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.
Publishing veteran Michael Martin joined Endurance as President at its inception in 2019. Under his leadership, EMG has built a roster of 14 successful songwriters and closed over $150 million in acquisitions. The company claims over 75 chart-topping country singles and dozens of BMI, ASCAP and SESAC Country and Pop Airplay awards. Martin takes an active role in the management and development of EMG’s hit songwriters and artists, and he oversees a robust Administration team which has processed millions in artist and writer royalties on behalf of independent administration clients.
Previously, Martin was Vice President of Membership at ASCAP, where he led the PRO to major country music market share growth. He managed the organization’s relationships with high-profile songwriters and was recognized as a Billboard Country Power Player. His career includes stops at FAME Music, Moraine Music Group and Extreme Writers Group, which he co-founded.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Texas in a little town outside of Fort Worth called Mineral Wells. There was this music teacher there that was a big part of my life. I would not be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for her. Her name was Vickie Carden.
How did she impact your life?
I was in the choral department from sixth grade all the way through high school. I was very shy and did not want to have any attention at all. We were doing a little musical called You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown. I was Pig-Pen and I was really happy about being Pig-Pen because he didn’t have to do anything but sit there and be dirty. [Before the musical] I got the flu and had to stay home for two weeks. Vickie knocked on the door one day and said, “Linus dropped out and I want you to learn the part while you’re home sick.” So I ended up doing it and it was a big life-changing moment for me. I got more into music and acting.
Where did you go to college?
I started at Weatherford College for two years, which was just outside of Mineral Wells where I grew up. Then I transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington. I had a really small scholarship to sing on the chorus there to help buy books. I started waiting tables to help me get through school and then me and my buddy started a landscaping business my junior year of college. That became a little mom and pop when I graduated.
How did you get to Nashville?
The landscaping thing really evolved and grew. There was a client that was from Nashville and he was moving to Fort Worth. Me and my buddy were working at this five-acre estate pulling weeds in the front yard. This guy drives up a long driveway and gets out of a Porsche and says, “Hey, I just bought this house. Give me your card and I’ll call you in eight months.”
He called and we ended up getting all of his business and all of the business from the executives that transferred. We did so much work for him that we became pretty good friends. He invited me to come visit Nashville one early May. I loved it. Over a period of a couple of visits, he bought a property in Thompson Station and he said, “If you want to do something different, why don’t you move out here for six months? You can work with the landscape architect and the builder.” I ended up taking that shot and it was overwhelming. I remember driving through Memphis crying because I knew I was on my journey.
How did you get into the music business once you were in Nashville?
He decided to sell the house in Nashville and I ended up staying on the farm until it sold. It took about three years to do that. I started another landscaping business. Through that and going to church during that period of time, I met Mark Bright, who was the VP of Publishing at EMI and was also starting to produce. He befriended me and I got led into this whole other world. Through the landscaping thing, I started meeting all these people.
Mark introduced me to Desmond Child, who became a great friend. We all started hanging out. It was crazy being around everyone and learning so much. Desmond was a huge encourager for me during that time. He always included me in in groups of creative people. We ended up working at ASCAP together [later on in my story] when he served on the ASCAP board.
Mark also introduced me to Kerri Edwards, who was an intern at EMI. We all started hanging out and she told this guy that worked at another publishing company, FAME Music, about me. They were looking for a catalog manager and a plugger. Jason Houser called me and we immediately connected. He said, “You’ve got to have an interview with Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals.” I accepted the job for five dollars an hour. I was paying my landscape guys $10 an hour so I could go do that.
Then you were in!
I did the landscaping business for a few more years. My wife Amy would help me on the weekends—she had a great job at Columbia. I was only at FAME for a short time when I got a call from Greg Hill, who was working at Moraine Music. They interviewed me and I accepted a job there as a song plugger.
That transition [into the music business] was life changing. Right before I left FAME, I got a call at the last minute to go to the ASCAP Awards. That was the year that FAME had “I Swear” as Song of the Year. I remember seeing George Strait that night.
What was next for you?
Moraine treated me like family. I came in as a plugger and they moved me up in a few years to Vice President. It was intimidating, but Jason always told me, “Find a couple songs that you love and don’t make it too where it’s overwhelming. Just get started pitching.” There were two songs [that I was involved with early on] that were impactful for me: “There’s Your Trouble” that The Chicks recorded and “The Preacher Won’t Have to Lie” that Lee Ann Womack recorded. “There’s Your Trouble” broke me as a plugger. I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to have multiple holds on a song—I think I had five holds on “There’s Your Trouble.” [Laughs] Everyone was mad at me but it turned out good in the end.
Then you and Jason Houser started Extreme Writers Group. Tell me about that.
Jason was working at EMI Publishing. The company was restructuring and I told him that I was really thinking about starting my own publishing company. We talked about it and decided to do it together. That became the framework of us starting Extreme.
Tim DuBois heard that Jason and I were talking about starting a publishing company, so he called us and we met. It was intimidating because Arista Records was such a force and influence. He was going to leave Arista to run Gaylord Entertainment. He ended up asking us if we wanted to start the publishing division. While that was being put together, Jason and I didn’t have any money, so we signed our first two writers on my credit card. I couldn’t believe Amy was cool with that, but I had learned that if you couldn’t act quickly and make a decision, the opportunity goes away.
Tim ended up leaving Gaylord and the deal fell apart, but Jason and I got stuck on the Gaylord island for a while. We learned a tremendous amount there.
What was next?
