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Music Industry Moves: Historian-Exec Jay Orr to Retire From Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

music industry moves
Courtesy of Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum

Longtime Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum executive and esteemed historian Jay Orr will retire from the organization at the end of the month, it was announced Friday. Orr first joined the organization in 1984 and, after leaving to pursue journalism for a number of years, had been with the museum continually since 2002. His last day at the Nashville institution will be Dec. 30.

“Working at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum was my dream job, and I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me to increase the public’s understanding of and respect for country music and the roots of that music,” Orr said. “The music and the culture continue to evolve, and I have confidence that the museum’s superb professional staff, led by Kyle Young, will continue to embrace that change with the enthusiasm, the curiosity, and the dedication to objectivity that inform the museum’s work. I will miss the camaraderie of the staff, but I will continue to take pride in the ongoing excellence of their efforts.”

Most recently, Orr had served as executive senior director for research, editorial and content, a position in which he led the editorial team and oversaw the development of exhibits and publications, as well as working on educational and public programming initiatives.

He first joined the museum 38 years ago as head of technical services, but left five years later to become a music journalist for the now-defunct Nashville Banner newspaper, moving on to the Tennessean in 1998, at which point he was voted best music writer by the readers of the Nashville Scene for the next two years straight. In 2000 he moved over to CMT.com as managing editor before making his return to the Hall of Fame in 2002, being put in charge of the CMF book division at the time. The year 2012 saw the publication of the ultimate country music resource book, which he oversaw, ” an authoritative book he oversaw, the second edition of “The Encyclopedia of Country Music.”

Other efforts Orr was involved with at the museum included launching the annual Artist-in-Residence program, starting a “Words & Music” educational program that saw Orr taking his moderation duties to the White House in 2009, and enabling a partnership between the museum and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Orr came to these duties by nature, having been a folklorist before joining the museum. He received the Country Music Association’s media achievement award in 1997

“Jay has been a force for intellectual rigor and absolute integrity throughout his service,” said Kyle Young, the org’s CEO. “He has brought deep understanding of music and American culture, exceptional editorial skills, and genuine passion for our mission of preserving and interpreting country music history. In many ways, he has helped shaped our core values and institutional culture, and we are all the better for it.”

Thursday, Dec. 16

The Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation has announced Nicky Jam will be funding its Prodigy Scholarship, which goes towards a bachelor’s degree at Berklee College of Music, for the fall semester of 2023.

The Prodigy Scholarship, this year deemed the Nicky Jam Scholarship, was created eight years ago and provides up to $200,000 in financial aid for “exceptionally talented music students, with financial needs, to support their educational and musical aspirations,” according to the official news release.

“Music has always been there for me; it has been the fuel that has kept me going even during the hardest moments of my life,” Jam said in a statement. “By providing the Prodigy Scholarship in partnership with the Latin Grammy Cultural Foundation, I get to share my passion for music and give back to the next generation of Latin music makers on their journey to achieving their dreams.”

In previous years, the scholarship has been co-sponsored by such artists as Sofia Carson, Juanes, Julio Iglesias, Emilio and Gloria Estefan, among others. Juan Diego Medina, CEO of La Industria Inc., is also sponsoring one of the Gifted Tuition Scholarships of up to $100,000. Applications for all 2023 scholarships open today and close on April 10, 2023, at 11:59 p.m. EDT. For more information on applications and guidelines, click here.

+ The Feldman Agency has announced three promotions to their team; Steven Himmelfarb has been bumped to VP; Kathleen Reid is the new managing director, and Jay Soulliere has been promoted to director of talent buying.

Himmelfarb joined the team as an agent in 2018 and represents a roster including Shania Twain, Rupi Kaur, Orville Peck, PUP, Charlotte Day Wilson, and Lord Huron to name a few. Reid, who began her journey with the Feldman Agency in 2017, will hold a dual role as an agent and managing director, while continuing responsibility for developing her own roster of emerging talent including Devon Cole, Dax, Billy Raffoul, and Talk. She is also responsible for tours and festivals across the East Coast, theatres in Ontario, and international Campus bookings.

