Programmers around the world might consider CDX a digital music valet, that regularly announces, “Sir, your new songs have arrived! How would you like to listen today?”
In fact, it seems so well conceived that one might not realize that many of its current listening channels are the result of a year-long, massive modernization effort. Heading up the project has been CDX VP/GM Joe Kelly. Together with co-founder Paul Lovelace they built a digital download center that contains all the songs distributed by the company since it started in 1991, a destination web site, a smartphone app for listening on the go and much more. An interactive map showing all the stations they service is visually impressive.
The company was formed as a partnership between two friends, beloved Country Music Disc Jockey Hall of Famer Charlie Douglas who passed on in 2011, and promo exec. Paul Lovelace.
When first created, CDX only distributed product to secondary stations. But Kelly says, “Over time things change. About five years ago we expanded our reach to include the mainstream stations too.”
Joe Kelly returned to CDX about a year ago after an extended leave of absence, with the mission to build those new media channels and find ways as he says to, “super serve country radio.”
NEKST: How did CDX start?
Joe Kelly: Paul Lovelace and Charlie Douglas formed the company in 1990 and released the first disc in March 1991. Paul had just left Capitol Records where he was the VP of National Promotion and had helped break Garth Brooks. He had been servicing secondary radio while at Capitol which is when the idea for CDX came to him. He and Charlie went to lunch one day, formed the company and almost immediately it went gangbusters. At the time, many of the smaller stations had real issues getting new music. I remember one station saying they had to record new current songs off the reporting station 50 miles down the road and sometimes they’d miss the first few bars because the announcer was talking! So when secondary radio stations started getting a regularly delivered compilation CD of all the new singles, it made their lives easier. And that’s been our model and mission statement since day one, what we do has to make radio’s lives easier. Charlie’s radio background and Paul’s promotion experience afforded them a high level of understanding about what was needed.
NEKST: Isn’t this your second time around at CDX?
Joe Kelly: Yes. I had been at DPI Records working with Mae Axton and Jim Foglesong. After that I joined Paul and Charlie at CDX in ’92 and stayed there until ’99. Paul’s been my greatest mentor and when I got an offer to do regional promotion for a label, he urged me to do it for my career. So with his blessing, off I went. Then about a year ago, at lunch Paul said, “It’s time for you to come home.” So we identified a list of goals to accomplish and so far we’re knocking them down like dominos.
NEKST: And that mission was to deploy new technology and modernize the company’s distribution methods?
Joe Kelly: Paul began gathering email addresses almost five years ago because he felt the shift coming, but it was a slow process (back then some stations would fax in their email address). But we wanted to offer country radio every way they might choose to receive and preview new music. With that in mind we started building a digital download/listening center that offers programmers our entire 22-year music catalog.
NEKST: Is country radio taking advantage of this new asset?
Joe Kelly: We did a first quarter callout campaign to all CDX stations about download use. Seventy percent of the stations said, “We love the digital access, but please don’t quit sending us the disc.” Digging deeper we found that about 806 of the 1,750 U.S. country stations we service regularly use the download center. That gives us a barometer and is a sizable number. “Why?” was especially interesting. PDs and MDs are so busy. Traditionally, we think of them in an office reviewing music at their desk for 3-4 hours. But it doesn’t happen that way. When we asked the right questions we found that, boots on the ground, many are listening to new music via CD in the car, commuting between home and the station. When listening to the disc they either actively listen to parts of each song, or just put it on and wait for something to catch their attention. We also found that many of the users are making programming decisions based upon the CD and then going into the digital download center to download high quality versions of the tracks. Everyone uses the tools differently which is why options and choices are important when you are presenting new music to programmers or gatekeepers.
NEKST: Do you offer a digital lite version of the complete disc in one low res digital download?
Joe Kelly: Yes, it’s available as a zip file. We also have airplay-ready MP3s and wav files available of each song.
Joe Kelly: Another big priority was to redo our website and make it a destination by offering information such as daily trivia and show prep type stuff. Our website is often open in on-air situations because when a listener calls in and wants to hear “Chattahoochee,” it’s right there in our download center. We’re getting over 4,000 hits each month from radio, so in the process we also created some download area ad space which is a helpful way for artists to draw attention to a track.
NEKST: The web site and download center were clearly priorities, was there more?
Joe Kelly: Based upon everyone’s day-to-day lives we knew we also needed to create a smartphone app. If a programmer is going to the YMCA and running on the treadmill for an hour, we want him to have the option of throwing on his earbuds. So we built a custom app/music player adding another way to expose new music. The app may be a little ahead of it’s time, but our monthly analytical reports show there are about 100-150 radio stations consistently using it and that is enough to make it worthwhile to us and to our clients.
NEKST: How about building a social media presence?
Joe Kelly: We began with Facebook and Twitter and have dabbled with a few others like Pinterest and Google Plus. Our distribution and client sides are already pretty well developed, so social media in our specific case is like spraying oil on the moving parts to keep them in tip top shape. It’s also helpful as a means to gather information from our clients and users about what is working and what isn’t. We aren’t going after consumers directly, but we are in touch with these gatekeepers who have the consumer’s ears— they are the megaphones of our industry.
NEKST: Looking ahead, what’s on the horizon?
Joe Kelly: We want to touch every decision maker who exposes new music to the public, so we are always on the lookout to see who we need to be servicing. You could say we try to have one foot firmly planted in the present and the other in the future. The world we service is enormous—according to Nielsen, US country radio has a total cume of over 66 million people. Bill Ford made a great comment that sums up my feelings. He said, “A good company delivers excellent products and services; a great company does all that and strives to make the world a better place.” In 22 years over 10,000 songs have been serviced through CDX to an average of 2,000 radio stations and that’s saved 20 million plastic CD singles that otherwise might have ended up in a landfill… that’s impactful.