How Runaway June’s Realignment Hints at the Peaks and Perils of Band Management

When Wheelhouse releases a new Runaway June single, “We Were Rich,” it will mark a big moment for the trio, which managed to regroup after the departure of Hannah Mulholland.

Remaining members Naomi Cooke and Jennifer Wayne could have dissolved the act, or they could have moved forward as a duo, and both of those options were considered before Natalie Stovall ultimately filled the vacant position.

It’s a level of complication that solo acts never face, but that also represented an extra layer of drama for Runaway June’s manager, F2 Entertainment president/CEO Fletcher Foster. He essentially gets the same commission he would receive from a solo artist after assisting the trio through a transition that focused on personality and compatibility as much as it did on sound.

“The music elements, all of those kinds of things that [are apparent] in the front, you can figure those out,” he says, “but it’s the behind-the-scenes things that really make the machine work.”

Groups are like a marriage, since each individual has his or her own entity while the relationship between any two people can have its own separate dynamic. Because of that complexity, bands were pariahs in country music for years because of the potential issues that Runaway June’s lineup shift represents. Managers — as well as labels and booking agencies — staked their own careers on an act’s reliability, and as an act’s size increases, so does the likelihood that it will suffer from some career-ending pitfall.

Alabama, a quartet that made its Top Country Albums debut with My Home’s in Alabama 40 years ago on the chart dated June 14, 1980, made managers more willing to gamble on bands when it launched a series of multiplatinum titles and arena sellouts. But some of the fears about bands played out during the group’s run: Drummer Mark Herndon was a hired hand rather than a shareholder, and the internal strife during Alabama’s tours was significant, according to Herndon’s autobiography.

Those same doubts still exist. Nashville record labels turned down Old Dominion — which has won the Country Music Association’s vocal group honor the last two years — specifically because it was a group. And Morris Higham Management president Clint Higham repeatedly resisted when producer Shane McAnally (Midland, Sam Hunt) approached him about managing the act. Higham gave in only after he was persuaded that Old Dominion had the stability and dedication to match its talent.

“He just kept after me,” notes Higham. “When the guys came in and I realized, ‘OK, they’re a unit, and they’re committed to their craft by touring in a van and doing it all themselves,’ that was inspiring.”

The challenges in band management are numerous. In addition to dealing with more personalities, larger circles of influence from friends and family, and the occasional possibility of a lineup change, decision-making can take longer and it’s more difficult to establish a brand. A solo artist can use the cult of personality to drive their story — every country fan has a sense of who Carrie Underwood or Luke Bryan is. But it’s often difficult for that same consumer to identify all the different members of a group beyond the lead singer, let alone develop a composite sense of their characters.

That’s an issue Red Light Management executive Mary Hilliard Harrington encounters daily while guiding LANCO. 

“They all have very distinct personalities, but the reason that they’re connecting with fans is the live experience. It isn’t because of what they ate for breakfast,” she observes. “And by the way, as a manager, that’s what I want because that’s building longevity and a touring career that can go on for 20 years if we keep building it one show at a time versus it being based on whatever they’re doing in their yard at home or whatever the shtick of the day is.”

The difference between the group dynamic and managing a solo artist is particularly apparent to Harrington now as she continues to handle Dierks Bentley’s career while overseeing the management of his pet project, Hot Country Knights.

“Choosing what the album cover is going to be is way easier when it’s just me and Dierks,” she says. “When there’s six opinions, obviously that’s going to take a whole lot longer. And when there’s six opinions in what I guess you would call a comedy project, all of the opinions are often off-color, and they’re really just oftentimes doing things to get a rise out of me. I’ve learned a lot more patience.”

Working through the financial components is likewise an issue. Morris Higham client Kenny Chesney keeps all his profits after he pays commissions, fees and expenses, while Old Dominion divvies up its receipts among five participants. As a result, a change in production costs can have a larger effect on each band member and his family, and that puts even more stress on a band during its developmental stages. Attitudes during that period are key.

“We try to focus our business model on growing the pie versus talking about slicing the pie,” says Higham.

Ultimately, though building a band is more difficult than managing a solo career, the very nature of focusing on music rather than personality offers large potential rewards even when a founding member leaves. Higham points to country/rock’s Eagles, rock ensemble Journey and country trio-turned-duo Sugarland as acts that were able to survive key lineup changes, mostly because the quality of their music outshined any individual contributor.

That makes a key crossroads, such as Stovall’s arrival in Runaway June, that much more crucial. For both the group and the manager, the critical element in an ensemble’s success still comes down to finding the right individual.

