My Music Row Story: WME’s Lane Wilson

Lane Wilson

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.

Lane Wilson is a 30-year veteran Agent and Partner at WME. Working in the Music Division in their Nashville office, he is responsible for negotiating deals for amphitheater, stadium and arena-level touring artists. Wilson is also the responsible agent for several clients in Nashville and handles day-to-day affairs for Vince Gill, Gary Allan, Justin Moore, Tracy Lawrence, Joe Nichols and Rodney Atkins, just to name a few.

Outside of his role as Agent, Wilson is on the Board of Directors for Mission:Possible, an organization founded by Lawrence benefitting the homeless of Nashville. He is also serves on the Board/Advisory Council for Habitat for Humanity of Nashville and the Board of Directors for Leadership Music. Wilson is an active member of the Academy of Country Music and Country Music Association as well as the Adjunct Faculty Program for Belmont University.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I grew up right here in Nashville. Fun fact, I can see the sixth floor of the hospital I was born in from my desk.

Pictured (L-R): Lane Wilson, Mark Roeder, Taylor Swift, Kristin Pridgen and Dana Burwell on the “Fearless Tour.” Photo: Courtesy of Lane Wilson

What were you into as a kid?

My mom and dad owned a business in town that was in the construction-related industry. I was always at their office and they happened to be located really close to a record store. I now realize I was on the leading edge of the streaming era before that was a thing because I was creating mixtapes and spreading them around my high school from stuff I would find in the record store. The radio scene in Nashville back then was pretty narrow. It was a couple of country stations and a classic rock station—that was really about it. So from hanging out at the record store, I could tell there was a whole world of other things out there. I remember ordering albums from Europe, waiting 13 to 16 weeks for delivery and then putting them on cassette tape and spreading them around my high school. I always loved the idea of turning somebody onto something that nobody else had heard yet.

I remember going on a field trip to the science museum and one of my mixtapes became a viral sensation on that field trip. [Laughs] We played it on the bus. I just had this sense of pride. I couldn’t believe I turned a whole group of people onto something that I initially discovered. That was the very beginning of diving into music discovery and having a passion for it.

How did you start pursuing that passion?

I went to school at MTSU. At that time Bridgestone Arena didn’t exist. There were no amphitheaters. Starwood hadn’t been built yet. Municipal Auditorium was all that Nashville had to offer. The tours that were out at the time had grown to a point where they didn’t fit Municipal anymore, so Murphy Center, the arena at MTSU, was the hot place for all the major concerts.

Pictured (L-R): Lane Wilson, Ashley McBryde and Brian Jones at CMA Fest 2017. Photo: Courtesy of Lane Wilson

As a byproduct of being into music and being around the music scene that was in full force at MTSU, I got into the special events committee which was charged with presenting concerts at MTSU. The years that I was there, the committee brought in U2, R.E.M., Def Leppard, Tina Turner, Chicago—the list was just amazing.

I really started to cultivate more of a passion for the live side of things there. While I was at MTSU, I traveled with a band that was touring around the Southeast. I was sensible enough to realize early on that I wasn’t talented enough to be a drummer for those guys, so I became the production guy for the band. We toured around the Southeast—we would leave on Thursday night and come back on Sundays at least 20 weekends a year.

What did you do after graduation?

I went to work in the business sector at Prudential, selling stocks and bonds right out of school. I spent maybe a year and a half there. I remember telling my roommate at the time, “I’ve got to get out of this suit and tie kind of deal.” He was like, “You can put an application in at our place, but there’s some weird stuff going on there.” At that time, he was working at a company called Triad. The weird stuff that was going on was all the closed-door meetings associated with a merger that they were about to go through with William Morris Agency.

I did three interviews there. By the third interview, I was like, “Listen, I’m going to lose the job I have by doing all these interviews. Are you guys hiring or not?” The lady said, “Just bear with us. We’re about to go through some major changes and we’ll be hiring when those are over with.” I think I might have been hire number one after the merger. That was 30 years ago. We’ve been through another merger since then with the Endeavor side of things, which has been a real game changer.

[Although it felt like it at the time,] finding my way into the music business wasn’t as accidental as I thought it was. The groundwork [for a career in music] was laid out. It was the music circles I was running in that kind of led me to where I am today.

Lane Wilson and Tracy Lawrence presenting a check to Cheryl Noe and Billy Eldridge at Nashville Rescue Mission in 2018. Photo: Courtesy of Lane Wilson

When you got to William Morris, did you start in the mailroom or as an assistant?

I got lucky because there was such a need to get bodies in place that I was able to skip that mailroom step and went straight to a desk. I trained there for a few years under some great people—some are still here and a lot have retired. I never would’ve thought that I would’ve been at one company for 30 years, and it’s a real testament to the evolution of the company and the co-heads of the office we have in place right now. I still look forward to coming into work every day. If you can say that 30 years later, something is going right.

Tell me about some big moments that affirmed you were in the right place.

There have been several moments where I have found myself in situations where you get to see the behind-the-scenes kind of stuff that most people don’t have the benefit of. That’s happened over and over and over again. We had a stint in Taylor Swift‘s career in the very beginning. Greg Oswald was the guy who was taking the point here in Nashville, and then there was a team of people out in Los Angeles that were involved as well. I was on the team with Greg, and I remember he and I flew to Fayetteville, Arkansas to see her perform. It was in a metal building set up for 7,000 people and the screams were absolutely deafening. My ears were ringing for three days. When we walked away from there, I remember thinking to myself, “That’s something that’ll probably change the music business forever.” And sure enough, it did. It was a bellwether moment in the music business that was happening. I’ve seen several of those over the course of 30 years since—we’re dealing with one in our office right now with Zach Bryan. He’s a guy that’s three to four years into his career and is adding second nights at stadiums—that’s unbelievable in such a short time.

Another moment [that comes to mind] is being in a signing meeting with Ashley McBryde years ago. She just started playing one hit song after another. This came at a time when we were shifting from the typical 50-week life cycle of a single to plowing through songs like crazy because things were shifting to a streaming format. I remember realizing in that meeting how important a body of work can be in this new era. You may have a song that’s a hit, but it may not be the one that connects. You’ve got to have something to back it up and then something to back that up. I remember hearing her body of work and being excited about that. She’d been touring around for many years before she wound up in our office, but it was one of those moments where we were like, “We gotta shut the door and not let her out on this office until she is a client.”

Pictured (L-R): Peter Hartung, Dustin Lynch, Barrett Sellers and Lane Wilson at IEBA in 2012. Photo: Courtesy of Lane Wilson

What is some of the best advice you got as you were coming up?

A reputation is something that you work on every single day, but you can ruin it in one day. You don’t get a lot of credit for building it over a 30 year period, but you can screw one up in one day. If you have a good one and a mistake happens, you can always lean on your good reputation and get a pass because people know it was an isolated mistake and not a pattern. So I try to work on that every single day I’m in the office.

What is something people may not know about you?

I have been married for 25 years and have two sons who are both in the business. I’ve moved into a whole other chapter of life now by having sons enter into the same circles that I’ve been running in, which can be scary but it’s a testament to my comfort level with how my experience has been.

I know philanthropy is really important to you. Tell me about your work with Tracy Lawrence’s Mission:Possible foundation.

Several years ago, Tracy Lawrence asked me and his managers if we would help set up a 501C3 for something that he started years ago called Mission:Possible. It was completely out of my realm of knowledge. My mom and dad were always civic-minded and were involved in the community, so I had a little bit of that underpinning already, but I was already thinking about [how I could give back.] About that same time, he asked me if I would get involved, so I was in the right place at the right time. It’s really taken off since then thanks to the incredible work by a hard-working Board of Directors. It’s all about supporting the homeless community in Nashville. We’ve raised over two million dollars. We fry 1,200 turkeys every Tuesday before Thanksgiving, which creates 9,600 meals that feed the homeless in Davidson and surrounding counties for the holiday. To see the growth of this thing over the last few years has just been incredible.

Lane Wilson with WME staff and other volunteers at Tracy Lawrence’s 2022 Mission:Possible Turkey Fry. Photo: Courtesy of Lane Wilson

What I’m starting to realize is when you have a charity that has a celebrity attached to it, fundraising can be easier than just running a charity without the celebrity component. So we’ve tried to help some of those other charities in Nashville that are associated with homelessness, and become a pass-through for money to flow to those organizations so they can keep doing their good work. I’ve now had the opportunity to meet a lot of people who do this work all day every day—and it is tough. We are in a fun business in entertainment, but these people are out there slugging it out every day just trying to prop up humanity. So we try to help support not only their message, but also support them financially so they can continue their good work.

Tracy’s 18th annual Turkey Fry is tomorrow at the Nashville Fairgrounds, with his benefit concert taking place at Wildhorse Saloon in the evening. What are you most looking forward to during this year’s event?

When the Turkey Fry is over, and the food has been distributed, and the fundraising concert later has concluded and I am walking out of the venue completely exhausted along with my friends and team members of Mission:Possible… who are also exhausted, I get that same feeling when the last truck was loaded backstage at MTSU years ago. The satisfaction of playing a small role in creating something that has a large impact on people is the most satisfying feeling in the world.

My Music Row Story: CMT’s Margaret Comeaux

Margaret Comeaux

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 Senior Vice President of Music and Events Production for CMT, Margaret Comeaux oversees the creation, development and production of music and live event specials for the network. She serves as Executive Producer in charge of such hits as the annual CMT Music Awards, the critically-acclaimed CMT Crossroads series, CMT Giants and the exciting new event CMT Smashing Glass: A Celebration of the Groundbreaking Women of Music.

Since its 2002 inception, Comeaux has worked on more than 80 episodes of CMT Crossroads, working with some of the biggest names in music across genres. Comeaux has also worked on the CMT Music Awards, which is the highest-rated show on the network annually and stands apart from other awards shows for its water-cooler moments and diverse mix of musical talent and Hollywood celebrities.

Her credits include other CMT series and specials, such as CMT Presents The Judds: Love Is Alive – The Final Concert, Coal Miner’s Daughter: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Loretta Lynn, CMT Giants, CMT Campfire Sessions, CMT Summer Camp: Little Big Town, CMT Ultimate Kickoff Party Live From the College Football Playoff National Championship, CMT Artists of the Year, CMT Cross Country, Jimmy Buffett and Friends Live from the Gulf Coast, Music Builds and CMT Outlaws, to name a few.

Prior to joining CMT in 2000, Comeaux served as a video editor and Associate Producer at High Five Entertainment/Music City Digital in Nashville. She received her Bachelor’s degree at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and is a member of the CMA, ACM, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS), National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) and Producers Guild of America. Her honors include BANFF 2013 Best Music & Variety Program for the 2013 CMT Music Awards, and she is a MTSU College of Media and Entertainment Wall Of Fame Inductee (2014) and Nashville Business Journal’s Women in Music City Award recipient (2019).

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana in the heart of cajun country. I was there until I moved here to Tennessee when I was about 21.

Music City Digital’s Jeff Cronenberg, Andreas Kouris, Kathryn Russ, Brian McNamara and Margaret Comeaux. Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Comeaux

What brought you here?

School did. I spent my first two years of college at LSU and then took a little bit of a break. During that break, I had gone to New York to be a nanny for the summer. Growing up in a small town in Louisiana, it was like my world just opened up. I always loved movies and television growing up—it was a passion—but I don’t think I ever really realized that there was a job in that for me and that was going to be my future.

I ended up going back to school. I took an Introduction to Mass Communications class in Louisiana, and the professor I had at the time said, “If this is really something you want to do, you should go to MTSU in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.” My dad and my stepmother had already moved here my senior year of high school, so I went ahead and came here. I started in school and found what I loved.

What was your time at MTSU like?

