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Billboard’s 2022 Country Power Players Revealed

Our eighth annual list honoring executives across every sector of the genre.

ShopKeeper Management’s Marion Kraft — who reflects with longtime superstar client Miranda Lambert about their journey together in the industry — leads Billboard‘s annual celebration of the executives setting the bar throughout the country music industry.

Country Power Players, Executive of the Year

Marion Kraft
CEO, ShopKeeper Management

Marion Kraft
Marion Kraft photographed on May 24, 2022 at ShopKeeper Management in Nashville. Diana King

Marion Kraft vividly recalls one meeting at Sony Nashville in 2007 — early in her days as a manager for then-rising star Miranda Lambert. Joe Galante, who ran the label at the time, wanted to update his artists and their managers on the state of the music business. “[He] was the master of making sure everyone felt part of it and we were all true partners with our record label,” Kraft recalls. But looking around at the group of managers and executives around her, Kraft was struck. “There was one woman and me,” she says. “That was it.”


Today, “those meetings have changed dramatically,” says Kraft, 57, while sitting in the Nashville office of her company, ShopKeeper Management. Since opening ShopKeeper 13 years ago, she has built a singular career anchored by her close to 20- year partnership with reigning Academy of Country Music (ACM) entertainer of the year Lambert. The company’s all-female staff now guides a roster that includes Ashley Monroe, Pistol Annies (the trio of Lambert, Monroe and Angaleena Presley), Tenille Townes and Aaron Raitiere. All the while, she has become a mentor to and supporter of the next generation of female executives in country music, like Kerri Edwards (Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell), Janet Weir (Maren Morris) and Mary Hilliard Harrington (Dierks Bentley, Elle King).

“ ‘What would Marion do?’ is a question I ask myself pretty often,” says Red Light Management’s Harrington. “Marion has incredible natural instincts, and she also is a great listener and problem solver. She always sees the big picture and thinks strategically. Plus, she throws a hell of a dance party.”

Read Billboard‘s full profile on executive of the year Marion Kraft here.

Country Power Players

Scott Borchetta
Founder/president/CEO, Big Machine Label Group; chairman of labels, HYBE America
Andrew Kautz
COO, Big Machine Label Group; president of labels, HYBE America
Allison Jones
Executive vp of A&R, Big Machine Label Group
Mike Rittberg
Executive vp of label operations, Big Machine Label Group
Dave Kelly
Vp of digital consumption, Big Machine Label Group

Big Machine Label Group has been on a signing spree, making deals with hot country upstarts Jackson Dean, Conner Smith, Kidd G (jointly signed with Rebel/Geffen), Tiera Kennedy, Mackenzie Carpenter, Abbey Cone and Shane Profitt over the past year. As label acts like Carly Pearce and Thomas Rhett continue to log significant successes, Borchetta says, “I’m most proud of our more than ever aggressive stance with A&R and new signings.”

Mike Curb
Chairman, Curb Records; Word Entertainment

Curb has continued having success in both the contemporary Christian and country genres. In the country space, Lee Brice added to his list of Billboard No. 1 hits this past year with the Country Airplay chart-topper “Memory I Don’t Mess With.” Meanwhile, his song “One of Them Girls” was honored as song of the year during the country music celebrations held by performing rights organizations ASCAP, BMI and SESAC. Dylan Scott’s “New Truck” has reached No. 10 on Hot Country Songs, and Scott teamed with Stoney Creek/BBR artist Jimmie Allen for the unifying “In Our Blood.”

Mike Dungan
Chairman/CEO, Universal Music Group Nashville
Cindy Mabe
President, Universal Music Group Nashville
Mike Harris
COO/executive vp, Universal Music Group Nashville
Royce Risser
Executive vp of promotion, Universal Music Group Nashville
Brian Wright
Executive vp of A&R, Universal Music Group Nashville

Universal Music Group Nashville has no shortage of artists topping the charts, from veterans to newcomers. But for Dungan, the continued commercial and critical success of Chris Stapleton, who swept his three Grammy Award categories and won several other industry honors this year is “further recognition of a great artist who came from outside of the box to build his way to the very top of our industry, radically changing and enriching culture along the way.”

Seth England
Partner/CEO, Big Loud
Joey Moi
Partner/producer, Big Loud
Craig Wiseman
Partner/songwriter, Big Loud
Austen Adams
COO, Big Loud
Candice Watkins
Senior vp of marketing, Big Loud

Artists like superstar Morgan Wallen, as well as HARDY, Ernest, Lily Rose and Jake Owen, helped bolster Big Loud to the status of Billboard’s No. 1 Hot Country Songs Label for 2021. Additionally, Wallen’s Dangerous: The Double Album was Billboard’s No. 1 album on the year-end all-genre Billboard 200. “Our roster experienced exponential growth over the last 12 to 18 months,” says Adams, “between new chart milestones, new signings and new music that has exceeded every expectation.”

John Esposito
Chairman/CEO, Warner Music Nashville
Ben Kline
Cris Lacy
Co-presidents, Warner Music Nashville
Kristen Williams
Senior vp of radio, Warner Music Nashville
James Marsh
Director of radio accounts, Warner Music Nashville

Esposito, who will transition to chairman emeritus in 2023, spent much of 2022 preparing WMN for the future, including upping Kline and Lacy to co-presidents and redesigning its radio department under Williams. “Our long-standing geographic approach is now supplemented with a focus on radio accounts, allowing us to collaborate on a high level with the chains,” he says. “We are now able to be more targeted, creative and nimble in meeting the needs of our artists and partners.”

Randy Goodman
Chairman/CEO, Sony Music Nashville
Ken Robold
COO/executive vp, Sony Music Nashville
Steve Hodges
Executive vp of promotion and artist development, Sony Music Nashville
Jennifer Way
Executive vp of marketing, Sony Music Nashville
Taylor Lindsey
Executive vp of A&R, Sony Music Nashville

Sony Music Nashville had numerous victories this year, including Luke Combs scoring his record-extending 14th consecutive No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart with “Doin’ This” and Miranda Lambert winning the entertainer of the year trophy at the Academy of Country Music Awards in March. But for Robold, the biggest victory was gathering the entire staff together for the first time in two years. “That coincided with the reopening of our office,” he says, “which has brought the day-to-day collaborative spirit back into what we all do and added an energy that has been needed.”

