What were you doing in April of 1981?
David M. Ross, founder of this publication, was walking up and down 16th and 17th Avenues handing out the very first issue of this magazine—a one sheet, double sided directory of the key companies in the Nashville music industry. From music stores to recording studios, the listings were peppered with a handful of advertisements and that one-sheet of paper grew into the respected trade publication known today as MusicRow.
Meanwhile during that same time in 1981, a young honors student in Mobile, Alabama named Sherod Robertson was getting ready to graduate from high school with nothing but dreams and aspirations ahead. His successful and varied career path eventually led him to cross paths with Ross and take the reins of the magazine in 2010. Robertson considers his role at the publication more of stewardship than ownership.
For 40 years, MusicRow has been Nashville’s leading music industry trade publication. Readers include all facets of the music industry including label executives, managers, publishers, songwriters, artists, booking agents, producers, radio, and more. Whether it’s current or breaking news, timely interviews or being early adopters of new talent, industry experts respect the articles written by our experienced staff of professional industry observers, reporters and critics.
Connecting everyone in the Nashville music industry, Music Row Enterprises has become home to other industry-related products and events, including the song pitch-sheet RowFax, MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart, MusicRow Top Songwriter Chart, the MusicRow Weekly newsletter, Rising Women on the Row honors, the annual MusicRow Awards and much more.
1981: MusicRow is established in April 1981. “In March 1981, I asked my small circle of industry friends if starting some kind of music publication was a good idea. They all said, ‘It will never work in Nashville. People have already tried it.’ But perhaps it was a higher power that made me believe. And so in April 1981 this publication was born as a little one page directory. I looked around for a name. MusicRow seemed ideal and no one had claimed it.” – David M. Ross, Founder.
1981: First artist featured on the cover was Cristy Lane in Aug. 1981. Eleanor Johnston, known professionally as Cristy Lane, achieves success with her first Gold record in New Zealand for “One Day At A Time,” written by Kris Kristofferson and Marijohn Wilkin.
1983: Founder David M. Ross publishes an article called, The Computer Is Coming. MusicRow quickly establishes its reputation for being at the forefront of industry news and technology. In the same year, MetroGnome’s Mark Augelli tells MusicRow, “I see a scenario of these little hand held computers… a time when somebody will walk into a producer to pitch songs and either will have their entire database inside that small unit or communicate with a central database and then using digital, instantly deliver a recording of whatever song is desired.” 15 years later, the first handheld portable MP3 player is released in 1998.
1987: MusicRow’s InCharge debuts as a stand-alone product in Jan. 1987. InCharge, often referred to as the “bible” of the Nashville music industry, is a much sought-after publication highlighting the top decision makers in the industry. It becomes part of the annual MusicRow subscribed membership in 1990 and continues to be a badge of honor for those included in each year’s new edition.
1991: Created by Grammy award-winning art director Bill Johnson, the current MusicRow logo debuts on Jan. 23, 1991. As the art director at CBS Records in the 1980s and 1990s, Johnson left his visual imprint on an entire generation of country record makers and was noted for the vibrancy and saturated colors of his album-jacket designs, posters and advertisements. He also designed the iconic logo for Rolling Stone.
1992: RowFax, the industry song pitch list, launches. RowFax provides up to date information about which artists are working on recording projects and currently searching for new material. It is used by publishers, songwriters, producers, artists, A&R executives and others interested in the process of finding and recording songs.
1996: The first MusicRow website (www.musicrow.com) launches. Popular search engines at the time on the web are WebCrawler, Yahoo, and YeeHaw–a Nashville oriented search site. Always an early adopter, MusicRow’s first website goes live only 3 years after the very first website in history, info.cern.ch, is launched by the European Organization for Nuclear Research and made public on the world wide web. At the beginning of 2021, MusicRow’s latest upgrade to its website offers an easy-to-read and streamlined experience that includes larger photos, larger fonts, an enhanced search engine, and improved mobile experience among other upgrades. The site contains over 30,000 articles.
2000: Robert K. Oermann’s single reviews have captured the industry’s attention for all of MusicRow’s 40 year history. For example in 2000, the historian and renowned music critic said of Lee Ann Womack’s “I Hope You Dance”: “There are scarcely words in my vocabulary to describe how I feel about this. I have played it daily, as if it were a balm to ease the pain of the world. Lee Ann’s voice is a thing of crystal beauty. The contrapuntal ‘Greek chorus’ of haunting harmony come courtesy of Sons of the Desert. The song and its message are Nashville at its most poetic and profound.” Oermann is woven throughout the many pages of MusicRow’s history since the very beginning, including his much lauded ‘Bobby Karl Works The Room’ features.
2002: At the beginning of 2002, MusicRow makes the decision to enter the world of radio and charts. The MusicRow CountryBreakout Radio Chart launches on April 12, 2002 and ranks songs based on radio airplay from MusicRow’s panel of reporting stations.
