Career Capsule: I got started in my hometown of Milwaukee, WI on Salem’s 105.3 The Fish.
2003 – 2006 Promotions Director and mid-days for WFZH 105.3 The Fish
2006 – 2010 National promotion for EMI CMG (Sparrow Records, Forefront Records, sixstepsrecords)
2010 – 2013 Brand Management for Word Entertainment (for KING & COUNTRY, Dara Maclean, Sidewalk Prophets, Group1 Crew)
2013 – Launched 55 MGMT (managed Britt Nicole, Erik Nieder, Sarah Reeves)
2015 – Launched new division of 55 Entertainment called 55 Promotion (independent radio promotion company)
Josh, Tell us about what’s new with you, your latest adventures, happenings at 55 Promotion?
I have an 9-month-old daughter now named Abigail Grace in addition to our 4-year-old son, Alexander. Life is exhausting but it’s amazing. My commute is like 10 feet across the hall to my home office. I’m grateful to be in the mix with my family every day.
Since launching the promotion division of my company in 2015, we’ve celebrated #1 hits for Lauren Daigle (“First” and “Trust In You”), Jordan Feliz (“The River” and “Never Too Far Gone”), Danny Gokey “Rise”, Joshua Micah “Parachute” plus a ton of success with the song “Great Are You Lord” from One Sonic Society which was a 14 month labor of love working to get radio friends to understand the significance of the song (which peaked at #4 on the Billboard/BDS Airplay chart).
I’m really grateful to have a consistent flow of new music that’s coming my way. I’m pumped about a new artist I’m working with named Joshua Micah. My friend Mike Couchman (PD at JOY FM and Boost 101.9 in St. Louis) turned me onto him in October. It turns out he had written and released this amazing song called “Parachute” that was a desperate admission of his need for Jesus to rescue him after some really awful things had happened in his life. Joshua didn’t know what to do with the song so he started Googling “Christian radio” and began reaching out to radio stations. Mike heard the song and his team freaked out (because it’s FIRE) so he hit me up and said I needed to find this dude and work with him. We just celebrated a #1 single at Billboard/BDS Hot AC/CHR and TheHotChart.com and we’re growing at AC with support from WAY-FM network; KNBJ in Corpus Christi, TX; KSLT in Rapid City, SD; WCLN in Fayetteville, NC and WCTL in Erie, PA. Everyone I play this song for responds with something like “whoa…this is like a REAL song” or “this sounds like REAL music”. It’s been fun to see real music win at radio…for an artist who is 100% independent. If you have the right song and champions for that song, you can have real success.
I’ll be launching another new artist at radio this month named Tori Harper. Remember her name. She’s 18-years-old and is writing some of the most honest and incredible songs I’ve heard in a long time and her voice is brilliant. She has a unique sound. She’s a special artist. She is also full independent with a brilliant team around her. It’s a new day in the music business.
Since you have a such a busy schedule, how do you best manage your responsibilities and priorities?
I’ve been working on figuring this out every day. The promotion game is one of precision. I utilize data to help me tell the best story. I work to understand all of the details of the songs I’m promoting so that I know where my biggest wins are going to come from for the week. Mondays and Fridays are my nerd days where I just sit and crunch data and strategize for the days ahead. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I’m chasing radio friends down in the hope that I can turn no’s into yes’s and get folks to fall for the music I believe in.
Practically, I use Wunderlist to keep my tasks organized. I have a hundred post-it’s on my desk to remind me of key information. I have Mediabase, BDS RealTime, BDS Music Tracking software, Spotify, Shazam and CCLI Song Select always at my fingertips as I’m working the phones. This stuff all tells a story so I have it at the ready all day long.
As far as priorities go, every song and client is my top priority. Each conversation is unique and specific with radio. No one song overtakes the other…they’re all in different stages of development. The goal for one song might be to get PDs and MDs to listen while the next song might be clawing for every possible spin and every possible listener (on the audience chart). These things are all exciting to chase every day.
Complete this sentence: The best way to get a new artist recognized is to____________?
Write, record, release and perform an undeniably great song. Then do that a bunch more times. Be an artist that people BELIEVE when you sing and perform. Make music unique to you as a human and as an artist. Don’t chase trends. Don’t aim for “what’s working on radio right now” because it’s an ever moving target. Do you. Be the original that God made you to be.
The biggest success stories over the past few years have been artists who are exactly this. Lauren Daigle, for KING & COUNTRY, Hollyn, Zach Williams, We Are Messengers…they’re all unique and special. On the other side, they’re all artists who passionately care about the gospel and making Jesus known to the culture. They’d all throw away all of the entertainment value and success for the sake of the kingdom. In this format, that’s what separates you. Make great music. Be unique. Be about the kingdom of God and the gospel first and only.
The rest will work itself out.
Generally speaking how do you see the state of Christian radio?
There’s a tension that exists right now between the desire and need to innovate and the safe/familiar way radio stations have operated for the past 15 years. The audience is not the same as it was when the prevailing methods of programming, music research and radio station branding were introduced to Christian radio. Those listeners are now 55 years old. Many radio stations believe that they’re targeting the same type of person (40-year-old female for example) but their methods have not changed in 15 years meanwhile, culture has changed drastically. The generations are completely different and don’t behave even close to the same way they did 15 years ago.
Radio relies on music research more than ever yet the audience is not responding like they used to. I believe we have the same 100 weirdos (or less in many markets) making the music decisions for this format and I think the PDs and MDs I work with every week know this. Instincts and experience often come secondary to the data however, the data is flawed. Many MDs are overworked and can’t dedicate the necessary time they need to better interpret their data, to attack research from another angle, to consider other sources of data beyond their own internal research or to innovate their approach. Music decisions are made by committee which often means the safe songs get on the air vs those that are fresh and exciting. More and more PDs and MDs are out of touch with the culture because they’re overworked and can’t dedicate time to pay attention to what real people are listening to or into (people outside of their bubble) or they aren’t interested in doing so.