Luke Combs, Country Power Players
Sony Music Nashville celebrated the achievement of Luke Combs as he scored his 14th No. 1 on Country Airplay with “Doin’ This.” Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times/GI

Gordon Kerr
President/CEO, Black River Entertainment
Rick Froio
Executive vp, Black River Entertainment

Kelsea Ballerini was Black River’s standard-bearer over the past year, when her hit single “half of my hometown” (featuring Kenny Chesney) won Country Music Association Awards for both musical event and video of the year. “Continuing to work with Kelsea Ballerini as she excels in every aspect of her career is an honor,” Froio says. But Black River runs deeper, with a roster that includes burgeoning talents such as Ray Fulcher, MaRynn Taylor and Josiah Siska. “Black River’s roster of writers and artists has been able to keep their passion alive for creating music that can help give some encouragement and even a little fun during a time that has been so challenging for our music community and the world in general,” adds Kerr.

Jon Loba
President, BMG Nashville
JoJamie Hahr
Senior vp, BBR Music Group

Five years after BMG acquired BBR Music Group, the union continues to yield great success. The roster scored five Country Airplay No. 1s in 2021 — two from Jason Aldean with “Blame It on You” and the ACM Awards single of the year, “If I Didn’t Love You” (with Carrie Underwood). Other triumphs included Elvie Shane’s “My Boy,” Lainey Wilson’s “Things a Man Oughta Know” and Dustin Lynch’s “Thinkin’ ’Bout You,” as well as Parmalee and Blanco Brown’s platinum “Just the Way” collaboration and Jimmie Allen’s best new artist win at the 2021 CMA Awards. Newcomers Jelly Roll, John Morgan and Frank Ray are also scoring gains. The BBR team “continues to paint outside the lines and invest in and develop new artists,” says Hahr. “This is a label that embraces artists with unique voices … who are all crossing genres and breaking boundaries, winning awards, and topping sales and streaming charts.”

Jason Aldean, Carrie Underwood, Country Power Players
BBR Music Group artist Jason Aldean did a duet with Capitol Nashville star Carrie Underwood on “If I Didn’t Love You,” which won single of the year at the ACM Awards. Christopher Polk for Variety

David Macias
President, Thirty Tigers

Nashville-based Thirty Tigers, launched in 2001, has grown under Macias to include offices in Los Angeles, New York, North Carolina and London. The company was instrumental in the success of country artist Morgan Wade, spearheading the indie release of her debut album, Reckless, in March 2021. (Arista Nashville released a deluxe edition in 2022.) The album included Wade’s breakthrough single, “Wilder Days,” which was included in Billboard’s year-end staff-voted list of the best country songs of 2021. Last year, Thirty Tigers also inked a deal with Jacob Bryant and will be involved in upcoming releases for LeAnn Rimes, American Aquarium and others.

Katie McCartney
GM, Monument Records

Katie McCartney, Country Power Players
Katie McCartney Illustration by Hsiao Ron Cheng

McCartney, who runs Monument Records with co-presidents Jason Owen and Shane ­McAnally, oversaw Walker Hayes’ rise to stardom with his cross-format smash, “Fancy Like,” an ode to a sweetheart who’s happy with “Applebee’s on a date night/Got that Bourbon Street steak with an Oreo shake.” The song topped the Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay charts and reached No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100. The track also won top country song at the Billboard Music Awards in May. “It not only changed everything for him as an artist,” says McCartney, “but it changed everything for us at Monument, too.”

What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Walker hitting the top of every country chart — blasting through every TV screen and prompting millions of TikToks — was a surreal experience for our whole team. And now with his song “AA” on the same trajectory, we couldn’t be more excited for what’s next for him and for Monument.

How did you celebrate Hayes’ No. 1 for “Fancy Like?” Oreo shakes for everyone?

Yes, actually. Walker came to the office for a toast with the entire staff and it was a super emotional moment for everyone. We had a chance to really reflect on the work that has gone on over the last several years, and we were able to really recognize every staff member for their huge impact on the process. And then, we did, in fact, all go to Applebee’s for a celebratory dinner.

Caitlyn Smith and Katie McCartney, Country Power Players
From left: recording engineer Gena Johnson, Caitlyn Smith and Katie McCartney. Courtesy of Monument Records

Caitlyn Smith also is a rising star on the roster. What are the plans for her?

She’s just a hit away. The foundation she has built as a songwriter, powerhouse vocalist, producer and touring artist is unlike any other new artist in our format. We released the first portion of her self-produced new album, High, earlier this year and shipped her single “Downtown Baby” to country radio, which kicked off her headlining tour. She performs the theme song for the new Fox TV show Monarch premiering in September. She is also a guest star on the show. We are focused on breaking her wide open this year.

What steps is ­Monument taking to make country more diverse and inclusive?

I’m proud to say that we have a 50/50 male-to-female artist ratio on the Monument roster. Yet there is still major room for improvement when it comes to amplifying more diverse voices in our format. All deserve to be heard. The audience is there and the talent is there. Jason Owen and Shane McAnally have been and are hugely outspoken advocates for the LGBTQ community. I’ve personally learned a lot serving on the [diversity, equity and inclusion] task forces for both the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music and am bringing those tools to our team, our artists and the company as a whole. We all still have a long way to go. It is a huge priority as we move forward.

Norbert Nix
Partner/president, Triple Tigers Records
Kevin Herring
Senior vp of promotion, Triple Tigers Records

Triple Tigers Records, a Sony Music Entertainment imprint created out of a partnership among Thirty Tigers, Triple 8 Management and veteran music executive Nix, scored its eighth No. 1 in its six years with the September release “You Time” from Scotty McCreery. The label also logged its first triple-platinum single: Russell Dickerson’s “Yours.” Both artists now have the fastest-rising songs of their careers. Adds Nix: “Look for newcomer Jordan Fletcher this summer.”

Country Power Players

Narvel Blackstock
CEO, Starstruck Entertainment

Blake Shelton is key to the Starstruck client portfolio, and Blackstock’s crew treats his career like a wisely diversified 401k. Shelton released his 12th album, Body Language, in May 2021, with a deluxe version following in December as the 21st season of NBC’s The Voice wrapped with Shelton in a judge’s chair. Shelton is also using the Nashville branch of his Ole Red venues to film the inaugural season of TV contest Barmageddon. Starstruck clients Maggie Rose and pop artist Caroline Kole also issued albums, and Starstruck Studios — Cody Johnson’s favorite recording locale — added a Dolby mixing room.