Soulliere has been with the Feldman Agency for over 12 years and leads the casino division of the company. He also specializes in entertainment consulting and talent buying for over 12 arenas and numerous theatres and festival properties across Canada.

+ Range Media Partners has hired Jared Cotter and Federico Morris as VP of A&R and director of A&R, respectively. In these roles, they will join VP of A&R Sam Drake in supporting Range Music’s management talent, a label joint venture with Capitol Music Group/Virgin Music & Artist Label Services as well as Range Music Publishing.

Cotter was previously working at the Heavy Group, which he co-founded in 2016, where he co-managed Bazzi, Kiana Ledé, Rice N’ Peas (Kevin White and Mike Woods), and songwriter Chelsea Lena. He will continue to manage Bazzi and co-manage clients Jay Sean, Rose Betts, Ben Kessler, among others with Jeremy Skaller and will work to continue expanding Range’s roster.

Morris most recently served as publishing A&R and manager at Electric Feel Entertainment, where he worked closely with Carter Lang, Nick Mira, Starboy, Westen Weiss, and Teo Halm, as well as artists 24KGoldn and Grim Stepper. While at Electric Feel, Morris signed Callan Wong, who produced Lil Mosey’s “Blueberry Faygo,” and co-led the creative for a 10-day writing camp with Future.

+ Warner Music Group has partnered with and invested in DRESSX, a digital fashion retailer and digital closet with a deep commitment to sustainable fashion. The move will provide a platform for select WMG artists to design their own virtual fashion lines.

Artists will be able to collaborate directly with DRESSX to design and launch 3D and AR virtual clothing that fans can collect and use across Instagram, Snapchat, and other platform partners. According to WMG, the deal will “enable artists to unlock new revenue streams while creating additional outlets for fans to showcase their fandom across multiple digital worlds.”

DRESSX has previously partnered with companies including Meta, Roblox, Snapchat, Google, Coca-Cola, FARFETCH, and more.

“The representation of our future digital selves will be as important and, if you’re measuring by sheer volume of interactions, maybe more important than how we represent ourselves physically,” commented Oana Ruxandra, chief digital officer and executive VP of business development at WMG. “As our digital identities become exponentially more robust and impactful, we are focused on building partnerships that will enable WMG and our artists.”

+ Kobalt has hired Kate Loesch as senior director of creative. She will be based in Los Angeles and is tasked with signing artists and writers as well as working with the global Kobalt creative roster.

Originally from New York, Loesch previously held roles at UMG and Sony Music but most recently, worked at Capitol Music Group, where she A&R’d across the label’s many genres and helped bring new artists to CMG’s roster.

“Kate is a passionate, innovative, and incredibly driven creative with impeccable taste who is respected throughout the creative community. I couldn’t be happier to have her join the Kobalt family,” said Jamie Kinelski, senior VP and head of West Coast creative.

+ Amuse has appointed Karl Skoog as CMO to lead the marketing and communications teams with a global focus on growth.

Skoog joins with previous experience as a CMO at Fotografiska, where he led their international development, and NGO the Swedish Brain Foundation. He also was the head of B2B marketing and product at Tele2, and EMI Music Publishing.

“It feels truly amazing to become a part of the Amuse team, who redefines the music industry in a disruptive way,” commented Skoog. “We are in the middle of an exciting phase of growth, as more and more artists are discovering Amuse and are thrilled about what we offer them. I’m looking forward to help artists build their careers on their own terms, fueled by our unique discovery platform.”

Wednesday, Dec. 15

Wasserman Music has signed award-winning rapper, MC, producer, and record label owner Skepta for worldwide representation. The deal was inked by agent Brent Smith.

Over Skepta’s 15-year solo career, the British-Nigerian artist has won the UK’s prestigious Mercury Music Prize, been nominated for three BRIT Awards and collaborated with Drake, Pharrell Williams, A$AP Rocky and more. In October he launched his own record label and creative agency, Big Smoke.

