Her plan worked: Following its release in April, Strait’s Honky Tonk Time Machine became his 27th No. 1 on the Top Country Albums chart, and another in a long line of No. 1 albums (including seven in 2018) for UMG Nashville.
Mabe’s approach with Strait exemplifies why she’s one of Music City’s most respected industry voices: She proves that executives can be simultaneously shrewd and empathetic, attentive to analytics and data but focused first and foremost on artists and music. “Cindy is the quiet oracle,” says Keith Urban, whose Graffiti U was one of the albums Mabe helped top the chart last year. “She has her antenna tuned in to things I often can’t see at the time, but she proves time and time again to be spot on.” Or, as Dierks Bentley’s manager, Mary Hilliard Harrington, puts it: “She can cut through all the bullshit to the heart of any matter.”
During the last 18 months, Mabe oversaw groundbreaking album launches for unconventional artists like Kacey Musgraves and Stapleton, Billboard’s top country artist of 2018; helped superstar Bryan retain his dominant position in the industry; took rising stars like Lauren Alaina and Jon Pardi to new chart heights; and broke such budding acts as Jordan Davis, Billboard’s top new country artist of 2018. Last year, UMG Nashville sold 4.8 million albums and garnered 12.1 million track downloads and 10.4 billion on-demand audio streams, adding up to a 2018 country market share of 26.73%, the most of any Nashville label.
But Mabe doesn’t measure success only by the numbers. “I am trying to build artists that make it into the Country Music Hall of Fame -- people who change culture and belief systems,” she says. “When that is your mission, it changes how you are playing the game.”
It’s a perspective that the 46-year-old Kernersville, N.C., native says helps her keep a level head in a fast-moving industry. “To be honest, my personal life is even crazier than this,” says the married mother of three kids, all 12 and under. “I am an introverted human being, so it is better for me to sit back and listen to what is happening so I can make a decision. It is how I was raised, frankly.”
After graduating from Belmont University in 1995, Mabe worked as promotion coordinator for Nashville’s RCA Label Group and eventually rose to product manager. In 2007, then-Capitol Records Nashville head Mike Dungan offered her the position of vp of marketing. Mabe, four months pregnant at the time, declined. But when he asked again five months later, she said yes -- and they soon forged a powerful partnership. Mabe says she and Dungan, now UMG Nashville’s chairman/CEO, are well-suited teammates because of their complementary styles: She’s the serious one; he’s the jokester. Says Mabe: “We bring the best out in each other.”