One of my really great mentors that I found when I got to MTSU was Mary Nichols. She was my advisor and she did a lot of things in the Nashville community. Once I connected with her, I got to [be a production assistant (PA)] and everything for a bunch of different shows. We would be talent escorts at the CMA Awards, PAs on music videos and all of those different things. I actually never did an internship because I was really lucky enough to be able to find production assistant work. When I graduated from there, I was able to pick up where I had started during college. It was great.

Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Comeaux

What was your next step after graduation?

I went to work for High Five Entertainment. Eventually they started a post-production facility called Music City Digital, so I was an assistant editor there and then started editing. I learned from some really fantastic editors, producers and directors. It was the basis for what I do today. I’m lucky enough to work with all of those guys occasionally, so that’s nice.

[During that time] we did a series for TNN called Monday Night Concert at the Ryman. It had various names throughout the years, but Ricky Skaggs was the host. It was incredible. There were so many artists, both out-of-genre and in country. They did CBS Christmas specials and all kinds of things. I really was exposed to a lot of incredible content and content creators at the time.

Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Comeaux

How did you get to CMT?

I was at Music City Digital for a while. I started doing post-production supervising for some of the award shows, like the Music City News Awards and the Dove Awards. I started learning a lot about that process, and that was really fun. I loved it. I guess we all come from a base in the creative world. You could start in the script department or many different places. For me, post-production and editing is my home. It’s where I learned my storytelling skills and honed my craft.

When I left there, I did freelance for a little while and then I had a former boss call me to come into CMT to work on the very first Crossroads as the Post Supervisor. I came in and I worked on that show. I was a freelancer at CMT for probably a year and 21 years later, here I am.

Everyone obviously has their own path, but for me, I’m really proud of the longevity that I’ve been able to have in my career, from starting out as a post-production supervisor to now be SVP of Music and Events. [I’m proud to be] doing what I’m doing and trying to lead here with Leslie Fram. My time at at CMT has been incredible.

Margaret Comeaux, Patti LaBelle, Sheryl Crow, Tanya Tucker and Leslie Fram. Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Comeaux

What do you love about your job?

I would consider myself a serial collaborator. I love collaboration. There’s nothing more enjoyable to me than watching the teams that we’ve assembled over the years come together and create some really magical moments, from the Crossroads that we do each year to bringing back Storytellers, a brand that was on VH1 that we brought to CMT [as well as] the CMT Music Awards and then obviously creating this new tentpole event with CMT Smashing Glass—it’s a dream come true. It’s really exciting to do these things and create new events, and obviously celebrating the females in music is incredibly exciting and rewarding.

Smashing Glass premieres tonight (Nov. 15) at 8 p.m. CT. What can you tell me about that special?

Leslie and I set out with a mission to make 2023 a year of celebrating women in music on CMT. We were thoughtful in the things that we were booking and the directions that we wanted to take with some of the shows. We started talking to Patrizia DiMaria, Michelle Mahoney and Lauren Quinn about Smashing Glass. We spent our time developing that over the year and it just came to life.

To walk around that building [during taping] and feel the energy—and seeing the pride on everyone’s face in this thing we had all joined together to create—there’s just nothing like it. It was incredible to stand there with Tanya Tucker, Patti LaBelle and Billie Jean King—these are moments you can’t even begin to imagine in your career. All of those ladies were just so incredible.

Margaret Comeaux & Leslie Fram. Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Comeaux

Who have been some of your mentors through the years?

My parents were my first and greatest mentors. They taught me to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. To this day they are the first people I go to when I need advice and they are the first texts I receive after any show I work on airs. I would not and could not be the person I am today without their love and support.

I mentioned her early on, but Mary Nichols. She means the world to me. One of the first things I did when I got to MTSU was PA at The Judds‘ final concert. Mary got us on that. So, when we went back and did the concert with Wynonna last year, I was able to reach out to Mary—who had since retired—and she came and worked on the show. That was a full circle moment.

Beyond that, I’ve had some great bosses and have been really been lucky to work with people in the industry here, like Martin Fischer, who was my first boss at High Five Entertainment. Sarah Brock was the person that brought me in at CMT. Obviously working side by side with someone like Leslie Fram is wonderful. It’s been an honor in my career to stand next to her at CMT and try to make the channel what it is right now.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

Follow your gut. It’s also about staying current with the things that are there and never being afraid to ask about something and learn something new. I’ve been at CMT for 21 years, but I have more to learn. I think [it’s about] knowing that you always have more to learn and that you never reach a saturation point for that. You continue to learn new things, and it’s my job to grow with the industry. Just because it’s always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that that’s where we should continue. I think you have to ask the questions.

What’s a moment that you’ve had that your kid self would think is so cool?

There were so many of them. We were doing the documentary portion of Crossroads with Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers. It was back at Cafe 123, which isn’t there anymore. We walked in and there was piano in the corner, and Lionel Richie was sitting at the piano playing “Sail On.” I thought I was going to pass out. [Laughs] I’ve always been a Lionel Richie fan—he was one of my first concerts that I ever went to. It was a dream come true, and I was like, “Wow, this is what I get to do. I’m in.”

Honestly, it still happens. Standing on a stage talking to Billie Jean King—someone who’s changed the trajectory for females in so many different formats. That’s a pinch-me moment. They continue to happen. They happened in the beginning and they still happen today.

My Music Row Story: ASCAP’s Kele Currier

Kele Currier

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.

Kele Currier

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.

Kele Currier, Mandy Morrison

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.

Pictured (L-R): Lyndsie McClure, Mike Sistad, Makayla Lynn, Dylan Scott, Everette, Kele Currier, Duane Hobson

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.

Pictured (L-R): Skip Black, Amanda Cooksey, Kele Currier, Michael August, Landon Wall, Jon D’Agostino

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.

My Music Row Story: Wasserman Music’s Keith Levy

Keith Levy

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.

At Wasserman Music, Nashville-based agent Keith Levy has developed a distinguished roster that includes Tyler Childers, Caamp, Shakey Graves, Bob Weir, Blackberry Smoke, Sierra Ferrell, Nikki Lane, Natalie Hemby, Langhorne Slim, The Milk Carton Kids and Madi Diaz, among others. Levy has helped Childers and Caamp grow into festival headliners in a few short years, and has worked with Shakey Graves for more than a decade, building him into a perennial strong ticket seller who spans genres and audiences.

A Vanderbilt graduate, Levy previously worked at C3 Presents, the Nancy Fly Agency and New Frontier Touring before joining Paradigm Talent Agency in 2015; he remained with the company through Wasserman’s acquisition of Paradigm’s music division in 2021. A musician in his own right who booked his high school band into Baltimore’s Recher Theater as a teenager, Levy was named to MusicRow’s Next Big Thing Class of 2022 and Leadership Music’s Class of 2024.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland.

Were you musical?

Yep, my whole life. I’ve been playing the drums since I could walk and then guitar at 12 or 13.

I started playing in bands and writing songs and all that kind of stuff. There’s always the person in the band who seems to book the shows or do the business stuff, and that was me. At age 14, my dad would drive me to local venues around Baltimore—like The Recher Theatre in Towson—and I’d go talk to the booker and they would give me hard tickets to sell at school or wherever I could sell them. You had to come back with a certain amount of money to be able to get [a gig]. So I’ve been doing that since I was 14 years old.

Photo: Courtesy of Levy

Where did you go to college? What did you study?

I went to Vanderbilt. I had visited a few schools and was very attracted to Vandy in Nashville because of how much music there was. It was Rites of Spring weekend—I’m sure it wasn’t a coincidence that it was also visiting weekend for prospective students. I saw Derek Trucks‘ band and a band called Bang Bang Bang who became American Bang and are now The Cadillac Three.

I came down here without a plan of what to study beyond liberal arts in general. At Vanderbilt, you can design your own major if they don’t have an existing one. They didn’t have a music business major, so I designed a music management and communications curriculum with the help of the Deans. I minored in Spanish. I spent a summer living in Madrid with a Spanish family.

How did you start your career?

I started interning when I was a junior for an alumnus who had his own record label called Severe Records. I did that for a semester, and it was like a crash course in everything not to do.

It’s funny looking back, because I remember this very vividly. He would say to me, “You should work at an agency, not at a record label.” It sort of piqued my interest. I was taking this business of music class [at the time] taught by Jim Foglesong. Every week he would bring in either a manager, a publicist, a publisher, a songwriter or an agent, so we learned what these people did. It clicked for me that these people have jobs and fairly regular lives, families and stuff, and they get paid to do this.

I always thought the idea of having your own roster was really cool—and I realized an agent has his own roster. I started paying attention then. I was also playing in bands the whole time I was in college—I had a cover band called Shotgun Sally made up of mostly fraternity brothers of mine. We would play at the fraternities, but then we would go downtown and look for bars that were empty. We would go in there [and ask the manager], “Can we play two Thursdays from now? We’ll bring 300 people.” Eventually one of the bars agreed—it was called Jesse Zane’s. We would put a pledge at the door, charge five bucks a head and we’d make like $3,000 on a Thursday night. So that was when this went from hobby to [realizing] there’s a real business here.

I went to South by Southwest during spring break of my senior year. I just thought it was the coolest thing in the world. I saw a hundred bands and acts I’d never heard of. That was one of those light bulb moments where I realized, “Wow, there’s all these people doing this in all these different capacities. I need to get into this.” So I moved to Austin when I graduated. It was almost like a gravitational pull.

Photo: Emma Delevante

What did you do in Austin?

I kept playing music and I was in a band down there. That was my entry point into meeting promoters at clubs. At age 21 or 22, I was cutting deals to play these shows—$500 versus the door or a hundred percent of the door. I didn’t know there was a language for that, I just kind of did it.

I started bartending at a Mexican restaurant and was playing with the guys I had moved down there with. It took me three or four months, but I got an internship at C3 Presents. I did that for like a year and a half. That was unpaid, so I kept bartending and playing shows. They eventually would pay me as a contractor to work some of their festivals and events. I was a runner at [festivals like] ACL or Lollapalooza. I would run catering in a golf cart. That became a real entry point into making some relationships that I still have today.

I was still trying to get into the agency side of things. Huston Powell, who’s the Lollapalooza booker, I would walk into his office, sit on his couch and read him names of agents. I’d be like, “What do you think about this person? Can you make a phone call? Can you get me an interview?” He would do it. He pointed me in the direction of like 10 people in Austin who had real businesses. And one of them eventually called me back. Her name was Nancy Fly. She had a small agency that she ran out of her garage. She had about 15 artists, and she offered me a job one day.

She wanted me to come in and do marketing stuff for her acts. We went out to dinner and sat there for a couple hours. By the end of it she was like, “Why don’t you just come be an agent? Talk to these friends of yours that are in bands and see if they’ll let you be their agent and book all their shows?” So that’s what I did.

What was that chapter like?

I signed a band called Uncle Lucius. I ended up working with them for six years. I was their first agent and I was their manager for three or four of those years. I would go to the office every day and I would log into Pollstar or Celebrity Access and just try to learn as much as I could about who’s who, who books what, who the promoters are and what’s a venue in Boise, Idaho to get from Utah to Seattle. Very elementary stuff. I worked for her for a year and a half. Eventually, I went to Nancy and said, “Can you help me find a job at at a bigger agency?”

She made some phone calls and she helped me get a couple interviews, the first of which was with Paul Lohr who owns New Frontier Touring in Nashville. So I interviewed with Paul, I interviewed with Steve Levine at ICM in Los Angeles and then Huston from C3 helped me get a couple other interviews—one at WME in L.A. I got offered a job in the mail room at WME in L.A. or to come back to Nashville and book a territory for Paul Lohr at New Frontier—so that’s the job that I took.

What was coming back to Nashville like?

It was the very beginning of 2011. Paul books a band called The Avett Brothers and they were starting to go into arenas and amphitheaters, and getting very busy. He was very focused on that, so he had divided the rest of his roster into territories. He had me and three other younger guys like me that were booking the rest of the roster in territories.

