Sherod Robertson’s current role as Publisher/Owner of MusicRow Enterprises places him in the enviable position of hearing the news before it reaches industry ears. However, with that perk comes the weighty responsibility to “get it right” because the news often affects people’s livelihoods and families.
The Mississippi native’s first music industry appearance was at Reunion Records as VP Finance/CFO around 1991 and then as Director of Finance at Arista Records reporting to Tim DuBois and Mike Dungan. More recently Robertson served as CFO for SouthComm, Inc. the media company which purchased MusicRow magazine from founder David Ross in 2008; and the company from which Robertson acquired the publication in October 2010.
NEKST sat down with this publisher/CPA/entrepreneur to find out about his first 3 years back on the Row. As Robertson notes in the following interview, news publications and music publishers have both been impacted by digital distribution in many of the same ways. The challenges of operating an industry news feed are amazingly similar in some ways to problems that artists, record labels, songwriters and publishers must deal with like piracy and respect for intellectual property. Robertson also speaks out about MusicRow’s venerable InCharge directory and offers insight to the brand’s newest event, Rising Women On The Row.
NEKST: You had history working on Music Row at before purchasing MusicRow. What flipped the entrepreneurial switch in your head?
Sherod Robertson: Ever since college I wanted to own and run a business, but didn’t know how to make it happen. I studied accounting to help prepare and worked as a CPA before stumbling into the music business. Years later when MusicRow became available, I was Chief Financial Officer at SouthComm the company which owned it. The light switch did go off, but the entrepreneurial seed was planted long ago. I’m very analytical about most decisions, but didn’t think about this, even for a second, I just knew it was right. I had music business experience in the ‘90s; media experience in the 2000s and the two intersected with this opportunity. Plus, I’d been a MusicRow subscriber for years.
NEKST: Its been over 3 years, are you getting comfortable in your chair?
Sherod Robertson: Yes [laughs], but every day is so unpredictable. You make plans, but some breaking news appears and we drop what we’re doing to research and assemble the story. Like this week when they tore down the building on 17th and I saw how reactive it was on social media. I knew we needed to investigate. Bottom line, there’s so much rumor and opinion everywhere, the industry depends upon us to get the facts.
NEKST: What’s your staffing like?
Sherod Robertson: Senior News Editor Sarah Skates and Staff Writer Jessica Nicholson are the core of the news department and constantly keep their eyes and ears to the ground. However, everyones writes when needed. Kelsey Grady is our production manager/graphic design person who handles all our products including ad artwork. We have another person we haven’t announced yet who handles our radio chart and helps on the sales side. Finally, we have Marketing Manager Eric Parker who does customer service, marketing, social media, events, plus some writing. And we can’t forget freelancers who add a great deal to our content like Robert K. Oermann, plus contributors from O’Neil Hagaman and Milom, Horsnell, Crow, Rose and Kelley.
NEKST: You were pretty gutsy to establish the Rising Women event in your first year. Tell us about it.
Sherod Robertson: It has grown tremendously in the past three years. We had it at Maggianos for two years, but it sold out too quickly so we moved it to the Omni Hotel this year. It’s become an extension of our brand and another decision I didn’t need to analyze. I watched my Grandmother do tremendous career work, but never get recognized. MusicRow’s philosophy has always been to be first when recognizing artists and songs and this award continues that thinking by honoring people making huge contributions early in their careers. So in a way Rising Women On The Row continued the philosophy established long before I got here.
NEKST: Your InCharge book was just released. How does your committee decide who to include?
Sherod Robertson: InCharge is our most widely sought print issue and the criteria for inclusion has been unchanged since the very first issue. It isn’t a directory of everyone in the Nashville music industry or based solely upon longevity. As a result there are many people that are immensely valuable to this industry that are not in this directory. We try to be as fair as possible, but naturally some people disagree with our final choices. InCharge is a list of the top decision makers at key companies who “buy or sell significant quantities of goods and services and those who are crucial in building the careers of others…”
NEKST: Everyone sends you their news. How do you decide what stories to highlight?
Sherod Robertson: Symbolically for me it’s like sitting in the front row looking for things in front, to one side, or in the back. I always ask myself, “Is this something the industry wants or needs?”
NEKST: You went through Leadership Music and participated in the program the following year. Are you interested in being more active in other community organizations?
Sherod Robertson: When I first arrived I needed to get a deeper industry knowledge base because I wanted my contributions to be meaningful. I’m not on other boards right now, but am a member of RIAA, CMA, ACM and would definitely welcome the chance to be more involved.
NEKST: What’s been your biggest challenge at MusicRow?
Sherod Robertson: There are lot of challenges, but sometimes they turn into opportunities. One dynamic is the 24/7 aspect to how this works, whether it’s a staffing issue or wanting to cover the news faster and better. Things slow down for the weekend, but you never really clock out. The technology side is another challenge. This publication has always operated on the technology cusp and I want to carry that baton forward and engage with readers in every possible way. People want to receive information in different ways. Do you like to read a Facebook post first or go to the website; get an email or watch a video? You can’t do something and just say, “great.” You have to keep asking “How can we make it better?”
NEKST: Has digital distribution jolted the news industry?
Sherod Robertson: Media and music have both seen huge changes. Everyone used to buy newspaper subscriptions just like they used to buy CDs. Today both industries face a similar challenge—educating consumers that feel they don’t have to pay for our content. Subscriptions are one of MusicRow’s biggest revenue streams, but some readers share it without payment just like they share music via piracy and in other illegal ways. So what do you do? Both industries are searching for alternative revenue streams and other ways to support their core business.
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