Interview with Jim Donio, President of NARM: Part I – 2010 Convention In Chicago

This year, Chicago will host the NARM convention scheduled May 14 to 17.  Earlier this week, I had a chance to speak with Jim Donio, President of NARM.  We spoke about what to expect at this year’s convention and who should attend.  Some of the events we touched upon include the Music Crash Course and some meetups specifically created for heavy metal and urban music communities.

The interview is split into two parts.  The following is what we spoke about regarding the convention.  The second half is dedicated to topics about the industry, so stay tuned.

Contrapuntist:  For people who are not familiar with NARM, could you please provide some information about the organization and its role in the music industry?

Jim Donio:  NARM is the National Association of Recording Merchandisers, a not-for-profit trade association. We have been around since 1958 and we are an organization that bridges commerce and content for the music industry. We provide a nexus. We provide a meeting place. We provide an opportunity for sharing ideas and information, a forum for dialogue, for insight for business deals, etc., between content and commerce segments.  The retailers and service providers of the industry come together with the record labels and distributors and others who are involved with creating content. We have some artists and some managers. Rounding out the community, we have educators, consultants and other industry professionals interested in advancing the business of music.

Contra: Who should attend the convention and why?

JD: Our members are obviously the primary attendees.  We do have some companies and individuals who want to get involved in the music business that do attend.  The convention is for the members of the association.  People join associations to associate. The convention is really a cross section of all the various types of business entities that come together to know and promote and merchandise music whether it’s physical, digital or mobile. We have records stores. We have online stores. We have mobile stores. We have social media companies and other types of technology companies that are providing infrastructure, or opportunities for new creative ways to get people to discover, access, purchase, or own music.

Then we have all the major music record labels and a very diverse collection of independent labels.  They come together to learn because we have a lot of interesting speakers.  We have about 90 speakers with a variety of sessions, topics and presentations.  And they have about twenty hours of time over the three days or so to conduct private meetings where they have one-on-one opportunities to share their relative interests and perspectives on upcoming releases. Record labels have private meetings with their accounts to talk about their releases, artists and upcoming music. And then they discuss various ways to promote and sell that music.

Contra: For new businesses and emerging artists that have never attended a NARM convention, how should they prepare for it in order to get the most out of it?

JD: It depends on where you are, what your objectives are, and what your goals are.  We have a music business crash course that takes place on the first day and a half of the convention, which is designed primarily for companies who are new to the business or who are just considering getting into the business.  It may be an artist that has their own label that is looking at the business side of the industry and not just the creative side.  It could be a manager who manages several artists who wants to get a better handle on the new tools that are available to get their music sold and in front of their fans. Everyone has their particular objectives or schedule around what they are coming to accomplish.

If you are coming to learn, we’ve got 3 days full of sessions, 90 speakers and everything from the physical to the digital to the mobile in terms of learning about the marketplace, gaining perspectives and insights from experts in various fields.  We have a whole series of research presentations.  If you are coming to learn, and that is your primary objective, you will have many, many opportunities to leave the convention with lots of data and perspective.

If you are coming primarily to do business meetings, if you have a project, or prospect, or product that you want to sell or introduce to the industry, then you can create a schedule and pre-arrange meetings with various potential trading partners to do that. We provide a forum, an infrastructure, an architecture around which companies can come from all these various disciplines and achieve specifically what they need to achieve in terms of the business of the convention.  In the evenings, we have opportunities for socializing and networking, for hearing music, for having fun and kicking back as well.

Contra: Could you describe some of the events people can look forward to?

JD:  I touched on the crash course that is the first day and a half.  On Saturday afternoon, we have a town hall meeting on alternative strategies on the physical marketplace.  It is no secret that physical sales have been declining over the past number of years, but they are still the lion’s share, particularly for the album business.  Physical product still accounts for about three quarters of the album business.  We are looking at where we are with physical product, what does the physical marketplace look like, what is the role for the physical product in the marketplace in the years ahead, so that is an interesting  forum/town hall meeting that we are having on Saturday.

We have our opening session on Sunday morning with our keynote speaker, James Diener, who is the CEO of A&M/Octone Records in New York.   We allow time for private meetings, and then we have our research sessions and presentations on Sunday afternoon.  We are also doing two new things this year, an Urban and a Metal meetup.  We have two separate groups that will come together to talk about these two genres; where they are in the industry today, what’s next, what opportunities there are, what trends there maybe.  We have not done this before, so we are looking forward to this adding an exciting new dimension to the convention.

Then we have our evening programs. Randy Jackson, who is one of the judges on American Idol, is a renowned producer and he has his own record label.  But in this instance for NARM, he is coming to introduce a band called Paper Tongues that he has been working with.  He will introduce them to NARM and to the audience, and they will perform a concert at Buddy Guy’s Legends, which is right across the street from the [Hilton] Hotel in Chicago. That is going to be very exciting.

On Monday, pretty much the whole day program-wise is devoted to the digital marketplace and what is ahead there.  We have Río Caraeff, the CEO of VEVO, is in the morning.  Then we have a series of breakout sessions on digital solutions, online services and providers of different online tools that someone may use depending on what type of perspective they have on the business. We have sessions on royalties, mobiles applications, on games and then on metrics.

We will conclude with a fabulous Monday evening, which is our awards dinner finale.  During this event, we will honor both executives and artists.  Headlining the event will be Cale, who will be performing.  We will also be honoring Taylor Swift, Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper, and Leiber & Stoller, who are legendary songwriters.

Contra: All of that sounds really great. Could you provide a little information about how much people would expect to pay for something like this?

JD: For the crash course, it is very affordable for a day and a half of learning, for opportunities, education and [to make] contacts. If you are a label, manager, or small business associated to the music industry, it is $99. If you are a student or an artist, it is $29 and that includes a one year membership in NARM. Any of those people who want to upsell for the full convention, we have a special rate of $279.

Contra: You mention that students can get a great bargain.  Is this open for any kind of student regardless of genre or educational background?

JD: You need to be someone who is studying or who wants to be involved in the music business in some way, shape or form. I doubt the program would attract someone who is studying a completely different discipline. There may be folks who are in school for a completely different degree, but they are musicians in their spare time. I would suspect that we would have some young people who are studying architecture, let’s say, but they are musicians and they want to learn more about the music business. In that case, the scope would be a little more expansive.  Primarily, it is for students who are studying the music business.

For more information about the convention or to register, visit the NARM website.

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