The Music Biz: Veteran songplugger utilizes Internet to help artists market their music

Monday, June 9, 2008 at 3:33am
Veteran songplugger Raleigh Squires never hesitated to embrace new technology after several decades in the music business. Matthew Williams/The City Paper

Over the past three decades Raleigh Squires has worked as both a songwriter and songplugger. He’s been an independent the past five years, but also spent more than 20 years periodically doing projects for various Mel Tillis companies.

In his different roles, Squires has witnessed many changes in music business practices, and observed the impact of innovations in recording and production. But unlike those who’ve been slow to acknowledge new technology, or even resistant to it, Squires has readily embraced it. A prime example is his newest venture, an Internet record label/music download store called VirtualMusicMarket.com.

“There is so much great music around today that doesn’t fit into any specific category or format, so it can’t get radio airplay,” Squires said. “But that doesn’t mean there’s not an audience for it, and that people won’t purchase it once they hear it. That’s especially true for independent artists, because most of them are locked out of the so-called mainstream anyhow.

“So what I’m doing is acquiring these projects and making them available online. It’s a way of marketing the music and expanding the audience for these artists.”

The Virtual Music Market site operates as both a store and record label. They debuted in April with six releases spotlighting independent artists. These included the country duo Thompson Square; a pair of discs from Clay McClinton, son of music giant Delbert McClinton; and others from alternative/blues artists Kristen Cothron and singer/songwriter Toni Catlin.

There’s also a digital reissue of The Memphis Boys, a disc co-produced by Allen Reynolds and Mark Miller. It features music from a group of legendary Nashville and Memphis studio musicians. The lineup includes Reggie Young, Bobby Wood, Gene Chrisman, Mike Leech and Bobby Emmons, all 2007 Musicians Hall of Fame inductees.

“It’s an excellent disc and something I know several people have been looking for but didn’t realize was still around,” Squires said. “It’s a real plus for us to release it through the Virtual Music Market site.” Since the debut, Squires says he’s acquired several other titles and is working on deals for many others.

Other advantages of the site include the fact it serves as a portal to Amazon.com’s music downloads, which gives fans access not only to songs and CDs, but movies, videos, books and e-books.

The marketing element is maintained by Squires’ digital radio promotion company, 1617 Virtual. This also includes an online radio delivery service AirPlayDirect.com.

The company also plans to eventually expand its efforts to add conventional retail outlets, he said.

While Squires has an extensive background in journalism that includes being the managing editor of The City Paper when it began, he’s concentrated on songplugging the past five years. In that capacity, his service HitMenSongpluggers.com was one of the first in the industry to realize the Internet’s potential as his clients averaged over 12,000 MP3 clicks per year over a three-year period.

Squires is outspoken in his belief the Internet overall has been more beneficial than detrimental to the industry.

“The main reason why so many people within the industry felt threatened by the Internet was because they didn’t see its potential immediately,” Squires said. “A lot of others, especially young people, recognized that the net was a way they could digitally distribute music and that it didn’t require you to purchase a building in order to do it.”

Sadly, said Squires, some people also saw it as a way of stealing music rather than paying for it, and that aspect turned off many within the business to the possible positive ways of using the technology.

“But if the industry as a whole had done what we’re doing now with Virtual Music Market many years ago, a model would now be in place where everyone could be getting paid — artists, publishers, writers and labels,” Squires said. “Instead, now you have all this mass confusion and panic. Because too many of us didn’t recognize what was coming, we’re in a situation where the computer gurus in many instances are running things, labels are closing ranks, and people are losing jobs. On top of all that, it’s become tougher for independent performers to get their music heard in the conventional manner, because you have smaller A&R departments and even smaller radio playlists.”

Still, Squires said he’s encouraged by the progress made by his company despite being in business only a few months. He cites the husband/wife duo Thompson Square as emblematic of the performers he feels particularly suited for VirtualMusicMarket.com.

“These young people have everything — excellent music, a good story and they are wonderful performers,” Squires said. “But right now it’s so tough to get any major label to even give new acts a showcase, let alone sign them to a development deal. They’ve got their own projects backed up. But we can take them and put the music out there, let people hear it and make their own judgments.

“Thompson Square already has written, produced and funded their songs, and now they don’t have to worry about signing a bunch of secondary deals and possibly losing control over their content,” Squires said.

He’s aided in his endeavor by his daughter Sarah, who has 10 years experience as a Nashville advertising and marketing executive. As with any new business, Squires acknowledges things don’t always proceed smoothly, but he said he’s very optimistic about the future.

“My feeling is that the Virtual Music Market enterprise represents the next step in terms of marketing and selling music digitally, especially independent music,” Squires said. “I’m busier now than ever, and really happy.”

For a complete list of the company’s titles and downloads, visit VirtualMusicMarket.com.

The Music Biz appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to rwynn@nashvillecitypaper.com

Filed under: City Business
Tagged: