Ever wonder what would happen if one of the deep insiders in the big Music Row system broke free and started spilling the beans on all the stuff that happens behind-the-scenes? That is exactly what former radio promoter and executive Tom Moran is doing on his Inside Nashville podcast. Moran promises to “Pull the curtain back on the country music business and how it relates to country radio,” and that’s what happens as he interviews guests and gives his own commentary on the skewed way major label country music does its business.
Tom Moran started his career at Billboard in the music chart department in the 70’s, and over the next 43 years worked for eight different record labels, including Polydor Nashville, Warner Bros. Nashville, Sony Music Nashville, and Toby Keith’s Show Dog Nashville, representing artists such as Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Little Big Town, Ashley Monroe, and many more. After his final destination of IRS Records was dissolved by its owner Universal Music, Moran decided to start a podcast to speak about what he learned while inside the Nashville system.
On the most recent episode of Inside Nashville, Tom Moran speaks to Sturgill Simpson’s manager Mark Dottore. Mark helped craft the strategy that took Sturgill Simpson from a complete unknown to getting nominated for Album of the Year at the 2017 Grammy Awards. A staunchly independent thinker who has also managed Marty Stuart, Connie Smith, Shooter Jennings, and still manages Kathy Mattea along with Sturgill, March offers unique insight on how to circumvent the Music Row system and still be successful. Dottore, like Tom Moran, also spent time within the major label environment on Music Row, and knows the system well.
“Sturgill just reached out,” Mark Dottore explains to Tom Moran about how he discovered Simpson. “I have a policy that if somebody reaches out, I will at least give it a quick listen. I checked out a little bit, and that little bit piqued my interest. I just kept getting deeper and deeper into the music, and the farther into it I got, the more I really liked what I heard. There was energy there.”
At the time Sturgill Simpson was playing in his original band, Sunday Valley.
“To seal the deal I went up to Lexington and saw him play,” Dottore recalls. “They just destroyed it. They burned that place to the ground. The energy and the aggression and just the sheer power that came across … The people I’ve worked with, I’ve always had an epiphany moment where it’s like ‘I have to work on this. I don’t care if it makes money, I don’t care if it’s successful, I have to work on this.’ And it was that kind of moment.”
Today, Sturgill is headlining festivals, and stringing together sold out shows in large-capacity venues across the country, including for his upcoming tour starting in July. But at the start, Sturgill was doing his own booking.
“Sturgill was an amazing individual booking agent,” says Dottore. “He would get online and call people, and set up little dates. We got a festival out on the West Coast called Pickathon that had offered him a date, and he got on the phone and routed himself all the out, and all the way back, and came home breaking even. I was so proud of him for doing that. Pickathon turned out to be a watershed moment. Amazing performances. There was a kid there who writes a blog called Saving Country Music, Triggerman. He wrote this glowing review, and that sort of started the viral nature of people discovering who Sturgill was.”
Marc Dottore and Tom Moran go on to discuss how Sturgill went from fledgling independent artist to a massive success story in music, and all without the help of Music Row. It’s a testament to the smarts of Mark Dottore, and the drive and spirit of Sturgill Simpson.
The whole episode can be heard below, while all 40 of episodes of Tom Moran’s Inside Nashville podcast are a treasure trove of insight into what makes the country music business tick, for better or worse.