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Questions for Couchie's Cousin

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I'm going to be proactive in chatting with my cousin regarding what's going on in the music industry. She's worked for a major record label (NOT RCA) for the past 12 or so years in the area of PR. As a college grad, her first job was as the record company's liason between the company and local record stores in the Bay Area. She was up close and personal with the label's artists when they came to town. Since she began she has survived mergers and gotten 4 big promotions. I do believe she can offer a lot of insight.

I will talk to her about the format. She's a busy woman but she has already agreed to chat with me but I'm going to nail her down. I'll start with a phone call and having your questions here will help me while I'm talking to her. And then I'll see if now and again she'll just come to this thread and answer questions.

So post your questions here in the area of PR, distribution and even general record industry questions and I'll try to get as many of them answered as possible. I'll give it a week before I contact her.

I started this thread so that all the questions would be in the same place.

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great idea Couchie...

First question...How is Clay generally perceived in the Recording industry???

How proactive is an artist and their management in the promotion of a CD? Do they have a say how much witll be spent on Radio and how much will be spent on video?

thats it for now.

thanks for doing this Couchie...


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You are braver than me, I never ask my friend any questions, I just listen - plus she is so busy we have a lot more interesting things to talk about the few times we get together

Can you ask her the value and cost of the Walmart sound checks - besides being run poorly, I am not sure of how this is being marketed by Walmart.

How appreciated is it when a fan contacts a distributor and how does the industry reguard the distributors - as a force for good or a force for stupidity

Edited by playbiller
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Guest huskerfalcon

What does she see as wrong with how the industry is run?

Do the artists she has talked with ever give her insight as to how the label treats them as artists?

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I'd do a converse to husker's question as well: what does she see the record industry doing right, if anything?

What does she see as more important for selling an album: radio play or television appearances, or is there something else in this new day and age?

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How relevant are music videos.

What is the music industry doing to counteract downloading/torrents/you tube?

Do artists have any say in promtion or are they given a script and told to follow it.

Can PR folk dictate stories to magazines and expect them to be written up as distacted?

How is the promo plan for an artist/album determined?

Is it important for an artist to be where the action is. How important is hobnobbing and partying?

How important are brick and mortar stores.

Has first-listen at radio stations or say AOL or yahoo proven to be an effective selling tool?

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I would like to know how they (and who are "they") decide what market an artist's music will be marketed it to. How do they decided who fits what format? Some are obvious, but there are many artists that could fit multiple formats or don't clearly fit in any (I believe Clay is in the latter).

Also, when radio has been resistent to an artist how else can you effectively reach their non-core fan base? TV and print media are effective to a point, but its not the continually pounding over the head that radio can be. It tends to be a one shot deal. Is there any way, short of payola, to get radio to start playing an artist who in the past has not been readily accepted on radio?

Who decides what music is used on a TV show? I am sure the TV show's producers have a lot of input, but do the artist and their "people" submit music to TV shows for consideration to be used or does it just rest on TPTB with the show just knowing the artist? A song used as a TV show's theme or regularly within their episodes gets a lot of exposure (assuming its a popular show). Same question for movie music.

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Good questions already. Some of mine taken.

1. How is the marketing done today as opposed to 10 years ago?

2. Is radio play and videos still considered the best way to get a new song to mainstream. Or do they now consider the internet to be a more viable marketing tool and in what ways are they planning to utilize the internet? How effective is YouTube, MySpace, ITunes, and AOL first listen, etc?

3. Are artists allowed any input into their music? Or are they strickly at the mercy of the whip? Is the sophmore album still considered to be the make or break cd of an artist?

3. Is the number of cd's left in each retail store determined by demand/sales of a particular artist in that particular store/region?

4. I would like to know what she knows about what is going on with Clay And his label. Is RCA trying to destroy Clay's career or are they counting their blessings they have an artist in such high demand who can sell cds without radio play.

5. How is Clive Davis viewed by his peers and the artists in the music industry, as a whole? Can she provide any personal knowledge of artists who are very happy to be working with RCA? What kind of music is David Foster putting out today? Is it rock or is it ballads?

6. How important is it that an artist write their own material and what is the view of the industry, in general, about cds with covers on them?

7. How helpful is it to read books about the music industry written, say 10 years ago. How much of what is written about then still apply today? Has there been major changes in the industry?

8. How are labels trying to address the problem of Payola?

I'm sure I will think of more stuff.

