April 5, 2011
Paul Williams must love a challenge. After spending years programming The Wolf in Dallas, then working at Sony Nashville, Williams decides to join a start-up label, Skyville Records, which has one act, "Stealing Angels," and is just starting to release singles. Yet while it may lack the size and clout of a major, Williams relishes the opportunity to work at a multi-platform company (Skyville is also in publishing) that can be quick on the draw to adapt to changing business conditions. Here's how he sees the current radio playing field and how Skyville can succeed.
What made you decide to join Skyville?
Kevin Herring and I started chatting and I got excited about this kind of an opportunity with a start-up. My dear friend Neda Tobin, who now works for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at Red Light Management, worked for Kevin at Lyric Street and raved about him as a boss. He and I share the same twisted sense of humor. I have been a huge fan of Paul Worley's for a while. I met with him when he was at Warner Bros six years ago about going to work there. I am so happy for him winning the ACM Producer of the Year award last week and his big win with Lady A and Album of the Year in Vegas Sunday night. Dale Turner, our national, is a real pro and came from the radio biz before records like me.
It's a completely different atmosphere just as far as the number of people -- 10 of us -- in the building. We have one act so far. We just shipped our new Stealing Angels single, so from a radio standpoint we're just getting off the ground. It's a real family feel here; we joke that we're just a little pirate ship ready to fire the cannons. Even the old house we're in -- complete with a studio and band rehearsal space -- has a great vibe.
Why did you leave Texas for a label gig anyway?
The job I did at RLG and later Sony was developed by Tom Baldrica, who was heading up BNA when I got there. He wanted me to bring a radio programmer's mentality to label promotion and marketing. As time went on, a lot of what I did, from a marketing standpoint at the label, was combining on-air promotion with online content for radio. Remember, when I got to Sony six years ago, there were radio stations that weren't even streaming yet, so the technology has changed dramatically and rapidly. I was able to combine the promotion, marketing and programming experience to offer our partners opportunities that other labels weren't offering.
When I worked at Wolf for Susquehanna I learned a great deal about the value of the station website. The company was very aggressive with new media and building databases. It was one of the first to stream their stations. Then, when I worked for Kidd Kraddick, I saw a real opportunity to utilize the unused streaming inventory for marketing. I used that knowledge to develop one of the staples of what I did for the past few years, providing produced 30s and 60s to radio that were artist-focused. Now with Facebook and Twitter, there's even more room for growth.
Define the state of Country radio today vs. the way it was when you were at Sony and before that, The Wolf?
It's certainly changing, with the People Meter in a lot of major markets. I think the changes are just starting. There will be even more adjustments as we see what kind of new opportunities there are. Streaming now moves from the computer at home and work to smartphones. Even now, it's kind of hard to predict. There's a real opportunity in the non-PPM markets for those stations to do great live, local, meaning full promotions and stand out right now.
Have you found any instances where the introduction of the PPM has impacted how programmers add new music?
I haven't seen it change anyone's philosophy. If the PD tended to play new artists and music, they're still fans of new music. The PPM hasn't changed their programming DNA.
I did sit through one of PPM sessions at CRS, where one of the speakers stated that if there's a consistent problem in a certain quarter-hour, the radio station must be doing something wrong. Well, did he ever consider that at that same time, maybe people are getting out of their cars and going to work? A lot of people drive to work and turn off their car radios at about the same time. You could see this happen during their lunch breaks, too ... and possibly at the top of the hour.
You previously mentioned getting involved in social media marketing. How is that being implemented for Stealing Angels?
The three Angels have their own individual pages on Facebook; there's also a Stealing Angels page on Facebook and on Twitter. We have a new media person who just started last week. She is building an arsenal for the Angels efforts online. The Angels will continue to be active in their own efforts, but now we can expand the marketing even further for them and the rest of Skyville as we grow.
When it comes to working the single at radio, is your philosophy getting it on as many small-market stations as possible, or aiming first at a major-market station or two, because an add there will prompt a lot of smaller stations to follow?
Neither, because I don't think there is a small market/large market division line anymore. It's far more based on the mentality of the PD at each individual station. Some programmers are more accepting of new artists than others - and they could just as easily be at a big-market station as a small one.
Sometimes it depends on what the programmer thinks of the established artists. There are some PDs who believe some established artists have been around too long, so they'll shy away from them. They'll be more inclined to look for new artists. Other PDs have eight to 10 staple acts; they automatically add their new records and go from there. Obviously, there's less space for a new group's record. But the bottom line is they feel whatever song they add is going to be a hit.
It always comes down to the hit song. Stealing Heart's first single, "He Better Be Dead," was a bit of a novelty record, but the new single, "Paper Heart," is right down the middle for the format. We have high hopes for it here at Skyville.
