Jackie Jones is the Vice President, Artist and Industry Relations for the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), serving as RIAA’s chief representative in Nashville.
At RIAA, Jones works to help elevate country artists and songwriters in the industry while translating copyright reform, trade negotiations, and creative industry policymaking for local audiences. She brings together artists, management, labels, venues, creator advocacy groups, tech platforms and distribution services when possible to work towards common goals.
Jones recently spoke with MusicRow about her role and what she hopes to accomplish in the Nashville music business.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up? How did you get into the music business?
I grew up in Memphis. I’ve always loved music, but definitely grew up in a music city. I was super interested in television, but I always wanted to produce [the VH1 show] Behind The Music. That was my dream job. When I went to college I was studying TV and film, but I always came back to the music side of things. I ended up transferring to MTSU and getting an internship at CMT. At CMT I was a producer and a writer for a long time, and then the talent team shifted gears and approached me to ask [if I wanted to join them.] I climbed up the ranks there and ended up doing all the live events and talent producing.
You joined RIAA in 2019. How did that happen?
I had never really thought about being a part of the advocacy side of things, but the more I got to know Mitch [Glazier, Chairman & CEO] and Michele [Ballantyne, COO], I became more enamored with what they were doing. Mitch’s overall was really appealing to me. He is very adamant that all of the advocacy groups work together to push a common goal. We all represent different parts of the industry, but we know that if we go to legislators together, we’re going to get a lot more done than trying to do it ourselves. And I found that [ethic] very much like the Nashville music industry.
We all want to lift each other up. I really loved the approach and loved that that was his goal. I told him that Nashville already works like that in a lot of ways and that I thought RIAA needed to be here. I said ‘You need to have somebody here,’ and I did not mean me in any way, but then he was like, ‘Yeah, we do. We want you to come work for us!’ It took me a minute because I was totally dedicated to television and totally a creative. I thought about it for a long time. I just loved the mission, I loved the environment, and it really feels good to be doing something to help us move forward and to take care of our musicians, songwriters, artists, labels, and everyone else.
What’s a day in the life look like for you?
In the beginning it was more about looking ahead at what needs we have as an industry as a whole, working to build relationships with different advocacy groups, and working to build more relationships with all the artists management teams and everybody to educate them on what RIAA does. One of the primary goals that I have in my job is to show legislators why music is important. I had been doing that more through events and conversations with artists and industry leaders for for Congress and Senate. And then COVID hit and events went away. We pivoted quickly to working hard to get those in the music industry protected under all of the COVID packages. Then that became the big goal.
I’ve also pivoted to virtual events. This week I did a panel with JoJo and Miles Adcox talking about mental health and why that’s important. We’re going to share that with the Mondo.NYC music industry conference to try to get it out to as many people as possible. And then we will also share that with our audience of the D.C. world to show that this is a real issue that the music industry is paying attention to, and that we care about mental health and want to make it a priority.
In 2019 you produced the inaugural RIAA Honors. Tell me about that.
That is one of those moments where we’re trying to show what music is and why it’s important to D.C. audiences. It’s pretty fascinating how far an artist visit will go in those rooms; it’s the currency that we have. Whether it’s legislators talking to a songwriter and hearing about the creative process or talking to an artist that they love, or even just hearing how a record is made, it’s so interesting to them and brings us a lot of opportunities. If we do something cool and interesting with them like that, they then will listen to us on our issues more and we’ll have a bigger place in their brain to remember us by. The inaugural RIAA Honors was honoring Miranda Lambert for her support of women throughout her career.
Then we honored Lanre Gaba, who is at Atlantic in A&R and has been responsible for helping many careers. We had a conversation with Lanre about, how do you find an artist? What does a label do? Why are they important to the artists’ profession and their long-term career? Then we also honored a couple of legislators who helped us pass the Music Modernization Act. So it was a great full circle moment where these people got in a room with some really interesting, cool people and they got to see a little bit of what we do. That’s the point of these things, so that then they listen to all of our people when we say we need something!
RIAA is probably most known by its lauded Gold and Platinum plaque program. What goes on behind the scenes in presenting those?
It’s interesting because when I came in, I only knew that RIAA did plaques. When I started talking to Michele and Mitch, I had no idea they were an advocacy group or lobbied for our rights or protected content. I just knew about the plaques. And so many people do, which is part of why I’m here: to help people understand more. But the Gold and Platinum program is an awesome program because it helps us to celebrate the sales and the consumption of the music that’s being made. Usually what happens is labels are tracking their progress and how much they’re being listened to on various digital platforms, hard sales, vinyl sales and everything else.
When they get to the 500,000 units, which is broken down in different ways, that is a Gold. A million units is Platinum. That counts for singles and albums, but 500,000 units for a single is different than 500,000 units for an album, especially when you get into the digital. What happens is the labels will apply for that certification, it will go through an auditing system and then they will get approved from us saying, ‘Yes, you have hit this milestone.’ They then have our seal on their plaque and we’re able to promote and share that, and sometimes be a part of the presentation.
It sounds like RIAA does a lot more than people realize. What do you want people to know that RIAA does?
A lot of people aren’t aware of the advocacy work that we do in general, that we’re lobbying for the music industry as a whole. The Gold and Platinum albums are so important and fun, but what’s going on behind the scenes is a lot of legislative work. First and foremost, we are fighting for the rights of the music community.
Second of all is content protection. I don’t think that people are aware that RIAA has people scouring the internet for stolen music 24/7. Sometimes we do that on a federal level in a big push, we all remember the Napster days. But we also do it through state levels. We might be able to get a stream ripping site down in a place that is not Tennessee by working through a law in Tennessee. It’s about balancing state and federal law to make sure that we’re catching as much as we can.
Another thing is research. We have an entire team of people that are doing research on the music industry in general: on trends, who is listening to music, how is it being consumed, where are the trends going, etc. That’s super helpful, too, and that’s usually all on our website. We have a mid-year report and a year-end report, and it’s super helpful to a lot of people that are trying to make some decisions about what they might want to do or where they might want to promote.
When do you feel most fulfilled in your role?
I find it really cool when I’m able to have an artist, a music industry leader, or songwriter connect with a representative. It is two worlds that are shockingly similar in terms of the celebrity side of it. They’re both well-known people who have very busy schedules. But when they get together and they recognize common interests and common goals, or when you see a representative get excited about a project that someone’s working on, that is really motivational to me. It makes you feel like we all really can find something to be a part of together. That’s when I feel the most fulfilled.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Have grace under pressure.
Who have been some of your mentors?
One person who I was so fortunate to work with in my career was Chet Flippo. In the beginning of my career, he was the Editorial Director of CMT and CMT.com and I was lucky enough to spend some time with him and get to know him a bit. Being able to be in the room as he talked about new artists and new music was fascinating. He always had a clear opinion and he was always able to be kind about whichever opinion he had. One thing I learned from him was that being direct and honest was a kind thing and it could be done in a kind way. Him being in the country community made us all better and encouraged us all to work to be better.
Another way that I have been really lucky in this business is to have come up alongside some amazing and strong women. I feel like I have had women around me that have taught me so much along the way. We really do support each other and cheer each other on. That is something I am very grateful for.
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