Ken Irwin takes AirPlay Direct Award

Ken Irwin photo at Podunk Bluegrass Festival in 2014 © Ted Lehmann

Last week (on March 7, 2017) AirPlay Direct announced that they had honored Ken Irwin with their “Iconic Innovators” Award for 2017.

The award is presented annually to the member of AirPlay Direct that has demonstrated vision, and most effectively executes the opportunities that digital innovation in the music industry has and continues to create.

AirPlay Direct’s CEO Lynda Weingartz stated…

“Ken is a very unique combination of savvy business man and artist; a true music impresario. His accomplishments and awards speak for themselves; and the man that Ken is. We look forward with great anticipation to our continued successes and creative future with Ken and Rounder Records.”

As an integral component of the “Iconic Innovators” Award, AirPlay Direct is honoring Irwin with a $50,000 AirPlay Direct Marketing & Awareness Campaign to accelerate his ongoing brand development and global radio distribution footprint for Rounder Records’ new releases and catalogue.

While Irwin points out that while the award is in his name, “it certainly is in recognition of the work done by all of us at Rounder Records,” the label that Irwin, Marian Leighton Levy and Bill Nowlin founded nearly five decades ago.

Irwin added…

“It is truly an honor to be receiving this recognition from AirPlay Direct. I’ve recently enjoyed working with Lynda [Weingartz] and Robert [Weingartz] on two of their showcases and always appreciated their love and respect for catalog titles.

Receiving this prestigious award will enable and encourage me to go back through our catalog of over 4000 albums and select some of my personal favorites, which might not have received attention from radio when they came out or which might be new to those in radio today.

I look forward to looking back”.

In accepting the award Irwin understands that he is making a commitment. AirPlay Directs’ expectations are that  …..

“I will curate monthly releases and re-releases of titles from the Rounder Family catalogs. The plan is to make nine titles from the catalog and one new release available each month, which will be digitally distributed to AirPlay Directs’ vast network of DJs around the world. The idea is to make the back-catalog titles, many of which either didn’t get much play from radio when they came out for one reason or another, or which were released long enough ago that the current DJs might not be familiar with them. This award has given me the incentive to go back to our catalog and select albums which I like, and feel others will enjoy, if they have the opportunity to hear them.

The AirPlay Direct Award includes a year-long marketing and awareness campaign which will help to accelerate the ongoing brand development and global radio distribution footprint for Rounder Records’ new releases and catalog. While not a cash award, this carries a multi-faceted marketing and promotion budget that will enable me to curate and promote these albums without the typical budgetary concerns.

The albums selected will be across a wide range of genres including bluegrass, old time, swing, blues, a cappella, Cajun, zydeco, roots rock, rockabilly, country amongst others.”

The annual award is for one year. The twelve months…

“will enable us to send out over 100 titles. Most of these have been available on CD, but hopefully there will be some that haven’t. There are some titles which I’d like to see distributed through this award including the first Boone Creek album and Al Jones and Frank Necessary which have never been on CD.”

Irwin was responsible for signing the previously unsung young bluegrass music talents like Alison Krauss, Béla Fleck, Mark O’Connor, Jerry Douglas, Ricky Skaggs (all of whom joined Rounder Records in the 1970s) and, more recently, the SteelDrivers and Sierra Hull.

A typical A&R man, Irwin works most often with bluegrass artists, in pre-production, recording, and mastering — or some combination thereof. Among those bluegrass and old-time artists that he has worked with are Hazel Dickens, James King, Del McCoury, IIIrd Tyme Out, neo-traditional group the Johnson Mountain Boys, Longview and many more.

He also helped to raise awareness of bluegrass’s first generation, producing and licensing a series of crucial reissues by some of the music’s legendary early figures, including Jimmy Martin, Bill Monroe, Jim & Jesse, Flatt & Scruggs and others — keeping this essential music in print when few other labels did so.

Also, Irwin has created many illuminating and best-selling compilations drawn from Rounder’s archive of over 3,000 albums, among them the remarkable O, Sister: A Women’s Bluegrass Collection (which doubled as a document of Rounder’s extensive efforts to promote female bluegrass musicians), Blue Trail of Sorrow and Bluegrass #1s.

Previous winners of AirPlay Direct’s “Iconic Innovators” Award include Bruce Iglauer, President and founder of Alligator Records, (in 2014); Sam Passamano II, President of Rural Rhythm Records (2015); and Blake Morgan, the CEO and Owner of the ECR Music Group (2016).

Share this:

About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.