“You go through the list of who’s musically fit for this, you know, who is visually fit for this, and then you get to this hard part,” says Foster. “Who do you want to have in the bunk above you or beside you on a day-to-day basis on this journey? That becomes the biggest part.”

This article first appeared in the weekly Billboard Country Update newsletter. Click here to subscribe for free.

What Is Your Song of the Summer 2020? Vote!

Summer’s here and the time is right for getting “Savage” in the streets. Or maybe you’re ready for a break from the heat and you want it to “Rain on Me”? Whether you’re a Megan Thee Stallion/Beyoncé fan or a Lady Gaga/Ariana Grande stan, it’s time to figure out what your outdoor summer jam will be after way too much time spent indoors.

Meg and Bey have already warmed things up with their No. 1 on Billboard’s Songs of the Summer chart dated June 13, which knocked Gaga and Grande off the peak after “Rain” previously topped the list. Other contenders for the hot weather crown include DaBaby’s Hot 100 No. 1, “Rockstar” (featuring Roddy Ricch), as well as The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” and Doja Cat’s “Say So.”

Maybe your groove is more of a “Toosie Slide” from Drake, or Dua Lipa’s “Don’t Start Now.” Otherwise you could opt for Roddy Ricch’s smash “The Box,” Justin Bieber’s “Intentions” or Post Malone’s “Circles.”

The 20-position Songs of the Summer running tally tracks the most popular titles based on cumulative performance on the weekly streaming-, airplay- and sales-based Billboard Hot 100 chart from Memorial Day through Labor Day (this year encompassing charts dated June 6 through Sept. 5). At the end of the season, the top song of the summer will be revealed.

What’s your song of the summer for 2020? Vote below!

SiriusXM to Raise $1.5 Billion Through Sale of Notes: Why It Matters

SiriusXM will raise $1.5 senior notes due 2030 in a sale expected to close on or around June 11, the company announced Monday (June 8).

The notes will have an annual rate of 4.125% and will be due 2030. They will pay off off two existing debts: $500 million of 4.625% senior notes that are due 2023 (at a redemption price of 100.771% plus accrued and unpaid interest) and $1 billion of 5.375% Senior Notes due 2025, (at a redemption price of 102.688% of the principal amount plus accrued and unpaid interest).

Why It Matters

—SiriusXM won’t need to worry about $1.5 billion of debt for nearly a decade. Now, its earliest due dates are August 2022 for $1 billion of notes and December 2023 for $193 million of convertible notes.

— Given the uncertainty in the U.S. economy in the coming years, later redemption dates give SiriusXM financial breathing room it may require in couple years.

What It Doesn’t Mean

—The money will not be used to fill a financial shortfall.

—The coronavirus pandemic has caused many music companies to improve their liquidity to weather the current storm. This isn’t one of those cases.

But Keep In Mind That…

–On May 13, David Frear, senior executive vp and CFO of SiriusXM, said he expects satellite subscriptions to falter in late 2020 on weak auto sales.

–On April 28, SiriusXM pulled its 2020 guidance (total revenue of approximately $8.1 billion, adjusted EBITDA of about $2.5 billion and 900,000 (net) new self-pay subscribers) and will issue new guidance when it has greater certainty of COVID-19’s impact.

5 Things to Know About ‘The Voice Australia’ Standout Johnny Manuel

Johnny Manuel took the internet by storm this week with his show-stopping audition for The Voice Australia. Not only did the big-voiced singer’s take on Diana Ross’ classic “Home” earn him a four-chair turn, it made Manuel a viral star — for not exactly the first time in his long road to musical success.

While Manuel will be competing as part of Guy Sebastian’s team on the Aussie reality show (much to the chagrin of  a blocked Kelly Rowland), many new fans of the Flint, Mich., native may not realize he got his big break on another reality show much closer to home, following a short-lived career as a child star.

Below, Billboard rounded up five things you need to know about The Voice Australia hopeful.

1. He got his start in the recording industry as a child star in the ’90s and early 2000s.

At the age of 14, Manuel signed his first record deal. Adopting the stage name Lil’ Johnny, the singer found a mentor in Jermaine Dupri, who produced four tracks on the burgeoning star’s debut album, I Got You. The LP was released July 10, 2001, when Manuel was just 16 years old, but doesn’t appear to be available on any streaming platforms. However, the swaggering music video for the title track and lead single still exists, thanks to YouTube.