Ash Bowers
Owner/manager, Wide Open Music

Bowers, whose clients include Jimmie Allen, Matt Stell and George Birge, kept busy with Allen’s “massive award season” this past year. Allen, who will open for Carrie Underwood on tour this fall, co-hosted the 2022 ACM Awards with Dolly Parton and Gabby Barrett (after winning new male artist in 2021), took home the CMA Award for new artist of the year and was the only country act to earn a Grammy nomination for best new artist this year. Stell, who scored a Country Airplay No. 1 with “Everything But On” in 2020, will release his debut album later this year. “We love developing new artists and breaking careers more than anything at Wide Open,” Bowers says, “and are constantly proud of what we are building with each one of them.”

Virginia Bunetta
Managing partner/artist manager, G-Major Management

Longtime G-Major client Thomas Rhett put out two albums “in under 12 months,” says Bunetta, with Country Again: Side A debuting on the chart dated May 15, 2021, and Where We Started arriving on April 16, 2022; both peaked at No. 2 on Top Country Albums. Rhett partnered with Amazon Music for Thomas Rhett: The Live Experience, a live album launch for Where We Started. Bunetta adds that G-Major is expanding, signing newcomer Mackenzie Carpenter.

Thomas Rhett, Country Power Players
Thomas Rhett, a longtime client of Virginia Bunetta at G-Major Management, debuted at No. 2 on Top Country Albums with two of his most recent albums that were released a year apart. Christopher Polk for Variety

Coran Capshaw
Founder, Red Light Management
Brad Belanger
Owner, Homestead
Mary Hilliard Harrington
Manager, Red Light Management; chairman of the board, Country Music Association
Tom Lord
Manager/head of marketing, Red Light Management

According to Red Light, the company’s clients enjoyed 22 weeks at No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart in the last 18 months, including rising star Lainey Wilson, who achieved her first radio hit with “Things a Man Oughta Know” and repeated the feat a few months later alongside Cole Swindell on “Never Say Never.” Parker McCollum also landed his own pair of chart-toppers. Capshaw emphasizes that even as Red Light racks up wins in “traditional” formats with clients like Chris Stapleton, Sam Hunt (through Belanger’s Homestead company) and Dierks Bentley, it is also focusing on achieving success through “nontraditional methods.” To that end, it launched a TV production company, selling New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash to CBS, and focused on expanding brand relationships. Working with automotive or alcohol companies, for example, is “another big area of growth and exposure,” says Capshaw.

Bob Doyle
President, Bob Doyle & Associates

After Garth Brooks’ stadium tour was forced to shut down twice — first in 2020 at the start of the pandemic and again amid more COVID-19 uncertainty during the summer of 2021 — Brooks’ longtime manager Doyle got the trek back up and running in March 2022. Averaging, according to Doyle, 90,000-plus tickets sold per market so far, Doyle helped Brooks face down the unprecedented challenges to remain one of the world’s best-selling, highest-grossing artists of all time.

Garth Brooks, Country Power Players
Bob Doyle helped longtime management client Garth Brooks navigate the pandemic-driven shutdown of his stadium tours in 2020 and 2021, as well as the relaunch of the shows in March 2022. John Medina/GI

Martha Earls
Owner, Neon Coast

“The highest achievement for our company over the past year was getting our artists back on the road and in front of fans despite the lingering challenges of COVID-19,” says Earls. “Kane Brown’s NBA arena tour was a massive success, and to have sold out shows from coast to coast during a time of market uncertainty was a tremendous achievement and a testament to Kane’s superstardom.” Up-and-coming acts also returned to the road. “Launching Restless Road’s headlining tour and getting Nightly back in front of its rabid fan base through touring,” says Earls, “have been such satisfying achievements that have allowed us to take both acts to the next level.”

Ann Edelblute
Owner, The HQ

A Las Vegas residency that grossed $12.4 million and the Grammy Award-winning gospel album My Savior are among Carrie Underwood’s recent accomplishments. “We were proud to be a part of the grand opening of the Resorts World Theatre in Las Vegas in December with Carrie Underwood’s ongoing Reflection: The Las Vegas Residency, as she was the first artist to perform there,” Edelblute says of the eight-time Grammy winner whose new album, Denim & Rhinestones, arrived June 10. Underwood has played three sold-out runs (December through May), and will return to Vegas in 2023 after her just-announced 43-city Denim & Rhinestones arena tour concludes.

Kerri Edwards
President, KP Entertainment

Before his fifth season as a judge on ABC’s American Idol, Edwards’ client Luke Bryan staged his 2021 Proud To Be Right Here Tour (earning recognition as a finalist for top country tour at the Billboard Music Awards) and then launched his Las Vegas headlining dates for Resorts World in February. Among other members of the KP Entertainment roster: Cole Swindell scored his seventh Country Airplay No. 1 with “Never Say Never” with Lainey Wilson, and Dylan Scott celebrated his first trophy at the 2021 CMT Awards, winning breakthrough video of the year for “Nobody.” The latest addition to Edwards’ management roster, American Idol season 19 winner Chayce Beckham, released his debut EP, Doin’ It Right, in April.

Clint Higham
Co-owner/president, Morris Higham Management
Dale Morris
Co-owner, Morris Higham Management

Morris Higham Management client Kenny Chesney wrapped 2021 by taking home the CMA Award for musical event of the year for his collaboration with Kelsea Ballerini on “half of my hometown.” Come 2022, the country icon delivered another head-turning musical event: his long-awaited return to stadiums. The demand was so high leading into Chesney’s Here and Now 2022 tour that two months before it kicked off in April, he tacked on 20 more amphitheater shows. Higham, whose other clients include Old Dominion, Michael Ray and Brantley Gilbert, says, “We’re constantly in awe of [Chesney’s] work ethic, performance acuity and production capabilities both on- and offstage.”

Chris Kappy
Founder, Make Wake Artists

For Kappy, the biggest highlight of the past year was “coming out of the pandemic firing on all cylinders.” Management client Luke Combs, who was named CMA entertainer of the year in November, maintained a record-setting streak of 14 straight No. 1 Country Airplay singles with “Doin’ This.” On May 21, Combs played to 50,000 in Denver at his first stadium headlining date. Among Make Wake’s other clients, Drew Parker co-wrote two of Combs’ No. 1 titles, while Hailey Whitters earned a song of the year Grammy nod for “Beautiful Noise” and Niko Moon and Flatland Cavalry continued their career ascents.

