If you weren’t familiar with Gary Overton prior to this post, then you were probably one of the few. As Sony Music Nashville CEO and chairman he runs the imprints of RCA, Columbia, Arista Nashville and Christian music company Provident Music Group, which collectively hold the likes of Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Chris Young and many more. Gary was also instrumental in bringing Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood over to Sony for their combined comeback in 2014, and is generally a major player on Music Row, reaching #84 on Billboard’s 2014 Power 100 list. An MTSU graduate, prior to his tenure at Sony he worked at BNA Entertainment, Warner/Chappell Music, served as executive vice president and general manager at EMI Music Publishing and also as Alan Jackson’s personal manager.
But the news broke today that one of the most powerful men in Nashville is stepping down, as a “mutual agreement” between himself and Sony Music Entertainment. It comes just weeks after Gary made some extremely controversial statements in an interview regarding country radio, centered around the quote, “If you’re not on country radio, you don’t exist.” Although perhaps said as a suck-up prior to CRS (Country Radio Seminar) Week in Nashville, it caused a lot of artists, including Aaron Watson, Charlie Robison and Jack Ingram to complain that his statements were reductive, as plenty of acts manage to sustain great careers without achieving any airplay on country radio. In fact, in a sweet irony, the week of CRS (not long after Gary had made those statements) saw Texas red dirt artist Aaron Watson have the #1 record in country music without any airplay. ‘The Underdog’ sold over 26,000 copies in its first week, after years working the circuit, playing live and building a fanbase while Music Row told him he wasn’t commercial enough.
Gary’s eyebrow-raising statements could have something to do with the “mutual agreement” that transpired today, although as Rolling Stone/Guardian music journalist Grady Smith stated upon hearing the news, “Gary Overton’s ‘you don’t exist’ comments make the timing convenient, but Sony has been losing power in Nashville for a long while now.” Either way, there are major changes afoot for the Nashville branch of the conglomerate, and with Gary stepping down officially from March 31st and no immediate successor yet chosen, we will have to wait and see how that affects Sony’s wide roster of acts.