Shelia Shipley Biddy became the first female executive to head a Nashville based record label when she was named DECCA Sr. VP/GM in 1994. Under her watch DECCA achieved nine No. 1 singles, two Platinum and three Gold albums. Biddy also gathered extensive previous promotion experience at RCA and MCA Records and was honored with the Country Radio Broadcaster’s President’s Award in 2009.
Currently Biddy serves as President of Flying Island Entertainment, a Nashville-based entertainment group that offers radio promotion, label services and song testing. Flying Island’s unique Classic Country division creates custom promotions and targets stations that feature classic country programming.
Having extensive experience, Biddy arrived at this independent label strategy interview armed with a diverse understanding of the issues and strong convictions. Read on…
NEKST: How does Flying Island Entertainment operate and what is your role?
Shelia Shipley Biddy: The company was named by its co-owners Nancy Eckert and Louis Newman, after a mystical floating island in the book Gulliver’s Travels. Gwen Sebastian (seen on The Voice) was the initial anchor artist. About 18 months ago I was brought on as a regional to handle the East coast from Maine to Miami. I’ll admit it was a little scary getting back on the phone to call radio after not having done it for while. The wonderful thing about promotion now is that with Facebook and LinkedIn I could research my program and music directors before I called them. I knew where they went to school, what radio stations they had worked at, if they were married, had children, liked cats, their dog’s name, their favorite sports team and more. At the end of last year, Nancy and Louis asked me to take a greater role and I became President.
NEKST: What’s it like promoting independent artists to radio?
Shelia: Of course we call and service all the reporters with information, but there’s certain stations that simply are not going to play your record until you are Top 30. So we crafted a core of about 60 stations that we felt would give us a chance and we super serve that group. I’ve been watching and writing down every add outside the majors for almost two years. We champion these stations and try to partner with them whenever possible, but of course we aren’t the only ones going after them. Once you get to a certain point on the charts, then you can start to chop away at the next group of stations—what we call the “Phase 2s.” Adding to the confusion, there is a huge difference between the Country Aircheck and the Billboard charts because BB requires a minimum of seven spins for a song to show as an add. Sometimes an artist can show maybe 51 Aircheck adds, and only 30 stations playing your song on Billboard. What’s funny is they are often the same stations—an add on one chart, but not on the other! Realistically, if a song gets less than seven spins in a week, it doesn’t mean much.
NEKST: What’s the overall feeling about the charts and independent product?
Shelia: Competition is fine, but most radio consultants do not support the indies. I saw a comment a well known consultant posted that said something like, “Sounds like a major voice and a major song, too bad…” It meant, too bad that it is on an independent. And it cut my heart out. One programmer told me, “I think you are sitting on Song of the Year.” He played it mid-afternoon and got a ton of phones. He asked, “But can you bring it on home?” I said, “To do that I need people who will step out, I need champions like you.” Hopefully the growth of our company and others like us will come from building artists through radio plus digital, streaming, touring, social media and all the new sources that lie ahead of us. Of course our challenges are money and staying power. All too often labels have come to town with big ideas, dreams and lots of money, but in 18 months they closed their doors because the investors didn’t understand building a label is a five year plan—not a two year plan.
NEKST: No label wants to give up on radio, but do you think we’ll see part of current radio budgets reallocated toward new media and non-traditional marketing resources, especially at the smaller labels? A promo team can easily burn a million dollars a year including travel and entertainment.
Shelia: Independents have a different challenge than the majors. We have to figure out how to market direct to fan and create sales. Sometimes that means building markets by starting with micro markets. Independent labels have to be about niche marketing. And we don’t need to wait months to put out an album. Put it out immediately, let it build and get every download and sale along the way. Artists have grown up in an era saying, “I can do that,” and we also need the courage to do things differently.