In this consolidated era, will you spend a lot of time working the record to Group PDs?
Not yet. We're starting at the station level now. Although when Stealing Angels will be in New York, we will swing them by to meet Clear Channel's online folks that I have worked with for the last couple of years.
Once you do get the record added at radio, what do you do to optimize its chances of becoming a hit?
When a station adds the song, it's our job keep the programmers informed of things like iTunes sales in their market. On top of communicating that info to them, we'll also provide them with additional tools. If they want a band to get on the phone with their morning show to introduce them to the market, or make an appearance at a station event, we can do that. We can make sure they have liners from our artist to intro or outro the record. We can provide them with unique website content, such as posting something like, "Here's Stealing Angels' new song, 'Paper Heart'... you want to find out more about them, go to WXYZ.com for more' - and we'll provide that content for their website. If they're giving us precious airtime to play our song, we're going to make sure the audience knows who's performing that song ... and the station playing it.
What's the band's touring plans? Is it imperative to hook up as an opening act on a major act's national tour? Or can they break going out on their own?
Right now we're just concentrating on the specific markets where we saw airplay on the first single and on folks who've expressed interested in playing "Paper Heart." At this stage of the game, it's good for the group to do repeat visitation in markets where there's already some interest. Our Skyville management team can work out the appearances, while CAA can book places in those markets to play.
My philosophy is if you've got a market that has bought into Stealing Angels, what can we do to impact the consumers there? What are the in-market or station events we can get them to? That's only one way to get exposure. Another way is having them sing at ESPN's Sunday night game between the Yankees and Red Sox. They'll perform during the seventh inning stretch; not only will it get us national exposure, but it's a great hit for us in the Boston market.
We're mixing it up like that. This week they'll do the "Dressed to Kilt" charity event with actor Sean Connery in New York City, then go up to Boston for the game. It's just a matter them being in area and us knowing they can pull it off. We just did a PBR event in Albuquerque while they were in the middle of a radio tour. We get these opportunities by showing the event coordinators the group's performance from the National Finals Rodeo in December.
Have there been occasions when you had to choose between doing appearances at two stations in the same market?
No. What we do at the station level depends on what the individual station likes to do. Some prefer to do events with listeners; a lot of those are lunchtime or after-work shows. Other stations just want the Angels to come in and meet the staff, so they get to know the group.
Most rock and pop acts tour to sell an album that's already been released; your plan seems to be using single releases to set up the touring, which then sets up the album's release.
Yes, we have an immediate airplay goal and touring goal because of the way the Country chart moves. Hopefully, sometime before the end of September we'll be able to put an album on sale.
Initially we've got to get single up and running on the radio, have the single available on iTunes and keep that message on point as it develops. With each new single, we can expand the message. We're not just promoting "Paper Heart;" we're promoting that the band has multiple songs on an album. Again, by tracking iTunes sales, we can see where our hot pockets are. We're not just promoting the band by the size of the audience listening to their songs on the radio, but where audience is actively purchasing them. Tracking those consumers helps us make the decision on when to get back to those markets. With iTunes you can make that call within a month to six weeks.
Where does video fit in?
There will be a video that we'll service to the online and on-the-air channels this week. It really shows their personality well. It was shot in Vegas and in our performance studio at Skyville.
How big a bump does a band get from appearance on a TV talk show a la Leno, Ellen and the like?
From a sales standpoint, those shows are not huge sales opportunities. Something like that certainly helps build a story.... but a direct correlation from a sales standpoint in doing The Today Show, Good Morning America, Ellen and even a score like Oprah ... those aren't always guaranteed. We would do those shows to help get their message out there for touring and airplay now. Sales will follow later. But that's the beauty of Skyville; album sales aren't our only revenue source. We don't have to wait on an album to generate revenue.
As a former programmer who's now on the label side, how do you view the current debate over a performance royalty for radio?
My viewpoint is that this is more of a corporate-level concern not only from the music industry, but the radio industry. I don't see it as a battle on the local level. That's what lobbyists on both sides are doing; I don't hear much talk about it at a little radio station in west Texas. The only way for that station to get its voice heard would be through the parent company at the corporate level. Skyville President Kevin Herring told me his thoughts on it, which I found intriguing. Only charge radio after the first year of airplay. Let the first year be "promotional use" and if a song is a hit and goes into recurrent and gold rotation, then charge.
Any final thoughts about working Stealing Angels so far?
They're absolute dreams to work with out on the road. We just sponsored the kick off for radio at the Westwood One ACM radio remotes in Vegas. Then they went station to station for interviews promoting the April 18th single impact. They flew home Saturday and back out to New York on Sunday. They love performing and they're very active and involved on Facebook and Twitter pages. They realize that is what they do It's their job ...so when they walk into a room, they just light it up. You can't ask for anything more in that regard.