Promoter Joe Schuld describes his battle to get country-rap song on air
By Nate Rau Tennessean.com 2/16/14
Joe Schuld is a grizzled veteran of the no-holds-barred world of radio promotion.
He cut his teeth promoting for Columbia Records in the 1980s and ’90s, pushing songs by the Beastie Boys, George Michael, Destiny’s Child and a slew of others.
In recent years, Schuld, who is from Michigan, has been working as a promoter for independent label Average Joes.
While Schuld said the work of promoting a song to radio is more difficult than before, the job is largely the same: persuading country radio programmers, through an array of sales techniques, to play a record. Natural tension arises when promoters from different labels plug dozens of songs at a given time. Radio stations have finite playlists, which must mix new and old hits from emerging and established acts.
Programmers strive to play songs that keep listeners tuned to their stations, which means they’re not naturally inclined to take risks.
In recent years, Schuld has had the tough task of persuading programmers to do just that as he has pushed songs from country songwriter/rapper Colt Ford.
For insight into what goes into promoting a current song, he described his experience selling Ford’s “Drivin’ Around Song,” a song that featured vocals from superstar Jason Aldean. “Drivin’ Around Song” has sold more than 391,000 digital downloads, but it peaked at No. 56 on the country airplay chart.
Picking a single
A label typically goes out on a limb when choosing a single to promote to radio, but Schuld said that wasn’t the case with “Drivin’ Around Song.” That’s because the song outperformed the first single on the record, “Back,” as soon as the album was released in 2012.
Because “Drivin’ Around Song” instantly had traction as a digital download, Average Joes knew it would be a good fit as a single. Ford and Aldean had a relationship dating to Aldean’s hit “Dirt Road Anthem,” which Ford co-wrote and performed on his own album.
“With ‘Drivin’ Around Song,’ when we absolutely knew it was a hit was the first week the album came out,” Schuld said. “That song sold 30,000 downloads the first week the album was out, and that was separate from (full-album purchases).
“Thirty-thousand downloads, and there was nothing even close to that. Other than the single we were working, which was ‘Back,’ which was a big hit with Jake Owen. The reason we did that song was Jake Owen loved it and went to Sony and said, ‘You’ve got to let them put this out as a single.’ So he was very instrumental to having that out as the song. It’s a great song.”
Because traditional terrestrial radio is still the No. 1 form of music discovery, labels continue to invest heavily in promoting records. They press hard copies to mail to radio promoters and music directors in addition to emailing digital copies.
Labels also pay their own promoters, such as Schuld for Average Joes, or hire an independent company to sell the record. Schuld said it didn’t feel that he was home in Nashville at all during September and October of last year, because he was on the road plugging the song to programmers in his Midwest territory.
“Digital is the easiest and cheapest way to do it,” Schuld said, regarding the cost of sending a record to programmers. “Sending out the CDs, you’ve got to manufacture the CDs, the postage, and there’s over 1,000 radio stations. It’s expensive.
“You’ve got to figure you’ re making an investment of at least $500,000 with all the traveling that also goes into promoting the record. You can sit there and talk on the phone to a program director — if you can get him on the phone — all you want, but there’s nothing like a real visit, to sit down and sell the song and have a real discussion to completely educate them and get them on the right page.”
The sales pitch
Once Average Joes chose when it was going to release “Drivin’ Around Song” as a single last fall, the next step for Schuld and the label’s other promoters was to make their sales pitches.
For Schuld, that meant bringing programmers to Ford’s boisterous live shows, which frequently sold out last fall. Schuld said some programmers committed to adding “Drivin’ Around Song” after seeing Ford perform.
But one unnamed programmer passed on the record even after lauding Ford for having the decade’s biggest hit.
“So we get into the club and there’s 1,200 people already there,” Schuld said. “And this programmer, who is one of the best programmers, said to me, ‘What do you think the biggest hit of the ’80s was?’ And I said Alabama, ‘Mountain Music.’ And he said, ‘Right, of course.’
“And then he said, ‘And what was the biggest hit of the ’90s?’ And I said, ‘Low Places’ by Garth Brooks, and he said I was right. So then he goes, ‘And you know what the biggest hit of the 2000s was? “Dirt Road Anthem.” ’
“So, here I have a programmer who said Colt Ford had the biggest hit of the decade, co-wrote and played on it, and he’s standing at a club with people about to scream their voices out to a Colt Ford show, and he still won’t play his record!”
Pitching songs to programmers has gotten more sophisticated because of the more intricate sales numbers, social media data and analytics instantly available to record labels.
For “Drivin’ Around Song,” those data sets played in Schuld’s favor. Because Ford has collaborated and toured with an array of top artists, buzz for his song fared well on social media. For instance, when Florida Georgia Line tweeted about “Drivin’ Around Song,” weekly downloads for the song jumped from 1,700 to 5,800.
And, overall, the sales numbers for the record have been excellent with 500,000 sales seeming to be a foregone conclusion. Ford also had strong touring numbers, headlining his own tour and opening for Florida Georgia Line last year.
So why did “Drivin’ Around Song” stall at No. 56 on the airplay chart despite sales data and anecdotal evidence from shows showing that Ford’s music was resonating with country fans?
“Because he raps,” Schuld said. “He even has a song called ‘I Can’t Sing.’ The style of it was just a little bit different, although you see the influence he has in some of the music that’s come out in the last year or so. Obviously ‘Dirt Road Anthem’ is Jason Aldean’s biggest hit, and he co-wrote the song. Consumers want it. But will radio play it?
“Unfortunately, I do think there is a prejudice against the rap style that exist. When they do their research, there’s going to be a certain percentage of people who dislike a Colt Ford song at a greater level than there are people who dislike a Thompson Square song.
“But you know what? Colt resonated with people. He did his job and the song has sold great, so we were happy.”
“Drivin’ Around Song”
Peak on country airplay chart