+ Republic Records has promoted Beau Benton to the new role of senior VP of media & operations, it was announced by EVP Joseph Carozza. An eight-year veteran of the label,  Benton will continue to be based in the company’s Santa Monica office and will continue to handle media strategy for Post Malone, Eddie Vedder, Florence + The Machine, Kid Cudi, John Legend, James Blake and many others. In this new role, he will also be overseeing operations for Republic Records in Los Angeles along with co-president Wendy Goldstein. He joined Republic Records in 2014 after a decade at the independent PR agency 42West.

Carozza commented, “It’s been such a pleasure working with Beau every day for the last ten years. As a colleague and as a friend, I’ve had a front row seat to his media expertise, his love and commitment to artists and the team and his infectious energy. He’s an incredible partner, and his leadership will continue to be invaluable to both our LA staff operations and media department.” 

+ Universal Music Group Nashville has signed Luke Grimes in association with Range Music. Grimes, widely known for his role as Kayce Dutton on the show “Yellowstone,” became a musician as a child before acting became the forefront of his career, also appearing in films including “The Magnificent Seven” and “American Sniper.” He been collaborating with top Nashville songwriters like Jonathan Singleton, Tony Lane, Randy Montana, Brent Cobb, and others, and is working with Grammy-winning producer and songwriter Dave Cobb on his debut album for Range Music/Mercury Nashville. His first solo release, “No Horse To Ride,” is out Friday.

“As an actor, Luke Grimes has effortlessly brought the cowboy lifestyle to the forefront of American culture,” says UMGN President Cindy Mabe. “As a country music artist, Luke has tapped into that same honesty and authenticity to capture a raw grit and pure depth of artistry that will expand the sound and reach of country music.  We are so excited and proud to welcome Luke Grimes to Universal Music Group Nashville.”

+ Asia-based investment and management company Beyond Music has acquired the music catalog of Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Greg Wells, who has produced and written songs with Adele, Taylor Swift, John Legend, Dua Lipa, Quincy Jones and Katy Perry, among many others. The company’s first major U.S. acquisition joins its more than 26,000 Asian and international music rights.

Beyond Music CEO Jangwon Lee commented, “Now is the time to become a global music rights management company by securing not only Asian, but also international music rights. We will continue to become the game changer in the market and create positive synergy through close cooperation with media and entertainment companies for the industry’s growth.”

+ B2B distributor FUGA, a division of Downtown Music, has struck a partnership with long-running U.S. indie label Polyvinyl Record Co., which includes Alvvays, of Montreal, American Football, Laura Jane Grace, and Julia Jacklin on its roster. Polyvinyl also will be entering into an agreement with Downtown Neighbouring Rights, whose notable roster includes Justin Bieber, Ella Fitzgerald, Sub Pop Records and Young T & Bugsy.

+ Sony Music Entertainment has named Rachel Chernoff to the newly created role of senior vice president of data science & analytics. Based in New York, she joined Sony in 2012 and reports to president of global digital business Dennis Kooker.

Chernoff leads a newly combined team that brings together the company’s strategic analytics and data science functions and is responsible for driving the continuing growth and prioritization of the company’s data capabilities worldwide.  

Kooker said, “Rachel is a talented and experienced executive with a proven track record of accomplishments, and we are thrilled to have her taking on this new leadership position in the critical area of data intelligence. As the market continues to evolve, data science and analytics are increasingly important capabilities for supporting and maximizing the creative and commercial goals of our artists, labels and businesses, and we look forward to her driving the strategy that leads to actionable insights for all SME stakeholders.”  

Monday, Dec. 13

Litmus Music has acquired country superstar Keith Urban’s master recordings catalog, which includes ten multi-platinum, platinum or gold certified studio albums and a greatest hits compilation. As part of the deal Litmus will continue to collaborate in close partnership with Urban and his management team Borman Entertainment as Urban continues work in the studio finishing his next album, due in 2023.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the deal is the first for Litmus, which was co-founded by former Warner Bros. Records president Dan McCarroll and former Universal/ Warner Chappell exec Hank Forsyth and launched earlier this year with $500 million from Carlyle Global Credit.

