10 Questions with ... Sean Coakley
May 27, 2013
BRIEF CAREER SYNOPSIS:
- ATCO/Atlantic (1978-83) AOR radio promotion
- Arista (1983-91) VP/Rock promotion, Product Development
- MMA Management (INXS)/rooArt Records, North America (1991-93) President
- Songlines (1993 to present)
1. What got you interested in the record business?
I love music but can't sing or play a lick, so I thought I'd try to help those who can. I managed to get an interview with Ahmet Ertegun in 1978 and told him I'd make coffee, run errands or deliver mail in order to work at the great Atlantic Records. A few months later I was answering phones.
2. What were your favorite stations to listen to when you were a kid?
Four spring to mind: WIXY 1260, CKLW (Detroit), WNCR, WMMS - Cleveland had great radio, which is why local record retail was so strong and every major act made northern Ohio a tour stop. For one brief moment in the early '70s, we had two amazing Progressive Rock stations until 'MMS stole most of 'NCR's announcers. There were many great personalities but I remember Billy Bass and Kid Leo best.
3. Where do you get your greatest pleasure in doing record promotion?
The greatest pleasure comes from helping great artists/songs reach their widest potential.
4. Tell us about your "Americana division" with Leslie Rouffe'.
Leslie opened our Americana wing in 2000 after many successful years at Rounder. Our mantra in Nashville is the same as it is at Triple A: We only work quality music. She is a tenacious worker, incredibly passionate, and simply the best promoter in our company. Americana is now part of our lexicon and roots-music reflects the history of our nation and its continued promise.
5. Tell us about the "music meetings" you do at various conventions.
Music is what draws us together at conferences and music meetings are the only time we collectively listen to and evaluate the same pieces of recorded music. As hosts, we always try to pick new songs that have not been widely disseminated in order to show how differently we each hear a song and how phenomenally wide our format's tents have become.
The first one we hosted was in 2001 when Dan Reed kindly offered me the task at Non-Commvention #2 in Louisville. A few years later we were asked by the Americana Music Association to try one. Those led to SXSW and NXNE. Each one is a little different depending on audience and occasion. Melanie Shrawder, Leslie Rouffe and I love doing them as they keep us in touch with the formats and what people are interested in hearing and playing.
6. What is the toughest part of your job?
I get to work with two remarkable women in Melanie Shrawder and Leslie Rouffe. I get to talk to people I like about music, artists and songs all day long. At night I see live music. There is nothing tough about my job.
7. What was the first record you worked to radio and what has been the biggest change since you first began doing radio promotion?
The first record I really cut my teeth promoting was "Highway Song" by Blackfoot. The biggest change in record promotion is, of course, technology: Computers, big and small. We used to write out call notes in longhand. Now we type, tweet and post. Sales and airplay charts (in larger markets) are no longer "reported" -- they're big data.
8. Things are changing rapidly in our business. Were it up to you, what would you change in our "system" to give bands a better shot?
Artists have never had a better chance for success than they do today. Write great songs and people will notice. The barriers for discovery have fallen away. That said, there's more crap being pushed around than ever before. Find partners who can help you hone your craft to be as good as the classics you'll be measured against. People often claim that artist development is dead. I worry much less about that than the lost art of A&R.
9. What has been your biggest career highlight?
I've been lucky to work with so many great artists in my career and have been able to meet and work with most of my heroes. A most recent highlight was witnessing Mavis Staples and Tom Jones meet again after several decades in a tiny dressing room at World Café Live. My camera never stopped clicking and I was reminded, yet again, why I hope to never have to get a real job.
10. Fill in the blank: I can't make it through the day without ...
Last Non-Industry Job:
I painted house numbers on curbs in Seattle
First Record Ever Purchased:
Meet the Beatles
Rolling Stones - Public Auditorium, Cleveland, 1966
Favorite band of all-time:
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time away from work?
Hanging out with my incredible wife, Dana, and sons, Emmett & Jackson, and our dog, Ernie! I'm very lucky that most of them like baseball. Go Tribe!