CMA at 50: Org’s toppers look back

Three past chiefs reflect on their time at the helm

JO WALKER-MEADOR

CMA Executive Director (1961-1991)

Started at CMA in 1959

1. When you started at CMA, what excited you most about country music?

I liked a lot of country tunes and enjoyed dancing to songs like “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” However, I knew very little about the country music format at that time, as I did not classify the genres of music.

2. At that time, what did you perceive as the biggest threat facing country music?

The biggest threat was the popularity of a new style of music (rock ‘n’ roll) and dancing. This led to the near demise of country music radio formats due to the diminishing number of recordings a radio station would play as they adopted Gordon McClendon’s “Top 40” format.

3. What were the biggest changes you saw during your tenure?

CMA convinced radio stations to convert to the country music format by helping them learn programming and sales techniques, which resulted in growth of both listeners and income. Country music now has more radio stations than any other music format in the nation, largely due to the efforts CMA began in 1959.

Technology allowed the way music was recorded to grow and evolve through the years. Also, the music itself changed as more performers, songwriters and musicians added their own talents and influences to the mix.

ED BENSON

CMA Executive Director (1992-2005)

CMA Associate Executive Director (August 1979-January 1992)

1. When you started at CMA, what excited you most about country music?

It was right in the middle of the “Urban Cowboy” boom and everything was hitting new heights. The confluence of Western fashion, dance and the movies was legitimizing country music for a whole new audience.

2. At that time, what did you perceive as the biggest threat facing country music?

The biggest worry at that time was, of course, that the country music boom was so tied to fads (fashion, movies, dancing) and not to real values, which was the appeal to its true fans.

3. What were the biggest changes you saw during your tenure?

When I first started, the major record companies were the “big dogs” and the economic center of the music universe. No one ever thought that would change. But in the late ’90s, with the enormous growth of country’s popularity came a whole new level of “superstar” artists: artists who would become bigger in many ways than their record labels, artists who could dictate their deals. But concurrently lurking in the background was the biggest change — the emergence of digital distribution. How marvelous its potential: We could not only sell but instantly deliver music online. Unfortunately, that was also the time when the major record companies failed to embrace and nurture Napster and its evil twin — decentralized peer-to-peer file sharing — would rise and begin to destroy the economics of the business that had existed for decades.

TAMMY GENOVESE

CMA Chief Executive Officer (2007-present)

Started at CMA in 1985

1. When you started at CMA, what excited you most about country music?

I grew up in Mississippi and listened to country music throughout my entire childhood. I always loved the artists and songs, so naturally for me, I was most excited about the opportunity to work in the music business. Plus, I found it much more exciting than working as a corporate auditor and accountant, which is what I was doing prior to coming to CMA.

2. At that time, what did you perceive as the biggest threat facing country music?

The industry was in the midst of shifting from 8-tracks and cassette tapes to CDs. We were definitely trying to gain market share and looking for the next group of headliner artists to take us there. The challenge of educating corporate America about the country music fan and demo was a big opportunity that CMA seized, and it has been a factor in the sponsor relationships with country music artists and events today.

3. What were the biggest changes you saw during your tenure?

The transition to the digital and new media world and the change in consumer behavior, which ultimately changed the landscape of the music industry.

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 0

Marketplace

    Leave a Reply

    No Comments

    Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

    WordPress.com Logo

    You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

    Google+ photo

    You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

    Connecting to %s

    More Music News from Variety

    Loading