“What makes this such a great fit for me, is the genuine passion and respect Dan, Hank and the team at Litmus have for this music,” said Urban. “In working with them, I feel that same collaborative spirit that’s always inspired me as an artist.”

+ Capitol Music Group has promoted Jessica Eason, Zoe Gillespie, Katie Haffenden, Chris Kershaw, Byron Miller and Alex Williams to VP positions in the company’s marketing department.

“Each of these individuals exemplifies the culture we’re building at CMG; one of innovative and strategic thinking combined with hard work, a passion for music and a belief in our artists that is inspiring and unwavering,” commented CMG President Arjun Pulijal.

Eason has been tapped as VP of marketing for Capitol Records, where she will lead efforts for the label’s roster (Doechii, Queen Naija, Toosii, Kay Flock and BlueBucksClan). She first joined CMG in 2018 as director of marketing, working with artists spanning the Capitol Records and Motown Records rosters. Eason will report to Capitol Records’ senior VP of marketing, Ray Alba. Meanwhile, Gillespie will lead CMG’s brand partnerships and strategy as the department’s new VP. She will be responsible for partnerships, securing national and global brand campaigns for artists, as well as supporting artist initiatives across the company’s portfolio of labels. She was previously promoted to director of brand partnerships at Capitol Records in 2018 and reports to Pulijal.

As the new VP of international marketing for CMG, Haffenden will work on global campaigns for artists such as Halsey, Maggie Rogers, Troye Sivan and Diddy, among others. Haffenden joined CMG in October of last year, after having spent five years at Warner Records as senior director of international marketing. She reports to CMG senior VP of global marketing, Kieran Thurgood. Capitol Records has also bumped Kershaw, who started at Capitol Records in 2018, to VP of marketing where he will be involved in executing artist campaigns. Kershaw reports to Capitol Records’ senior VP of marketing, Nathan Sheppard.

Additionally, Miller moves to VP of commercial marketing and streaming strategy (Urban) for CMG, where he will execute streaming and editorial responsibilities for artists spanning the company’s portfolio of labels. He initially joined CMG in 2017 as manager of artist marketing and reports to CMG’s exec VP of global commercial marketing and strategy, Mike Sherwood. Williams, who joined CMG earlier this year, closes the list as the company’s new VP of gaming strategy and business development. He is responsible for building artist partnerships with publishers as well as expanding the company’s presence in gaming and ESPORTS, with plans for original content across platforms like Twitch and Discord already in place. Williams reports to CMG senior VP of digital strategy and business development, Nic Osborne.

Eason, Gillespie, Kershaw and Miller are all based in Hollywood, while Williams works out of Atlanta.

+ Indie publishing powerhouse Reservoir has signed songwriter-producer Leroy Clampitt to a long-term deal for his future works. Clampitt cowrote Justin Bieber’s “Company, Dua Lipa’s “Genesis,” Jennifer Lopez’s “On My Way (Marry Me)” and executive produced and co-wrote songs for Ashe’s sophomore album “Rae” and multiple songs for Madison Beer and Sabrina Carpenter.

+ Universal Music Group has expanded its digital strategy team with the promotion of Kristen Bender, to senior VP of digital innovation strategy and business development, and the hiring of Alvaro Galbete-Velilla as senior VP of new business.

In her elevated role, Bender will continue to implement digital business partnerships with UMG operating units and will direct the company’s engagement with entrepreneurs from all over the world. Galbete-Velilla will be focused on developing opportunities for UMG in the Web3 and Metaverse sectors, as well as other emerging areas of digital business development.

Galbete-Velilla, who has two decades of music and tech experience, joins UMG from Soundcloud, where he most recently served as director of business development. Bender joined UMG’s digital strategy team in 2019 as senior VP of business development and strategy, where she has been responsible for partnership opportunities in the social media space and leading digital business implementation with UMG’s label groups.