Edited by Clayzorback
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Thanks for offering us this opportunity!

Since MCWL, I have seen "problems" in distribution at the local level. This seemed to be more ridiculous with ATDW, and the fiasco that was the AIW Walmart special edition ep. So....

Please explain generally how CDs get from label to distributor to store display. Does the distributor OWN the cds once they are shipped? Are distributors free to push or pull them as they see fit?

What coordiation, if any, takes place between label and distributor to maximize marketing and public relations efforts? Surely ATDW lack of distribution during its limited promotion window was either because Murphy's Law was supreme during that time. Or, Murphy was proven to be an optimist.

Is the distributor free to make exclusive deals with some outlets to the exclusion of others? Does the label have any say in this?

Who pays for special store placement? The artist or the label? What kind of oversignt is employed by either to ensure that they are getting what they paid for?

Are distributors facing the same kind of losses labels are facing with the diminution of cd sales?

Is there payola in distribution?

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I'm curious to know how the music industry is adjusting to the changes in consumer purchasing habits. Someone upthread brought up downloads and YouTube. I think that less people are listening to radio today and more people are file sharing. With Itunes, people can just go download the one song they want, so how is the music industry responding to how people purchase music now? Is that affecting how full CDs are marketed?

Also, how does the industry, in general, feel about AI? These are artists chosen by "the people" rather than by the suits in the industry. Do they feel AI contestants are a cash cow, given the instant recognition they have coming off the show, or are they a liability?

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How hard is it pushing a U.S. domestic artist internationally? How is that decided?

What's her best guess at the number of albums RCA required from Clay?

How hard are labels trying to get a cut of touring profits?

How important is the little crappy club circuit in Top 40/pop/AC circles? Or is that more in rock/alt rock?

Do people give her unsolicited CDs? What is the best way currently to leap into a pop music career?

I'm bored - how do I take over Sean Comb's career? With or without hoochies?

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I've noticed that TV is being utilized more and more as a means to introduce a new artist, and to have their music played. Can she expand on what other ways the music industry plans to utilize TV?

Also wondered about being signed with a major label. Isn't that a good thing as opposed to being signed with a small one, say like 143?

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OK I need to sit down and at least start this or I never will cuz in a couple of days I'll be hanging around my boyfriend for a few days,

Last week I got a call from my cousin and she was coming back to town and she just realized the secretary made her hotel reservation for the wrong day. So she decided to stay with us for a night. I was like YES heee.. finally. After spending some time around her for two days I realized a couple of things. What I would like to happen and what was going to happen are two different things. Me sitting there asking her question after question was WORK.

This woman lives and breathes work and she was consumed by her work. Her blackberry was in her hand almost constantly. She gets about 200-300 emails a day. And even though she worked a good 10-12 hours both days...each day she had after hours work to do. One was an in store event with a new pop group. THey had 200 people show up. They sang 3 songs and signed autographs. I wondered if the label was satisfied with that. She said yeah because they were a new group.

What I found funny is that there are probably some Clay Nation "experts" that spend more time reading about the music industry than she does. She doesn't follow people at other labels. In fact I asked her if this big time old school artist was still on the label (she had gotten me concert tickets to him years before) and she said she didn't know because his name hadn't come up on her new release list. I cracked up.

Just as some background when my cousin graduated from college she took a job for a record label. Well she corrected me - she works for the distribution arm of a major label in the marketing/merchandising and distribution dept-physical stores. She started out as a merchandising rep. Basically she was the man on the street and was her label's presence in the brick and mortar stores. For a time she lived with me so posters, and CDs, etc were shipped to our house. They didn't even have an office to work out of here. She worked indpendenly out of her home. I basically taught the girl how to use a computer. She used to be up on my computer using my rudimentary graphics program to create flyers to take to record stores. (She said she saved some of her early stuff and it's a joke compared to what the youngins can do out of the gate today. She invented the contests that were happening at store and got approval to run them from higher ups She created the relationships with the stores for her labels and if one of the artist's posters were hanging in primo position in a store it was because of her hard work. When artists came to town she was point person for setting up their activities, whether it be signings, club appearances, interviews etc.

Today she is manager over a ton of people who do the above. It still works the same way but instead of people working independently they do have an office here. She's in the loop for all new artists. They have new release conference calls once a week and it just so happened that she had to upload her schedule to my computer so got to read it heee. The call lasted an hour and a half and basically the format was like this.