2. He toured with Dupri’s other protege, Lil’ Bow Wow.

In the spring and summer of 2001, Manuel — then Lil’ Johnny — served as one of the opening acts for Lil’ Bow Wow’s first-ever headlining tour alongside Lil’ Zane and B2K. The 25-date North American jaunt introduced the child star to audiences from Los Angeles to New York City, including three consecutive nights in Bow Wow’s hometown of Atlanta.

“I didn’t think I would enjoy riding on the bus, but I do,” the then-16-year-old told MTV News at the time about his first touring experience. “I love being in the bunk and closing the blinds and going to sleep. Plus, me and my dancers play PlayStation 2 and watch movies and stuff. I like road tripping.”

3. He appeared on America’s Got Talent in 2017.

During his audition for season 12 of America’s Got Talent, Manuel electrified the judges — and crowd — with a soaring rendition of Whitney Houston’s iconic 1993 single “I Who Have Nothing.” The young R&B singer’s vocals were so impressive that it led host Tyra Banks to declare “Whitney hears you honey” from the wings mid-performance, and that was even before he nailed the song’s triumphant key change.

Manuel also opened up about his past disappointments in the music industry. “I mean, as a kid, I thought that I was going to take off and see the stars, and obviously it didn’t happen that way,” he told judge Simon Cowell after introducing himself. “I hope what can happen is that I’m finally able to be who I am and present my music to the world.”

4. He earned a coveted Golden Buzzer from Seal.

For AGT’s Judges Cuts round, Manuel referenced Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway as two of his primary inspirations before knocking a cover of the former’s iconic 1981 ballad “Lately” out of the park, earning a Golden Buzzer from guest judge Seal. He would eventually go all the way to the season’s semi-finals, where he delivered emotive original song “Blind Faith” before being eliminated ahead of the finals.


5. He competed for Bulgaria during Eurovision 2018

Following Manuel’s experience on America’s Got Talent, he was personally recruited by songwriter Borislav Milanov to represent Bulgaria during Eurovision 2018 as part of pop vocal group Equinox. “I think the message Bulgaria is sending to the world with having two American artists is just one of inclusiveness,” he said in an interview during the competition. “Bulgarians have shown me great hospitality since I’ve been here. It’s a really uniting place, so it feels good, it feels like love.”

Performing the Milanov-penned ballad “Bones,” Manuel and the rest of Equinox eventually placed 14th in the finals for the annual international song contest. (Milanov, however, took home the Eurovision composer award for the track.)

Lollapalooza 2020 Is Officially Canceled

The city of Chicago finally announced on Tuesday (June 9), that all large, permitted outdoor events have been canceled through Labor Day (Sept. 7).

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a press release: “We must provide ways for people to enjoy the spirit of a Chicago summer while prioritizing health and safety. As difficult as it is to remove these in-person events from our calendar, we are pulling out all the stops for an inventive, engaging and fun festival season this summer.”

Soon after the news broke, Lollapalooza posted a statement on its site and Instagram account. “We wish we could bring Lollapalooza to Grant Park again this year, but we understand why things can’t move forward as planned. … Rest assured, we will be working hard behind the scenes to deliver Chicago a spectacular celebration of Lollapalooza’s 30th anniversary in the summer of 2021, and we can’t wait to celebrate with you.”

Much like Coachella did, Lollapalooza — promoted by C3 Presents — will livestream music the weekend of July 30-Aug. 2, when the festival was supposed to take place. The festival’s statement continued: “The weekend-long virtual event will include performances from around the city and beyond, epic archival sets from Chicago and the festival’s six international editions, never-before-seen footage from the 1990’s and much more.” A full schedule will arrive next month.”

Billboard has reached out to the mayor and governor’s office for comment. Read Lollapalooza’s full statement:

DaBaby Reflects on His Beginnings After ‘Rockstar’ Earns Him His First No. 1 on the Hot 100

DaBaby had the perfect reaction to landing his first No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Roddy Ricch collab “Rockstar.” The track from the MCs third studio album, Blame It On Baby, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart dated May 2, gives DaBaby his first No. 1, while landing Ricch his second.

In the first in a series of tweets about his chart coronation on Monday (June 8), DaBaby wrote simply, “I came from nothing.”

DaBaby expanded on the joy of his latest chart triumph in another tweet a short time later, writing, “Nah fr, I really came from nothing. I’m not perfect at all but look, I done been through it all, and still got PLENTY more to go through. If you willing to go through it with me, grab my hand let’s go. If not, F–K YA. I wish you the best.”

See DaBaby’s tweets below.