NARM Gets Metal: Bill Wilson On Convention’s First “Metal Meetup”

Posted by on April 30, 2010

NARM (or the National Association of Recording Merchandisers) is an association for music industry professionals that’s been around for more than 50 years. Their annual convention is taking place this year in Chicago from May 14-16. What’s that have to do with metal? Well for the first time, they’re having a “Metal Meetup,” which will be a discussion about the state of the metal industry from people involved in it.

The Meetup, on Sunday, May 16, will be moderated by Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel, and will feature other luminaries including Strong Management’s Vaughn Lewis, Relapse Records’ Pat Egan, Roadrunner’s Austin Stephens, EMI’s Sarah Wefald and *cough* me. There’s going to be a lot of ground covered, so if you’re in the Chicago area, in the music industry, or just want to be, you should register now. For only $99, and you’ll get admission to the Metal Meetup, the two day “Music Business Crash Course,” and a cocktail party following the Metal Meetup. If you’re a student, you can get in for only $49.

NARM Director of Digital Strategy and Business Development Bill Wilson coordinated the inaugural metal event for the association. Wilson has run his own label in the past, and also logged time as the GM of Earache in the mid-90s. We spoke to him about NARM as well as touched on some of the things that will be spoken about on the 15th.

What is NARM and what should we know about it?

NARM is the non-profit music business association, and we’ve been the central community for those involved in the music business for over 50 years. We put on networking events, provide research, and have various work groups and committees which identify and solve business problems. Our members consist of 400 member companies, and anyone involved in music commerce- such as Amazon, Apple, Best Buy, Microsoft, Napster, Nokia, Rhapsody, Target, Verizon and Zed. All the major labels and most of the larger indie distributors and aggregators are also members of NARM.

You’re having the first Metal Meetup this year. What led you to bring a metal component into the NARM convention?

I grew up on metal and then hardcore, and metal has one of the strongest communities of people who want to make and spend their lives being involved in the scene. Metal also differs from other genres because it really functions as it’s own ecosystem within the larger music business. So we want to provide a platform for those involved to get together. We’re also doing a similar meetup for urban music.

What have you seen recently that’s been working form a retail standpoint for metal?

I’m going to punt on this and say that this topic is one of the discussions happening at the meetup! To be honest, I think that there is no silver bullet that works for every artist at this point, there are so many bands and how to “rise above the noise” to get noticed and create demand is another key topic.

Do you think there will be a long term effect from record store day, or is it just a once a year boost?

Quantitatively, the stores see tremendous boost in sales on record store day. Everyone benefits from the entire business focusing on one common good. I don’t know if the long term effects are measurable in exactly the same way, but that it is also a way to bring in new or reintroduce customers to the stores who will return over the course of the year. Indie Stores now have a unified brand when they didn’t before. That’s a powerful tool.

Do you envision a time when the CD goes away?

Eventually. But with 65% of the market still in physical goods, there is demand for them, the labels will continue to make them as long as stores can sell them. Those of us who live in a digital bubble often forget that some people still find that the most convenient way to get their music. So NARM still supports the physical side while building new bridges on the digital commerce front. I don’t think the physical “collectible” market will ever go away.

Tell is a little bit about the panelists. What made you select those people?

Everyone on the panel is an expert and Brian Slagel is the perfect headmaster for the session. He’s weathered every decade and transition in the business since he started Metal Blade and the strength and vibrancy of his label is a testament to his vision. Vaughn manages As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage, and he’s also had a long history of being in the business on behalf of the artist. Everyone on the sales side from Relapse, Caroline, and Roadrunner have all had to build artists from the ground up, so they can offer priceless advice on how a band really needs to grow themselves. The Syndicate have also been involved in radio and street marketing for a long time, so they can provide much needed insight into how to truly build a fan base.

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