So [we were booking] the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Darrell Scott and Paul Thorn. Paul let me bring Uncle Lucius and he was very supportive in us signing acts. There weren’t really a whole lot of rules as long as you showed up in the morning when he wanted you to and got your work done. I did at least one of those things.

I was 25-years-old and I was an agent with a territory. We had a lot of freedom, so it was really fun. It was a learn it by doing it atmosphere. The fifth or sixth act I signed when I was there was Shakey Graves, who I’ve booked for over 10 years now. Paul was great because he let us fail on our own, and subversively, he let us succeed on our own. That’s kind of what happened with Shakey. That’s an artist that I had seen when I was living in Austin that I kept in touch with. It took a few more years, but I was watching closely and paying attention, and eventually we decided to work together. Here we are today 10 years later, and that’s been a very fruitful, successful relationship.

By 2013, I had signed some other artists like Willie Watson and the Band of Heathens. I had an artist named Cody Chesnutt who had success in a previous life with a song called “The Seed.” I started trying to pick my head up and figure out what was happening around me. That led me to some other conversations with other agencies and agents, primarily with Jonathan Levine.

Photo: Courtesy of Levy

What happened next?

Jonathan and I had met before, but in the summer of 2014, we met up at Newport Folk Festival. We had a beer and we talked for like an hour. I knew who Jonathan was because one of my all time favorite bands is The Black Crowes, and he was the agent at the time. Beyond that, I was raised on the Grateful Dead. Jonathan was the agent for Bob Weir and Phil Lesh—he’s still their agent and I get to work on Bob with him now, which is very much a dream come true.

At that time in Nashville, there were not a lot of agents or agencies that were doing non-country stuff, so I was paying attention to what Jonathan was doing. He had signed Sturgill Simpson around that time. That led to other conversations and lunches and eventually a job offer. I went to work at Paradigm—which is now Wasserman—in 2015.

When did you pick up Tyler Childers?

February of 2017. I had been at Paradigm for a couple years at that point. I had brought Shakey with me and eventually Willie Watson. I signed a couple acts. I had been a fan of Tyler’s. I was introduced to him through some friends of mine from college, one of whom is from Kentucky and he would play him around the house all the time. I just became a fan. I brought a video of Tyler into a meeting one day Paradigm.

Everybody reacted positively, but Jonathan pulled me aside after that meeting and was like, “Hey, we need to keep our eye on this. Sturgill is a fan of his and wants to be more active in producing records. Let’s keep our eye on this.”

This went on for six or eight months. Tyler and his manager, Ian Thornton, would make quarterly Nashville trips. I would help him get shows—I got him a slot on AmericanaFest before we were working together. We just got to know each other. We met in my office, the three of us, and we talked about the future and their goals.

Eventually he made Purgatory. I heard the record and thought it was really good. Jonathan was getting all this info from the Sturgill side as it was happening. We spoke to each other at the beginning of 2017 and said, “Let’s do this.” So that’s what we did.

And boy, has it taken off.

Yeah! That was seven years ago, so it didn’t happen overnight. It did happen quickly, relatively, but we didn’t skip steps and we built a real foundation for Tyler. There was a pandemic in the middle there, which certainly delayed things, but at the same time, the way streaming consumption started happening in bigger numbers during the pandemic, it accelerated a lot of things too. We just announced an arena tour with 12 arenas that all sold out in 30 minutes or less. That’s two nights at Madison Square Garden and two nights at Bridgestone and The Forum. It’s an awesome place to be.

What is the most fulfilling part about what you get to do?

The most fulfilling part is going to the show. That doesn’t matter if it’s at the Echo or the Forum, at Mercury Lounge or Madison Square Garden. It always feels good when the artist is in a position to win. The nature of my job is asking: What’s the venue? What’s the ticket price? What city are we playing in? These are the things we can control. When we get it right and the show sells out and it’s the right venue at the right time, you put the artist in a position to win and thrive. Being there in that moment is super rewarding.

My Music Row Story: NSAI’s Bart Herbison

Bart Herbison

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.

Bart Herbison is Executive Director of the Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI), the world’s largest not-for-profit songwriters trade organization with 7,000 annual members and over 100 chapters.

Since joining NSAI in 1997, Herbison has led the organization to legislative accomplishments, including adoption of the Music Modernization Act in 2018, a 43.5 percent increase in digital mechanical streaming royalties through the Copyright Royalty Board in 2018, the landmark Songwriters Capital Gains Tax Equity Act in 2006, creation of the first Group Copyright Infringement—Social Network Insurance and the acquisition of the famed Bluebird Cafe.

Herbison’s honors include the NMPA Industry Legacy Award, the IP Champion’s Award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Global Innovation Policy Center, the Individual Award in Support of Songwriters and Publishers from the Los Angeles Chapter of AIMP and the Arnold Broido Award from the Music Publishers Association.

Prior to joining NSAI, Herbison worked as a reporter and spent 14 years in radio and as a correspondent for The Nashville Banner newspaper before joining the administration of former Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter as Deputy Director of Communications in 1987. He joined the staff of U.S. Rep. Bob Clement (D-Nashville) in 1988 where he served as the Tennessee Congressman’s Press Secretary, Campaign Manager and Chief Tennessee Administrative Officer until coming to Music City.

Herbison and NSAI will continue their legacy of celebrating songwriters tonight (Sept. 26) at the sixth annual Nashville Songwriter Awards.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Cottage Grove, Tennessee. Population 250. It’s a suburb of Paris, Tennessee, where I was born.

Were you into music?

My whole family was musical except me. My grandmother played piano at Cottage Grove Methodist Church. My two brothers and I all played trumpet—I sucked and they were amazing.

Where it all started for me was when I was somewhere between four and five. My late Uncle Billy Pullen called me in one day and said, “Listen to this!” He played, “That’s When Your Heartaches Begin” by Elvis. I was never the same.

A fun, unknown fact about me is I’m such an Elvis disciple, I’ve got his logo, TCB, with a lightning bolt tattooed down my left shoulder. I win a lot of “who loves Elvis the most” arguments with that. But it really did change me—I knew even then I would do something in music.

Bart Herbison

Wow. How did you pursue that?

My father and brother ran this company until my father passed—my brother still runs it—JB Herbison and Sons Painting and Sandblasting. They specialized in high stuff back then, like church steeples, bridges and grain tanks. That sandblasting was nasty business. I probably weighed 100 pounds and so did the bags of sand I wold carry up the ladder. I started with him when I was 13. It was never my thing.

One day my father and I got into it. It was hard for me and my dad to work together. I loved him, but that wasn’t a good recipe. A kid at my local high school had gotten a job at the radio station, WTPR (We Treat People Right.) My hair was way longer than yours and it was matted full of sand and paint. I walked into that radio station and I said, “I want a job.” And they gave me one.

Tell me about working there.

I was 16 when I started. People say this is an exaggeration, but it’s not. There were some weeks I worked 100 hours. I had an afternoon shift every day. The school would let me off if some of the other DJs couldn’t make it, so I was constantly on the air. The AM station was a pop/Americana kind of thing and the FM station was country, but on the weekends at 10 o’clock, we turned to acid/AOR rock, which was my favorite.

We did a lot of live stuff. I hosted sports talk shows—all kinds of stuff. As I got older in the ’80s, I became a news director for that station and some other stations that came along. I went back and forth between some stations in that town. I also worked as a stringer for the Tennessee Radio Network and I was the west Tennessee correspondent for the Nashville Banner.

What was next?

In 1986, my state representative Ned Ray McWherter was running for Governor. The reason I have this job and everything else I had from that moment was because of two individuals: one was my middle school 4-H leader, Mary Kate Ridgeway, who got me into public speaking. The other was her husband, who was elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives, L. Don Ridgeway. He became the House Majority Leader. He was my promoter, often probably to the detriment of his own career. I was wearing the fatigue jacket and was the hippie protesting everything. He insisted that McWherter hire me.

Did he? How did you get that job?

It started off with Ridgeway. McWherter didn’t like Ridgeway’s commercial that an ad agency did in Nashville. Byron Gallimore—who was from the next little town over in Puryear, Tennessee—had a band and a little studio. One weekend without McWherter’s knowledge, we went [into the studio to make a new commercial]. Byron did a soundtrack and the jingle and I did the voice work and wrote a commercial called “He Knows The Way, The Tennessee Way.” I stayed up all night and drove Byron and Ridgeway crazy—we did 85 takes of that commercial. You couldn’t tell a difference in the first and last, but I could. They played it for Ned a couple days later and he flipped over it.

We were doing a live news event on a campaign stop when Ned called and said, “Barto,” which is what he called me, “I’m going to be the next Governor of Tennessee.” He had been the speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives for 14 years, so I said, “I believe so too, speaker.” He then said, “I want you to come work for me in the press office.” We ended that broadcast and he asked me again. We didn’t talk about it after that. That was probably in June. He was elected in November and went into office in January.

I was on the air when he called me again. He said, “Can you be up here today?” I said, “I’ll be up there the day after tomorrow.” They had a really sweet little celebration for me in my hometown. I went to Nashville and at the tender age of 29, I became the Deputy Director of Communications for the state of Tennessee. Way over my head, frankly, but Ned liked me. My grandpa was his mailman. He was from a little town called Palmersville. My grandfather carried his mail in a horse and buggy, so he liked me. We spoke the same language.

Bart Herbison

What was your next move?

Soon after taking that job, I got a couple of promotions. I became the guy that traveled with him all over the state of Tennessee. I was there about two years when then U.S. Congressman Bob Clement—who represented the fifth district, Nashville—came in and needed some help on a press matter. I went out with him that day and a day or two later, he offered me a job. I said I would take it on one condition: I wanted to do the music issues. He said, “We’ve got somebody else doing that.” Through a weird series of events, a few weeks later that came open. He called me back and I took the job. I took a job in Washington D.C. and had never been there. I remember the night I landed, I was at a payphone calling my then-girlfriend and somebody tried to rob me at knife point. Rent there was three to four times what it was in Nashville, but I persevered. I stayed there 10 years.

Tell me about that job.

My very first two or three weeks there, NSAI made an appointment with me. The two individuals that came in were the late great songwriter Peter McCann and the then-publisher Kevin Lamb that ran Peer Music. It must’ve been the worst meeting in history for them because all I kept saying was, “Y’all do what?”

Back in my radio days, there was a huge popular local band known Tennessee River Crooks or T.R. Crooks. They were a southern rock band in their heyday. Their leader and main songwriter was my best friend to this day, Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy went to Nashville before I did and got signed. A couple of his songs people would know were “Brotherly Love” and “A Little Less Talk And A Lot More Action.” While we all read the liner notes, I always was a lyric guy. I loved the music too, but I cared about who wrote the songs. Visiting Jimmy [after he became] a professional songwriter is the second reason why I have this job, besides the Ridgeways. I wanted to work for songwriters from the time I was about 17 or 18 years old.

After Peter and Kevin left that appointment, I said a prayer that day. “Lord, let that be my next and my final job.” 26 years ago that came true. It just was ordained for me. This job requires legislative knowledge, intricacies of politics, fundraising and communications. I felt like 10 years after I was born, when they created NSAI in 1967, somebody had me in mind.

That’s amazing. What were your goals when you joined NSAI?

We were in terrible financial trouble. Starting with the three performing rights societies, I tried to let them know who I was first. I had to sell myself, the vision of NSAI was going to be and why they needed an independent songwriter organization like us. By the end of the year, we turned the finances around and they’ve been in good shape ever since. That was the first challenge.

That organization had been there for 30 years and we were doing a lot of things like programs, services, camps and cruises that didn’t make any sense, but a lot of board members had personally inherited some of them. So I had to get rid of a lot of those.