Both Galbete-Velilla and Bender are based in Santa Monica and report to Michael Nash, executive VP/chief digital officer.

+ Veteran executive and artist manager Keith Hagan has joined forces with MNRK Management. He brings artists the Afghan Whigs, Robert Finley, Cymande, Ondara, the Whitmore Sisters and the Mastersons into the company with him. He will remain based in New York and will report to MNRK’s President and CEO, Chris Taylor. Most recently, Hagan founded and helmed Skylark Artist Management. He was the co-owner of SKH Music for over a decade, where he worked closely with Kenny Rogers, Toto and Paul Weller, among others. Hagan previously held executive positions at PFA Media, and Mammoth Records and began his career at Arista Records.

Taylor says, “We are so excited to welcome Keith to the MNRK family. He has an incredible wealth of experience and an amazing roster that is going blossom under the MNRK umbrella.”

+ Music and media company 88rising has named Sameen Singh as chief strategy officer & chief digital officer. 

Singh will spearhead global strategy, orchestrate partnerships, power digital business development, and shepherd inorganic growth; he will report directly to founder-CEO Sean Miyashiro. Singh recently spent two years at Create Music Group in the role of Chief Strategy Officer, and previously led strategy and operations for European-based festival and concerts aggregator Superstruct. He launched his career on Wall Street as an investment banker at Morgan Stanley before becoming an investor at private equity giant Providence Equity Partners.

+ Sean Warner has been promoted to president of Universal Music Australia and New Zealand, effective January 1, 2023. Warner will succeed George Ash, who earlier this week announced his intention to retire from his position at UMA to focus on new projects.

Having joined UMA in 2007 as national sales manager, Warner has become an active member of the company’s senior management team and most recently served as senior VP of commercial, where he was responsible for commercial growth and digital development. He has also spearheaded commercial strategy in Southeast Asia, launching Bravado’s merchandise and licensing operations in Australia and New Zealand regions, and helped develop UMA’s eCommerce business.

“Sean’s deep understanding of the Australian market combined with his operational experience and the respect he has earned from his UMG colleagues and artists—both domestic and international—makes him the ideal executive to take on the role of President,” commented Sir Lucian Grainge, chairman and CEO of UMG. “I’m confident he will expand our track record of creative and commercial success in a market that so culturally important.”

+ AEG Presents UK has named Chris Wareing senior VP for global touring along with his longtime colleague Paris Harding, who joins as a promoter. Both join AEG from SJM Concerts.

AEG Presents UK CEO Steve Homer says: “Having worked alongside Chris for a number of years and admired his presence from afar, I couldn’t be more thrilled to have him join our team. He’ll be working closely with myself and my colleague [AEG global touring and talent president] Gary Gersh at an international level, to drive our footprint in these important genres forward. It’s rare to come across talent at the level he and Paris exhibit and I couldn’t think of a better way to close out a stellar year.”

+ Sony Music Publishing UK announced the promotion of Naomi Asher to VP of songwriter services and neighbouring rights. In her elevated role, Asher will serve as the go-to contact for SMP UK’s catalogue songwriters and clients and will be responsible for expanding opportunities and driving success for their songs both locally and internationally. Asher will remain based in the company’s London office, reporting to SMP UK Co-Managing Directors David Ventura and Tim Major.

Asher joined SMP in 2020, and was previously director and president of Wixen Music UK Ltd.

+ BMG has appointed Pierrot Raschdorff as senior director of global diversity, equity and inclusion. Based in Berlin, Raschdorff will report directly to Dominique Casimir, BMG’s chief content officer. In his new role, Raschdorff will be responsible for further developing the company’s global DE&I goals and will work closely with BMG’s international teams across its 12 music markets.

Casimir added: “At BMG, we celebrate the power of diversity and recognize our responsibility to make a difference and contribute. Pierrot will take an important key role in further developing and accelerating BMG’s diversity and inclusion strategies. I am delighted to have him on board!”