Marion Kraft
CEO, ShopKeeper Management

Read Billboard‘s full profile on executive of the year Marion Kraft here.

Danny Nozell
President/CEO, CTK Management

“We have been blessed with many achievements from the past 18 months,” says Nozell, including the fact that CTK Management didn’t have to furlough employees during the pandemic. The Dolly Parton juggernaut continues: Her collaboration with suspense novelist James Patterson, Run, Rose, Run, spent five weeks at No. 1 on the New York Times Best Sellers list, and Reese Witherspoon is producing the upcoming film based on the book, which will also star Parton. Parton also hosted the 2022 ACM Awards, starred in two Super Bowl commercials and was named to the 2022 class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Nozell signed Dennis Quaid to his management roster, and he has shepherded Kenny G into a Super Bowl commercial, an HBO documentary and collaborations with The Weeknd and Kanye West.

Dolly Parton, Country Power Players
CTK Management president/CEO Danny Nozell worked with client Dolly Parton, who hosted the ACM Awards in March and was named to the 2022 class of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Christopher Polk for Variety

Lynn Oliver-Cline
Founder/CEO, River House Artists
Zebb Luster
Vp/GM, River House Artists

River House Artists, an independent label, publishing and management company, counts Luke Combs (reigning CMA Awards entertainer of the year) and Jameson Rodgers among the artists on its label (through Sony Music Nashville), with more acts to come thanks to a new venture with Warner Nashville and Elektra Records. “They are a very passionate and collaborative team,” Oliver-Cline says of the new label home. The publishing division also logged successes with songwriter-artists Ray Fulcher, Drew Parker and Billy Strings.

Jason Owen
President/CEO, Sandbox Entertainment; co-president, Monument Records

Owen’s management clients include Kacey Musgraves, Kelsea Ballerini and Dan + Shay. In April, Sandbox launched Sandbox Live, a new division in partnership with Live Nation. Days after announcing the new company’s first venture, The Judds: The Final Tour, matriarch Naomi Judd died. Sandbox Live co-produced Judd’s live memorial service with CMT, and the fall tour will now honor her memory, as superstars such as Brandi Carlile and Trisha Yearwood will replace Judd as they join daughter Wynonna Judd on tour. Says Owen: “Watching the industry, friends, family and fans come together to show so much love and support for Wynonna and the Judd family has been really inspiring.”

John Peets
Founder/president, Q Prime South

Under Peets’ leadership, Q Prime South found major success in the past year with Ashley McBryde (who topped the Country Airplay chart with her Carly Pearce duet, “Never Wanted To Be That Girl”) and Brothers Osborne (winner of the best country duo/group performance Grammy for their powerful “Younger Me”). Peets’ main triumph was in the live sector, where Eric Church’s Gather Again Tour became the highest-grossing outing of his career. Church also announced plans to open Chief’s, a six-story Nashville bar, restaurant and music venue, in 2023.

Clarence Spalding
Chris Parr
Partners, Maverick
Amanda Cates
Head of marketing and digital strategy, Maverick

Maverick clients have notched a slate of successes in the last year. Jason Aldean sold most of his catalog to Spirit Music Group in a nine-figure deal and released a two-part album, Macon, Georgia, with both halves debuting within the top three of the Top Country Albums chart. Brooks & Dunn rode a “Neon Moon” TikTok explosion that led to 2.5 billion digital views. Reba McEntire issued a box set, executive-produced two Lifetime movies and returned in a recurring role on CBS’ Young Sheldon; she also joined the cast of ABC drama Big Sky. Darius Rucker created his own festival in Charleston, S.C., and a Design Network series, Rucker’s Reno. In the midst of the triumphant year, Cates became a Nashville Music Equity board member, working to improve diversity in the genre.

Janet Weir
Artist manager, House of 42/Red Light Management

Weir’s client Maren Morris took her latest studio album, Humble Quest — which peaked at No. 2 on the Top Country Albums chart — on quite an ambitious quest this year, from the Stagecoach Festival in Indio, Calif., to her NPR Tiny Desk (Home) concert held at Nashville’s SoHo House to a 45-date U.S. tour through the end of 2022. Of her team, Weir says, “I’m proud that we’ve intentionally maintained a healthy balance of constant learning/adapting while not overreacting to the complexities of the ever-changing environment of releasing music and touring.”

Country Power Players

Scott Bailey
President, Opry Entertainment
Dan Rogers
Vp/executive producer, Grand Ole Opry

Over the past four years, Opry Entertainment Group has evolved into what Bailey calls “a fully integrated country lifestyle platform.” The company’s ventures have included acquisition of a city block in Austin that features the ACL Moody Theater and the launch of Circle TV in partnership with Gray Television. Opry Entertainment Group also recently landed a landmark deal with partners Atairos and NBCUniversal. Bailey calls the deal “the recognition of all the work the team has done, and will be the catalyst to put the company on a global growth path.”

Julie Matway
COO of Country Nation, Live Nation
Brian O’Connell
President of country touring, Live Nation
Patrick McDill
VP of country touring, Live Nation
Aaron Spalding
Talent buyer, Live Nation

Over the past year, the Live Nation country music team under O’Connell has reconnected fans with artists onstage in multiple settings while putting tens of thousands of touring support staff back to work. Matway and O’Connell ran three major country festivals, drawing more than 285,000 total fans: the Faster Horses Festival in July at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich.; the Watershed Festival in August at the Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Wash.; and the Tortuga Festival in November 2021 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which then returned to its traditional April dates only five months later. As pandemic restrictions lifted, O’Connell, McDill and Spalding produced tours for artists including Luke Bryan, Chris Stapleton, Thomas Rhett, Lady A, Dierks Bentley, Reba McEntire, Morgan Wallen, Brooks & Dunn, Jason Aldean, Miranda Lambert, Maren Morris, Tim McGraw and Darius Rucker. Under O’Connell’s production guidance, in May 2021, Veeps streamed Jason Aldean: Live From the Bonnaroo Farm.

Louis Messina
President/CEO, Messina Touring Group

Louis Messina, Country Power Players
Louis Messina Illustration by Hsiao Ron Cheng

Messina Touring Group’s formidable roster has come roaring back to life on the road after the pandemic imposed a moratorium on touring: George Strait, Kenny Chesney, Eric Church, Blake Shelton and Little Big Town grossed over $170 million combined across roughly 90 shows between August 2021 and May 2022. Messina says he has been actively hiring young people to boost his company’s digital marketing efforts, but his mission is the same as it always was: “I’m not in the rent-a-van business,” he says. “I’m in the career business.” Even for his slate of stadium-ready acts, Messina is adamant that there’s still room for growth. After congratulating Church on a recent show at Madison Square Garden in New York, Messina texted: “Next tour, stadiums. Then we’ll figure out what’s bigger.”