Then we had to get ready for advocacy. We needed a bill—we needed to pass a piece of legislation. So I’m sitting in a room one day about to have a legislative committee and a songwriter named Billy Kirsch walks in—he wrote “Holes In The Floor Of Heaven”—and he was talking to another songwriter named Beckie Foster. He said, “I just sold a catalog. I wish I could get the same tax breaks publishers get.” So I start looking into it and it’s another wacky story that goes back to 1951 and involves Groucho Marx, Salvador Dali, Ira Gershwin and Dwight Eisenhower. They took capital gains treatment away from songwriters, as well as from some other intellectual professions.

That was our first bill. We went to the Hill with it in ’98 into ’99 to tweak it. Our contention was songwriters had already paid income tax, FICA, Medicare and Social Security on those income-producing songs and it was double taxation. Congress agreed and seven and a half years later in ’06, we passed the Songwriters Capital Gains Tax Equity Act. It took effect January 1 of 2007 and I think it had a big part to do with the values and the explosion of catalog sales that you see today, because there’s much more incentive for songwriters to sell them. That put us on the map. We became a force and we’ve grown as a force in D.C. and in regulatory bodies and courts ever since then.

What’s the best part of your job?

The more fun two things is a tie. It’s meeting with the up-and-coming songwriters here and our other chapters around the country. I love that enthusiasm and glowing nature. Just about every songwriter started with a meeting with us at NSAI. It’s that and this series I do for the Gannett newspaper chain and The Tennesseean called “Story Behind the Song.” I also love working with our staff, starting with Jennifer Turnbow. I get all the credit, but I would say over the past few years, she’s done more to lift this organization than I have. So has Erika Wollam Nichols at the Bluebird Cafe.

Bart Herbison

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

It was really from the Governor’s Director of Communications, Ken Renner. I was overwhelmed when I was going to D.C. and he said, “Bart, read everything you can read.” I would get up every morning and read seven publications: The Tennesseean, Washington Post, Roll Call, The Hill and several other political things. He said, “They’re all going to be more experienced than you, but trust your instincts.” Every time I haven’t, I’ve regretted it. That’s probably the best advice I ever had. My father would say, “Your word is your bond.” I always keep my word.

Erika gave me a piece of advice when we were trying to resurrect the funding structure of NSAI in 1997. There were some people that wanted to come fund us, and it would’ve been easy to do, but it would have potentially compromised our mission. Wayland Holyfield, the President of NSAI who hired me, always said this to me, but Erika said it that day and I still use it: “Read your mission statement.” Sometimes when Jennifer and I are torn or lost, we read that mission statement and it becomes crystal clear. It’s not always the answer I want, but it’s never wrong.

What are a few”pinch me” moments you can recall?

Getting to meet the songwriters I grew up loving and admiring. In particular, the late Mac Davis. You don’t always want to meet your heroes, but Mac and I became fast friends. Some days I would sit there and go, “Oh my God, he wrote ‘In The Ghetto!'”

[Another thing that comes to mind is] our 50th anniversary event that we did at the Ryman in 2017. Jennifer is responsible for it. We performed 25 or 30 songs, but we celebrated the rest with videos. Kris Kristofferson performed, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, everyone. My single favorite music moment since I took this job was reuniting Shelly West and David Frizzell for “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma.” That was my favorite moment in all these years.

Jimmy Stewart and Tim Nichols wrote “Brotherly Love.” When I started coming to town, Tim was the first writer I met. They regularly played rounds with Craig Wiseman, Tony Arata, Bernie Nelson and Scott Miller. They introduced me to the songwriter community. I hung with them. They accepted me as one of my own. There are great stories to tell—some I will never tell. [Laughs] That’s where I learned the pulse beat, the fabric, the desires, the successes and the fears of professional songwriters.

My Music Row Story: Sweet Talk Publicity’s Jensen Sussman

Jensen Sussman. Photo: Ashley Hylbert

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.

Jensen Sussman is President of Sweet Talk Publicity, where she has executed prominent national publicity campaigns for many of today’s trendsetting artists, music and lifestyle businesses, and more, fueling Sweet Talk’s growth into one of the most in-demand boutique PR firms since launching in 2008. Sussman’s attention to detail and hands-on approach has contributed to the elevated success of the Sweet Talk Publicity roster, spanning breakout newcomers and multi-Platinum, award-winning artists such as Breland, Gabby Barrett, Florida Georgia Line, LoCash, Dustin Lynch and Trace Adkins.

With over two decades of experience, the Los Angeles native holding a master’s degree from UNC Chapel Hill, served as Associate Director for both Warner Music Nashville and Sony Music Nashville, where she led publicity for major artists including Miranda Lambert, Jessica Simpson, Brett Eldredge, Frankie Ballard and many others. She fostered her record label career with Equity Music Group (Little Big Town), having first worked at Tractenberg & Co. in New York City (Sephora, T. LeClerc, Aesop and The Healing Garden). Recognized by the industry, she’s been spotlighted by Billboard Magazine as one of the Publicity “Gatekeepers” in their annual Nashville Power Players issue; listed as a behind-the-scenes star in Variety’s Music City Impact Report; named one of MusicRow Magazine’s Rising Women on the Row and racked up multi-year nods for Publicist of the Year at the CMA Touring Awards.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I actually grew up in Los Angeles, California. I’m a valley girl. My family moved to Nashville when I was 16, after sophomore year of high school. I was that bitter teenager that got plucked out of their entire life.

Jensen Sussman, Chris Lane, Alecia Davis

What were you into as a kid?

I have been a dancer my whole life, from elementary school all the way through college. My degree is actually in dance. I’ve always loved music because it was always a part of training.

Where did you go to college?

Skidmore in upstate New York. My dream was to move to New York and audition for a company. I wanted to tour the world and then teach dance. When I did move to New York City, I taught for Garden State Ballet in Newark and Morristown. My minor was actually in biology and I was pre-med, so my life plan was to move to New York, live my dance dream and then when I was done dancing, I wanted to be a doctor. I’m very far from a doctor now. [Laughs]

How did you start your career?

I actually graduated college in three years because I was that person that took a bunch of AP classes and summer dance programs. I just wanted to live my life. I was doing the whole starving artist thing, which means I was working a bazillion different jobs. I worked at Urban Outfitters, taught ballet, auditioned and did anything possible to make ends meet. While working at Urban Outfitters, I fell in love with cosmetics.

I had discovered Sephora while living in New York and thought that was the mecca. At Urban, we sold three cosmetic lines: Tony & Tina, Hardy Candy and Urban Decay. I really wanted to get a job working for one of the makeup lines. So when the merchandiser came in from Urban Decay, I asked if they were hiring. He said no, but Tony & Tina were looking to hire someone who worked at the counter at Bloomingdale’s. He walked me over to Bloomingdale’s and I met the counter manager. He told me I needed to interview at the corporate office, which was this giant loft in SoHo.

Kelsea Ballerini, Fletcher Foster, Monica Escobedo (Good Morning America), Jensen Sussman

To work the counter at Bloomingdale’s, you had to do a makeover test. I could do my own makeup being a dancer and doing shows, but I was not trained. That poor girl in the office—I’m pretty sure I put a pound of glitter all over her [during the makeover test]. The international makeup artist—his name was Eddie Funkhouser—called me the next day and was like, “We love your vibe. We totally feel like you fit in with the company. We don’t want to put you at the counter of Bloomingdale’s, but we’ll pay you your Urban Outfitters salary and you can be the part-time assistant to our creative director. She’s head of PR and product development.”

Her name was Yana Chupenko. She was a total Russian bombshell. Her hair was always wrapped up in this giant pineapple, she was in a punk band called Shiny Mama and she was best friends with Debbie Harry. It was so wild. I was this wide-eyed, 21-year-old. She actually taught me PR on the job. Tony & Tina was in Lucky, Vogue and Elle. She taught me how to write a press release and how to make press books for the products.

That’s awesome. How did you evolve there?

I was there for about two years. I was dancing less and less because because they ended up making me full-time as a creative assistant. I decided I really loved the PR side and I wanted to go to a PR agency, so I moved to Tractenberg & Co. We represented Sephora, Stila, Philosophy, Nivea and Healing Garden—everything from mass market to luxury. I loved it. I learned so much in the beauty PR world because everything was so detailed. Everything we sent had like a little hang tag, the cute one-liner and the press release. You wrote differently based on the product you were representing. For one you may write flowery language, where another one was cute and kitschy.

Dustin Lynch and Jensen Sussman on the set of Lip Sync Battle

How did you get back to Nashville?

9/11 happened and that changed a lot of things. The relationship I was in at the time wasn’t great. I had that quarter life crisis moment of, “What are you doing with your life? You’re talking about lipstick, but the world is in this crazy place. You were supposed to be a doctor. You’re not even dancing anymore.”

I ended up leaving New York and moved back to Nashville. I took the GRES to go to grad school. Being a dancer, I’ve always been really passionate about food and nutrition, so I ended up going to grad school for nutrition at UNC Chapel Hill. I danced the whole time I was there, taught dance and performed. After I took my comps and got my master’s, I came home to Nashville for a week of vacation. I went to my annual exam at the doctor’s office and I was diagnosed with breast cancer.

I had a job lined up after grad school and I was dancing for a company there. I had to quit my job and quit dance. My parents packed me up and moved me back to Nashville. That was August of 2005. Once I was back here, I just dropped off the map for a year and a half and went through treatment.

Jensen Sussman onstage with Florida Georgia Line

I’m so sorry. How did you get back on track?

Towards the end of radiation, my parents asked me what I wanted to do. I said, “I have no idea but I don’t want to be in a hospital. I do believe eating healthy prevents chronic disease, but I’m not there.” My dad said, “You loved PR. You’re in Music City. You love music. You should think about music PR.” My dad is in the business, so I grew up with it.

While I was still going through chemo and wearing a wig, he took me to a holiday party. I met Little Big Town that night. It was right when they released “Boondocks.” They were going on tour with Keith Urban and John Mellencamp. They had a Nashville publicist, Jenny Bohler, and they needed a tour publicist.

I knew nothing about music PR, but they brought me on. I took my job very seriously. I would sit at my desk with an atlas, see that they were playing in Columbus, Ohio and measure out 50 miles around it. Then I would go to my Bacon’s Media Directory and look up the outlets and writers. I killed the tour press. [Laughs] Jenny Bohler took me under her wing. She mentored me and introduced me to everyone in Nashville. She really helped me like make that transition. I worked with them for about two and a half years and then I went to Sony Music Nashville.

Monica Escobedo (Good Morning America), Breland, Sarah Beth Watson (Sweet Talk Publicity), Jess Sims (Peloton Instructor & Good Morning America correspondent), Jensen Sussman (Sweet Talk Publicity) after Breland’s GMA interview during CMA Music Festival 2023

How long were you there?

Sadly, I think a year. I got hired and then they went through corporate restructuring and laid off like eight people. They pretty much [split] the PR and marketing side in half. At the time, I didn’t realize that was a music business rite of passage. I didn’t understand how you could be really good at your job and lose it. I look back on that year and it was some of the most amazing, incredible experiences of my career and stuff I’m really proud of.

After that I freelanced for a year or so, and then Tree Paine hired me over at Warner. I was at Warner for about a year and a half. While I was at Warner, I was feeling nutrition calling. I felt like I never finished out what I’d studied and what I’d gone to do. I was married at the time and thinking about kids—I was just having a completely different life. This opportunity came open to do marketing at the food bank and I felt like I had to take it.

When I freelanced between Sony and Warner, I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Craig Wiseman, so I did the PR for Stars for Second Harvest. That’s how I knew everyone at the food bank. I loved that event and I loved the mission, so it just seemed like the right opportunity.

Jensen Sussman with Morgan Wallen on the set of Saturday Night Live

How did you start Sweet Talk?

