UMG Nashville's New President Cindy Mabe on the 'Old Guard' and Modern Challenges of Music City

UMG Nashville president Cindy Mabe

After designing successful marketing campaigns for numerous top-tier country stars and helping oversee the tricky merger of the Nashville operations of EMI and Universal Music Group in 2012, record industry veteran Cindy Mabe was rewarded earlier this month with a new title: president of UMG Nashville, which encompasses the EMI, Capitol, Mercury and MCA labels. In her new role, she brings what chairman/CEO Mike Dungan describes as a “brilliant” marketing mind and “terrific” leadership skills to a position that, in Nashville, hasn’t been held by a female executive at any major label in recent memory.

Prior to her June 12 promotion, Mabe had been UMG Nashville senior VP marketing, and previously held the same position at Capitol Nashville. In that role, she oversaw the marketing, digital, media, creative services, production and international departments, making her what boss Dungan calls a “well-rounded executive.” Prior to joining Capitol, she oversaw the marketing efforts for Sony’s Arista Nashville imprint.

Billboard: What new duties will be added to your plate in your new role?

Cindy Mabe: I will continue to run marketing for Universal, but now all other departments will report to me and Mike Dungan. I hope to build the overall team. We are only as strong as our team. My job is to keep us all in sync with day-to-day planning and strategy, but ultimately, we will start building the infrastructure for what the future music business will look like over the next few years. As people consume music differently, we are trying to look ahead and plan for how we keep music important no matter how it’s consumed. Car companies, smartphones and new technology are changing the way we listen, discover and consume music. We want to strategically build the groundwork for a consumer shift while … continuing to break artists every day.

You were a key part of the integration of EMI and UMGN. What were the biggest challenges in making that happen?

Mergers are never easy. This one was all the more interesting in that Mike had left Capitol/EMI six months prior to the merger to run UMG Nashville. So first and foremost, I was focused on not letting anything affect our success at Capitol/EMI in that time period. Once we were allowed to talk to each other after the merger was announced, we had four days to determine who was staying and determine the structure of the company … Determining the right people for completely new jobs was a challenge, and something I hope to never have to go through again.

With two different company cultures and two very different strategies of doing business, it has been a lot of trial and error over the last 19 months. I think we took best practices of both companies and then built something completely unique since the merger. Universal Music Group is an entirely new idea and company post-merger. To add to that, we released 20 albums over the course of the first 12 months post-merger while we were getting to know how to work with each other … Everything about it was a challenge, but we got to know each other very well during that time.

What were some of the biggest post-merger victories?

We helped Luke Bryan achieve his biggest sales to date and win ACM entertainer of the year for the first time. We collectively built a movement for George Strait that culminated in breaking history with his 60th No. 1 single, 25th No. 1 album, two entertainer of the year trophies and the biggest indoor show ever in North America with nearly 105,000 people. These are just the starters. 

Describe a few recent marketing campaigns you were involved in that made you particularly proud.

To be involved from the beginning with the career development of Luke Bryan and Eric Church has been really gratifying from a marketing perspective. We’ve watched these guys go from playing in clubs with 10 people to massive arenas to stadiums. The George Strait 60 for 60 movement into Entertainer of a Lifetime campaign was really exciting in that everyone in our newly merged company got to touch that campaign. Last Christmas we had the biggest Christmas album of the year with Duck the Halls: A Robertson Family Christmas. It was a chance to do something outside the norm and create a lot of noise and excitement, which resulted in a platinum-selling Christmas album. 

What are some of the ways you view the business differently than the “old guard” of Nashville label leadership did?


As the consumer habits change, we all have to be ready to make that leap with them. If you get used to only reaching them one way, you are asking to get burned. Technology is changing the world. As part of that, it’s changing how people consume, touch and invest in music. Smartphones will allow us to touch more consumers than ever before, but it won’t be in the most traditional sense. We all have to stay on our toes in how we reach our consumers and make sure that music always matters and is part of their lives. 

More than anything, I think we can’t be afraid because the market is changing. With change comes opportunity. I’m excited about what the music business will look like in the next five years.

What are your thoughts about becoming the first female president of a major country label group in recent memory? Does that bring with it certain pressures or expectations to knock this job out of the park on behalf of all the ladies of Music Row who aspire to higher positions in this business? 

I am really proud to be a female president, but I never wanted the position just because I am a woman. I want to make a difference and be a great leader of people. I believe in teams and I think I am good at leading them.

I hope that I do show that women can attain whatever jobs they want. I’ve never known jobs that are just for women or just for men, so I’ve never categorized jobs that way for myself. I don’t think any of us really should … I have always had high expectations for myself. I’m not sure being the first woman in recent times changes that.

What are the three biggest challenges facing the country music business in the next five years?

One: Reaching our audiences in an increasingly busy world. Two: The consumer shift from buying physically or digitally to consuming via streaming and subscription models. As consumers become less interested in owning music, that doesn’t make them less interested in music. It’s just a new mind-set we have to understand. Three: Making music that matters and not fragmenting the core country consumer at the expense of the exciting young audience who is embracing it now and losing our identity.

Finally, what do you enjoy doing in your downtime to decompress from the music business?

Outside this business, it’s all about family. I have a 4-year-old daughter and a 7-year-old son. My husband and I are certainly trying to balance a juggling act every day.