Is there a particular achievement from the last year-plus that you’re especially proud of?

The fact that I still have a company. My team stayed with me. We all survived. All the artists that I work for stayed with me. They all survived. I’m lucky. We put the future on hold for a bit. Now it’s time to start saying, “What’s next for MTG?”

And what is next? What’s your vision?

It’s not my vision, it’s my artists’ vision. Instead of trying to sign 12 other acts, my idea is, “How am I involved in getting the artist to a level where they always thought they were dreaming about?,” but this is actually beyond their dreams. That’s how I grow my business. I’m still one act at a time. I want to work with an act that I’m passionate about and an act that enjoys working with me, which is sometimes difficult. No, it’s not difficult at all — I’m a lot of fun.

Louis Messina and Kenny Chesney, Country Power Players
Louis Messina and Kenny Chesney Jill Trunnell

Has the live business changed permanently in the past two years?

The live-music business changes in a different way every day. Nothing is permanent. Every day is an evolution of artists, of music, of presentation. You look where it once was and where it is today. Used to be only one or two acts could play stadiums. Now a lot of people are playing stadiums. I feel like our company was one of the first ones to create that mentality, especially in country music.

You’ve obviously seen a lot of changes in country music over the years. What’s the biggest issue facing the genre now?

I think it’s as healthy as can be. The only issue you have in country music is it’s too crowded. Everyone wants to work at the same time. Acts tour every year — c’mon, man, stay home every once in a while. Learn from George Strait: Less is more.

You used to work with AC/DC. What’s the difference between an AC/DC show and a George Strait show?

I don’t see George in schoolboy pants. That’s a big difference there. Maybe there’s a different attitude, but it’s the same thing: They’re bringing their art to the people.

When is Taylor Swift going back on tour?

When she tells me.

Rich Schaefer
Adam Weiser
Senior vps of global touring, AEG Presents

As concerts ramped back up in the latter half of 2021, AEG’s global touring team opened the gate with several sold-out, rescheduled tours for acts including Dan + Shay, Kane Brown and Luke Combs, who played his first-ever NFL stadium show in May. Other highlights included Dan + Shay’s sold-out album-release concert at Nashville’s Centennial Park. The company also worked with Kacey Musgraves on her first arena tour in January, which Schaefer says played “to rave reviews and packed arenas.”

Kane Brown, Country Power Players
AEG Presents promoted The Blessed and Free Tour for Kane Brown. David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns

Stacy Vee
Vp of talent, Goldenvoice

Vee, a driving force behind the annual Stagecoach Festival, was overjoyed when the country music extravaganza finally returned to Indio, Calif., during the final weekend of April (with headliners Thomas Rhett, Carrie Underwood and Luke Combs) following a three-year hiatus due to the pandemic. “Watching it in person is something I’ll always remember,” says Vee. “It has been a wild year on so many levels, but for a moment in time, not a single bit of that mattered and everyone celebrated in harmonious unison.”

Country Power Players

Marc Dennis
Jeff Krones
Darin Murphy
Co-heads of CAA Music’s Nashville office, Creative Artists Agency
Katie Anderson
Global music leadership team and strategy and operations executive, Creative Artists Agency

Amid the pandemic touring shutdown, the CAA team focused on innovation, coordinating book deals for clients including Darius Rucker and Kelsea Ballerini, and negotiating Tim McGraw’s and Faith Hill’s headlining roles in the Paramount+ series 1883, which was recently renewed for a second season. “Now that the world is opening up, we’re seeing all of our hard work pay off — both on the road and in the office,” says Krones. “The result has been incredible momentum forward for our team and artists.”

Becky Gardenhire
Jay Williams
Joey Lee
Partners/co-heads, Nashville, WME
Aaron Tannenbaum
Partner, WME

WME — which counts Eric Church, Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert and Chris Stapleton among its clients — rebounded from the pandemic with touring, packaging and festival bookings. Meanwhile, Lambert and Stapleton also picked up 2022 ACM Awards for entertainer and male artist of the year, respectively. “This reflects the extraordinary talent we represent,” Tannenbaum says, “and the thoughtful participation from all departments across the agency.”

Jeffrey Hasson
Co-head of the Nashville office, UTA
Emily Wright
Agent, music brand partnerships, UTA
Lance Roberts
Agent, music, UTA

In June 2021, UTA officially opened its new Nashville headquarters, a state-of-the-art space located inside the former downtown Carnegie Library. The agency’s Music City division grew both internally and externally this year, with new hires, roster acquisitions and activity by existing clients including Dolly Parton, Toby Keith, Midland, Jimmie Allen, Brittney Spencer, Elvie Shane, Ian Munsick and Frank Ray. It was, Hasson says, “an exciting year working to secure innovative opportunities for our clients with brand partnerships, film, television and more.”

Jonathan Levine
Executive vp/managing executive, Wasserman Music
Mike Betterton
Lenore Kinder
Senior vps, Wasserman Music
Chappel McCollister
Vp of branding, Wasserman Music

While Wasserman clients clocked myriad successes, the accomplishment McCollister is proudest of is the company partnering with the Black Music Action Coalition, Nashville Music Equality, the RIAA and YouTube Music to launch a three-week Music Accelerator program at Tennessee State University focusing on different sectors in the music business. (McCollister taught the Marketing 101 course.) Through the program, the team worked to secure music industry internships for all 16 students. Next year, it will expand to other historically Black colleges and universities, providing, McCollister says, “opportunity for more diverse representation across country music and the entire industry.”

Country Power Players

Jackie Augustus
Music partnerships, North America, Meta

As Meta’s Instagram platform seeks to improve the ways in which it helps creators, Augustus has been on the front lines with artists. In the week leading up to the CMA Awards, she helped develop a Reels pop-up to pair rising artists with professional directors to let them maximize the service. She’s also guiding talents like Maren Morris and Dylan Scott through promotional tools such as push notifications to followers and in-app banners, which can boost views and streams.

