Brentwood company sets pace for Internet music presentation

Monday, May 5, 2008 at 1:12am

When he began the American Music Channel eight years ago, CEO Hal Willis felt that there was an audience on the Internet that wanted to see videos on a regular basis, similar to the sentiments that helped launch the original incarnation of MTV. Things didn’t exactly take off fiscally in the beginning for the Brentwood-based company and Willis joked that rather than being on the cutting edge of the music business he found himself on “the losing edge.”

But now the company’s prospects, along with its exposure and presence on the Web, have greatly improved. They just entered into an agreement with Philadelphia’s Internet Marketing Consortium (IMC) that will provide them vital marketing support and growth capital, enabling them to push ahead with additions, improvements and some tweaking of the site — things Willis feels will make them even more viable in the future.

“One of the basic realities about any business is that you can’t improve and expand without capital, and this company is putting in a lot of capital into helping us do some things with the software, better establish the brand and just generally bolster the entire operation,” Willis said.

The American Music Channel features streaming video performances by top acts on Capitol Records and Universal Music Group, plus hundreds of videos from independent artists on smaller labels. The content ranges from straight videos to news stories, interviews and album reviews.

“I really see the American Music Channel as kind of a combination of MySpace, YouTube and American Idol online,” Willis continued. “When we make the additions and improvements that we’re planning there will be even more ways to personalize the service, create your own pages, and really utilize this as one-stop destination for all types of things musical.”

Willis said they want to begin adding videos daily and offering digital downloads of videos and songs. They also plan increase the frequency of a monthly newsletter to weekly.

To access these features, fans must register on the Web site americanmusicchannel.com, then log in when they revisit. But one area where the American Music Channel differs from some other enterprises is the emphasis on demand.

“Unlike a radio station, you can go to our site and pick the videos that you want to see,” Willis said. “We’ve got a lot of back catalog on several top artists, and you simply get the videos that you want whenever you want to see them. “

He said they want to be the place where independent artists who don’t have access to major labels and big budgets can show their videos. Right now they get independent videos from Sonic Bids plus videos directly from artists and small labels.

Willis’ background in the music business dates back to his days as general counsel for The Nashville Network, a position he held over a decade. He was also vice president and general manager, worldwide, for Country Music Television (CMT) from 1993-1995. A former executive vice president of mPhase Technologies, Willis was a pioneer in developing video over DSL.

“The key now is in traffic and marketing,” Willis continued. “The major thing that was so attractive in terms of our deal with IMC is their long involvement in everything from infomercials to printing.” IMC also currently provides marketing for 175 of the country’s top companies and several other emerging businesses.

While the American Music Channel now primarily features country and Americana acts, Willis says their doors are open to performers in many genres. “We’re really looking to expand into many other areas,” Willis continued. “Right now we have videos available from such people as Michael W. Smith and Hootie and the Blowfish, and we’re always spotlighting indie acts. If you’re playing American music with lyrics that can be understood, we’re interested in your music.

“In many ways, this is kind of the Nashville Network being reborn online, a place where country fans in particular, but music fans in general, will be able to find anything and everything they need.”

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

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