The first half hour they went over soundscan and forecast updates, what was in the news, a digital update and what new tools were available -- e.g. posters, videos - who was on tours, in store promotions. Then they had another hour broken down into 5 or 10 minute time slots which different departments /associated labels etc. presented their info.

She did talk about work - stuff the interetested her. She doesn't work for RCA. She doesn't follow Clay. She doesn't know what he's up to. Her guess about why he had to do a covers album was his perceived fan base. She is not familiar with the claymates. She doesn't have any deep feelings about Idol. She watches it like we watch it..as fans. I'll try in the future to get your questions in there but for the first time I just let the conversations flowed naturally. And it's really just 5 minutes here, five minutes there over hte course of the time I spent with her over that two day period. She knows more is coming. I just followed her lead and kinda went wherver the conversation went. And as smart as this fan base is, most of this stuff won't be new. I still thought it was interesting to hear an insider view.

My biggest impression is that the music business is in deep deep trouble. She said she'll hang in there as long as she can and then just take all her knowledge to another industry. She has mergers and cuts and restructuring and she doesn't expect that to end soon. As we all know, the physical stores are giving way to Walmart, Itunes, and Best Buy. Just think of all the record stores you used to go to growing up. I frankly only know where one record store is in my area. I'm sure they may still be at the malls but mostly I buy music at Target.

The digital deparment is growing. Her department is shirnking. In fact, she told me that her department is treated like red headed step children. I laughed at this. LOL. She said that they got moved out of their offices on their floor and the digital department got moved in and now they all have big offices with plasma tvs. But she said when you walk in to the offices of the digital department it's like an insurance office. It could be any office USA. While the physcial store people - you can hear the creative process, the music blasting. They really know the product.

What's interesting to me is that it seems it's more than the physical offices that are now different. When they all get together for meetings it's like they are speaking in different languages. The digital people are all techies types. She wonders if they even care aobut the music. I'ts all about formats - she said a bunch of crap here that didn't understand..techie talk. heee Basically she's saying they are computer geeks, not music people.

Anyway, she can already see that digital may be the way of the future but what's happening there isn't enough to cancel out the lack of sales in the physical stores. Her label thought lowering prices but that hasn't really helped. Of course she thinks the major problem is that the music is crap. She laughed.. She said she didn't have to like it, just sell it. But as long as albums consists of only a few good songs more and more people will continue to download legally or illegally. And if it were up to her most artists would be sent back to studio before the albums were allowed to be released.

OK I started... will try to finish tonight.

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It was so clear that my cousin loves what she does and just really loves music in general. And like Jenna and others have said, the music business is made up of a lot people just like her. They care about the music. They care about the product. They care about doing a good job.


OK I Know that we normally get the numbers through HDD on Monday and Tuesday and soundscan on Wednesday but wondered how it was through the eye of the record company. Well they the very day the cd's go on sale on tuesday they are getting hourly updates. Then there prognosticators get to work and by the end of the day they pretty much can forecast what the artist will sell. She did say a few years ago the forecasts would be within 1000 units but digital has thrown people off their game and can be as far away as 15,000 units. She had me laughing over this. I mean this person would add more to the estimates when they got a lot of singles downloads and she said she'd be thinking..they're buying single downloads cuz they hate the album, subtract subtract subtract.

Every label is different – some know a lot about artist development. Others are more hit driven and know how to get their songs on the radio. Some will work every ouce of juice out of an album. Others will stop promoting and move on if there is no traction after the first single. There are few sacred cows and there's always a next somebody that has talent. I guess we know which one RCA is right? In discussing Kelly Clarkson and someone from her label I got the distinct impression that the one thing you don't do is trash the label. Sure in Kelly's case, maybe Clive will do what he does but the working man on the street that isn't on Clive's speed dial won't like it either. But that's a rare thing actually. Is there payback. Maybe nothing overt but implied - maybe their record disappears from the weekly conference call discussion - which is a sign basically that they are moving on.

As a manager in the distribution division, of course she is in on every phase of promotion – as in - knows what the plan is and what part she will play. Works closely with her bosses. There are constant meetings. There is no paint by the numbers way to say how things will be worked and promoted. Every artist is different. Every artist contract is different. The players involved for each artist may be different.

