The “My Music Row Story” weekly column features notable members of the Nashville music industry selected by the MusicRow editorial team. These individuals serve in key roles that help advance and promote the success of our industry. This column spotlights the invaluable people that keep the wheels rolling and the music playing.
Music Health Alliance Founder/CEO, Tatum Hauck-Allsep, established the music industry’s first non-profit resource for healthcare in 2013, which has gone on to serve over 18,000 industry professionals and saved them over $84 million in healthcare costs. Allsep’s career also includes time with MCA Records, artist management, and the launch of the Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Music Industry Relations Department. In 2021, Tatum was named CMA Humanitarian of the Year for MHA’s COVID Relief efforts. Her additional awards include MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row, Nashville Healthcare Hero, Women of Music City, Nashville Post’s Top Non-Profit Leader, National Healthcare Innovation Award, and numerous honors from Billboard.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I grew up deep in the piney woods of south Mississippi. I went to junior high and high school in Sumrall, Mississippi. We did not even have a stop light, we had a caution light. We would hang out at The Handy Pantry on Friday nights after football games. It was just a teeny tiny town. It was safe and nobody left.
What did you want to become then?
The music industry wasn’t even on my radar. I thought that I wanted to go into medicine. I came to Nashville to go to Vanderbilt in 1993. I focused on medicine and I got weeded out my junior year of college pretty quickly by organic chemistry. It just did not make sense to me. My major at Vanderbilt was Human and Organizational Development.
I had always worked in healthcare in the summers. I worked in an emergency room in Mississippi and volunteered at the children’s hospital at Vanderbilt. When it came time to intern, I thought, “I’m in Music City. I’ll just see what’s happening in the music industry.” I ended up with an internship at MCA Records and I felt like I had found my tribe. I thought, “Oh my gosh. I’ve never felt so at home anywhere. Not in college, not in high school, and not at home in Mississippi. These are my people.”
Did you change your major?
Nope! I stayed Human and Organizational Development and it’s really been an asset. It was psychology combined with sociology combined with business. Having that real, tangible experience in the setting that eventually became my career was invaluable.
The head of my department at Vanderbilt had been a songwriter. He understood that if you stepped out [of healthcare], it would be really hard to step back in. He let me create independent studies every semester, so I was able to intern in every department at MCA and Decca.
What did you do after graduation?
The second semester of my senior year, right before I was about to graduate, I got hired because Scott Borchetta got fired. Who gets to say that? (Laughs) Obviously, he has done just fine. Everybody at MCA loved him and cheered for him, it was just time for him to spread his own wings. When he left, everybody in the department bumped up and I became the receptionist of promotion at MCA Records. I felt like I had arrived.
What were your goals for your career then?
I was watching artist managers take risks early. Erv Woolsey took a risk early with George Strait and there were so many stories like that about the greats in our industry. I really thought that I would end up either staying and climbing the ladder at the label or going into management.
I had a starter marriage in the music industry, which I don’t recommend, but it gave me my greatest life lessons of all time. I met my future husband, moved real fast and left MCA. I went to Atlantic for a hot minute with Barry Coburn and then left to build a management company with my starter husband. I got pregnant quick, right after we got married, and got divorced within a year.
In the divorce, I inherited some artists. (Laughs) The Derailers were one of them. I learned a ton and they’re still really good friends. I thought management was phenomenal—I loved the negotiating piece and I loved understanding contracts, but I couldn’t be on the road with twin boys, so I to needed to make another career change.
What happened next?
I went into pre-term labor, and it ultimately led to Music Health Alliance. By that point, I was 26 or 27, so I understood the value of benefits and health insurance. When I left employment with benefits, I made sure the first thing I did was get health insurance. When I went into pre-term labor, I was in the hospital for six weeks on bedrest. The boys were born at 28 weeks, so three months early. They each weighed two pounds and were in the NICU for nine weeks. Fortunately, they are great now, but I left the hospital with two sick babies, a half million dollar bill, and a marriage that was imploding.
I didn’t know that you could negotiate medical bills and I didn’t know that you could challenge decisions by health insurance companies. I liquidated every asset I owned and talked to my grandfather, who was a businessman, and asked him to co-sign a loan with me. He did and it took me 10 years to pay off.
I also learned that my story was not unique. It was happening all over the music industry. Every five minutes there was a benefit where we were passing the bucket for somebody. That really resonated because at my darkest hour, when I was a single mom with infant twins on heart monitors and oxygen, it was the music industry that made me feel so safe and so loved. It was a much smaller industry then, but everybody operates the same way today. This is a really precious family.
How were you able to move on?
Vanderbilt Medical Center wanted to start their first department of music industry relations. I ended up getting hired for the job. They really wanted to be fundraising and I said, “Everybody goes to the music industry with their hand out. We’ve got to make this medical center valuable to the music industry.” The person I reported to had built a committee of music industry executives—Joe Galante, Kix Brooks and more. One day Kix said, “If you can figure out how to bring health insurance to the music industry, then they’ll come use your facility.”