Randy Chase
Executive vp of programming, SummitMedia

Chase landed at Birmingham, Ala.-based SummitMedia in June 2020 as executive vp of programming following a stint overseeing broadcaster EMF’s K-LOVE Christian brand. In today’s world of group programmers, fewer gatekeepers and a shortage of honest opinions, Chase is musically aggressive. “Our brands are growing and reaching new benchmarks at a time when radio listening has dipped and the music cycle is not the best we’ve ever had,” he says. Among the songs Chase added early were future Country Airplay No. 1s “My Boy” by Elvie Shane and “half of my hometown” by Kelsea Ballerini featuring Kenny Chesney.

Elvie Shane, Country Power Players
Randy Chase of SummitMedia was an early supporter at radio of “My Boy” by Elvie Shane (above). Christopher Polk for Variety

Charlie Cook
Vp of country formats, Cumulus Media; operations manager, Cumulus Nashville; program director, WSM-FM Nashville
Mike Preston
Program director, KSCS-FM/KPLX-FM Dallas, Cumulus
Mike Moore
Program director, WKHX-FM Atlanta, Cumulus

Cumulus Media’s latest country format recruit is industry veteran Moore, who joined WKHX Atlanta in October 2019 after a 16-year run as vp of programming for Audacy’s Portland, Ore., cluster. He quickly repositioned WKHX (formerly Kicks 101.5) to New Country 101-FIVE in November 2019, but the pandemic put many of his plans on hold. With life slowly returning to normal, “We have begun to build the Kincaid & Dallas morning show into the stars we’ve known they are,” says Moore. “We are again enjoying meeting people at giveaways, concerts and live events.”

RJ Curtis
Executive director, Country Radio Broadcasters/CRS

After staging the annual Country Radio Seminar as a virtual event in 2021, Curtis and his team worked to bring CRS back full throttle this year for three days of in-person education, live music and networking. In October 2021, the Country Radio Hall of Fame dinner and induction ceremony also returned as an in-person event. Curtis, who was one of the 2021 inductees, says, “I’m very proud of how we’ve navigated the unique challenges a worldwide pandemic posed for our organization, which thrives on live industry gatherings.”

Leslie Fram
Senior vp of music and talent, CMT

Fram led the charge in introducing the next step in the CMT Equal Play initiative as CMT teamed with mtheory Nashville president Cameo Carlson to launch the Equal Access Development Program to train, educate and financially support artists and management professionals from historically underrepresented groups. “We as an industry have a responsibility to try and level the playing field for all marginalized voices,” says Fram. “CMT is committed to [working] tirelessly toward that change.”

Rod Phillips
Executive vp of country programming strategy, iHeartMedia
Bobby Bones
Vp/creative director, iHeartCountry; host, The Bobby Bones Show, Country Top 30 With Bobby Bones, Bobbycast, iHeartMedia; executive producer of Women of iHeartCountry, iHeartMedia
Carletta Blake
Program director/morning show co-host, WGAR Cleveland, iHeartMedia
Gator Harrison
Senior vp of programming, WSIX Nashville; program director/brand coordinator, iHeartMedia/iHeartCountry

Phillips, who is at the helm of iHeartMedia’s 125 contemporary country stations, credits iHeart’s On the Verge program for helping break new acts, as the project “can truly put a song in the spotlight quickly.” The initiative has promoted artists including Ingrid Andress, Lainey Wilson and Callista Clark “in line with our strategy to focus on the talents of women in our format,” Phillips adds. On the Verge features multimedia support such as airplay in significant rotations and social support across iHeartMedia’s entire platform.

Callista Clark, Country Power Players
Rod Phillips of iHeartMedia credits the media chain’s On the Verge program with promoting rising artists like Callista Clark. Amy Sussman/GI

Tim Roberts
Country format vp/brand manager, Audacy
Mark Anderson
Regional vp of programming, Audacy
Chris Michaels
Regional brand manager, Audacy

Roberts oversees Audacy’s Detroit cluster of stations, including day-to-day programming at country powerhouse WYCD. In the most recent Nielsen ratings for April, WYCD posted a 4.3 share of the audience compared with crosstown competitor WDRQ, which logged a 2.3 (with listeners ages 6 and older). “This is a great sign for future country format growth in 2022 and a credit to our great brand managers within Audacy,” says Roberts. WYCD also brought a number of country stars to the station’s Musictown Performance Facility: “It’s a unique chance for fans to see performances up close and personal in downtown Detroit,” he says. Post-pandemic shows kicked off with Jordan Davis, Kassi Ashton, Ryan Hurd and Morgan Evans and have continued weekly, helping the station “develop new artists and reward loyal WYCD fans.”

Alix Rosenberg
Senior manager of artist partnerships, TikTok

As TikTok continues to lean into partnerships with the music industry, Rosenberg helped launch the service’s first marketing and programming efforts geared specifically toward country music, helping the #CountryMusic hashtag become the second-most-used genre tag for music content videos, with over 8 billion views since last May, according to the company. Rosenberg also spearheaded a CMT livestream with performances from Priscilla Block and Jon Pardi, among others, while booking Walker Hayes — whose “Fancy Like” is the No. 1 country song for creators on the platform in 2022 so far — on the NHL Stadium Series tailgate.

J.R. Schulmann
Senior director of country music programming, SiriusXM
Storme Warren
Host, The Storme Warren Show, The Highway channel, SiriusXM

The end of COVID-19 restrictions brought a welcome return to SiriusXM’s live-event broadcasts for the satellite radio operator’s 32 million subscribers. “Our backstage and red-carpet live coverage of the ACM Awards in Las Vegas [in March] reminded us all how much we’ve missed seeing our friends in person,” says Warren. Then from April 29 to May 1, SiriusXM broadcast the Stagecoach Festival from Indio, Calif. Warren adds, “We pride ourselves on being on the front lines of country music.”

Country Power Players

Emily Cohen Belote
Principal music curator for country, Christian, Americana and folk, Amazon Music
Michelle Tigard Kammerer
Head of country music, Amazon Music

Perhaps the most significant move of the past year has been Amazon Music’s collaboration with Prime Video to stream the ACM Awards, the first time a major awards show of its kind was livestreamed. Since its late-2016 launch, Amazon Music’s Country Heat suite of playlists — curated by Cohen Belote — now exceeds 13 billion streams in the United States. Stepped-up marketing for Maren Morris helped her streams increase by 80% year over year, according to the service. Amazon Music also released the feature-length original documentary For Love & Country, which examines country music’s complicated relationship with race.