It was a happy accident. When I was at the food bank, Seth England called me and said, “Hey, would you do PR part-time? We have this unknown duo, Florida Georgia Line. We’re going to release music and we really need a publicist.” I said no, because I had a job I liked, but they can be very convincing over there. They asked if I would come in and meet with Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard. I will never forget this meeting. I can tell you what I was wearing and exactly where I sat. I was explaining what a publicist did and I will never forget BK looking at me and saying, “So, you mean we’ll be on Jimmy Kimmel someday?” I was like, “Exactly!” For whatever reason, the universe was like, “You need to do this.”

So I left the food bank and I said that I would help them out for three months, and in three months, we would reevaluate. That turned into the next decade of my life and career. The next thing I knew, FGL got big and I had to have a staff. It was just amazing. All of a sudden I had a great roster and had built a team, and we’re still going. I always feel like when you’re open, things come to you—I just needed that push.

What are you most proud of now?

I have a couple proud moments, but after being in business for 11 years, you have clients and staff that come and go, but it’s really building and mentoring the staff. My team members are rock stars. Watching them grow and develop, seeing their first GMA booking or their first big feature and knowing that I was able to mentor and train, that’s my proudest moment.

Megan Moroney, Jensen Sussman

Another thing i’m proud of [is Opry Goes Pink.] Because I’m a breast cancer survivor, I went to Pete Fisher when he ran the Opry and pitched him this idea that the Opry should “go pink” to benefit breast cancer awareness. At first, it benefited my charity Women Rock for the Cure, but we all went in different directions. Now benefits Komen. It’s become a staple at the Opry every year and now it’s on year 15. Carrie Underwood did the first one. It was the first time they ever changed the barn to another color. To be able to raise awareness and money, and to see that idea continue, is honestly one of the things I’m most proud of.

Who have been some of your mentors?

Definitely Jenny Bohler. My dad, Charles Sussman, has been a huge mentor for me because he has really shown me how to balance family and work. He has an amazing roster and he’s built an incredible business that he’s had for over 40 years, but he never missed a dance recital. He came to every single one of my chemo treatments. My best friend Carrie Simons Kemper at Triple 7 PR has been a mentor. She has an incredible company—to be able to call her and bounce ideas off her is amazing.

What’s some of the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

The best advice for me has always been, “Your work speaks for itself. Just stay true to who you are, keep your head down and keep doing the work.”

My Music Row Story: Porter’s Call’s Al Andrews

Al Andrews. Photo: Caroline Allen

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.

Al Andrews is the Founder and Executive Director of Porter’s Call, a nonprofit he founded in 2001. Since its inception, Porter’s Call has been offering its services to recording artists at no charge, providing a safe and confidential space for artists to be off-stage and deal with the issues they face. To date, the Porter’s Call staff has spent more than 70,000 hours working for and with their clients, saving them millions of dollars on counseling fees.

A 1976 graduate of the University of North Carolina, Andrews is a lifelong Tar Heels fan. He is the co-author of The Silence of Adam, the author of an illustrated children’s book The Boy, the Kite and the Wind, and a Christmas book, A Walk One Winter Night.

Andrews loves Southern writers and poets, is quite partial to chicken wings, loves live music and going to movies at the Belcourt Theatre. He lives in Nashville with his poet/artist/counselor wife of 33 years, Nita, and they have two sons, Brent and Hunter.

Andrews will retire from his role at the beginning of 2024. He will be a featured storyteller at Porter’s Call’s 14th annual “Evening of Stories” on Aug. 29 at 7:30 p.m. at Belmont University’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Montreat, North Carolina, which is a little town right outside of Asheville. I spent my early life in Virginia till about the fifth grade and then we moved to North Carolina.

What were your interests as a kid?

As a kid, I just loved to play outside. Up until the fifth grade, I grew up on a non-working farm. It was like Disney World, with a lake, fishing, buddies to play, bamboo forests and trees to climb. I just loved to be outside.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?

My mother said early on that she thought I’d make a great veterinarian. I’m not sure why in the world she said that. [Laughs] I liked animals, and maybe that was why, but I remember going to the veterinarian one time, when we had our dog put to sleep. I said, “I am not doing this.” That was it for a while, and then I think I just didn’t know for the longest time.

Al Andrews

Where did you go to college?

I went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I went there for four years and I studied American Studies, which is kind of a cultural approach to American history which really prepared me to live in America. [Laughs] God bless my parents.

I loved college. I grew up in this small, fairly conservative town. When I moved to Chapel Hill, it was like this world that I’ve never seen. I made some lifelong friends there. I really dug into school, friendships and going to basketball games. Right after I left Michael Jordan arrived, so we watched it for a long time.

What did you do after your graduation?

I was involved in a college Christian group at school. I ended up going on staff with them for about six years. It’s funny, one of my sons was telling me he wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do [when he grew up]. I told him, “I was 47 before I decided what I wanted to do. Between college and now I’ve had nine different jobs.”

I did that for a while. I worked with senior citizens for a couple of years. I went to grad school [to study] counseling. I worked in a furniture store to make an adjustment after counseling school to take a [break] for a while because it was intense. I was an intern in a graduate program out in Colorado for counseling. I did private practice there. I worked in a church for a little while, and then moved to Franklin and started a private practice. I think that’s about nine jobs. [Laughs]

As I look at my life, almost everything I’ve done was laying a foundation for what I get to do now. It all connects somehow.

What drew you to counseling?

Probably like most counselors, I got into counseling by going. I needed some help in my early thirties. I went to a counselor and I got some help. I got to see what happens and I liked the results. I decided I wanted to head in that direction.

What led you to Franklin?

My wife and I were out in Colorado teaching in this counseling program. Both of our parents were beginning the process of ailing health. Her mother lived in Nashville and my parents were in North Carolina, and we just felt like we couldn’t be that far away. So that was what brought us here. My wife is a counselor too, and when we came, she found a job right away and I found a part-time counseling gig in Nashville. So we just started this counseling thing. We had two little boys at that time and we traded off days of who was going to be with the guys, which was really interesting and one of my favorite things.

I ended up getting a full-time practice in Green Hills. After the first year, I looked at my practice and I realized that it was all music related. Some of the first people that came were in music, just different levels. There’s that network in music, so they had passed my name along. I joke about the fact that, at one point, I had two artists, a backup singer, a drummer, keyboard player, an executive and a manager, and I could have started a band or a label.

Carlos Whittaker, Chris Tyrrell, Hillary Scott Tyrrell, Kelsea Ballerini, Anne Wilson, Cody Fry and Al Andrews on stage during 2022’s “Evening of Stories” event. Photo: Makenna Brooke

What did you notice about musicians when you started working with them more?

As I began seeing more and more artists, particularly touring artists, I just began to see some things that were unique to artists as it related to counseling. They couldn’t come regularly. When I went to counseling, I went every Wednesday at 10 until I was done. But I’ve never met an artist that could come very regularly. Early in their careers, they couldn’t afford it—and I couldn’t afford to keep cutting everybody’s rates. Those two things seemed significant to me. I also began seeing some things that they shared in common. Generally everybody deals, at some level, with some of the same stuff, whether you’re an artist or not. Artists deal with what most everybody else deals with, but it’s amplified. Some of that is because they’re in the public eye. People are watching them, judging them, fantasizing about them or whatever. There’s an extra level of pressure.

There’s also this struggle between not making enough money and making a lot of money. There’s this sense of not enough fame and too much fame. I’m not sure which is the more difficult, because they each have their thing. There’s this tension between what people perceive them to be by what they see on stage, and what they know they are and what they know they struggle with. When somebody’s on stage, I don’t need to see them depressed. You go to see them give a great show. The problem is we all see somebody on stage and go, “They must be the most wonderful person in the world,” because they’re doing their best. For artists, sometimes there’s a struggle with which of those am I going to believe. If I believe this one, what everybody sees, I’m in trouble. It means that you’re pushing away a lot of truth in your life.

Tell me how those observations led to starting Porter’s Call.

I was seeing all that and came up with a little entrepreneurial idea. I thought, “What if I went to five labels and I got them to buy a day of my counseling practice, so their artists could come for free and maybe we could get some traction.” The first person I went to was Peter York, who was President of EMI Christian at the time. We just talked about the issues involved, and he agreed that they spend a lot of money getting people out there and successful. If they crash and burn, everybody loses. They lose, their family loses and the record company loses. As we were talking, he said to me, “You’re not gonna believe this, but my board commissioned me about six months ago. They said, we’re asking artists to live a very difficult life on the road away from their families. There’s some good parts of it too, but we’re not helping them to live that life. I want you to find a way that somehow we can come alongside artists with help.” Then I walk in the door. He took it to his board and they talked about it. They said, “We’ll buy a day and see how it goes. Our only stipulation is that you must be willing to see any artist from any label during our day.” That [usually] just doesn’t happen. You don’t take care of other people’s people.

During those first three months, a lot of people came from other labels. It was [spread by] word of mouth. EMI paid for it, which was so generous. Artists started coming. The cool part was a young couple who [could] hardly [afford] food could sit in my office for two hours. I could hug ’em goodbye and send them on their way, and they didn’t have to hand me a check. There was something great about that.

We did that for three months. Then Bill Hearn, who was the CEO of EMI, and Peter came back and said, “We feel like something is happening that’s good. Artists have a place to go. We don’t know what they’re going for. We don’t even know if they’re going unless they tell us. We feel like something good is happening. Would you be willing to turn this into a nonprofit? Because if you do, we believe that we could help shake the trees in the industry. Being a nonprofit helps to get support from larger corporations.” So we did. True to form, they had a meeting and invited lots of their fellow labels, managers and agents. We started one day and then moved to two, and gradually got up to five days a week. It started with the Christian industry, but soon morphed into country, rock, pop, goth, indie and anything in between. That was back in 2001.

Pictured (L-R): Jared Farley, Chad Karger, Audrey Ragan, Al Andrews, Beth Barcus and Phil Shay. Photo: Caroline Allen

That is amazing.

It feels critical to us that artists can come for free. A lot of artists could afford us, and a lot of them do end up giving back. Artists that fill up stadiums could obviously pay the going rate. One time, an artist said to me, “How much is this?” I said, “It’s free.” They contested with, “No, how much is it?” I said, “It’s really free,” and the person said, “Everybody makes money from me.” I was able to say, “Well, we don’t. We just want you to be here, be honest and be real. That’s plenty for us.” You could feel the difference in the room.

Why did you decide to call it Porter’s Call?

My wife came up with that. She’s a researcher. She just loves to do research. She was studying this 1,500-year-old document called the Rules of St. Benedict, it’s a Catholic document. When one of the very first Christian communities was formed—one of the first monasteries—they made rules, such as giving their money to the poor, praying every three hours, working on a farm and other things. There were 99 rules that they [followed]. One of the rules was inside the gates of the monastery, “You shall place a porter.” When a Sojourner knocked on the door, a porter’s job was to basically call out a welcome to them—the Porter’s Call—and then welcome them in and help them find the way to what they needed. If they needed food, he’d feed them. If they needed to sleep, he’d give them a bed. If they needed certain kinds of help, he’d offer it to them. If they needed wise counsel, he’d offer them wise counsel. One of the things it says about a porter is that, “A porter shall be a wise old man who’s finished with his days of wandering about.” We decided that we weren’t going to call ourselves counselors, we were going to call ourselves porters, although we were all trained counselors. So when an artist knocks on the door, we welcome them in and we help them find the way to what they need.

I had a kid call from an indigent hospital in L.A. one time because he did a rockstar jump off the stage and missed. He shattered his ankle and he didn’t have the funds to get it fixed. He said, “[They] told me to call the porter.” I just helped him find funds, probably through MusiCares. Some of it’s that, and some of it’s helping someone weave their way through this industry. Some of it is, “I did something really stupid on the road and I’m paying for it,” “I need some help with my marriage,” “I’m remembering something from my past and it’s getting in the way” or “I’m really anxious.” If we can’t meet that need, we have a large referral resource of different professionals that can and we’ll help them pay for that too.

