My Music Row Story: UMPG Nashville’s Missy Roberts
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.
As Vice President, A&R for Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville, Missy Roberts represents a catalog of writers that include Brandi Carlile, Ingrid Andress, Caitlyn Smith, Paul DiGiovanni, Justin Ebach, Jamie Paulin, Derrick Southerland, Shane Minor and more. After an internship in marketing at Sony Records, Roberts was hired by the A&R department as assistant to industry vet Tracy Gershon.
She launched her publishing career at Island Bound Music. From there, she moved to Disney Music Publishing where she helped start the Nashville office. Since then, Roberts has held posts at Stage Three Music and EMI Music Publishing, before joining UMPG Nashville in 2012. She was promoted to her current position at UMPG in 2021. Roberts has been a part of numerous cuts and No. 1 hits throughout her career, including “The Climb” (Miley Cyrus), “The Truth” (Jason Aldean), 2014 ASCAP Song Of The Year “It Goes Like This” (Thomas Rhett) and 2020 CMA Song Of The Year Nominee and MusicRow Song Of The Year award winner “More Hearts Than Mine” (Ingrid Andress).
Roberts will be honored as part of the current class of MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row on Oct. 20. For more details about the class and the event, click here.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a little town called Downs, Illinois, which is right outside of Bloomington. 500 people, corn and beans. I hated it as a kid but I’m very thankful for it now. It was a really great way to grow up.
Were you musical?
I was not musical, but always very drawn to music. My uncle on my mom’s side, who I’m still really close with, did lighting and sound in the ’80s for all the big arena rock bands like Rush, Damn Yankees and Bad Company. I was very drawn to and connected to him. If he was on tour within three to four hours driving distance of where I grew up, my mom would take me and drop me off with him at the venue and I would run around with him all day. I became so fascinated by what is it about songs that get a person to connect to an artist or get a crowd to react.
Did you know you wanted to be in the music business from then on?
I did. I have said since I was a kid that I was going to do music business, but I ended up getting really active in sports. That really took over, especially from junior high into high school. I toured the country playing softball and ended up getting a scholarship for it. So I thought that was my path for a while, though I was still very drawn to music. I was the kid in school that everybody came to for new music. If I wasn’t practicing softball, I was in front of a radio just taking in music and making mixtapes.
How did that shift from softball back to music business?
I had gotten a scholarship to play softball and was majoring in sports psychology. A year into it, my family went down to Florida where my uncle was for Christmas break. He was running The Wildhorse Saloon that was at Disney. The whole Christmas break, I hung out with him at the Wildhorse. I was hanging out with the bands and just back in in that world. I thought, “What am I doing? This is what I’ve always said I was going to do from the time I can remember talking.” But who would be crazy enough to tear up a scholarship and this whole plan that you’ve established? Who would be crazy enough to give all that up and walk away? Two days before I was supposed to go back to school, I sat down with my parents and said, “I’m not going back. I quit.” That was not easy. I think they thought I was having a midlife crisis. [Laughs]
I gave up the scholarship. I went to Southern Illinois University, and worked two full-time jobs and a part-time job. Southern Illinois, at the time, had a music business program, but it was half of a true music degree and half of a business degree. It wasn’t really music business. I ended up going to one of my professors and said, “This isn’t really music business. There’s a whole side of the industry where people don’t play instruments and they don’t do recitals. That’s what I’m looking to get into.” I ended up creating my own curriculum of marketing and music business. They gave me a professor as a point person and before every semester, I would go and present to them what classes I thought I should take and why.
How did that lead you to Nashville?
Stan Marczewski, who is at Broken Bow now, was a year ahead of me at SIU. He had just gotten a job at a management company and had stayed in touch with the recording engineering professor. Stan called in one day and said, “I’d love to help somebody from SIU. Do you have a student that would be interested in internship?” The next day the professor told me, so I cold called Stan and we talked on the phone. I came down for my spring break that year and spent time helping him at the management company. My classes ended on Thursday, so I’d drive the three hour drive from SIU to Nashville. I’d help out at Mission Management on Fridays, I’d go out and meet people on Saturday, and then I’d drive back to SIU on Sunday nights and go back to being regular college student for four days.