Beville Dunkerley
Head of country music talent and industry relations, SiriusXM/Pandora
Alina Thompson
Senior manager of artist marketing and industry relations, SiriusXM/Pandora

In August 2021, SiriusXM and Pandora kicked off Small Stages, a series of live broadcasts of arena and stadium acts for lucky subscribers and listeners in a cozy setting at venues such as the 250-seat Stephen Talkhouse on New York’s Long Island and the 500-capacity Roxy Theatre in Los Angeles. “There are no bad seats in the house, and the millions of listeners at home can feel the intimacy,” says Dunkerley. So far, fans have bumped elbows with country stars Kane Brown and Kenny Chesney, as well as rock groups Coldplay and Dave Matthews Band.

Margaret Hart
Head of Nashville label and industry relations, YouTube
Copeland Isaacson
Head of Nashville artist relations, YouTube

“In the past 12 months, our team has partnered with a stand-out group of diverse Nashville talent across YouTube’s top marketing programs,” says Isaacson. Queer, folk-leaning singer-songwriter Joy Oladokun was part of #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund, developing country singer Tenille Arts participated in the Foundry program, and country artist BRELAND is a graduate of YouTube’s flagship Artist on the Rise program, “which resulted in a significant increase in views across his channel [22 million-plus], press coverage and more in the Nashville market and beyond,” Isaacson says.

Jay Liepis
Director of music business partnerships, Nashville, Apple Music
Michael Bryan
Director/head of Apple Music Country Radio, Apple Music
Kelleigh Bannen
Host of Today’s Country/The Kelleigh Bannen Show, Apple Music Country Radio, Apple Music

Aside from what she describes as “the absolute game-changing launch of Spatial Audio that Apple Music introduced in June 2021, Bannen says, “We’re excited that our Apple Music Nashville studios are live and open. The new space enables Apple to connect with our music community in more powerful ways, from the live-radio studios to the gorgeous content space where we can capture full performances.”

Brittany Schaffer
Head of artist and label partnerships, Spotify
Rachel Whitney
Head of editorial for Nashville, Spotify

In May, Zach Bryan — signed to Warner Records through his Belting Bronco Records imprint — became the first country artist featured in Spotify’s RADAR US artist development program, giving him guaranteed marketing support and placements on playlists such as New Music Friday (3.9 million followers), Hot Hits USA (673,000) and RADAR US (350,000). The extra attention paid off. “He has absolutely blown us away with the success of his new album, American Heartbreak,” says Whitney, “which broke our single-day streaming record for a country album so far this year.”

Country Power Players

Stephanie Cox
GM/senior vp of creative Nashville, Kobalt

Cox’s team won publisher of the year from the Association of Independent Music Publishers in April — and helped bring back Applebee’s Oreo cookie shake. After Walker Hayes, signed to Kobalt partner SMACKSongs, name-dropped the drink in 2021 in his song “Fancy Like,” the track went viral on TikTok, then hit No. 3 on the Hot 100 — prompting the restaurant chain to bring the shake out of retirement. The company also celebrated Cody Johnson’s “Til You Can’t” spending two weeks at No. 1 on the Country Airplay chart with writer Ben Stennis and publishing partner Young Guns Music.

Rusty Gaston
CEO, Sony Music Publishing Nashville

Fresh from winning both ASCAP’s and BMI’s country publisher of the year awards, Gaston is most proud of “how our staff has come together to create a real team and family” over the last year. With a remodeling of the company’s Music Row building, Gaston has succeeded in creating a more “welcoming, vibrant atmosphere” for the publishing giant’s Nashville branch, where the company’s staff and its songwriters, including new signees like Ashley Gorley, can work together after over a year of social distancing.

Shane McAnally
Founder/owner, SMACKSongs; co-president, Monument Records

Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like” proved to be a multipronged winner for McAnally. “To see fans connect with [Hayes] and his music is something [that], as the head of both his publishing and his label, I take great pride,” says McAnally, who is co-president of Monument Records and also heads SMACK’s management division, whose clients include Hayes. Plus, SMACKSongs writer Josh Jenkins scored his first and second No. 1s on Hot Country Songs and Country Airplay this year as co-writer of “Fancy Like” and Jordan Davis and Luke Bryan’s “Buy Dirt.”

Mike Molinar
GM, Big Machine Music

Big Machine Music’s recent wins include the addition of hit songwriter-producer Matt Dragstrem to its publishing roster and the breakout success of Ryan Hurd. Hurd released his album Pelago in 2021, and Dragstrem’s recent credits include tracks on Thomas Rhett’s 2022 album, Where We Started, and Morgan Wallen’s lengthy chart-topper, Dangerous: The Double Album.

Chris Oglesby
Vp of creative, BMG Nashville

BMG Nashville’s writer roster has been rich with recent successes — none more so than the Jason Aldean-Carrie Underwood collaboration “If I Didn’t Love You,” a triple ACM Award winner, co-written by Kurt Allison and Tully Kennedy. The latter duo also penned “Trouble With a Heartbreak,” another Aldean chart-topper. Artist-writer Carly Pearce co-wrote “Never Wanted To Be That Girl,” a No. 1 Country Airplay duet with Ashley McBryde, while Kat Higgins was part of the team behind Kenny Chesney’s “Knowing You,” and Emily Landis and Jim McCormick co-wrote Gabby Barrett’s “The Good Ones.” The highlight, says Oglesby, is “watching the growth in our writers and team from singles to ACM and CMA awards [to] building careers.”

Frank Rogers
CEO, Spirit Music Nashville; founder/president, Fluid Music Revolution

Rogers oversees a Nashville publishing roster that, he says, landed nine No. 1 songs last year. Spirit writers include Frank Ray, whose 2021 single “Country’d Look Good on You” reached No. 23 on Country Airplay, and the company had publishing credit on Carly Pearce and Lee Brice’s “I Hope You’re Happy Now,” winner of single of the year at the 2021 ACM Awards, and Eric Church’s “Hell of a View,” which topped Country Airplay. The publisher also bought most of Jason Aldean’s catalog in February, in a deal reportedly worth over $100 million. Spirit Music Nashville represents certain copyrights of Chris Stapleton, including his Hot Country Songs chart-topper “You Should Probably Leave.”