Next week, you guys will hold your 14th annual “Evening of Stories” event at Belmont, where you will be a featured storyteller. Tell me about that event.

15 years ago, my board said to me, “I think it’s about time we have a banquet.” I laughed and said, “No, I know what happens at banquets. They’re a lot the same. I just want to do something different, but I don’t know what that is.” They said, “You must figure that out because we need some kind of event.” Peter, who helped start this years ago, and I started talking about it. He was listening to The Moth series on NPR, and we started talking about what we do at Porter’s Call is listen to people’s stories and help [them to] heal, help them to change, help them to grow and help them to tell a new or better story. So we thought, “What if we had a night of stories?” We just tried it one year with a small group of people including Donald Miller, who’s an author here in town, Becca Stevens, who’s Head of Thistle Farms, and a singer named David Wilcox. We did stories in the round. David did three songs and they told three stories. Over the years, we’ve added new storytellers and we’ve grown. We’ve had all sorts of singers that have been to Porter’s Call, so it’s morphed into this event that people actually enjoy going to.

You’re looking towards retirement at the beginning of the year. What have been some of your proudest moments?

I think my proudest moments are those moments where you see somebody’s eyes come alive. Where you see a shift inside or a healing come about that was based on an old lie, an old belief that they’ve embraced for so long. To be able to watch them go back and see that something [they believed their whole life] wasn’t true or something that happened wasn’t [their] fault, just that shift in their eyes and a shift in their heart. To me, [those are] my proudest and most delightful moment[s].

My Music Row Story: Big Machine Music’s Mike Molinar

Mike Molinar

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.

Mike Molinar is the President and Co-Founder of Big Machine Music (BMM), where he brings over 25 years of experience as a music publisher and advocate for creatives. Molinar has led BMM since inception in 2011—overseeing the continued growth of the diverse roster and dynamic catalog as well as driving the company’s impact well-beyond its Music City roots with the addition of a West Coast division based in Los Angeles.

Molinar, who was named one of Billboard’s Country Power Players each of the last four years, oversees all aspects of BMM which was named 2021 Publisher of the Year by the Association of Independent Music Publishers Nashville. BMM has been ranked as a Billboard Top 10 Hot Country Publishing Corp for six years running and recently notched its 50th Airplay No. 1 song in its history. BMM’s roster includes the 2023 nominee for the inaugural Grammy Songwriter of the Year (non-classical) Laura Veltz, as well as hitmakers Jessie Jo Dillon, Brett Young, Maddie & Tae, Geoff Warburton, Ryan Hurd, Matt Dragstrem, Sara Davis, Eric Paslay, Matt Roy, Anna Vaus and Daniel Ross, among others.

Molinar was named one of the 2021 Nashville cohorts for Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program. He is currently serving his 3rd term on the board of the National Music Publishers’ Association and is a founding member of the Mechanical Licensing Collective (MLC) board. In June, he was invited by the House Judicial Subcommittee on IP to testify at their Nashville field hearing reviewing the fifth anniversary of the Music Modernization Act (MMA).

Molinar also serves as a board member for the Academy of Country Music, Music Health Alliance and sits the Country Music Hall Of Fame Education Council. He was named a Rider Scholar while attending Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J. He graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1998 where he was inducted into the College of Media and Entertainment’s Wall of Fame in 2021. He is a graduate of Leadership Music (2015) and a member of the CMA, ACM, AIMP and Recording Academy.

Prior to BMM, Molinar began his career at the original Starstruck Writer’s Group and Cal IV Entertainment before launching his own startups including Effusion Entertainment. Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Molinar is a second generation immigrant of Mexican descent. He and his wife, Amanda, are proud parents of two boys, Ryman and Ellis.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas.

Reba McEntire, Mike Molinar, Narvel Blackstock

Were you musical as a kid?

I’m the youngest of five kids from a fairly low income family, but there was always music in the house. My dad was from southern California—he could sing and was always a musical force in the house. My mom loved music, but she couldn’t carry a tune whatsoever. My brothers and sisters all played instruments. We’re spaced pretty far apart, so I got the musical influences of all of them.

My sister started taking voice lessons. As you do when there’s a lot of kids, you drop a kid off wherever another one is, so I would go to her voice lessons. I was in first or second grade around that time, and her teacher would always have me run a scale at the end of her voice lesson. As she continued going over the next few years, he would always give me more and more time. He knew that we couldn’t pay for more lessons, so he went to my parents and said that he would teach me for free, and if one day they could ever pay him back, that would be great, but he wanted to go ahead and work with me. By fourth or fifth grade, I’m taking voice lessons and learning how to read music. By middle school, I could read music pretty well. He started helping me get opportunities to audition for operas, operettas and musicals.

What did that lead to?

In those productions, there were some roles that were made for kids, but usually they’re played by women called pants roles. I started to play those roles. I was probably the only kid in middle school with a day planner with where I was supposed to be.

I did that until my voice changed in high school. I ended up going to conservatory in New Jersey. My teacher’s voice studio had a pipeline to a school called Westminster Choir College in Princeton, so I went there. That’s where I met one of my best friends, Martha Earls.

Mike Molinar, Jeff Stevens, Rusty Gaston, Luke Bryan, Rodney Clawson

Did you enjoy college?

Yeah! It was a small school, so it felt a little claustrophobic. It is a performance school so you would prepare to perform at the New York Philharmonic, the Philly Orchestra or the Jersey Symphony. In addition to your school load, you were also learning music to go out and perform. As a freshman, you would do a spring tour representing the school.

That taught me about chasing excellence and the effect that can come when you get it right. Not only just the technical, but when you hit that emotional peak of performance and you see the audiences with you—the vulnerability of performers when they meet the vulnerability of the audience and the emotional flood that can come with that is amazing.

How did you know you wanted to work in the music business?

I always liked songs and songwriters. I had a CD collection that I brought with me to school, and Martha would steal my CDs. I was having conversations about songwriters because I knew a lot of them. One day Martha said, “Why are you here? After we finish freshman year, I’m going to transfer to somewhere in Nashville. You should look into that, too.” I came down to look at Belmont and MTSU, and we both decided to leave full scholarships to pay out-of-state tuition at MTSU and finish our degrees there.

The good thing is when you make that kind of commitment, you put yourself on stun. We moved here January of ’96 and immediately hit Country Radio Seminar where we get to meet Garth Brooks, The Mavericks and The Chicks. We were there as MTSU volunteers but we were also super sneaky and we brought clothes to change into so we could go to the parties. Back then, the only thing separating you from being a volunteer was how you looked. So we go dressed, crashed a bunch of parties and met a bunch of people.

Maddie Font, Mike Molinar, Tae Kerr

That’s awesome. How did you start your career?

I didn’t really know what publishing was, but I interned at Zomba Music Publishing that summer of ’96. My first real job was at Starstruck Writer’s Group. They brought me in as an intern and then a week later, I became the tape guy. They let me go through my senior year, commuting back and forth to MTSU and doing the tape catalog. I would come in on Saturdays and make up for the work that I missed [while I was in class].

It was a such a great music publishing company. Mike Sebastian led it. Kos Weaver was the hot plugger. Molly Reynolds had wonderful artist ears and great service instincts to the executives. She taught me how to be a song sniper—she didn’t really care about volume, she cared about making sure that we connected the right thing. Autumn House was brand new. It was a great group of executives to be around and the catalog was rocking as I came in. It was a wonderful place to start and see a really great roster of writers at a mid-size independent company that had a really engaged team with good leadership. I think everything I’ve ever wanted was to model that. So much of what Big Machine Music is is modeled off of that.

How long were you there?

I was there for three years before they sold to Warner Chappell. At that point, Universal Music was being formed out of the combination of MCA Music and PolyGram. Daniel Hill and Billy Lynn had left PolyGram and found funding to start Cal IV Entertainment. They were looking for a young plugger to be on the street and made me an offer. They had bought a trunk catalog of songs from Buddy Killen—most of the songs were not great or weren’t in country music, but it did have “Breathe” in it, so that got the company going.

There were some incredible veterans on the roaster and a couple of young guys like Odie Blackmon. I brought over Dave Berg and then Jim Collins as well, so Odie, Jim and Dave became my core group to work with. I owe those guys so much, they taught me a lot.

That time was a lesson in setting goals and trying to accomplish them. When we brought Jim over, he told me he’d never had a 20-cut year or a George Strait cut. The next full year, we had a 23-cut-year and a George Strait No. 1. Odie also had George Strait’s 50th No. 1 We all shared Strait as a hero and we ended up having his 50th and 52nd No. 1s.

Dave Berg was just so amazingly talented and we were just waiting for it to be his time. As much as we were banging on the doors and everybody in this town believed in him and his talent, he just needed that one hit to get us started. That song for Dave ended up being “Somebody” for Reba McEntire. Interestingly, Scott Borchetta was the promo guy on it. After that, they all came: “Stupid Boy,” “If You’re Going Through Hell,” “Don’t Make Me” and “These Are My People.”

Janet Weir, Alex Heddle, Jessie Jo Dillon, Laura Veltz, Mike Molinar, Maren Morris, Ryan Hurd

What was next for you?

As everybody was peaking, it felt like it was the right time to do something. It was tough for me to think about staying at that spot. It was an independent where you were capped at a certain level of income. Even though there were opportunities offered to go to other places, including some majors, I never felt like I was a major kind of guy. Martha and I started to think about starting something. I took a year to write a business plan, put the concept together and shop it out. We found some funding and we started our own little company.

Ultimately, we got our ass kicked. The bravado of a 30-year-old, cocky song-plugger certainly met a true education of what it takes to function in all of the roles of a publisher. We were painfully understaffed and it was the phase in town where we really pivoted from outside songs into a lot more artist co-writes. To top it all off, the sound changed. A new generation of writers came in and everyone was listening for something different. We had wonderful writers. They were incredibly patient with us. We still had 35 cuts and one top 10 hit.

How did you transition out of that?

The [investor] ended up buying our share of it. With some of that money, we kept ourselves afloat. We did a couple of joint ventures and one of those was with Greg Bates and Big Machine. Allison Jones and Andrew Kautz brought him to us. We signed him together and went away for a year to work on it. We came back and had a top five with “Did It for the Girl.”

[Around the time that song was being released], it was fall of 2011. It was CMA week and I had just gotten married on that Saturday. At the BMI Awards of 2011, Andrew Kautz sat next to me and said, “We’re thinking about opening a publishing company [at Big Machine]. I know you’re fairly independent and you don’t like corporate situations, but would you be interested in doing this?” By that point, I had enough of being on our own. I was like, “Yes! That sounds great.”

Scott and I had some conversations with Andrew and Malcolm Mimms. I was at a point where I was even questioning whether I was going to stay in publishing or not, so to me, it was important that if we were going to do it, that we did it right. It was important to me that it wouldn’t be a pocket company to a record label. I wanted it to be a standalone independent and be able to attract the best talent so that I could also service all of the other labels, too. I asked Scott if he was going to be okay with watching us having hits with other companies. I think it really took it to be in practice for him to start to like it and now he loves it. He’s been a huge supporter. You could not ask for better partners than Scott and Andrew.

Alex Heddles, Michelle Attardi, Scott Borchetta, Luke Combs, Mike Molinar, Chris Kappy

Tell me about the first few years of Big Machine Music.

Martha had come in to help start it, but I knew she had aspirations of being a manager. A couple months in, we had a conversation [about her going to chase that], so I started looking for someone to help me. I had known Alex Heddle for a little while. He had brought me a business plan at one point and wanted me to look at it. I was so impressed that he had that type of entrepreneurial spirit. I knew he was a hustler—I knew he hit the streets pretty hard—but it showed me that he was a hard worker, had big aspirations and really wanted it. He was the first and only person that I turned to for that spot. He turned me down three times before he took it. On the third call, I told him, “You’re going to come here and you’re going to make your name here. We’re going to do it.” He trusted me and, man, he is absolutely the best creative that I’ve ever had the privilege to work with.