The summer going into my senior year, he helped me get an internship at Sony in marketing. About a month into that, my supervisor in marketing had been begging me all day to come see this band that she was friends with. She was trying to get Tracy Gershon, one of the heads of A&R, to come out and see them. I’d been out with the interns the night before and all day I was like, “I can’t do anything else. I’m so tired.” At the last minute, I changed my mind. Tracy came with us and when we were driving to the show, Tracy said, “I don’t know I’m going to do. My assistant just told me she’s quitting. She gave me two days notice.” I made it a point to make a connection with her that night. As soon as she got in the office the next morning, my little intern desk phone started ringing and it was her. I went and sat down in her office and she said, “I sent an email out this morning asking the staff if there’s an intern that I should hire since I’m in such a pinch for somebody. There’s only one name that came back from everybody in the building and it was yours. Do you want a job?” Two days later, I was working for Tracy Gershon in A&R.
When did you decide you wanted to be in publishing?
Tracy was so, so great. My desk was outside of her office and she would leave her door open, so as publishers came in and met with her, I got to sit outside of her office and just take all of that in. I remember one day sitting outside of her office going, “Wait a minute. So these publishers come in here with songs that they love and they play them for her and tell her why she should love them? Because I was that kid in high school. Everybody piled in my car on Friday nights. It was me with my mixtape and a captive audience going, “Here’s why you need to like this song. Check out this artist; this is why they’re great.”
When Sony merged with RCA, Tracy left and went to Warner Bros. and couldn’t take me with her. That’s when I got into publishing and I’ve been in it ever since.
What was your path from that point?
I went to a really small publishing company here in town for about a year called Island Bound Music. The only writer that they had at the time was Steven Dale Jones. They closed that down and turned it into day-to-day management, so I was back in the management thing where I first interned and just not where I was supposed to be. I found out that Disney Music Publishing was starting an office in Nashville. Philip White, who was a really good friend of Steven Dale Jones, was in our office one day writing with Steven. He was like, “You should call Disney and see if there’s a position open.”
I helped start the Nashville office from scratch [with Lisa Ramsay]. Disney had never had a Nashville publishing company before, so there was no design of how it works. We had this blank slate. Lisa was really great about trusting me to figure it out. That accelerated my learning way more than it would have if I were to stay where I was.
Next I went to a company called Stage Three. It was me and Tim Hunze. I was there for five years and had a really great run. BMG bought us and then Ben Vaughn called me. He had just started running EMI. I went to EMI and got to work very closely with Ben and learned a lot in that process. That was a pretty scary, big change. All my publishing experience to that point was indie, small publishing companies where you’re really close with your writers. You see them every day and you talk to them every day because you’ve got the time to. That’s the foundation of how I learned publishing and getting thrown into a major for the first time is a major learning curve.
What got you to UMPG?
I was at EMI for two years and we sold to Sony. When we merged with Sony, there we now had like 180 writers. In my head I was going, “This just isn’t for me. This isn’t how I learned publishing.” I was looking to make a move back to the indie world.
Then Kent Earls called me. He had just taken over UMPG Nashville. When I met with Kent, I realized how different Universal is. We operate so differently from the other majors. It really is about time and intention—it’s an indie mindset for a global company with global access. I’ve been here for 10 years now. Troy Tomlinson has been an incredible addition because he is an amazing leader, but he’s kept all the great things about it and just made better some of the things that needed to change. It’s been the perfect blend.
When do you feel most fulfilled in what you do?
When I feel like there’s been an impact made, whether I’ve had an opportunity to make an impact on a songwriter or an artist, or if somebody’s made an impact on me. That’s truly what fulfills me. At this, this point in my career, I have been very blessed that I’ve pitched or facilitated number ones and some songs of the year and helped artists get record deals. But the whole thing is for me, did that help somebody? Did that make their life better? Did that help a dream of theirs come true? That’s what motivates me. That’s what moves me.
You will be honored at MusicRow’s Rising Women on the Row breakfast on Oct. 20. What are you most proud of when you look back on your career so far?
I’m most proud that 18 out of my 19 years in town have been with what, to me, is the foundation, root and lifeline of this business: the songwriter. Getting to work with them every day is something that I’m really proud of.
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