2002: Keith Urban is featured on the cover of the October 2002 MusicRow print issue. His current single, “Somebody Like You” from his album Golden Road will go on to become his second No. 1 radio single. A look through the print covers of MusicRow is like flipping through the history of country music. From the superstars to the up-and-comers, the MusicRow print issues offer a visual representation of the many artists whose backs our industry rests upon.
2004: The first CountryBreakout Airplay Award ceremony is held. These awards will become part of MusicRow’s annual ‘Meet & Greet’ reception and party held right before the annual Country Radio Seminar begins. Attendees of the convention anticipate this annual gathering as they reconnect with their peers in the radio industry and congratulate the MusicRow award winners.
2006: Taylor Swift stops by for an artist visit. She goes on to become one of the most successful musical artists in the world, reaching sales of over 200 million records worldwide with numerous accolades including 11 Grammy Awards. MusicRow is often a designated media stop for artists for a visit with the team and to share new music. Artist visits at the MusicRow office have included Swift, Cyndi Lauper, Kenny Loggins, Kelsea Ballerini, Chris Stapleton, Florida Georgia Line, Ashley McBryde, John Schneider, Ingrid Andress, Kiefer Sutherland, Gabby Barrett, Jo Dee Messina, Old Dominion, Martina McBride, and countless others.
2008: As an early adopter, MusicRow shares its first Tweet on a new social media platform called Twitter on Sept. 3, 2008. The following year on July 9, 2009, MusicRow made its first post on Facebook and eventually adds Instagram to its social media platforms. Google+ was also used for a short period of time, but despite being released by the Google behemoth, its engagement as a social media platform never materialized.
2010: On Nov. 19, 2010, Sherod Robertson purchases MusicRow magazine. Robertson, who spent years in the music business at Arista Records and Reunion Records during the ’90s, adds “MusicRow owner” to his repertoire. SouthComm, the then parent company of Music Row Communications, discovered a perfect opportunity to capitalize on MusicRow’s growth by selling the industry trade to Robertson, who at the time was SouthComm’s CFO.
2012: MusicRow holds its first annual Rising Women on the Row honors and breakfast at Maggiano’s Little Italy on Friday, March 16, 2012. The event sells out before the honorees are announced. It is created to recognize women who are becoming visionary leaders in Nashville’s music industry through their dedication, innovation, and contributions. Kay West is the featured speaker and honorees include Mary Hilliard Harrington, Shannan Hatch, Denise Stevens, Heather McBee, and Carla Wallace.
2014: MusicRow publishes its inaugural Next Big Thing issue featuring artists who range from established hitmakers prepping their next moves, to newcomers ready to claim their turns in the spotlight. In 2019, MusicRow’s N.B.T. Industry Directory is added and becomes the first and only list of its kind, showcasing Nashville music business professionals who occupy important roles at their respective companies, and who are on a trajectory of excellence to successfully lead the Nashville music industry into the future.
2014: MusicRow presents its first Challenge Coin to Cole Swindell for “Chillin’ It.” Each uniquely numbered coin is given to artists and songwriters who earn a No. 1 song on MusicRow‘s Country Breakout Radio Chart. Challenge coins are believed to date back to WWI, when they were initially given to American soldiers. It has been reported that after receiving a challenge coin, organization members carried it with them at all times. When ‘challenged’ to prove membership, they would produce it to verify their membership status. MusicRow has awarded over 1,300 coins to date.
2018: The MusicRow Top Songwriter Chart launches in Oct. 2018, and Chase McGill is the No. 1 songwriter on the very first MusicRow Top Songwriter Chart. The weekly chart uses data from song activity according to airplay, digital download track sales and streams. This unique and exclusive asset to the MusicRow portfolio is the only songwriter chart of its kind.
2019: The MusicRow Awards expands to War Memorial Auditorium for its 31st year. The annual event is an invitation-only gala where the Nashville music industry enjoys top camaraderie, gourmet food, and expanded award presentation. The first MusicRow Awards was launched in 1982 to honor a producer of the year. In 1989 it expanded to include Top 10 Album All-Stars—an award MusicRow still presents to studio musicians today. Over the years, additional categories are added for a total of 19 annual awards presented at the event today.
2020: The MusicRow Weekly launches in November of 2020 delivering a free online newsletter published on the company’s website and emailed each Friday to recipients. The newsletter features the current week’s top Nashville music industry news, exclusive interviews, song reviews, radio and top songwriter charts, and much more.
2021: MusicRow marks 40 years of connecting the Nashville music industry, which has proven even more essential from the industry being affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. From starting out as a one-page directory in 1981 to a multi-format media presence in 2021, the publication continues to deliver essential news and resources to those who work in the music industry and will continue to evolve and grow in the future.
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