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.
Kele Currier is Assistant Vice President of Strategic Services, Nashville Membership at ASCAP. Her 30 years in the music business began at SESAC in the broadcast administration department, followed by administration and licensing positions with publishers, Maypop Music Group, Opryland Music Group (Acuff Rose) and a stint as audit manager at music publishing administration company, Integrated Copyright Group (ICG). While at ICG, Currier met songwriter, Craig Wiseman, who recruited her to assist in opening Big Loud Bucks Administration. As Executive Vice President, she co-managed Wiseman’s catalogs along with the catalogs of Big Tractor Publishing, Extreme Writer’s Group and the hit catalogs of Rodney Clawson, Chris Tompkins, Jim Collins and other independent publishers.
In 2010, Currier joined Ole Music Publishing—now Anthem Entertainment—as Director of Administration and led the U.S administration presence for their Toronto-based offices. While at Ole, Currier negotiated all synchronization licensing deals for the company and their clients. In 2013, Currier was recruited by ASCAP to serve as Director of Strategic Services and now Assistant Vice President of Strategic Services where she oversees key distribution projects for the country and Christian markets. Currier works with ASCAP writers and publishers in resolving high-level membership issues and researches and develops strategic membership planning.
Currier has a Bachelor of Professional Studies in Music Business from Berklee College of Music. She was part of the Leadership Music’s Class of 2014 and a recipient of MusicRow’s Rising Women on The Row honors in 2015. She currently serves on the GMA Board and is a member of The Copyright Society of the South, AIMP, Source, CMA, RIAA and ACM.
MusicRow: Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Mount Zion, Illinois—a very small town. I was very involved in cheerleading and music. Music really became my reason for existing early on, from band, choir and show choir. I looked at my music teachers and I thought, “Wow. They are such leaders and such amazing people.” I wanted to be like that, so I decided to go to school to become a music teacher.
Where did you go to school?
I went to both of my music teachers’ alma mater, Millikin University, which was very close in Decatur, Illinois. It was a small Presbyterian university. I started studying music and education and then realized it wasn’t for me. I started student teaching and I realized, “This is a lot harder than I thought—controlling a classroom full of of kids.” At that time, they were cutting a lot of music programs, so I didn’t really see a future in that. So I switched gears.
While at Millikin University, I started looking at summer jobs at theme parks. I auditioned for the Opryland USA theme park and that brought me to town. I was cast in one of their shows that summer. [I’ll never forget] driving into town. I was this kid from between two cornfields—I’d only been to Chicago a couple times. I drove in on Briley Parkway and I said to myself, “This is my home.” I just knew it immediately when I saw what was a very small skyline at that time. [Laughs]
What was your first year like here?
I worked at Opryland USA in the summer and had the summer of my life. I came back the next summer and did shows, and then transferred to Belmont University. I followed one of my very best friends to Belmont, Amy Macy, who now teaches at MTSU. She was my sorority big sister and was a mentor. I looked up to her. I thought if she liked Belmont, I would, too.
I started going there, and then I got an opportunity to go out on the road as a backup singer for a Christian artist, David Meece. I went out on the road with him for several years and loved that, but decided I really wanted to be on the other side of the table.
How did you transition into the business side?
I did an internship at SESAC in broadcast administration, and loved that. I was there for a few years and then went to work at Maypop Music Group, which was Alabama’s music publishing company. I worked for Kevin Lamb and we had an amazing roster of writers. John Jarrard and Becky Shanks were there. We had a great time there.
I was there for three years and then went to work for Opryland Music Group, which used to be Acuff Rose. Boy, it was thrilling to go through the catalog, working in administration and licensing, and seeing Hank Williams Jr. and Kitty Wells [songs]. When looking through the files, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this stuff should be in a museum.” Lo and behold, a lot of it is now. It was such a privilege to work there.
Then I went home to be with the kids for several years—I felt like I was led to [focus on being] a mom for a while. I really enjoyed that. I did some projects from home and got out of the music business for a little while.
How did you get back into the business?
I jumped back in at Integrated Copyright Group, which was owned by John Barker. He sold that to Evergreen Music, which then turned into BMG. We did audit management there, where we would go in and work with record companies to make sure that we were being paid correctly. That was a unique experience where licensing, royalty-number-crunching and everything was [part of my job.] One of our clients there was Craig Wiseman. This is when he had just started Big Loud Shirt, his publishing company. He didn’t want to do the admin part of it—he wanted to really focus on creative things. While at ICG, I had a meeting with him. He liked the fact that I had color coded folders. [Laughs] I guess he thought I was organized, so he offered me a job to come work for him and start his admin company, Big Loud Bucks Administration, in house.
