In step with CMT turning over the “Artists of the Year” microphone to female singers, Variety dedicates its 2018 Music City Impact List to the women who power country music. Scoll through to check out the women who are stars behind the scenes.
Written by By Michele Angermiller, Cillea Houghton, Roy Trakin, Chris Willman and Marianne Zumberge
Lori Badgett and Diane Pearson
SVP and team leader of entertainment banking, City National Bank
Badgett and Pearson launched City National’s first Nashville office in 2011, which they now co-manage. In addition to managing the assets of dozens of country artist royalty, Badgett and Pearson are noted board members of established music industry organizations. Badgett is secretary of the board of governors for the Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy as well as being a board member at the Academy of Country Music and Music Health Alliance advisory, while Pearson sits on the National Board of Musicians on Call and serves as a mentor for Nurturing Outstanding Women.
VP Creative Services, Sony Music Nashville
Few Nashvillians have left a stamp on one label for as lasting a stretch as Baskette-Fleaner, who first came to Sony Nashville’s creative services department in 1994 as an art director. She rose to head in 2016, overseeing artist imaging and all operations related to print and video, including production, album packaging, photography and design, helping create the look for such current Sony artists as Kane Brown, Miranda Lambert, Old Dominion and Maren Morris. She also made invaluable contributions to the iconography of two of the most essential artists in the label group’s history, the Dixie Chicks and Carrie Underwood.
President, EFG Management
Earls vaulted into the front ranks of Nashville power managers as the woman behind Kane Brown, whose rise has been the most meteoric the genre has seen in years. Earls arrived in Nashville 22 years ago in a “beat-up Ford pickup” with her best friend, Mike Molinar, now head of Big Machine Label Group’s publishing division. Starting as a receptionist at Warner/Chappell, she landed in the tape room, where she met songwriters, started Effusion Entertainment with Molinar, a management/publishing company acquired by Big Machine. At Jason Owens’ Sandbox Entertainment, she helped develop the career of Kacey Musgraves, then joined Jay Frank’s DigSin, using that online strategy to break Brown.
Owner, The HQ
She’s been Carrie Underwood’s manager since the Oklahoma native won the fourth season of “American Idol.” It’s a partnership that has guided her sole client to a superstar career that includes four No.1 albums, an annual side-gig as co-host of the Country Music Awards (for 11 years straight). And, just last month, Underwood logged the biggest debut (260,000 units in overall consumption, according to Buzz Angle Music) by a country artist since 2015 with “Cry Pretty,” her sixth album and first for Universal Music Group after spending her entire recording career at Sony Music.
President, KP Entertainment
As head of one of Nashville’s top management firms, Edwards and her team handle the careers of Luke Bryan (in collaboration with Red Light), Cole Swindell, CB30 and Jon Langston, among others, as well as operating the publishing arm of Peanut Creek Music, a joint venture with Sony/ATV, and a partnership with Kobalt Music Publishing for songwriter Mike Mobley. Edwards produced the 2012 Luke Bryan Farm Tour and served as executive producer for the TV movie that followed.
Senior VP of music strategy for CMT
As an on-air personality at Atlanta’s 99X in the 1990s and 2000s and New York’s WRXP a decade ago, Fram became known as “the first lady of modern rock.” It’s a title she hasn’t bragged about much since 2011, when she moved to Nashville to take one of the top positions at CMT. The co-founder of the Change the Conversation organization is the most visible face of the movement to strive for gender parity in still bro-centric country music; her Next Women of Country initiative hasn’t changed just the conversation, but also the reality for young artists. Beyond that, she’s living proof it’s possible to be a powerful network exec by day and the music scene’s No. 1 fan by night.
Senior VP, AEG Live
This Nashville-based veteran transferred to the global touring team last March, shifting her focus to national and international touring projects, promoting tours with Little Big Town, Kacey Musgraves and Midland, as well as Sugarland’s first live concerts in a half-dozen years. She also continues to program AEG Presents’ Country 2 Country festival at the O2 in London. Harnell has managed the southeast region for AEG Presents since 2004 — and has a side career co-managing the Shadowboxers.
Mary Hilliard Harrington
Artist Manager, Red Light Management
Top manager Harrington began her career working as a publicist for none other than Donald Trump’s Ms. Universe pageant, founding her own PR firm the Green Room, which handled several Red Light clients, including Lady Antebellum, Kip Moore and Dierks Bentley. In a bold move, a testament to her skills beyond public relations, she sold her company to the mammoth management firm three years ago, joining as co-manager of Bentley and Tucker Beathard with Red Light founder Coran Capshaw. Other clients include Aubrie Sellers (daughter of Lee Ann Sellers) and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley.
