hunt right now, and we've got to focus on them. Then we've got to assess what we've got, and a lot of that will just be getting into the music side of it and going, "Wait, what is this? This is incredible. We need to go with this sooner than later." The good news is for me - and for us - we're coming in to it fresh, and I really don't have the Baskin Robbins number system. It's just whatever we think we can get out there and will have as immediate impact as soon as possible.
A quick Joe Galante connection question. You worked so closely with him for so many years, then had your own success at Lyric Street, but could you identify how your style is similar - and also different - from his, and how that formed you?
The time I grew up with Joe was a different time than it is now. That's obviously a "Duh" thing to say, but it's important when you're looking at that kind of stuff. One thing I always say about Joe is that no one had to teach me the love of music. I was brought up with the love of music and playing in bands for as long as I can remember, I was brought up with the idea of being involved with it in some way with the hope it would become my vocation. What Joe did was turn me into an executive - specifically, a record executive. He was able to take the passion I had and help me hone myself into someone who understood how to read the financials and what an income statement was, and what a balance sheet was, and understand what the structure was and how the revenue flowed.
I am a guy whose focus is: What are our objectives? Do we have really clear objectives? And if we do, what are the strategies toward achieving those objectives? And then what resources will it take -- both in manpower and dollars -- to get it done? That was always inside of me, but Joe really helped form that in me so I was able to articulate it. By the time I did leave RLG to start Lyric Street, I could go to Burbank, sit down with the CFO and read financial statements -- much to some of their surprise. Because not everybody could do that, but Joe set me up so that I could really understand what an overhead percentage should look like within the income statement, or what marketing should look like, and understand how to quickly look at something and see where the things were out of whack. What a great education I had there. Obviously, going to New York even drove that further.
Maybe the difference between Joe and I is, as Joe got older and his view grew, I think he became more like that as well, but I may tend to be more of a collaborative person. That's not to say Joe isn't, because I always found him to be collaborative with me, but maybe Joe might have a few specific people who he surrounds himself with. For me at Lyric Street, there were so few of us that I wanted to get everyone's input. We were less hierarchical, but it wasn't as big as what Sony became. And when you've got something this big, you are going to have your lieutenants, and you're really going to focus on them, but I don't know that we're all that much different.
I would just say this - and I say this all the time, to the point where people think, "Well, that's just Goodman's go-to statement about Joe!" - but it's so true. With every opportunity that I've had to move on and to grow, I would not have been able to do it had it not been for Joe's mentoring and tutelage. Yes, I worked hard and I tried to learn from those lessons. We all have that teacher who we look back on in grade school or college and think, "Wow, that person changed the arc of my life or the arc of my career." And Joe did both from a personal level and from a business level. And the great thing is, he's still very involved in my life. He's somebody who, even right now if I had a question that I was stumped on, I could pick up the phone and say, "Joe, hey, here's what I'm thinking. Tell me what you think." And I trust him.
That's the other big thing: We both trust each other. We went through the war of New York and came out alive, and that really cemented a deep fondness and trust in each other. It's very rare now that I go more than a week talking to Joe over the last several years. That's just how close we are.
Country is enjoying an amazing ride, particularly in the last five years. Summer is now its biggest season. What are your thoughts on the state of the format right now and moving forward, where will it progress?
Obviously, the format has done incredible things over the past several years. Its popularity is indicative even more so now by the number of current stadium acts. You look in some of the other genres, and a lot of the stadium acts have been around since the 1970s '80s, or maybe early '90s. But here you have a format where the people who still have big ol' hit records are driving the stadium shows. That becomes a new quantifier, because we aren't selling records like we used to because of the evolution of everything that I spoke about earlier.
This continues to be a growing format. What has always been unique about Country music is that it's an interesting format, because it's not fragmented, let's say like the Contemporary world is where you might start something in the Alternative world and then cross it into Top 40 and end up on Hot AC. This is something where you live and die in just one format, and because of that, there has always been great breadths of music and talent within Country radio where you can go from a George Strait to a Florida Georgia Line to a Carrie Underwood or whatever it might be.