We were able to buy ourselves out of the Gaylord deal. Tim was still a big part of our lives, so we were able to talk about starting another deal. Tim introduced us to a lot of new people that year. Gary Borman was a huge influence for Jason and I. We flew out to Santa Monica to meet with him and he said to us, “What you two have is very special and unique. You need to honor and protect your partnership.”
We were able to sign Rodney Clawson and take him with us into the next chapter. Eventually, we settled at Warner Chappell when Tim Wipperman was leading the company. Things started taking off for us. We had been working with Matthew West and we ended up helping Matthew get his record deal at Universal South.
Rodney was writing so much with John Rich and Vicky McGehee. Michael Knox was so passionate about Jason Aldean at the time. We would go to the showcases that Michael would always do on Thursdays with Jason and we would have five or six of the 10 or 11 songs that Jason was playing at the time. His first No. 1 was a song that we were part of called “Why.” Then Big & Rich got a record deal and we got “Lost In This Moment.” We weren’t doing anything different, but it just started working.
We were on a run and then there was a big change with Warner Chappell. Wipperman left and so we had to go find funding again. A dear friend of ours, business manager Michael Haggerty, put a deal together that funded us for a few years. We had a song come out of that called “I Loved Her First.”
Craig Wiseman was big fan of Rodney’s, so he bought some of Rodney’s back catalog which started this relationship with Big Loud. We signed Clint Lagerberg and the second song he turned into us was “Here Comes Goodbye.” We went from having Rascal Flatts’ first single on a brand-new record and then, a few months later, having, “I Saw God Today” as George Strait’s 60th No. 1.
What a great run. You then transitioned to ASCAP and ended up becoming VP of the Nashville office. Tell me about that.
Jason had started talking about moving back to Twin Falls, Idaho. I was going to take over the publishing company. Tim DuBois came to our Christmas party and he talked about taking over some of Jason’s responsibilities.
After Christmas break, I went to see Tim. He said, “I got a call to go to ASCAP and help restructure it. There might be an opportunity for you to go with me.” Another close friend, Marc Driskill, was back at ASCAP and he also thought ASCAP would be a great change and opportunity for me. I had no desire to go do that. I told Tim “No” like five times.
Someone had given me a book during Christmas break on John Wooden, the great basketball coach. The book says if you ever have a chance to work with someone who’s been a leader, teacher, mentor or made an impact in your industry, it’s not about the money, it’s about you being with that person. For me, that was Tim. I eventually accepted and started in June of 2010.
What was that time like?
We were tasked with carrying out the foundation that Connie Bradley had laid out, but in a different way because it was a different time. Tim was let go. Randy Grimmett was our boss at the time and he asked LeAnn Phelan and I if we could co-manage the office together. We did that for a couple years and then she got hired to go work at Sea Gayle. I managed the office for four or five years on my own, which was not the plan, but I got tools for the tool chest that I didn’t have [before]. I learned a lot about fighting battles for the right reasons. We had a great run. We got our market share up to a very healthy level and we were increasing the footprint of ASCAP and our events and awards.
Tell me about starting Endurance Music Group in 2019.
I was really wanting to get back into publishing. Tim Wipperman had introduced me to a guy named Jeremy Tucker. He was at Raven & Company, who was buying a lot of catalogs. We got to know each other over a period of time. When I was deciding what I was going to do, Jeremy started really pursuing me [to start a company with him] and it started making sense. I got the team at ASCAP together and let them know I was leaving. It was very emotional.
I jumped in. I met with Jeremy and [we discussed everything]. I knew I wanted to bring Mark Ahlberg, who had his own admin company. He was a dear friend and someone that I trusted immensely. I wanted him to have a platform that he could grow and have his own impact. Now, Mark and I are partners running Endurance. He’s heavily on the acquisition side, oversees some of the day-to-day operations and also runs his admin company. I oversee the publishing side and we overlap with some of the acquisition opportunities and the different relationships. It’s been crazy.
What an amazing story. What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Be respectful, be a great listener and don’t be reactive. Being in the Nashville music business, everyone is so close. Even if you don’t agree with someone, or if you’ve been hurt by something, you still have to be respectful. The very situation that may have felt like it destroyed you could be the very thing that creates a new opportunity in a few months.
What would you say is something that people don’t know about you?
I was born in Japan. My dad was in the Air Force and was overseas for seven or eight years. I was six months old when they came back to the States.
Tell me about a moment you’ve had that your kid self would look at and be impressed with.
I had some monumental moments at the ASCAP Awards with artists like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson and Reba. There was a night that we were honoring Trisha Yearwood. Reba was going to come and honor Trisha and obviously Garth was there. President Jimmy Carter found out that Trisha was being honored and he wanted to come. I got a call from Joe Fisher, who is really close friends with Justin Timberlake, and he said Justin had recently hung out with Garth and Trisha at a Garth show and he wanted to come to the awards.
Fast forward to the awards, I’m backstage with President Carter and Justin Timberlake. The President goes out and we honor Trisha. I walked the President off of the stage. It felt like a mile-long walk. [Laughs] That’s a moment I never thought would happen.
When you look back on your story, how do you feel?
I have been so blessed by great men and women that have poured into my journey. I have been surrounded by great song people and writers. Music is the backdrop to our lives. I’ve been a part of some magical moments. I’ve been able to meet and become friends with writers and artists that I listened to when I was living in Mineral Wells. How insane is that?
- First-Ever ‘People’s Choice Country Awards’ Airs Live From Nashville [Recap] - September 29, 2023
- Dylan Scott Earns MusicRow No. 1 With ‘Can’t Have Mine’ - September 29, 2023
- 2023 People’s Choice Country Awards Winners – Complete List - September 29, 2023