Founder/Managing Partner, G-Major Management
Davis has been a vital partner for Thomas Rhett, one of the biggest success stories of the decade. In 2013, Davis joined up with Live Nation’s Artist Nation to form her management venture, which included Rhett, Jewel and “The Voice” season four winner Danielle Bradbery, as well as her own Home Team Publishing. Prior to that, Davis co-founded BAD Management in 2010 with Big Machine’s Scott Borchetta and Irving Azoff, with whom she’d worked since 2007. Davis also served as GM at the Warner Bros. imprint Raybaw Records and as a marketing director at the Nashville Songwriters Assn. Intl.
Senior VP of A&R, Big Machine Label Group
In 10 years at Big Machine, senior A&R executive Jones has earned her reputation as “the most influential A&R person in Nashville,” according to label head Scott Borchetta. “Allison is the very first person I send every song to first,” says Thomas Rhett. “Her opinion means everything to me.” That trust extends to Florida Georgia Line and Reba McEntire, as well as breakout acts Midland and Carly Pearce. whom she brought to the roster. Jones is also point person with TV and film studios, steering sync placements for the label’s artists.
CEO, ShopKeeper Management
If you think of country’s greatest female mavericks, you think of Kraft. After making her name helping steer the Dixie Chicks’ career, Kraft signed on with Lambert in 2003, finally landing her first No. 1 country hit in 2010 with “The House That Built Me.” She’s also signed Ashley Monroe and the Lambert/Monroe side project Pistol Annies to her roster. ShopKeeper has room for chart-busting men in the lineup, too: Chris Young’s star shows no sign of slowing.
Co-owner and CEO, Creative Nation
After rising through the ranks at BMI, Baird started Creative Nation in 2011 with husband Luke Laird as her star client… and you couldn’t really say he’s been eclipsed in that regard, with writing cuts with nearly every major artist in country (Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Carrie Underwood), 20 No. 1 hits and breakout success as a producer with Kacey Musgraves. But just as big a story lately is the company’s work with Lori McKenna, who was already on a roll as a country songwriter when she signed with CN in 2015 but was thinking of slowing down her career as an Americana/folk artist. Laird convinced McKenna she could do it all — and her 2016 album with producer Dave Cobb brought the singer new attention and three Grammy nominations. McKenna’s participation in the “A Star is Born” writing rooms with Lady Gaga means CN has its name on two of that soundtrack’s more popular tunes, “Always Remember Us This Way” and “I’ll Never Love Again.” One of country’s most promising freshmen, Kassi Ashton, is among the roster’s new lights.
Courtesy Creative Nation
President, Universal Music Group Nashville
Mabe was considered the most powerful woman at any of Music City’s major label groups even before she shephereded Chris Stapleton to the top, allowing him the time to re-hone his vision for several years after he was signed. This past year, Mabe had a longtime dream come true when Capitol Nashville signed Carrie Underwood, reuniting her with an artist she first worked with at Sony Nashville back in 2005. She’s had a direct role in the successes of Brothers Osborne, Lauren Alaina and Jon Pardi since 2014, when she joined UMG and teamed with Mike Dungan to form the industry’s most complementary dynamic duo.
Mary Ann McCready
President, Flood Bumstead McCready & McCarthy
McCready heads up the highly respected financial management firm Flood Bumstead McCready & McCarthy, which she co-founded in 1990. With offices in both Nashville and New York, McCready advises the contemporary titans of the genre (though naming her client roster remains an educated guessing game, since she prefers to protect their privacy). She got her start at CBS Records Nashville, eventually becoming VP of sales and marketing, the first woman to reach such heights at the label. She was also the first female honoree of the CMA Founding President’s Award.
Senior Label Relations Manager, Amazon Music
Rich is a one-woman empire in the world of country music marketing. As senior label relations manager of Amazon Music’s Nashville branch, Rich connects its artists and labels to Amazon’s growing country footprint. She brings to the role years of expertise built during her decade-long run at Big Machine Label Group, playing an influential role in the marketing campaigns of groundbreaking artists including Taylor Swift, Florida Georgia Line and Thomas Rhett.
Brittany A. Schaffer
Head of Artist & Label Marketing at Spotify Nashville
Bringing Swedish technology to Nashville, Schaffer is simultaneously working to expand country music into the international market. She assisted in the launch of the enhanced Spotify Hot Country playlist to include original video content and reach audiences in several markets outside the U.S. Before joining the streaming giant, Schaffer was a senior counsel at Loeb & Loeb and helped develop such country acts as Midland, Devin Dawson and the Shadowboxers.