[As far as a writers go], we got a running start. Luckily, what was in the cupboards when we got there was Justin Moore and Dustin Lynch, and we had been working on Greg Bates. In that first year, Justin popped a hit with “Til My Last Day,” Dustin had “Cowboys and Angels” and Greg had “Did It For The Girl.”

You guys have since grown a roster exponentially and had a lot of hits. How do you feel when you look at what you guys have accomplished?

It’s been exactly what we wanted to do. We work with that tip of the spear talent at the top level. You just naturally wake up wanting to go fight for them every day. That keeps you passionate when you are now 27 years into your publishing career.

Mike Molinar, Scott Borchetta, Lucian Grainge, Andrew Kautz

Who have been some of your mentors along the way?

My original voice teacher Prentice Loftin. Mike Sebastian at Starstruck was incredible. Tim Wipperman for sure at Warner Chappell. We owe Pat Higdon so much. Pat was good to Martha, Rusty [Gaston] and I when we were all vetting our ideas for starting our companies. Obviously, Andrew Kautz and Scott. Scott will leave the most indelible mark on me and the industry. Malcolm Mimms put me through bootcamp and I am such a better person for it—I feel like I graduated from the Malcolm Mimms School of Music Business Law.

What is the biggest challenge in your role?

It’s the income pipeline. That’s why I am on the NMPA Board now and The MLC Board. During the first CRB Phonorecords I [trial], I remember telling a friend at the time that this will determine whether I have a feasible career or not. It went the right way and we’ve continued to see some progress along the way.

When you look back over all of it, what are the songs that stand out?

That’s super tough. “Stupid Boy” was a big moment. I remember going to the Fox Theater in Atlanta for a sneak peak live performance of it that Keith Urban did. I cry all the time now, but I didn’t back then. I was so emotional that night. I was so happy and proud for Dave.

I think my persistence paid off on “She’ll Leave You with a Smile.” I’m always proud of how many times I pitched that song to everybody in Strait’s camp. He cut a song with the same title on the prior album, so I had a big hump to get over. Tony Brown was patient with me for pitching it as many times as I did.

Taylor Courtney, Grayson Stephens, Lizzy Rector, Alex Heddle, Mike Molinar, Michelle Attardi, Tim Hunze, Randy Patton

“Girl In A Country Song” has a really special place in my heart. The girls turned it into me on St. Patrick’s Day. I cannot rewrite history, so I’ll tell you that I wasn’t immediately running towards it. I wasn’t quite sure if we should go for it. That Saturday, I was walking my dog and I had it in my headphones. I started feeling that chill I get when I feel like it’s worth it. We had a program planned for the company on Monday or Tuesday of the following week, and we knew Scott would be there. We had baseball signs [on if they should play it or not]. Scott came in and he was engaged in the first round of songs, so we gave the sign to go for it and they played it. They did it and it was atomic—it blew the entire room away. Scott ran over to me in the room and later that night, called me and said “We’re going for it. Buckle up.”

Another is “What If I Never Get Over You.” I was driving on the highway when they sent me the work tape from the room. I pulled over, listened to it again, called them back and said, “This is a big hit.” I got it to Allison. Allison got it to Lady A, but it kind of sat there for a few months and we weren’t sure if it was going to catch on. At our end-of-year retreat, I had Laura [Veltz] play it at a writer’s round night. She played it and, again, I see Jimmy [Harnen] and Scott coming over to me, saying, “This is our song, right?” [Laughs]

I have to include “Yours If You Want It.” It meant so much to so many of us because we had lost our good friend and the co-writer, Andrew Dorff.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

The best advice I have wasn’t given to me as advice. It was summed up so beautifully by the soundtrack that is Encanto, but my writers and my team hear me say this a lot: you are more than just your gifts. The gift is you. The miracle is you—not your gifts, just you. We all feel like we have to be prove our value. We measure our worth by the songs that are on the charts, by market share or whatever else. It’s about remembering that this is a business that we are blessed to do and a passion that we are blessed to pursue, but it is not our value. That has soothed me and helped me be a better human over the past couple years.

My Music Row Story: MNRK Music Group’s Gina Miller

Gina Miller

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.

Gina Miller has been passionate about music for as long as she can remember. A musician, educator, entrepreneur and executive, her love for music and the arts has forged the way and proven to be a significant part of her life’s purpose and work. Having spent nearly two decades with MNRK Music Group (formerly Entertainment One), Miller’s current role as the label’s Sr. VP and General Manager for Nashville has her overseeing day-to-day operations and creative output for Nashville, including MNRK subsidiaries Light Records and IndieBlu Music.

Throughout her career, she has used her platform and voice to both improve the ways the music business operates and create opportunities for those who are marginalized in our industry. An advocate for equality and equity, she is a sought-after speaker, clinician and consultant. The music industry veteran is an active champion, serving on several advisory councils, including Music Makes Us, The American Association of Independent Music (A2IM), St. Jude Urban Cares and the Country Music Association D&I Task Force.

Miller also serves on The Americana Music Association Board, Secretary of the Recording Academy’s Nashville Chapter, Vice President of Nashville Music Equality, as well as The Music Business Association (Music Biz, Board Chair) and The National Association of Black Female Executives in Media & Entertainment (NABFEME). Named to Leadership Music’s Class of 2022, Billboard’s Women in Music executive class in 2018 and 2020 and the Nashville Business Journal’s Women Of Influence 2021 Class, Miller continues to use her influence to inspire and drive change, not only in the organizations she faithfully serves, but in this community and world in which she lives.

Earlier this year, Miller was honored with the Music Biz Presidential Award for Outstanding Executive Achievement in recognition of her leadership and commitment to bolstering diversity and inclusion across the music industry.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in south Memphis, Tennessee, which I am incredibly proud of. Quite frankly, I think it set the tone for everything that’s shaped me to be the person, the leader and the musician that I am with the music background that I have. All of that was developed not only in Memphis, but specifically in south Memphis.

Gina Miller

Tell me about growing up there.

My community played a large part of exposing me to the music that I’m aware of. My mom was our church musician and the church was in our neighborhood. The first records I remember buying were from a mom and pop record store on the same street as Stax Records. That community shaped a lot of my musical upbringing.

How did you start playing music?

I started playing in church. Our neighborhood piano teacher sought my mom out and asked my mother to bring me to her when I was about five or six. I took piano all the way through college at Belmont.

By the time I got to seventh grade, I was playing the flute in the band. I wanted to be a clarinetist, but we had a flute because my older sister played the flute, so my mom was like, “This is what you’re going to play.” [Laughs]

The flute got me a scholarship to UT Knoxville [before I went to Belmont]. I marched in the band at UT for a while. I played piccolo and the flute between football and basketball season. I have been eaten up in music my entire life. It’s pretty clear now that I was going to be a part of it.

When you were playing flute in the band at UT Knoxville or studying at Belmont, what was your dream?

That was my dream: music. While I was growing up, I listened to R&B, pop music, country music and more. I was classicially trained—that’s where I got my start with my piano teacher. My father had a huge LP collection and we listened to Johnny Cash, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Mahalia Jackson and all kinds of music. I had a big appreciation for all genres of music. That is absolutely why I fight so hard to make sure that we’re inclusive of so many different formats, genres and art styles, because there’s so much to appreciate.

Gina Miller and team

What happened after college that put you on your path to  MNRK Music Group?

You probably hear a lot about people who got their start from making a connection with somebody—that’s exactly what happened to me. First and foremost, I think it’s important to point out that when I went back to Belmont, I was married with two sons.

[After I went to Belmont], my oldest son was playing pee wee football in Brentwood. The families [that were driving their kids to games] were driving very modest cars. There was one guy that was getting out of a Porsche every Saturday morning with his kid. I thought, “Who is that? I need to know who that is because he’s doing something different.” [Laughs]

Eventually I introduced myself. The next week, we were making small talk and he said, “So what kind of music are you into?” I knew what was coming then. When I asked him, he named all this music that I grew up listening to. I asked him, “What is your relationship to this music and to these artists?” He said, “I’ve got a little label in Nashville [called Light Records] and we are the main distributor and label for these artists.” I told him, “I need to be a part of that.”

What happened next?

He told me that he didn’t do the hiring, but that he would introduce me to the president of the label. Long story short, I met with him and he told me they didn’t have any jobs. I said, “Okay, can I just come hang out? Can I come in every day and just see what’s going on, learn and be of service in any way?” He agreed to that and I did that for a year. That absolutely changed the trajectory of my life. That was almost 20 years ago now and I’ve never walked out.

Gina Miller and sons

Wow! That is some dedication. How did you transition that into a job?

Once that year passed, he created a job for me, which was basically a part-time coordinator position. The fast version of my story is that from there to now, I just moved around and worked in every division, which I feel was very worthwhile in being able to actually lead the label group now. I’ve always lived with this belief that nothing is wasted and everything is purposeful. I knew that it was all going to make sense at some point.

The CEO of the label [who I met at the football park], Michael Olsen, was super encouraging. I will never forget this, but one day we were talking to each other and he said, “You’re going to have my job one day.” We laugh about it, but I literally went home and ordered a book called Next Stop, Corner Office on Amazon. It took a minute to get there—there were a lot of turns and a lot of other people that were put in a position to lead before me. From that day at the football park to now, he’s still my mentor and he’s still my friend. He’s been instrumental in this path I’ve been on and in my life.

Because you were able to experience a lot of different roles at a record label, what have been some of your favorite things you’ve gotten to do?

Artists at every level have a goal. Emerging talent, established artists and legendary acts all have goals. For us to try to step in and make something on those wish lists possible for artists, there’s no greater joy than that. We still have a handful of artists that get to terrestrial radio, so for those artists who’ve never heard their song on the radio, to be able to be part of those stories and be responsible for them having radio hits, that’s still very special to me. I worked radio promotions for a long time, so I’m beholden to radio in a way. I also love having events where we can touch our audience, invite them, thank them and love on them for being supporters.

What have been some more difficult challenges in those roles?

Every job has different variations of challenges. The most challenging thing for me has been something I couldn’t change. I think about this a lot now, especially with all the diversity work I do. People are always asking me about being Black in the city. I think being a female leader has been hard. It’s not necessarily that one is more or less significant, but I’ve probably felt that more as a woman here. I feel like I’m consistently thanking my team for rocking with me and respecting me. I still see that being a space that we have got to do a lot more work in: respecting women’s voices.

I’ve been really fortunate in the sense that I’ve had people in leadership around me who were very blatant about saying, “I don’t really care if you’re Black or a woman. I just care about being successful.” I’ve lived in this body a long time and while there are a lot of things that I’m able to do for this community and in this city, the only form of training I had was life experience.

Gina Miller

You’ve been one of the leading voices for diversity and inclusion on Music Row. Do you feel like we are making any progress towards becoming a more diverse genre and industry?

First, I’m extremely excited to be able to do the things that I get to do and be a part of this community. I don’t have a reason to not be truthful, honest and sincere about how we can make what’s already such an incredible place better. That’s really my main goal right now, to be one of the louder voices in the room so we can listen and pay attention to the things that will just make us better.

I will say there is progress being made. I think that’s the right answer. What a lot of people probably measure it by is: is it big progress? Could there be more? Yes, but progress is not defined by how much more it could be. It’s just that it is better than what it has been.

If we look around Music Row and consider that most of the major labels and independent labels have been run historically by white men; and that a lot of those labels are now being led by white women as of this year—that’s progress. To go a step further, do we see people that look like me leading labels? No. That’s across this whole entire city. That’s not just the music business. We still have a lot to do.

Tell me about becoming the Sr. VP/GM of MNRK.

The man who was leading us at the time left to go to a major label, which left us needing somebody to lead the label group. I ended up talking to Mike about it and we had a lot of conversations during that time about his philosophy on what that would look like.

