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Sunday, 30 September, 2007 1:27 PM

Unique and Compelling: The Story Behind the Lyric Street Phenomenom (CMA)


Lyric Street Records Staff. (front) Heather Conley, Marketing Director; Greg McCarn, VP Marketing; Kirk Boyer, Senior Director, A&R; Cindy Heath, Publicity Director; Renee Leymon, Senior Director, National Promotion; (back) Robin Gordon, Senior Manager, A&R Administration; Paula Eden, Executive Assistant; Dale Turner, VP, Promotion Administration; Kris Lamb, Promotion Coordinator; Kevin Herring, VP, National Promotions; Tonya Stroud, A&R Coordinator; Teresa Vinson, Senior Manager, Artist and Label Relations; Randy Goodman, President; Ashley Heron, Senior Manager, Marketing; Chris Palmer, Director, Regional Promotion/Northeast; Doug Howard, Senior VP, A&R.

By Bob Doerschuk
© 2007 CMA Close Up News Service

Lyric Street Records makes no secret of a short but revealing phrase that has guided it toward success over these past 10 years. Its essence lies in these simple words: unique and compelling.

The words crop up a lot in the conversations of Randy Goodman and Doug Howard, President and Senior VP of A&R respectively of Lyric Street. The label's 20 employees take them everywhere they go - literally, on cards tucked in their wallets and purses, in the unlikely event that anyone might forget the company mandate.

But this is only part of a larger formulation, the rest of which says just as much about why Lyric Street has elevated one act after another - Sarah Buxton, Bucky Covington, Josh Gracin, Marcel, Rascal Flatts, Lisa Shaffer, SHeDAISY, Trent Tomlinson - toward stardom.

"We want to sign artists who are unique and compelling, with unique and compelling songs that we can deliver to critical mass at Country radio," Goodman emphasized. "My job isn't to come in with something that's way too alternative and say, 'Country radio, you should be playing this.' My job is to build careers, sell records and create a sustaining base for Lyric Street Records."

Broken down, the Lyric Street mantra balances the pragmatic and the ideal. The two seem like oil and water: impossible to mix, at least until someone strikes the right match. That's when they ignite together, in a blaze of Platinum and Gold.

Since releasing its first album in 1998, Lyric Street has released 26 albums and sold nearly 20 million units.

Lyric Street is not the first Country subsidiary launched by a major parent company. But it stands alone now in what was once a crowded field, its identity enduring and intact. Talent and hard work have a lot to do with it. Investment helps too, but that $10 million that Disney pumped into opening Lyric Street a decade ago wasn't the first time a corporation poured ample funding into a startup.

Two more unusual factors play into this story, which began in a den at Goodman's home and culminated in June at a festive anniversary celebration at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. The first traces back some 30 years, to when Goodman and Howard began their friendship as students at David Lipscomb University in Nashville.

"It was based from the get-go on our love for music," said Howard. "But the beauty of it is that we have different personalities and we would go on to have different experiences before the opportunity was right for us to begin our business relationship."

For Howard, those experiences took him to Belmont University, from where his song-based perspective led him to a position with Welk Music. As the publishing company morphed into PolyGram Music, Howard rose to the position of GM even as he returned to academics to earn a law degree from Vanderbilt University.

Goodman, meanwhile, emerged from Lipscomb with a degree in political science and economics, earned a music business degree at Belmont and then toured with a rock band as road manager. After a year and a half he traded the wanderer's life for a publicity gig at RCA Records, where he rose rapidly in the New York and Nashville offices.

He was Senior VP and GM in Nashville, working closely with RCA Label Group Nashville Chairman Joe Galante, when Disney offered him the reins of Lyric Street. Though he valued his 18-year run at RCA, Goodman took the gig.

"How many times in your career will the second largest media company in the world ask you to start a company for them?" he explained. "When I began to sit with that notion, I felt that if I didn't do it, I would regret it for the rest of my life."

His first step was to call Howard. Their achievements in the music business, on the record and publishing sides, gave the operation balance right from the start. And their personal ties invested the company's culture with the tolerance for candor and team spirit that drives it to this day.

"We all wear as many hats as we can," Goodman said. "I'll never forget, when we were setting up SHeDAISY, we decided to send out these film canisters with candy you could get at a movie theater. It was eight o'clock at night, and Doug, Greg [McCarn, VP Marketing], Kevin [Herring, VP National Promotion] and I worked at this long table until we could get those canisters out. That's still the spirit at Lyric Street. If a phone is ringing and somebody is walking by, they'll stop and answer it. That's a blessing."

With very few staff changes, aside from four positions added to the original 16, this stability and familiarity goes further at explaining the company's high batting average. But the picture isn't complete without that second and last ingredient.

"We got lucky too," Goodman admitted. "I can't stress that enough. But that wouldn't have been enough without everything else. We try to be smart. We work hard. We keep our overhead low by having a focused roster and having everyone wear as many hats as they can. And in the end, with all the right people onboard, I never looked back. I knew we were going to make this happen."

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