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.
Phil Guerini is CEO of Jonas Group Entertainment. Having amassed over 25 years of experience, across three divisions and 5 businesses at the Walt Disney Company, multiple big market radio stations and major record labels, Guerini has been named a Billboard Power Player multiple times.
While at Disney, he was responsible for overseeing the music strategy of Disney Channels Worldwide networks and all aspects of programming, strategic direction, talent, label relationships, branding as General Manager for Radio Disney and Radio Disney Country businesses.
In 2013, Guerini created and launched the Radio Disney Music Awards – Music’s Biggest Event for Families and reimagined Radio Disney’s highly acclaimed NBT artist development program while supporting the career launches of Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Camila Cabello, Jonas Brothers, Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, Shawn Mendes, Gabby Barrett, Demi Lovato, Tori Kelly, BTS, Zendaya, Becky G and Kelsea Ballerini, among many others.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I was born in San Diego and grew up in south Florida in small town within Fort Lauderdale.
Were you into music?
I’ve been into music as long as I can remember. My father was the lead singer in the Air Force Band. We had music in our house growing up. I grew up on everything from Al Jolson to Frank Sinatra to Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass and Sergio Mendes to whatever was [on the radio]. My mother had really diverse taste, so it was really well-rounded.
Did you want to pursue music or was it just a passion at that point?
I didn’t know what it meant to pursue it per se, but like many young people, I certainly grew up with aspirations of potentially being a rockstar. By default, I fell into the path of chorus and shows. I not only loved the music and the performance of it, but I loved the community. It was like what has been showcased on shows like Glee. I was an athlete as well for a brief period, but it was a community within a larger community of similar interests and aspirations. At that point in my journey, I definitely aspired to be an artist.
What did you do after high school?
I went to college, but through a series of events, I realized that being a performing artist was not necessarily in the cards for me [even though] I had such a deep love for music. I stumbled my way into radio. That’s where it began for me—on the air. I did everything you could do at a radio station at various radio stations. From answering the phones to being on the air to programming, I did everything with the exception of sales. They wore ties and that was just so not cool. [Laughs] That set the path for me. I was close enough to what I loved. I was getting to engage with artists. I found myself in the recording studio with some of the biggest artists in south Florida at the time, who became global superstars. I was just constantly surrounded by it and loved music.
What stations were you at early in your career?
I spent a year at the University of South Georgia in a small town in Georgia, which is where I got my start in radio. Later that summer, I went back to south Florida and having no context of market size or anything about the business, I went to the radio station that I grew up on. It was the preeminent pop radio station in south Florida at the time. I just continued to pursue it until I was finally given an opportunity. The Program Director took favor on me at the time and [gave me a job] on the phones during the overnight shift. I worked my way through and connected with people and the rest is history. I did radio in south Florida and south Georgia for a period of time, and ended up working in radio in Atlanta.
What happened in Atlanta?
Being in Atlanta and having had the background that I did led to my transition into the record business. I began that path at MCA Records. At the time, we were home to Bobby Brown and we had just returned Elton John to MCA. I was part of a marketing team who developed the first ever mall tour with an artist by the name Tiffany. We toured Tiffany through malls and it blew up.
While I was at MCA, I got my first opportunity to come to Nashville. I was given an opportunity to shadow the local promotion person in an effort to move my career forward. This would’ve been in late ’80s, and at that time, MCA Records was the heart of Nashville. It was Reba McEntire, George Stait and Lyle Lovett. I wasn’t on the country side of the business—I was a pop guy in Nashville trying to get Bobby Brown, New Edition and Tiffany records played, so I didn’t have as much fun necessarily. [Laughs] I was housed off of Music Row in Tony Brown‘s office. It was an extremely memorable 12 or 16 months that I was here.
What led to your next career move?
I spent a number of years in the record business, bouncing around to various labels as as many do. Because I was based in Atlanta, oftentimes my region would include Florida. As part of a radio promo person’s responsibility, bringing my artists through marketplaces would often include Orlando. At that time, Disney’s new Mickey Mouse Club show was being taped there, so we would bring our younger developing acts through Disney for things like that. I established a number of relationships through that, and when I was between labels, I was chatting with some friends who suggested [trying to work at Disney]. At that point, I probably had been in the business 10 years. I was under contract with Atlantic Records and my family still lived in south Florida, so I decided to go for a job at Disney.
At Disney, I was put into some various capacities that were both challenging and exciting, as well as being given opportunities that really aligned with my past experience in booking artists and doing music things. Lo and behold, what I thought was going to be a just a temporary diversion ended up being where I called home for 28 plus years.
That’s awesome! Tell me about your path at Disney.
