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Peter Gray, RCAMG VP/Top 40 Promotion

If you become a product of your system, Peter Gray has nothing to worry about regarding his career path. One of the youngest VP’s of Promotion in the business, Peter’s philosophy and style are symbolic of his promotion upbringing. His first major gig in the business came in 1999 when he joined Tri-State Promotions, one of the industry’s most successful indie promo firms.
     It was there where Peter’s “true education began!”  Four years later he enlisted with RCA Music Group and became part of a nucleus of people that were forming a new company. Gray started as National Director, west coast, in March of 2003. Three years later he found himself working side by side with industry icons Clive Davis and Richard Palmese in New York City, as the label Group’s VP/Top 40 Promotion.

eQB presents excerpts from the FMQB June Magazine Cover Story featuring Peter Gray, RCAMG VP/Top 40 Promotion

On what he took away from his indie experience that allows him to do his job better… You walk away with a little bit of a different slant than you do on the label side.  There’s more of an understanding of radio’s perspective. As an indie you need to be more objective about radio’s overall needs, not just what they're adding. I also walked away with an understanding of juggling multiple priorities. At RCAMG, we are always working several records simultaneously, so having a good sense of working a far reaching group of records at the same time was helpful. It also gave me a great sense of the competition in the promotion world.

On credibility in dealing with radio… I was taught in the early days to "Do what you say, and say what you do," and have always hoped to be trustworthy.  All you really have is your reputation and credibility.  You can only cry wolf so many times.  I think all of us understand fundamentally that in promotion, at the end of the day, a record’s either a hit or it’s not.  If you have the courage to admit early when they’re not, you build credibility.  

On his young executive promotion team… (Our EVP ) Richard Palmese has always stressed the importance of hiring great people, and that’s what we’ve done regardless of age or level of experience.  Specific to our Pop department, I’m very excited about the National Top 40 team we have with myself, Dave Dyer and Josh Reich.  Dave is truly the best promotion person I know. No one has a better rap than Dave.  Josh is probably the smartest promotion person I know, and his ability to use logic and intelligence to do the job (instead of emotion) gives our team great balance. 

On the qualities of EVP Richard Palmese… It starts with his respect for the human spirit of all the people under his charge.  Richard is a very paternal leader, and we have a strong family and team spirit that permeates our hallways. He truly cares about everyone. That is followed up by his wisdom and experience.  There are few, if any, scenarios you can find yourself in that Richard hasn’t navigated through at some point in his career. His loyalty is impenetrable. But the quality that stands out most to me is his discretion, and it’s such a lost quality.   

On the company culture Clive Davis perpetuates… It all starts with artists who will have lasting careers as stars.  It’s not that there’s a sign hanging on the door when you walk into the RCA Music Group stating “Play Like A Champion Today.”  There’s no fundamental motto.  But, this is a company of tradition that has a very specific culture, and it all centers around the fact that Clive operates with long-term artists in mind. 

On the importance of American Idol as a Pop repertoire source for the label… It’s wonderful to have because we all know that it’s about impressions in the Pop world.  The impressions created by that show on new artists are unparalleled in our business. These artists come to radio with automatic name and brand value. That built-in awareness is so necessary for radio.  It’s a great advantage to have.

On the biggest challenges in working Idol artists to radio… The greatest challenge can be timing, because there’s a tendency to want material from an Idol immediately.  We want to insure we have great material to deliver, which takes time.   Often there’s a span between the end of an American Idol season and a time where we actually release material.  But, of course, our interests are in creating lasting recording careers and stars so it’s important to us that proper care, work and time is taken to be certain that we’re delivering great material for radio that will endure.

On why it takes much longer for new artists (in general) to develop through radio these days… Clearly there are fewer and fewer slots at radio these days.  When you factor in the number of singles being worked at any given time, it’s simply going to take longer. This funnels down to a bigger issue than just radio or records.  On the radio side, the listenership has clearly diminished in recent years.  On the record side, of course, there’s no secret there are fewer physical sales. With both industries in a transition, they’re hanging on tight to what they know best.  Speaking of radio, that’s hit material, as opposed to taking chances on new artists. 

On the (over-reaction by radio) to negative early research on records inside a chain…  Of course they do, but it plays to the fact that people are under more scrutiny today.  Research is clearly a thorn in our side.  It absolutely rules our world in promotion.  You can have enormous momentum on a record, and then suddenly a few stations get bad research and it spreads through a chain, there’s nothing more overwhelming. It happens to all of us. It’s the system that’s in place. Good, bad or indifferent, we have to live with it. Much like radio has to live with Arbitron. They’re both flawed systems.  

On whether digital download sales make a difference in his pitch to radio… Unfortunately a lot of times you can say, look what I have in Ringtone sales, licensing deals, look where the music is being heard…the entire spectrum of Pop culture is covered and people still don’t care because research rules.  I don’t know that we are searching for what’s next. As we all try to step through this revolution together, and as we search for what will become the new standard operating procedure of breaking artists for labels and radio.

On whether radio can regain its place/cache with the young demo… The discovery of new music has been so essential to radio’s position in the marketplace. If you give it up for good, you have no future listeners. If radio indeed is going to ever turn their game around with early adopters, they have to weigh these digital factors as heavily as research.  Radio is fighting a two-front war. The reality is listeners are going elsewhere, and there are many other different places to go and discover music. 

On the music and radio industries having a better appreciation for each other’s perspectives… We both need to appreciate that the person on the other side of the fence is an expert at what they do.  What labels are really good at is identifying and nurturing talent and hit material. Hit artists with hit material that radio can utilize over the long haul.  We’re experts at it. Likewise, there’s no one better than radio at programming to the masses, regardless of the demographic.  Radio programmers are similar to campaign managers.  They are in the business of mobilizing people and bringing them to one party, one dial position, one place where they can be most impacted. 

On whether the climate of the label/radio relationship (given the government scrutiny and sanctions of the past two years) will have a long lasting affect on our industry… It’s already cycling back to be more relaxed.  You’ve seen the same memos as I have.  The thing I do not think will cycle back is the price that had been paid in the past to have more voices and more impressions made.  If we’re talking about independent promotion and the deals that were made in the past, or if we’re talking about promotions and contests that were being routinely executed in the past, I don’t feel it will be relaxed to the point of getting back to the Wild West. 
     There won’t be a time where there’s just complete disregard for the rules, because the rules ultimately are in place to protect us. 

** QB Content By Fred Deane **
 


FMQB NOW

Sean Demery, PD
WYMS/Milwaukee

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