Founder and CEO of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment Group
She’s the keeper of the wallet, so to speak, as business manager for dozens of music and sports stars including Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Mary J Blige. Taylor, who celebrated 25 years in the business in 2017, also has her country credentials firmly rooted, having opened a Nashville office in 2001 to handle the financial affairs of such artists as Florida Georgia Line, Reba McEntire and Martina McBride. In fact, her move to Hollywood came later, when Tri Star took on Gwen Stefani, Priyanka Chopra (“Quantico”) and producer-writer Bryan Cogman (“Game of Thrones”) after adding a Los Angeles annex in 2008.
CEO, Country Music Assn.
Since 2013, Trahern has served as CEO for the Country Music Assn., which is currently celebrating its 60th anniversary. After cutting her teeth in the television biz, Trahern brought her leadership skills and superb communication strategies to the CMA. In overseeing the association’s board of trustees, Trahern is praised for setting a tone of calm and stability in a room full of opinionated power players. She is also credited with facilitating the international proliferation of the genre.
Executive Director for the Recording Academy, Nashville Chapter
Warwick is the Grammys’ executive on the ground, running day-to-day for the Nashville chapter of the Recording Academy. She joined the organization in 2006 after getting her start at Nashville Songwriters Assn. Intl. and supervises all things Grammy in town, as well as the chapter’s member events. As with much of Music City, Warwick and her team are broadening their reach beyond country, providing resources for all artists.
Co-owner, Big Yellow Dog Music
Since Wallace co-founded this publishing and artist-development company two decades ago with Kerry O’Neil, it has earned four Grammys, 36 No. 1 country songs and Song of the Year awards from ACM, BMI and ASCAP. Earlier this year, Big Yellow Dog, known for its work with Maren Morris and Meghan Trainor, inked an exclusive partnership with Atlantic Records, releasing a track from pop artist Brynn Elliott. Recent placements include songs in “Big Little Lies,” “13 Reasons Why” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Artist Manager, Red Light Management
Manager of rising country act Jon Pardi, Wetherbee earned a degree in the music business at Middle Tennessee State University before joining Sony Music Nashville’s publicity department. She moved over to McGhee Entertainment in 2007, where her clients included Darius Rucker. Wetherbee has been at Red Light since 2012, working with Casey James and the Mavericks, then helping to break CMA/ACM winner Pardi by getting him a slot as opening act for Dierks Bentley.
SVP Radio & Streaming, Warner Nashville
Williams was named to her current post in 2016 when the label announced the creation of a Radio & Streaming team. Chief marketing officer Peter Strickland praised her “deep devotion to artists and her broad knowledge of the business,” in naming her to spearhead the newly created department. A veteran regional promo exec who handled the Nashville region, Williams was named Warner Music Nashville national director of promotion in 2010, then VP of promotion just four years later.
Michael Dominic Tedesco
GM Grand Ole Opry
Williams serves as GM of the Opry as well as the SVP of programming & artist relations for Opry Entertainment, making her the boss of big-ticket events across Music City. Her purview includes booking and programming for the weekly Opry shows, the Grand Ole Opry House and the renowned Ryman Auditorium. Williams joined the Opry team in 1999, tapping into the org’s prestigious, decades-old reputation for being the genre’s signature showcase.
Agents To Watch: Becky Gardenhire
Overseeing regional touring, television, literary and sponsorship opportunities for WME clients CAM, Danielle Bradbery, LANCo, Rascal Flatts, Jake Owen and Reba McEntire, among others, Gardenhire launched a monthly lecture series called “Talk the Talk” which brings together women in the agency’s Nashville office with their peers in the community.
Mandy Whitley Photography
Agents To Watch: Lenore Kinder
Senior Music Agent, Paradigm
After 10 years at AEG Presents, where she curated North American tours for the likes of Kacey Musgraves, the Lumineers and Kelsea Ballerini in North America, Kinder is a new arrival at Paradigm. Musgraves followed her over, and Kinder also represents pop star Tori Kelly, who’ll be representing her new gospel album on “CMT Artists of the Year.”
Agents To Watch: Sara Schoch
Agent, Music Brand Partnerships, UTA
A recent transplant from Los Angeles, Schoch arranged a partnership for the Isley Brothers with the state of Tennessee, paired Jimmie Allen with Starbucks for a major national campaign and did some work for the nonprofit Women for Women Intl. Other clients include Nashville’s own Paramore, Action Bronson and “American Idol” winner Maddie Poppe.
Agents To Watch: Kylen Sharpe
Music Agent, CAA
As country tours reach beyond the Americas to Europe and Australia, agents such as Sharpe are on the frontline. Her clients include Tim McGraw, who just completed a 100-plus date “Soul2Soul” tour with wife Faith Hill, and newcomer Jon Pardi, whom Sharpe signed in 2015 and booked as opener on Luke Bryan’s current stadium trek.