Jim Donio is the President of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers (NARM), the music business association in the United States. Since taking the role in 2004, Donio has evolved the organization from one primarily focused on physical product retailers to a more inclusive trade association that represents the full breadth of the current music business, including digital distribution, mobile, games, video, applications, and other entities that monetize music. This expanding membership vision includes not only Board-level representation from companies such as Amazon, emusic, iTunes, Microsoft, Nokia, Spotify, and Verizon, but also the introduction of membership levels for individuals and students, not just corporations.
In addition, he conceived the Digital Think Tank, which was formally created in 2009 to explore and resolve objectives related to enterprise-level digital music commerce. Donio recruited Bill Wilson to helm Digital Strategy and Business Development to oversee this area, underscoring NARM’s commitment to being on the leading edge of technological developments for music retail. The Digital Think Tank has now morphed fully into digitalmusic.org, a comprehensive hub for all of NARM’s digital initiatives that features six functional work groups, events such as the Music Startup Academy, white papers, and more.
Donio has worked on collaborative industry campaigns to inspire music sales since he first joined the organization in 1988. NARM has worked with every music awards show, from the GRAMMYs ® to the Country Music Awards, to translate the televised experiences into exciting in-store campaigns. In 2007, NARM collaborated with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to create the “Definitive 200,” a ranked list of the 200 albums and soundtracks that should be in every music collection.
More recently, Donio worked with the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) to revive the “Give the Gift of Music” campaign in May 2010, which provides consumers with ideas on how to give music – both CDs and digital formats - as gifts, and providing retailers support materials that highlight “giftable” titles. NARM also supports the now-annual Record Store Day on the third Saturday in
April, bringing together independently- owned record stores and artists to celebrate the art of music.
Donio has also revitalized NARM’s Music Biz convention, making it the definitive gathering for
about 1,000 executives engaged in the business of music in the United States. Held each spring in different locations around the US, Donio has also worked to expand NARM’s event offerings beyond
the convention, introducing the Entertainment And Technology Law Conference Series and a regular schedule of webinars on a diverse variety of topics of interest in the industry.
Donio also finds time to participate in other industry events. In 2009, he was a keynote speaker at
the TM Forum’s Management World Americas, and was a panelist at MediaTech’s Future of Packaged Media, as well as Digital Music Forum East. He has also guest lectured to students at the NYU’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music and Drexel University.
Donio worked his way up through NARM since he joined the organization almost 25 years ago as Director of Creative Services. In 1991, he added PR and marketing functions to his NARM resume, and was promoted to the position of Communications Director. In 1995, he took on oversight of NARM’s conventions and conferences as Vice President of Communications & Events. In 2000, he was elevated to Executive Vice President, adding most of the organization’s day-to-day administrative and operational responsibilities to his job description, before assuming the top job in 2004.
Prior to joining NARM, Donio held a variety of editorial, PR and event-related positions for the Association of Information Systems Professionals (AISP), an international individual membership organization focused on the needs of office systems professionals.
A Philadelphia native, Donio earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Temple University.
He has been involved in the city’s Mummers Parade tradition since his college days, and has supported the Mummers Museum since it opened in 1976. This folk tradition, one of the oldest in the country, celebrates the New Year with elaborately costumed participants, songs and dancing. Jim has participated in a variety of ways, including as a musician, costume designer, choreographer, and television commentator, and won a local Emmy Award in 1986 for “Outstanding Cultural Programming” for his special coverage of the event.
Donio has also acted professionally, and if you look closely, you can see him in the movies “Mannequin,” “Clean & Sober,” and “Stealing Home.” The first record he recalls receiving as a gift was Meet the Monkees, which is still on his personal “Definitive 200” list.
1. What in your career path led you to your initial job at NARM?
Prior to joining NARM, I was working for a business organization whose member were office information systems professionals. That organization was relocating to Chicago and I did not want to make the move. I answered an ad in the Philadelphia Inquirer for an editor at a South Jersey-based entertainment industry organization...and that was NARM and its sister organization in the video space the Video Software Dealers Association (now the Entertainment Merchants Association). I has always been interested in the entertainment space, having been an actor, broadcaster, musician, and dancer with a voracious appetite for all things involving popular culture. Since my degree is actually in Journalism, and I had substantial prior writing, PR and editorial experience, the initial position was upgraded to Director of Creative Services and I was responsible for both organizations' publications and promotional materials.
2. How has NARM evolved the last few years?
NARM has gone from an organization whose members and mission were exclusively focused on the distribution and sale of physical music product to an organization whose members are now evenly split between physical and digital distribution and sales. We have also created a new brand for our digital initiatives called digitalmusic.org that has six work groups, events, white papers, etc. Even our Board of Directors is now skewed slightly more digital than physical, including representatives from Amazon, emusic, iTunes, Microsoft, Nokia, Spotify, and Verizon.
3. Where do you see NARM five to ten years from now?
We are a service organization that exists to advance the business of music. As the future of the business continues to evolve and unfold, we will be reflecting those changes in who belongs, what we offer and what we do...providing the necessary programs and services that our membership demands.
4. What is your greatest professional challenge today?
What keeps us up at night is really no different than most other businesses in these tough times...finding the best ways to maintain and increase revenue, while controlling expenses.
5. What is the greatest advice you've received since heading up NARM?
I would say the best piece of advice I have received was from a very trusted mentor and friend who I was talking to when I was extremely angry about a particular e-mail I had just received. I was venting about how I was going to quickly respond, and the advice was never, ever respond to an e-mail when you are this angry. You should always wait until the next day. I have really tried to heed that advice.
6. How do free services such as Spotify impact retail music sales?
Music subscription services, some of which have free options, have surged recently in both usage and overall membership. And that surge has brought with it no shortage of questions, confusion and controversy over how the model will impact the broader music industry: both labels and artists alike. As the collective voice of the digital music business, digitalmusic.org and its Music Subscription Work Group convened to address this issue directly and drafted a document to dispel myths and facilitate a balanced discussion on the role of subscription music services in today’s marketplace. This is a complicated issue that, like past innovations in this sector, will take time to fully comprehend and appreciate. Spotify, Rhapsody, MOG, Rdio, Slacker, Cricket's Muve, Zune, and Sony Music Unlimited are all members of this Work Group. It's a myth that these subscription services cannibalize music sales. In fact, digital music sales have actually increased along with the spike in on-demand streaming and subscription music users. By getting consumers to subscribe for fixed periods of time, creators and content companies benefit from a steady stream of revenue.
7. What do you think is the future of physical product such as CD's and vinyl?
I think there will always be a role for physical products in the marketplace. But the products will likely continue to change and perhaps bundle different types of digital offerings with the physical product. The way people enjoy music falls along a spectrum of choices and I don't see that spectrum diminishing its choices to completely eliminate a physical option of some type.
8 Where do you see opportunities in the digital retail space for new artists?
It's really all about commerce in its broadest form. There has probably never been a time where there are more avenues for new artists to gain exposure for their music. But sometimes the monetization is not as simple. I have already talked about the subscription model, but there are also new opportunities as social media embraces social commerce. There will be other types of commerce opportunities as well for artists to explore and exploit with the development of new apps.