That leaves us with a format that says it wants to innovate while doing the same things it’s done for 15 years.
I also see a tension in radio between the original mission so may founders established from the start and the strategies and ideas that have entered our format from well-meaning but seemingly misguided people and companies. I would argue that most Christian music radio stations were not stared for the sake of building significant revenue generating businesses. Most were likely started out of a pure intention…to proclaim the gospel and to build the kingdom of God through music. Kingdoms have been built and the prevailing wisdom of the day (or at least the wisdom present over the past 15 years) is that we should soften the message to be more accessible. This is the same problem that exists in the American church. The family-friendly, positive, safe mentality has overrun these ministries and I believe that while ratings might be up in places, passion and impact is down. Donors and ratings have become the god that trust is placed in. I believe that if as a format, we get back to the mission of the gospel first and foremost, we will thrive regardless of the shifting demographics. I believe we will grow the more we focus on mission vs ratings. If focus is on the gospel, God will provide what we need to keep moving forward as a music format.
Regarding record sales how has it changed ….please explain?
The idea of selling music will be gone soon but generating revenue off the listening and licensing of music will be significant. Streaming has changed everything and will continue to do so over the next several years. We have the history of recorded music on our phones. In order to get people’s attention, you have to introduce music through playlists music fans trust or you have to build a significant and loyal fan base who wants to continue listening to your music over and over again.
This means that artists and labels need to release music that people want to listen to continually. The change that has to happen in the music business is the bar of excellence needs to be raised. The bar isn’t great Christian music, it’s great music.
This also means that the live show and experience can be an entry point to long term fans. That’s exciting! If artists want to replace their revenue from record sales, they have to bring something to the market that’s worth coming back for and worth listening to.
What promotions with radio have you been involved with personally that are most memorable?
The campaign for “Rise” from Danny Gokey will be memorable for me for a long time. I was part of a great team for that song that included my friends and colleagues Chris Hauser, Matt Ingle and Katie Green. Working with them makes me a better promoter and human. We had a short window to get the song on the air with a September add date. We also had to contend with the Christian format’s flip to Christmas music right in the middle of the campaign. Our goal was to be #1 when the album released on January 9. We had a 15 week #1 in front of us from Zach Williams called “Chain Breaker”. We had to dig in as a team to find any and every possible spin to reach the goal. We had many emails, late night data crunching sessions and group therapy appointments (ha!) so we could find our window to ring the bell. We also had many radio partners step up for Danny during this run. It was an amazing example of teamwork, partnership and the idea that we are all in this together. No singular radio station made the difference, it was a collective whole that we needed to reach the goal. The chains FINALLY broke on February 20 and we hit #1 on Mediabase’s Christian Audience chart and Billboard’s Christian Airplay chart.
Do you feel the record/radio relationship is still as important as it has been in the past………..explain how its same/different?
I will always believe that the relationship the music business has with radio is incredibly important. There is a relationship that fans have with artists that is special. Some radio stations understand the value that comes from making these introductions and from breaking artists. The relationship with those radio stations is the most valuable for the music business. If your radio station leads the way on new music, considers artists part of the personality and brand of the radio station, promotes concerts in your market or creates tours across your network then this relationship is essential. There are stations who lead the way at this. There are stations who follow.
I believe that the leaders will thrive and grow in the future and the followers will die off. The audience loves this music because of the value it brings to their lives. They look to these artists for hope and for truth. The songs impact their lives every day. Why not partner with the creators of the music
and the companies who introduce it to the world?
Radio needs this connection to the artists. The changing climate in the music business makes this relationship even more important for radio than ever before. When an artist can build a fan base and career through Spotify playlists and never have a song on radio (like in the case of Chance The Rapper), what do they need you for? I believe that radio is looked at by the audience as a curator of great music. Radio is trusted by a large audience to know and introduce great music. There is a relationship there that a simple playlist can’t provide. It’s influential and significant. This is why i believe the relationship is more important than ever.
We need to build careers…not one-hit wonders. Radio needs core artists. We arguably have 7 core artists at Christian radio. Seven. If you don’t think radio has a role in this, you are missing the bigger picture. We need to work together to change this.
What advice would you give to someone jumping from radio to records?
The best advice I received when I made the leap from programming to promotion was recognize that I was no longer a peer. While I understand programming and have many ideas on how to do it well, I’m no longer a radio guy. No radio programmer wants to hear how I did it in Milwaukee back in 2006. I can understand things and even brig value but the minute I think I can tell someone how to program their station and have any authority, I’ve lost. If I ever throw out a programming idea it’s with a disclaimer.
The advice I’d give anyone who jumps into promotion is this: your job is not to be friends with radio folks, your job is to get the add. Too many promoters spend all of their time on small-talk and relationship and don’t know how to do the job and close the add. They have a simple “what do you honk of this song” approach rather than crafting a story as to why someone should care about it. One of my greatest joys in life is the friendships and the trust that’s developed with radio folks over the years but if that friendship and trust does not translate to songs getting played on the radio then I’m simply good at making friends, not good at doing the job. There is a way to excel at both.
I want to be respected at a promoter and admired for the way I tell a story, the passion with which I promote the songs I’m carrying and the integrity I show in the way I do my job. If we can be friends, I consider that an amazing blessing.
The other advice that I would give anyone entering the world of promotion is this: tell the truth. Always. Even when it might hurt. Your integrity is worth way more than an add.