I started in the theme parks in Orlando, which I’m forever grateful for because that really is the heart of all things Disney. I had so many opportunities there that inevitably led to me being a talent executive, overseeing bookings and strategies on bringing talent to the theme parks for grand openings for special events. I booked the Super Bowl halftime show that was presented by Disney in 2000. I realized during that time that if I really wanted to continue to grow and have opportunities, I needed to be where the company was based and where the greater amount of opportunities were, so I moved to Burbank in 2003.
Then I started at Walt Disney Records, which is the branded label division of the Walt Disney Company. I was Head of Broadcast Marketing Synergy and held a number of different capacities while there. I was blessed and fortunate to be there during a special period of time and to have been part of projects like High School Musical. I brought the Jonas Brothers to the Walt Disney Company and helped launch them, as well as [shows like] Hannah Montana, Lizzie McGuire, Camp Rock and more.
What was next?
While I thoroughly loved that chapter and all of those opportunities, I aspired to have greater influence in the broader marketplace. I was given two opportunities: one was to go work within the Walt Disney Company for the Jonas Brothers and one was to go to Radio Disney. I had been part of Radio Disney’s launch back at the parks as it was coming into fruition, and [as I had learned in my early career], I felt this connection with radio and felt that I could really create something special there.
I entered Radio Disney as the Head of Marketing under one General Manager but within about six to nine months, I became the General Manager. I set a course from there to grow the business exponentially and expand into the country space with Radio Disney Country. To this day, that is probably one of my fondest achievements.
Is that what brought you back to Nashville?
Someone whom I worked with at Walt Disney Records and a dear friend of mine who now runs the ACM, Damon Whiteside, had come to Nashville to work for the CMAs.
At the same time, I had just gone through one probably one of the most difficult periods in my professional career, which was assessing the Radio Disney business, how would it continue to grow and how would it move forward. That was cumbersome, emotional and difficult, and we had to make the difficult decision to divest the majority of our stations. Immediately we became profitable, as we had anticipated, but we had to say goodbye to a lot of friends and great people. The next question was what were we going to do next to grow the business.
It took a bit of selling [to create Radio Disney Country] because of the perception that country music is about heartbreak and drinking, which wouldn’t work with Disney, but at its core, the country music community is family. That aligned with the Walt Disney Company 100%. So armed with that and some very valuable insights that Damon and the CMA were able to provide to us, we made ultimately the decision to pursue Radio Disney Country. We were focused on supporting younger artists, similar to that of Radio Disney, as well tremendously underserved acts, such as female artists.
What led to you joining Jonas Group Entertainment (JGE)?
We had had the most amazing, albeit brief, run at Radio Disney Country. We launched a few careers or certainly were instrumental in supporting some artists. Through that period, I was re-ensconced in Nashville, the community, the connection and the specialness of what this community is. Fast forward, [we decided] to sunset that business. We were heading into the pandemic and I was contemplating what that would look like.
I was living in Los Angeles still at the time, but I decided to come and spend a little time in Nashville while contemplating what was going to be next. I was fortunate to be presented with a number of great opportunities. I reconnected with Kevin Jonas Sr., who is the Founder of JGE. He was kind enough at that pivotal moment to call. He said, “I’m really just calling to say thank you for your support of the guys for all the years. You were instrumental at so many points. What are you doing now?”
We had some conversations that continued to evolve. I left the Disney company on April 30th and joined the Jonas Group on May 19th. It’s been an incredible transition that’s still a work in progress but we’re so tremendously excited about what’s ahead.
What are your goals now as CEO of Jonas Group Entertainment?
We’re still in a transition stage. I obviously inherited an infrastructure that has been in place for a while. I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to partner with Kevin in this next chapter. We are evaluating the business that we were doing and what might be ahead of us. We’ve been in the process of really transforming and evolving the artist management side of the business. We are also in the TV and film business, as well as the consumer products business. We recently renewed out commitment to our publishing business, bringing in Leslie DiPiero. There are more exciting announcements that are still in the planning stages.
I hope that, when all is said and done, we can create and foster a community of creatives that can come together, irrespective of what publishing company or label they may work with. That really is a result of my time at Disney and recognizing that the sum of the parts is always greater when working together.
Who have been some of your mentors?
I’ve been so blessed throughout my career to have so many mentors, but I may look at mentors different than many. I look at people in general as mentors. They’re not necessarily seniors to me. The mentors in my personal and professional life are those that set the example, those who inspire me, those who are optimistic and those who approach life and work with a sense of “We’re going to get through this together as a team.”
What is some of the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
The best advice I’ve gotten was from my father, who I unfortunately lost when I was 13. During the short years we had together, he both embodied and communicated the message that if you can pursue the things that you love, you never feel like you work a day in life. I am living proof that this is indeed the case. People often will consider my life unbalanced and wonder where the sleep comes in. My only response is that. I love every minute of it.
When you look back on your career, how do you feel?
The only word to describe my life is blessed. I’ve had blessing upon blessing that is far greater than I ever deserved. I’m blessed to be surrounded by, supported by and given opportunities by amazing people.
- 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