That was a privilege of a lifetime. I worked with Marc Driskill, Mark Ahlberg and Heather Buresh—and we had a great team. It gave us all the opportunity to put this administrative skeleton into play to make sure that we were collecting all the royalties, we were doing direct licenses with all of our record companies and we were getting the royalties out as quickly as we possibly could to independent songwriters who had their own publishing companies. We did have some publishing company clients—we were doing Big Tractor at the time and we did Extreme Music Group, which was owned by Jason Houser and Michael Martin. That’s how I met Michael Martin, who would become my future boss.
How long were you at Big Loud Bucks?
I was there for almost four years, and then went over to what was Ole at the time, now Anthem. I worked with them and did North American administration. That was a great situation because Robert Ott made sure that we were able to really understand the deals that were put in place. We had access to everything we needed in order to administer correctly, which was such a great opportunity to be able to have all that information. I love the way that Robert and Gilles Godard set up the company.
How did you come to be at ASCAP?
Through all that time, I kept that alliance with Michael Martin. He called me one day and asked if I wanted to come over to ASCAP. I thought, “This is different from what I’ve been doing, but you know what? It’s time for a change.” I had been doing licensing, administration and synchronization negotiation for a long time. It was time to try something different. It was a huge risk, and there was a learning curve, but that was okay. That was 10 years ago and I’ve been there ever since.
What was joining ASCAP like?
When I was starting at ASCAP, it was a hybrid position. I came on as half administration and half creative. I had Michael as my boss as well as DeDe Burns, who was in ASCAP’s LA office. So I was dealing with two separate entities of ASCAP, which I loved because I’d never had the opportunity to get very involved in the creative side. As time went on, I closed down on some of the administrative [duties]. I’m no longer reporting to anybody administratively—now I’m reporting directly to Mike Sistad.
Now I’m in charge of the Christian market. It feels full circle since I was out on the road with a Christian artist and was very involved in my church on the worship team. It just seemed like it was the right fit. I’ve been very involved in trying to get to know the Christian writers and artists, and the players surrounding those folks. I’m also meeting with a lot of songwriters and trying to find ways to help them, which is so rewarding. Sometimes it’s putting them into a writer’s room that’s available at ASCAP because they need a safe place to write with a new co-writer. Sometimes it’s through the help of our ASCAP Foundation, where we have different scholarships available for writers. I’m always looking for new tools and new ways to help songwriters.
Who have been some of your mentors along the way?
One of my mentors has been Kevin Lamb. He started out at Maypop Music and then was President of Peermusic for well over 20 years. He’s just an incredible person. He’s a good administrator, a good business person and an energetic person who loves to help songwriters—and he’s intrinsically of exceptional character.
Then there’s people like Woody Bomar, who had Little Big Town Music back in the day and sold that to Sony. He’s just a great person and a great publisher, and has always been there to encourage me. Michael Martin is like my brother, but he’s also a mentor.
What is something people might not know about you?
I didn’t finish [college] at Belmont. I went into my internship with SESAC, got a job and never looked back. Later on, I decided I needed to finish my degree. I ended up at Berkeley online and finally finished my Bachelor’s degree in music business. I wanted to show my kids it’s never too late to learn. I worked hard for two years every day after I got home from work and made that happen, just so I could close that chapter and know that I did it.
What’s a moment that you’ve had that your little kid self would think was so cool?
There was a time at one of our Christian Awards where Reba McEntire came to give an award. I was prepared, I knew she was coming, but she walked backstage and she looked right at me and said, “Hi, I’m Reba!” I was so starstruck. [Laughs] It took me a minute to get out my name, but I was just so thankful that she was there. My younger self could not imagine being able to meet her and be backstage with her like that.
When do you feel most fulfilled in what you do?
When a writer has a really big breakthrough—whether that’s financially because they got their first No. 1 or a top charting song, or if a co-write was so successful that something really special came out of it and they send me the song to listen to. Those moments that songwriters are excited and uplifted. When they say to themselves, “I’m on the right path. All of those crazy sacrifices where a lot of people would give up… It was all worth it.” To be a small part of that realization is just so rewarding.
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