The thing that is anecdotal for me is that now I have a 21-year-old son who is in college, and his whole friend group is listening to everything from Hip-Hop to Country. He's a huge fan of Country. He discovers things on The Highway, like so many people do now. He's kind of a P1 Country guy, along with his friends. And that's a really interesting thing, because in the early days when I was with RCA, the idea that we were going to be able to dig in to and own that demographic - the college demo - was pipe dream! I mean, yeah, maybe an Outlaws record, or maybe a Foster and Lloyd, or maybe a Steve Earle, but then they never blew up into being big commercial kind of things. The interesting thing right now is that, just hanging out with Ross and his friends, and they are way into Country music. That demographic being pushed down is a huge thing, and I don't think it's the flavor of the month. This is something that is going to be cemented into their culture and their psyche going forward.
We're in a world now with Country where 18-34s are a significant and very important age cell for the format. We're right behind Top 40 in performance in that cell, and gaining on them; interestingly enough, they've surpassed us with 25-54s. As you look at artist development and who you're going to sign, and looking at the culture and profile of your label roster, do you pay close attention to that shift?
Absolutely! [UMG Nashville President] Mike Dungan has done a really good job of that. Luke Bryan had a youth appeal, and then he blew up huge. Eric Church had that youth appeal, and then they're right back with a Sam Hunt. You listen to that and go, "Wow. That's Country? That's going to work on Country radio?" Yeah, it is! [Big Machine Label Group President/CEO] Scott Borchetta has done the same thing over there; it's been very youth-oriented.
When you do that, you're going to incur the wrath, if not just the disdain, from a lot of the critics who are always living in that world, saying that you always have to bow to the tradition. But what makes Country music so interesting and exciting is the breadth of it. And that's what makes it so difficult to program stations. That's something I've never had to do. The whole idea about how do you create the right amalgam of all those kinds of music so that it works together. You have to be so aware of that, because it's such a huge demo. And regardless of where the revenue stream comes from, we know that historically, that is a demographic that has historically always been a huge consumer of music. That's just where they live culturally.
There are so many more portals for music fans to discover, and then further, their passion for Country music. Knowing all of that, can you talk to the importance of Country radio in that process? It's obviously still important, but do you think it's a challenge? I'm sure you guys have to explore it, because you have to throw your line in the water where the fish are biting. But can you talk about Country radio, which has always been an area that Sony pays close attention to with a laser-like focus?
Yes, if you come over here and look at our overhead - our headcount, if you will - most of our overhead, thusly most of our resources, go to the promotion teams that we have and driving them. Digital is an important part of it, with video now moving into more of the YouTube online thing. But it's very difficult. When you talk about stadium acts, which I always look at, you say, "Who's out there playing the stadiums? Who are the big time artists?" You're going to see U2 - not because U2 has a new single out there, but because they have a huge catalog of hits that you want to go and remember maybe when you first heard that. But you're going to see U2, because they had huge hits at radio. You're going to see The Rolling Stones, because of their characters and their personalities, but also because of "Satisfaction" or "Brown Sugar" or "Sympathy With The Devil" because they were huge hits at radio. You're going to see a Kenny Chesney stadium show because Kenny's going to play his hits. And Jason Aldean is going to play his hits.
And those hits - there is always this point of, even though there is all this new technology, and there is digital, and the touring base that has to grow - but I haven't seen anything that has eclipsed radio yet. If you get an artist that has records and drive those records to critical-mass airplay at Country radio on a consistent basis, history shows me that the artist can someday be in big stadiums. Or that at the very least, you can be in big amphitheaters and arenas. So, yes. I would say that radio - terrestrial or satellite, whatever and wherever those radios are - is still so hugely important in terms of breaking acts through to any kind of significant level.
Any final thoughts?
We talked about it at the very beginning, but I'm extremely excited, very humbled and honored, and I'm ready to go. Just to have this opportunity ... this was completely off my radar until about a month ago. It's wild how things happen, and then when you try to get your arms around it, I just feel like I'm the luckiest guy alive right now.