Before I was given the job, I worked under three other men. They were all given opportunity to lead before me. But I will say, I needed to experience that. It just makes my point all the more valid. Now I’m able to have these conversations internally when I see things happening where you’ve got qualified women working in divisions who get skipped over for unqualified white men. Thankfully, women are having a moment right now. Most companies who are tuned in are giving opportunities to women who are deserving, who are qualified and who’ve put in the work.

What is your favorite part about your job?

One of the favorite things about my job is watching my team grow and develop. I have an incredible team. I’m so proud of them.

My dream has always been to know artists and to have solid relationships with people who are making a difference. I had set out a goal years ago that I would not be limited to one kind of music and that I wanted to know music people. I feel really good that when I look through the people who are in my circle, that they’re doing all kinds of amazing things from producers, engineers and studio owners, all the way into film and television. If it all ends tomorrow, it’s been great.

What is exciting you right now?

Like I said, I have two sons. My 23-year-old son works down on fourth at Rocketown. My 28-year-old son has s worked in corporate America for the last eight years while living in Richmond. He moved to Nashville about a year ago and has been playing up and down Broadway. Not long ago, he told me he was going to apply for some jobs here and try something different. Now my oldest son works at SESAC. That makes me so proud. I had nothing to do with it—I didn’t call anybody. We’re so excited about that. We are working together to extend our legacy and make change on Music Row.

My Music Row Story: CAA’s Jeff Krones

Jeff Krones

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.

Jeff Krones is Co-Head of CAA’s Nashville Music Office. He represents many of the world’s leading artists, including Twenty One Pilots, NF, Dan + Shay, Needtobreathe, Brett Young, Ben Rector, Hailey Whitters, Catfish And The Bottlemen, Judah & The Lion, Ben Burgess, MacKenzie Porter, Devin Dawson, The Band Camino, Luke Grimes and Warren Zeiders, among others.

He began his career at CAA in 2004.  In 2016, he was named one of Billboard’s “40 Under 40.” In 2017, he was elected to the Board of the Academy of Country Music (ACM). Krones was featured on Pollstar’s Impact 50 list in 2019 and Billboard’s Country Power Players list in 2020, 2021 and 2022. Krones graduated from Furman University with a degree in Communication Studies.

MusicRow: Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in England, just outside of London. My mom—who passed away about six years ago—was English. My dad was American and he was in the music business as well. He was working in management and met her one night. He ended up moving there and they got married and had us three kids. We moved [to Nashville] full time when I was 13. I had an English accent and everything.

Backstage at Dan + Shay’s “The (Arena) Tour” stop at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena

How did you start your path into the music business?

About three years into college, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a sports agent, but at the time, you had to go to law school. I did not like reading books enough to go to law school. [Laughs]

Obviously I’d grown up around some of the music business, but a different part of it. In talking to my dad and some other people I knew, I started to think I should work at a label. The feedback I was getting was that the labels may not be the best fit, but that I might be a really good agent. My senior year, I got a couple phone numbers and one of those was Darin Murphy.

Darin invited me to come hang out in the office [to see what an agency is like]. I did that my senior year and just watched him for two hours. What was really cool was seeing someone who was so firmly in the country music business, but who also had a Gwen Stefani poster on the wall from when he was No Doubt‘s agent. There were all these things that didn’t feel [like he was working in just] one bucket. I loved the energy of that. I got an unpaid internship to start the day after I graduated from college in 2004. That’s how I got to CAA.

Where did you go to college?

Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. My first client was one that I actually met while I was in school: Bear Rinehart, the lead singer of Needtobreathe.

I lived with the kicker on the Furman football team, and Bear was the star receiver on the team. His girlfriend—now his wife—and I were friends. She asked if I would go to lunch to talk about Bear’s music career. She and I put together a press kit with an album, a photo and bio, and we sent it to my dad. He ended up signing on to be their manager. We set up a showcase for them at the Handlebar in Greenville and they got signed to Atlantic Records. When I was starting my internship at CAA, Scott Clayton, who at the time was one of the heads of the office, agreed to let me be their agent if I would do all the work once I became an intern.

They’ve been a client of mine since then. I got them three shows with Edwin McCain in South Carolina for $250 a night and we just put their first arena tour on sale a few weeks ago.

Pictured (L-R): Dan Smyers, Jeff Krones, Jimmy Butler, Shay Mooney

That’s a great story. When you started at CAA, was it what you thought a big agency would be like?

What we tell people when they come into the agency is that it’s a great place to learn about the entire business. You interface with labels, promoters, venues and managers. [Being an agent] is not for everyone, but you can see if there’s a place that maybe fits you better. I think the moment I was in the building, I realized this is probably something I’d be pretty good at and would really enjoy.

The part that I was always trying to figure out is where my place was within the agency business in terms of genre. My first desk was a Christian desk.

When I got the call about coming onto the Christian desk, I called Darin and asked him what he thought about it. He’s said, “Dude, just get on a desk and you’ll figure it out from there.” What was interesting is that there was a faith component to what Needtobreahe did, so it kind of made sense. I had met John Huie and he took a big interest in my career. So [working on a Christian desk] was a way to get around him and show him that I could be good.

What’s funny is 20 years later, [Christian music] continues to be a pretty big theme throughout a lot of my clients and what we’ve built here. Whether it’s on the country side or with big rock bands, they all have a little bit of a through-line that dates back to that first desk I was on.

Tell me about those first few years.

In addition to Needtobreathe, I started working with a couple other acts while on the Christian desk. One of those was Family Force 5. They were an alternative Christian band who would play on Warped Tour. I met a guy named Chris Woltman, who was their manager at the time. Five or six years later, Chris ended up finding and managing a band called Twenty One Pilots. Andrew Simon and I signed them at CAA and they became my first arena band. That was all because I did a decent job when I was an assistant on a Christian desk. Chris and I now actually work on an act named NF, a Nashville-based rapper who just sold out their first arena tour.

Eventually I was recruited into starting a festival division for our contemporary department by Rob Light and Scott Clayton. That was really good experience for me to interface with LA, New York and London. That’s where I got to have a really good relationship with Rick Roskin, Brian Manning, Carol Kinzel and Jen Adler. It was great to see how people worked internally and externally, but also how I could make Nashville feel bigger so I could feel connected to the other offices. This was before Zooms or any of that kind of stuff, so you’d only have a few opportunities to speak to these people if you didn’t actually have active business with them, so that was really fun.

Krones, NF and team

What was next for you?

Taylor Swift called us to ask Needtobreathe to support her entire tour, because they were her favorite band. At the time, they could sell maybe 2,000 tickets and they weren’t really well known, so for her to take an interest in them was big. She was very firmly in the country space at the time, so I think it was the first time I’d really thought about the blending of genres on tours—that those lines had gone away a little bit and that the way kids were listening to music was starting to change.

We did 86 shows with Taylor Swift that year. That opened my eyes to the fact that there was a lot more I could do based here in Nashville. That’s why I raised my hand when we got a call about a new duo in the country space that were pop leaning, Dan + Shay. It just made sense to me to try to be involved, because I didn’t see it as a segmented genre and I think a lot of people still did 10 years ago. They loved the fact that I worked with bands like Twenty One Pilots and was thinking outside of just being booked the way everyone else is. They were the first bigger country act I started working with.

Boy, did they take off.

They sure have. Even though they’re very mainstream accessible, they’re just phenomenal writers. They led me to find a lot of other great writers in town. That’s why the Needtobreathe guys moved here. Bear now lives in Nashville writing with all these people. He’s writing with the same people that another one of my clients, Brett Young, is writing with. They’re all around each other all the time. There’s a pop band we worked with called The Band Camino, who are just phenomenal writers. Jameson Roper, who’s their manager, alongside Dan Smyers and Devin Dawson were the ones [who said we should sign them] because they’re just great writers. That’s the approach [I try to employ] to both the A&R process and also artist development, that you can apply a lot of the same things to different acts. As long as they’re fantastic live and they’re writing great songs, it works.

Krones, Brett Young and team

You were named Co-Head of CAA’s Nashville office in 2021. Tell me about that.

I remember trying to become an agent and I would just be banging on John Huie and Rob Light’s doors asking when I could get promoted. Back then, it was really hard to do. There was a whole process. I know a lot of people want to get into leadership, but I learned a lot from Rick Roskin, who is Co-Head of our contemporary group across all North America. He wasn’t in any official role. Rob Light was always running it, but Rick was always doing things. I realized, “No one has asked him to do that. He’s just getting the job done.” That was something I found myself doing a lot before and during COVID—not only just thinking about stuff for my clients and trying to see how I could be helpful.

At CAA, they want to see that you naturally care about other people or what the greater good is. We rely on the team here a lot. My thing is if we’ve got better people doing better things, we’re all going to look better. I think that’s how I got identified and honestly, it’s a lot more in terms of meetings, but it’s not like I’m doing that many different things because I was taking on a lot of stuff naturally. It’s been really fun.

What’s your favorite part of your job?

I like that CAA is betting on people not waiting until everything’s behind you before you can really make changes. It’s been really fun coming out of the pandemic and having some ability to be pretty nimble and make changes, whether that’s changing processes, whether that’s changing people or whether that’s just getting better.

The booking side of it is so fun. The NF tour I was talking about started a few weeks ago in Columbus. I remember sitting with him in our conference room four years ago and he hadn’t really even sold out clubs yet. We have a view of The Ryman and Bridgestone Arena from our office. I told him, “I don’t want to sign people that want to sell out The Ryman. I want to sign people who want to sell out the Arena. We’re going to do that.” He was like, “There’s no way.” [Last] Wednesday, we had at 13,000 tickets sold there. That’s just so fun.

Krones, Warren Zeiders and team

Who would you name as mentors?

Rick Roskin has been a really great one for me. He was somebody I found a little later in life. He helps me see a clear picture of what things could be and have a calmer head on things. In a different way, John Huie has been one. He just loves this so much. Whenever I get down, I think about him and how he is still enthusiastic after this long. That’s inspiring to see. In our Nashville office, Marc Dennis, Brian Manning and Darin Murphy [have been great mentors].

I respect anyone who’s been able to have a family and have that work-life balance, because it’s tough. When I was a younger agent, I got married early and we actually got a divorce after we had a kid. I was at a certain point where this job was everything. I was out every night, I was flying to festivals and doing all this stuff. I just had no control over my work-life balance. We were apart for four years but we got back together and we got re-married during the pandemic. We just had our second kid. Having perspective and balance is something I learned a lot from people like Brian Manning, Rick Roskin and Marc Dennis. You can have kids, go on vacation and be there for them, but also do this crazy job.

I love that. What’s a moment that you’ve had lately that you’re proud of?

We were at the lake over the July 4th weekend and someone was asking my daughter who her favorite artists were. 11-year-olds are very opinionated, but she didn’t know I was listening. She listed three acts that she’s gotten to meet that are her favorite. Two of the three were people I personally work with, Dan + Shay and Kelsea Ballerini. I think that’s cool because I remember growing up in my dad’s household and because of the way music was listened to back then, you didn’t really have access to listen to what you wanted to listen to as a kid. Now, she’s got an iPad and she can listen to whatever she wants, so for her to choose acts that I work with is pretty neat.

One of the things I’m the most proud of is working with pretty much every artist—except maybe one or two—from the beginning of their career. The artist development piece of this job is so exciting. Whether that’s Warren Zeiders, who we signed over the pandemic and is about to take his next big step, or Luke Grimes, who’s just beginning his musical journey after being an actor. It’s really fun to watch each step for each of these acts.

I still remember back when I was at a show with Darin Murphy at The Exit/In. I asked him, “What are we looking for?” He said, “You want to find a star on stage. It’s about who has ‘it.'” I’ve always remembered that moment with Darin at The Exit/In thinking, “I’ve got to go find someone who’s a star on stage.” That was the seed of all of the acts I’m lucky enough to work with and hopefully the next ones I work with.