In the first of three related interviews today, we speak to Jim Cressman, the head of Invictus Entertainment Group — whose properties include Big Star Recordings — about the state of country and what a CCMA nomination can bring one of their artists.
What does a CCMA nomination mean in terms of bookings, media attention?
Well, if it's legit, then it's a meaningful endorsement from your industry peers. The problem is, the nominations are derived from a relatively small constituency and although the loopholes have tightened over the years, the system is still subject to manipulation. It's better now, but at one time, people would sign up their last three dead pets for CCMA memberships, use the votes to support themselves and pat themselves on the back. That's bullshit and means nothing.
Can you cite instances where a win generated new opportunities and higher revenues?
Again, when the win is in line with what is actually happening on the landscape, then it just contributes to the overall momentum of the act. When I was Johnny Reid's agent, in 2009, and he cleaned up in Vancouver, it really moved the needle for him—but he was already selling records and concert tickets.
The year Emerson Drive kicked ass in Regina, the CCMA wins capped off an incredible year when they'd already picked up some major steam by charting "Moments" at #1 on the Billboard singles chart. Last year, when Brett Kissel picked up two awards, and a Juno — that he really deserved — it contributed to the great foundation he has been building by winning over fans live and his success at Canadian country radio. Brett is poised to be the biggest country star and export we've seen in this format. Mark my words.
Back to the question though, when artists win these awards via vote manipulation, or win them too soon in their career, it really hurts them. They might take home the glass trophy, but the industry really resents them, and that does far more damage than good. The results of the awards have to be indicative of the measurable accomplishments and milestones achieved throughout a year. Although a few upsets are O.K., the results have to be reflective and credible, or it's just a sham.
Trends in country music today: More packaged tours?
Packaging is just about mitigating risk so you can sell tickets. That's not a trend. Johnny Cash, Elvis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison used to do package tours and that's about creating great value for the consumers, which is what it should be about on the live end.
As far as trends. Country is a lyrically driven format, and the fans are more connected to the songs than we give them credit for. As an industry, we're getting way too caught up in pyro and crazy production trying to compete with Rihanna, and artists of that ilk. Fans want to enjoy the artistry — and they like it raw, and less homogenized than other formats. This doesn't mean the show can't be fun and interactive, but I think country will split into touring factions. Those focused on smoke and lights, and those focused on the integrity of the music. I'll bet on the music EVERYTIME!
What percentage of your business remains physical CDs versus digital income from streaming, syncs ,et cetera?
Physical happens offstage, but it's negligible beyond that. Big Star Recordings is focused on creating a buzz via multimedia, using radio and publicity to drive the live end of an artist's career. Of course, singles and album sales matter, but as long as a song drives the live business, we can push forward. We book, promote and manage all our label clients. It is a true 360 model that has the booking, management and other services integrated. This gives us the autonomy and latitude to get innovative and I have no doubt that the entrepreneurial mindset of the principals in this venture will redefine the conventional label module and obtain incredible results; as well as shock a few people, cause that's always fun.
Our promoting division is exploding. In the past few years, we've promoted and produced shows with Carrie Underwood, Tim McGraw, Maroon 5, KISS, Marilyn Manson, Luke Bryan, Mötley Crüe, Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line, Wiz Khalifa and many more. We promote major tours, and when it makes sense, we add one of our management or agency clients to support it. In the case of Brad Paisley, we added Brett Kissel and he rose to the occasion. We recently had Jordan McIntosh open for Sam Hunt and his socials jumped thanks to the exposure and alignment. Same with Cory Marquardt, who supported all of Toby Keith's Canadian dates this summer. Toby's fans loved him. We're the only company executing this model with our level of effectiveness and consistency. We'll get stronger in this realm and do more. It's inevitable.