Most artist managers work in conjunction with the label even during a promotion cycle. The management that is loud, demanding, and in the face of the label may get more results than those that aren't because the loud noise trickles down from above. We aren't the only fan group that checks out stores for product. LOL. One well known singer's fans works WITH the management by scouting out the stores - management uses that info to deal with the label. I'm sure many fan groups do this but frankly only one has made itself notorious from top of the label all the way down to the man on the street. She was cracking me up about those scarey fans. I wish she worked for RCA because I wonder if WE are scarey enough for them or just amateurs.

Back to Walmart. it's the #1 reatiler for music. But music is only a small part of it's bottom line. But Walmart accounts for 30% for the label. Just part of the shaky ground right now. Oh I did ask about the Walmart soundchecks. She seems to think they do work for the impulse purchase...but again, unless the man on the street is in the stores making sure they are actually going..well there's human error and dependence on the store to do its job. The Rogers of the world depend on the people under them to do their jobs.

Oh I checked my notes and that new group only had 100, not 200 people show up for the signing and she did say they were happy with that.

She talked a bit about fickle fans. How they just won't consistently buy from one album to the next - even when it's similar in style. This is why they don't want people to deviate too much from what they are known for. It's hard enough keeping people coming back. We were just getting into whether there was a particular genre that was more loyal when her phone rang., I hope to pick it up there next time. I'm curious about what her experience has been. I'll also throw in some actual questions.

I'll also write stuff down when it's fresh on my mind. Eek it's been a week and my old brain isn't what it used to be. I might be able to squeeze out one more post.

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Good work Couchie, both in the questions and recounting all of the conversation so well. Your cousins job sounds stressful at best. I am one of those consumers who don't buy the whole CD unless I really like the artist enough to take a chance on buying a lot of bad songs. I buy all of Clay's and a few other artists CD's. Otherwise I-Tunes gets my business at .99c a song.

It seems that the powers to be in the music business don't really know or care about the general public and their buying habits. For someone like Clive Davis, who musically lives in the past, to dictate what I want to hear is absurd. The label may be able to punish the artist for rebelling but the general public still loves who they love and will buy their product. Thank goodness for I-Tunes.

Clay is a good example of that as are the Dixie Chicks who seemingly somehow pissed off all of the south with their GW comments (mild as they were). It spurred me on to buy their new CD which is the best thing they have ever done. They wrote the whole album and vented like Kelly did when writing her songs. Difference was that they vented about a group of people who literally shunned them. Kelly vented about personal relationships. I bought both CD's and thumbed my nose at the establishment who I believe are all for sale anyway. Radio is a joke because they play yesterdays songs that still provide the DJ's with payola.

Thank you. :clap:

Edited by Toots
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Couchie, I was wondering if your cousin would know this: When Clay or any other artist has a track on one of these compilations discs. ie, The Crooner'r Christmas or WOW, That's what I Call _____, how are they compensated?

Well my cousin made a quickie trip into town. In yesterday and out today. She was busy. I had to work. She had dinner meeting. I had a contract job after work yesterday so only had 20 minutes with her as I picked her up from her hotel today and drove her to the airport. And she was on the phone half the time.

She told me I was a lousy reporter cuz I never called her again for more questions LOL. I explained the thread, and that I had written up what we had talked about *five days after the fact * And that she is known as couchie's cousin. She laughed and this time I really felt she genuinely was ok about me grilling her. She said she'd be happy to do it again. You know how sometimes you think people are just doing things cuz you're related but they really don't want to. That's how I felt before...but not anymore...so YAY.

Atinal, the only question I could squeeze in was yours because my brain was a little fried and I had actually read that one recently. Basically she said that yes artists would get a percentage IF IF IF they have good lawyers. All of that is negotiated. Everybody gets a piece of the pie of course including the label and the person who owns the publishing rights..and some other rights (mechanical I think heh.... sorry I was driving in traffic). So we know that Clay has supposedly has a good entertainment attorney right from jump. I take comfort that this is something he nailed down for him.

What was fun was listening to her half of the conversation. Work is work no matter what you do. There are good people. And there are incompetent fools. And there are people who cover their ass. From what I could make out it had something to do with the procedure for getting promotional money for artists at associated labels. Forms and promises and oops and non reimbursements and vendors wanting payment in advance and not in thirty days and decisions from above keeping the lowly worker from doing their job or making them come off as professional. Yep...just an ordinary work day. I think we can all relate. heee.

Anyway... one of these days real soon I'll call her up and grill her some more. I'll go back and look at questions. We just realoly had no time today.

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