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IBMA - IBMA at 20: A progress report, feature (Bluegrass Unlimted, 2005)

Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, 2005

The IBMA at 20: A progress report

By David Royko

The International Bluegrass Music Association is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and the traditional gifts for 20 years would be China and platinum.

As it turns out, China (the country, not the dinnerware) is one of the few major locales that remain a stranger to the IBMA: “We, unfortunately, do not yet have any members in China,” says Dan Hays, the IBMA’s Executive Director. As China continues to expand its socio-political world presence, it is a good bet that, looking forward to the 25th anniversary, that situation will change.

But as for platinum, since the 15th anniversary of IBMA, a big event in the bluegrass world—if not the biggest—was the multi-platinum sales of the “O Brother Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. True ‘grass or not, O Brother brought plenty of attention to bluegrass, and was one of the factors mentioned in a recent article in the Chicago Sun Times, “Bluegrass Winning Popularity Contest Over Blues.” So IBMA, how’s that for platinum?

The October 2000 edition of Bluegrass Unlimited carried a 15-year anniversary article on IBMA, which describes some of IBMA’s history, what IBMA does, and how, and readers are encouraged to see that article for additional information on the IBMA.

It might be worth recapping the final line from that piece, spoken by Executive Director Hays: "The mission statement has changed, but as best I can tell, we are still doing what I call my two-word version of the IBMA mission: 'Help Bluegrass.'"

And once again, the mission statement, if not Hays’ short version, has changed since then, with the new one reading:

“Working together for high standards of professionalism, a greater appreciation for our music and the success of the worldwide bluegrass community.”

IBMA, being a trade organization, is dedicated, not to defining what bluegrass is and what it isn’t, but to helping bluegrass in the broadest sense, and giving the membership the support needed and the tools required to accomplish their goals.

IBMA’s top strategic goals, to be implemented prior to the end of 2007, as outlined on their website (, are (in order of priority):

-Pursue marketing initiatives that create greater awareness and connections between bluegrass and consumers.

-Create and host successful events which foster our music’s opportunities for success.

-Strengthen the organization in order that it achieve its mission.

-Involve young people in bluegrass through positive and educational experiences.

-Promote professionalism within the industry.

The IBMA’s current Chairman and President, and the point person in seeing to it that the organization stays on course in meeting those strategic goals, is David Crow. Besides his solo fiddle albums for the Pinecastle label, Crow, 32, is perhaps best known in bluegrass music circles for his membership in the Osborne Brothers. But in the bluegrass business world, Crow has made a name for himself as an attorney in Nashville, specializing in Intellectual Property and Technology.

“There is no such thing as entertainment law,” says Crow, “but it’s kind of the cross section of where intellectual property and contract law in the entertainment universe collide. So I’m a transactional guy. I do record deals, publishing deals, intellectual property, that’s what I do all day every day.”

Crow brings a rare combination of musical and legal knowledge to the IBMA.

“My office is on music row,” says Crow, “and what I do is transactional entertainment work solely in the music business. There are five or six other lawyers in this office, and all we do is entertainment work. We spend a lot of time—ten or twelve hours a day--interacting with industry folks and have a lot of opportunities to exchange ideas and promote the [IBMA]. And I certainly am out playing a bunch still, and I still have the ability to visit with artists, and play the Opry with the Osborne Brothers most every weekend. I’m not out on the road gathering information that way but I do have the opportunity to visit with lots of folks as they come through town.”

Crow has been involved in IBMA since he was in high school in the 1980s, and a board member for many years before assuming his current position. The last few years have been especially busy and productive at IBMA, which reflects the major upheavals that have been taking place in the music industry.

“The evolution of the retail situation I think is a big key for the business,” says Crow. “Wwe’ve seen the bankruptcy of…two of the key record distributors. We certainly see consolidation in other areas. I don’t think we’re going to see labels consolidating on the bluegrass side, but [more within] the distribution channels, the meaningful distribution channels. I mean Sony and BMG are now merged. Universal still has a meaningful distribution chain but if that consolidation continues it’s going to be very difficult to continue to distribute to…anything that doesn’t cut well with consumers or cut well with focus groups. It’s certainly going to be a challenge. I think $2.25 diesel fuel is certainly a touring challenge, but a lot of those things are opportunities and threats at the same time. You see digital distribution, you certainly see entrepreneurial businesses springing up in town, you see independent distributors who are springing up, emergent music marketing that can put product into the Sony distribution chain for bluegrass acts. So I see lots of good things happening there. I see some really interesting opportunities to grow our business to related markets--jamband markets, those types of folks. I see efforts in schools going really well as far as bluegrass in schools, be it teacher workshops or new videos. I think new programs like Leadership Bluegrass [an IBMA program designed to “pull together a cross section of people with exhibited or potential leadership qualities into a network of learning and communication,” as stated on the IBMA website] creates leadership inside our industry, giving people an opportunity to network together and learn a lot about the industry.”

