Warner Music Nashville executive vp/GM Ben Kline and executive vp of A&R Cris Lacy have been officially promoted to co-presidents effective immediately, the label announced Thursday (June 2). Chairman & CEO John “Espo” Esposito will remain in his role through the end of the year and will transition to Chairman Emeritus at the top of 2023. Billboard broke the news of the pending leadership transition in April.
Under Esposito, who has been at WMN’s helm since 2009 after coming over from WEA Corp. as president and CEO, the division’s market share has quadrupled, according to parent Warner Music Group. The label also touts its artists have earned more than 300 gold and platinum RIAA certifications.
“Under Espo’s brilliant guidance over the past 13 years, our Nashville team has built superstar careers, attracted original new voices, innovated in the digital world, and championed the creative community, said Max Lousada, CEO, Warner Recorded Music in a statement. “I’ve no doubt Cris and Ben will grow and evolve our artist-first philosophy with ingenuity, skill, and style. In the streaming era, country music is increasingly becoming global music, and Ben and Cris make a dynamic duo to lead our pioneering Nashville label into the future. And I’m pleased we’ll continue to have the benefit of Espo’s sage advice and wide-ranging industry relationships.”
The pair have been Esposito’s heir apparents since 2019, the same year Esposito signed a new multi-year contract. In an interview with Billboard about his new deal at the time, he acknowledged that Kline and Lacy, who had been promoted to exec vps earlier that year, were already being prepped: “I’m putting all sorts of weight on their shoulders. And the great news is since we did that promotion, they both have risen to an even higher level,” he said. “I’m happy knowing I can give them so much to do so they can become as much the face of the label as me. And that has taken a weight off of me. If I walk in the room, [people] assume I can make the final decision. Now they know that either of them can make a decision [too].”
Lacy, who joined Warner Music Nashville in 2005, said in today’s statement about her ascension,“When an artist joins Warner Nashville, they’re entrusting us not only with their music, but with their dreams. Artists are storytellers, and it’s our job to give them the best environment to bring those stories to life. I want to thank Espo for building such a rich, fertile culture for real creativity and innovation. Artists have a lot of options for getting their music into the world, and our team is second to none in helping them make and deliver records that move the needle and open hearts. Ben and I have been working together for years. I can’t wait to build upon our partnership, as we take this great company to new heights.”
Kline, who joined in 2014, added, “When I came on board at WMN eight years ago, I was instantly struck not only by the tremendous level of expertise, but by the spirit of camaraderie, collaboration, and enthusiasm that Espo fostered throughout the company. Cris likes to call us a village, and I love that description – we’re a tightly knit group of colleagues and artists working together within the amazing Warner Music ecosystem. Our entire team is deeply committed to custom-tailored, long-term artist development, and I’m looking forward to working side-by-side with Cris to keep on making this the best place in the business for country artists to reach fans around the world.”
“I’m incredibly proud of all we’ve been able to achieve and all I know the company will achieve in the years ahead. It’s been truly inspiring to watch Cris and Ben grow into their new roles,” said Esposito. “They’re two of the most innovative, passionate, and devoted music people in the Nashville community, tirelessly dedicated to helping artists achieve their visions and supporting them at every stage of their careers. Between Ben’s business acumen and Cris’ fantastic A&R instincts, they’ll be a world-class duo leading the best team in the business, all driven by a love of the music and the belief in authentic artistry. My last twenty years at WMG have been the most rewarding of my career, filled with incredible people and experiences, and it’s been deeply gratifying to be embraced so warmly by the Nashville community.”
WMN’s roster includes Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney, Dan + Shay, Brett Eldredge, Cole Swindell, Zac Brown Band, Ashley McBryde, Ingrid Andress, Cody Johnson and Gabby Barrett,