That’s all I needed to hear. It gave me permission to understand this crazy thing that almost wrecked my life. So I started meeting with health insurance companies. I met with about 17 of them and after every one of the meetings, I felt like I needed a shower. It was so gross. All they saw were big numbers and big money. It was way before the Affordable Care Act had passed, so about 35 cents of every dollar went to commission for health insurance. It was big money at that point. I met a guy who had been in the music industry who was an insurance broker. He wasn’t held captive by any one company. We started what was CMA Sound Healthcare. I left Vanderbilt after three or four years to build Sound Healthcare.
When did you decide to start Music Health Alliance?
The Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010 and that opened up this enormous opportunity for the music industry to have access to healthcare like never before. My whole goal with Sound Healthcare was to build a nonprofit and my business partner did not have any interest in that. He was a businessman, which is totally fine. Sales were his mechanism. We decided to amicably part ways. My family and I moved to Montgomery, Alabama and that was what allowed me to clearly see the path that needed to be taken to build what became Music Health Alliance.
My husband had been an attorney before he became a professor. One night at 3 in the morning, I woke him up and I was like, “I had this dream! Look at this dissolution agreement. Is there a non-compete?” He was like, “Oh my God. It’s 3 in the morning. There’s no non-compete.” I wrote the entire business plan for Music Health Alliance that night.
I had this dream about what it should look like and insurance had to be a component. It had to be a part of it, but just one small part. In the United States, that’s the primary mechanism to gain access to healthcare: health insurance. But I had to figure out a way to remove the profit motive. With the profit motive, it skews the objectivity. We need to make sure if you walk in and you have a healthcare issue, the payment mechanism that we pick for you is going to be what meets your needs, not my needs.
When did you get to start helping music industry folks?
The first client that called to ask for some help was Cowboy Jack Clement. He had been diagnosed with liver cancer and just needed help navigating it. I hadn’t even come up with the name Music Health Alliance yet, but the whole template of how we navigate came into play when we helped Cowboy Jack walk through his liver cancer. He said, “I’m going to have a living wake. I think it’d be really cool if it benefited this nonprofit you’re building.” That was in January of 2013 and that was our first public facing event where we launched.
How did you start building your team?
Kimberly Dunn was my right hand and sounding board starting Music Health Alliance. Herky Williams was our first development director. When he went on to pursue other things, I looked in MusicRow and I saw that Sheila Shipley Biddy was leaving the label where she was. She had been one of my greatest mentors when I was an intern.
I called her and said, “I don’t know what your next step is, but I’ve started this nonprofit. I can only pay you a half salary for now, but this is what I need: an advocate. Someone who can study and understand Medicare, someone to help us bring organization to this non-profit.” So Sheila became the first full-time, salaried hire and now she’s our CFO. I feel so honored to get to work with her every day and learn from her. I’m a bulldozer and a big picture person. She can take the big picture and help bring the execution to it.
Music Health Alliance became even more life-saving during the pandemic. What was that like?
Overnight, the phone calls went from, “I’ve got a new diagnosis and I need help finding a doctor and navigating medical bills,” to, “I don’t know how I’m going to be able to afford formula, diapers and food.” Because we’ve been able to be nimble, it allowed us to shift gears really quickly and figure out how to meet that need. We went online to try to get gift cards from Walmart, Kroger and Trader Joe’s, but you could buy one gift card a piece. We called our banker at City National Bank, Lori Badgett, who has been a champion for us since the beginning. We said, “We need to come cash a $60,000 check and I’m going go buy gift cards at these stores.” She said, “Alright. Let’s make it happen.” So my son—who served as my bodyguard—went with me into the bank to get $60,000, put it in my little purse, and go to Walmart and buy gift cards. (Laughs)
People would come to us to get gift cards, but then we would talk to them about their secondary needs. Is it help with your rent? Is it help with diapers and formula? Some people would call back for help for a second month, about 40% would call back for a third month, and about 3% to 5% called back for a fourth month. It was amazing to see people figuring out how to navigate it. Our industry is so resilient.
Then it was following the virus. What do all these vaccinations mean? How do we differentiate fact from fiction? So we found the facts and then we would assimilate them out to industry leaders. It wasn’t coming from us, we were just sourcing them so they could see the facts.
What’s your proudest accomplishment at Music Health Alliance?
I didn’t know Beverly Keel—I had just revered her because she is an icon. Somebody called and said, “Beverly’s sister is in liver failure and they’re telling her to go home and get her affairs in order.” The Hippocratic Oath hangs in my office. It says, “I will practice my craft, the art of medicine, not based on profit, but because it is the right thing to do.”
In the U.S., you can’t get on a transplant list if you are not fully insured. I understand that, from the business sense, but not from the human sense. Especially not at a nonprofit, faith-based hospital. We were able to go in and navigate and find loopholes. The transplant gave her five more years. That’s one of the cases that means the most to me.
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