Hays sees the last few years as having been dynamic ones for IBMA, and most of what the organization has accomplished ties in to the IBMA’s top strategic goals.

“The more significant things I would say would be some new programs that we have launched or created during that time period,” says Hays. “Our Leadership Bluegrass program. Our refocused Discover Bluegrass campaign and those marketing efforts. Our Bluegrass in the Schools program has begun to mature, and maybe the most exciting piece of that got released last fall with a “Discover Bluegrass” DVD that can be used in classrooms or with home schooling parents. Those are all fairly significant in terms of specific projects aimed at either marketing the music, getting young people exposed to it, professional development initiatives, on top of just the on going day to day services that we continue to offer and continue to improve upon.”

Certainly the most visible change for IBMA over the past five years is geographic.

|“As those initial meetings back in 1985 were happening here in Nashville, those organizational meetings, I’m sure there was discussion, if not overtly, at least people were asking each other privately, ‘Well, where’s this thing going to be?’ And of course a variety of factors took us to Owensboro, which was a great home for us for many years. But in the last 5 years, given that time frame, our board has reexamined again what is our mission, what are we here to do as a trade organization for the bluegrass industry and where best can we put ourselves in a position to achieve those objectives? Where is our staff, and where can the headquarters be that would be most accessible to our membership and put the whole staff in a position to be able to work efficiently and accomplish what we need to do?

“And the answer to that question, after much hand wringing, came down to Nashville.”

So in 2003, the IBMA packed up and moved to the Music Capital of the World, which brought to a head the other big issue that had been on the minds of the IBMA leadership—where should the World Of Bluegrass take place?

“A very similar decision was arrived at, that Nashville provided us the best kind of space and the best location, with reasonable rates, to achieve what that full conference and event is all about. So that event will be hosted for the first time in Nashville this coming October.”

As Crow says, the IBMA’s relocation means “we’re in people’s psyche a lot more.

“Moving the offices to Nashville has done a lot on the business side to raise our awareness profile in the industry. It’s helpful in the sense that we want to grow the business. We don’t necessarily want to change the music, we just want to have a broader base of appreciation for what it is our members do. I think our seminar attendance at the World of Bluegrass and Leadership Bluegrass, we’re educating our own folks and other folks how to take their business to higher levels, how to engage in a more professional approach, that pays lots of dividends. The World of Bluegrass being in Nashville should also take that up another notch. A lot of really great resources that may have been very sympathetic to the music and to our events but just didn’t feel like they could drive three and a half hours [to Louisville, where the World Of Bluegrass events have been since 1997] each way, I think will come downtown and volunteer time and be really active and involved. I think that’s going to be a key.”

Other recent activities at IBMA that Crow considers significant include the hiring of a fourth full-time staff person--Shari Lacy--as Marketing & Public Relations Director; the IBMA board’s strategic planning process and what it has produced; the advent of the Bluegrass Chart at Billboard magazine; and the research and marketing data that IBMA has been purchasing from Simmons Market Research Bureau.

One major IBMA product that has met with rave reviews is the “Discover Bluegrass” educational DVD.

“It’s a wonderful project,” says Hays. “Not only is it a video presentation that can be taken in chapters, but imbedded in the DVD are lesson plans that teachers and home schooling parents, and people who are leading youth groups, can access to tie the music to everything from [other types of] music to geography to social studies and history and mathematics and so on. So there’s a place for it within the curriculum in schools, and a variety of ways that young people end up with a broader understanding of what the music is really about.”

Demand for the DVD has surpassed expectations.

“We were hoping that in the first year or two that we might be able to get a copy of it into 1000 schools,” says Hays. “Well, within the first 6 months, we’ve gone back and pressed our third batch of 1000. So we’ve already got over 2000 schools since last October that are using that program to educate young people.”

These are the glitzy, high-gloss accomplishments about which the IBMA membership can feel justifiable pride, but it is not all that the IBMA does.

“Those are all fairly significant developments,” says Hays, “and there’s probably 1001 other ones that may not be on everyone’s radar screen, but there’s lots and lots of small things that happen day in and day out as we work with people in the industry, whether they’re artists or broadcasters or record labels or event producers or whoever it may be, to help them achieve success in the music. And a lot of those efforts are not just between this office and membership, but in many cases its members working together on projects, one member helping another one with information and ideas, and just exchanging the means by which it takes to find that kind of success in this industry.”

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