Chris Stapleton, Country Power Players
Spirit Music Nashville represents certain copyrights of
Chris Stapleton, including his tune “You Should Probably Leave,” which topped Hot Country Songs in February.
Emma McIntyre/GI

Troy Tomlinson
Chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group Nashville

Reporting an impressive 15 country chart-toppers from UMPG songwriters over the last year, Tomlinson explains that the company’s success is the result of a “focused strategy of signing the absolute best talent.” The formula is simple, he says: great talent paired with “outstanding teams who work to develop their careers.” This is certainly true for UMPG Nashville songwriter Chase McGill, who recently ruled the Country Songwriters chart for his work on Morgan Wallen’s “Don’t Think Jesus” and Cole Swindell and Lainey Wilson’s “Never Say Never,” and for the company’s newly signed artist-songwriter Carter Faith, who was selected as Billboard’s Rookie of the Month in March.

Ben Vaughn
President/CEO, Warner Chappell Music Nashville

Warner Chappell Music Nashville — country music’s top publisher for the 21st consecutive quarter — celebrated big wins for Chris Stapleton, Brothers Osborne and Old Dominion at the Grammys, CMA Awards and ACM Awards, but Vaughn is not resting on his laurels. He’s bringing in more developing talent to the roster, including Flatland Cavalry’s Cleto Cordero, Warren Zeiders and Bailey Zimmerman. Additionally, the WCM Nashville offices received an upgrade — an “entire gut renovation of its offices,” says Vaughn — making its headquarters a far more “songwriter-focused space,” even putting writers’ favorite books on the shelves.

Mike Whelan
Senior vp/GM, Round Hill Nashville

Round Hill’s roster includes Jimmy Robbins, co-author of Brett Young’s “You Didn’t,” which reached No. 35 on Country Airplay, plus, “[We] own catalogs of country hit writers such as Ashley Gorley, Craig Wiseman and Dallas Davidson,” says Whelan. The publisher’s Music City office also dips into rock — Nashville-based songwriters Marti Frederiksen and Scott Stevens penned hits by Daughtry and others, and Blues Traveler recorded its Grammy-nominated Traveler’s Blues at the Nashville studio. “Nashville has become a major hub for a cross-section of great music,” says Whelan. “I’m so proud to be a part of the Round Hill team and the success we are having.”

Jordan Davis, Country Power Players
Anthem Entertainment is the publishing company for Jordan Davis, co-writer of “Buy Dirt,” which hit No. 1 on Hot Country Songs. Arturo Holmes/GI

Tim Wipperman
President, Anthem Music Publishing, Nashville, Anthem Entertainment

“I am most proud of the amazing success of our creative team,” says Wipperman. His company counts among its hit-making songwriters Jordan Davis, whose “Buy Dirt” (with Luke Bryan) topped Country Airplay and Hot Country Songs simultaneously, and Cody Johnson, who reached No. 1 with “Til You Can’t.” Headquartered in Canada, Anthem also completed the acquisition of Combustion Music, launched a joint venture with Anthem songwriter Chris Janson and signed Kelly Archer to an exclusive publishing deal with partner Jeremy Stover’s RED Creative, according to Wipperman.

Country Power Players

Clay Bradley
Vp of creative, Nashville, BMI

Bradley began his role in March 2020, “just as we were all sent home,” he says. In the time since, his team has focused on creating opportunities for BMI’s songwriters and publishers, including at the Key West Songwriters Festival — a five-day event with over 175 songwriters — in May and through a recently introduced monthly showcase called BMI Presents at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. The series has already featured the Fisk Jubilee Singers, John Oates and Dean Dillon. Says Bradley: “We work every day to lend support to the greatest asset we have in Music City: the songwriters.”

Shannan Hatch
Vp of creative services, SESAC Performing Rights

Hatch leads SESAC’s Nashville creative team and has had plenty to celebrate in the past year thanks to the roster of songwriters she has helped shape during her two decades with the company. In addition to the success of country stars including Lee Brice, Jimmie Allen and Zac Brown, Josh Jenkins co-wrote Walker Hayes’ “Fancy Like,” which reached No. 3 on the Hot 100, and Alex Kline and Allison Veltz Cruz co-wrote Tenille Arts’ “Somebody Like That,” which became the first song by a female artist to reach the Country Airplay chart’s top 10 that was entirely produced and written by women.

Mike Sistad
Vp of Nashville membership, ASCAP

“We’re excited to keep moving forward and providing our members with the support and career services they need,” says Sistad of ASCAP’s Nashville team. Overall, the performing rights organization reported $1.254 billion in payouts to its members in 2021, a 4% increase over the previous year. ASCAP, as a whole, also surpassed the $1 billion mark in domestic revenue last year for the first time. Its members have likewise thrived: At the Grammys in April, Chris Stapleton dominated in the country categories thanks to the success of his album Starting Over.

Country Power Players

Tatum Allsep
Founder/CEO, Music Health Alliance
Shelia Shipley Biddy
CFO/certified senior adviser, Music Health Alliance

Due to their work and innovation at the forefront of COVID-19 relief, Nashville-based Music Health Alliance received the 2021 CMA Foundation Humanitarian Award along with Dolly Parton. The alliance provided over 900,000 meals and 1,700 counseling sessions and became a source of pandemic information for those within the country music world and beyond. “The awareness created for MHA’s services during that pandemic has continued to grow our nonprofit, as those served then tell others who are now reaching out for our services,” Biddy says of the impact of MHA’s work. It also partnered with Universal Music Group to help their artists and songwriters across all genres save over $5.3 million in health care costs through a new pilot program.

Lori Badgett
Diane Pearson
Senior vps/team leaders of the entertainment division in Nashville, City National Bank

After spending the last 24 months assisting many Nashville artists and companies with COVID-19-related setbacks, Badgett says that “with restrictions easing, we have seen a significant increase in demand for live shows and expect the trend to continue through the rest of the year.” Badgett and Pearson helped companies leverage assistance from the Paycheck Protection Program, ACM Lifting Lives’ philanthropy and Music Health Alliance.

Julie Boos
Chairman, FBMM
Duane Clark
President, FBMM
Jamie Cheek
Carmen Romano
Vice presidents, FBMM
Chris Hughes
Business manager, FBMM

One of Nashville’s leading business management firms, FBMM has spent much of the last year delving into intellectual property opportunities with private equity firms. Despite the firm’s deep country roots, opportunities have expanded into rock, EDM, R&B/hip-hop and pop. “We have also, despite the crazy circumstances, managed to continue our training and coaching programs and have seen employees achieve higher levels of expertise,” says Boos.

Kella Farris
Stephanie Self
Catherine Moore
Partners, Farris Self & Moore

The Nashville business management and financial planning firm keeps its client list confidential but has expanded steadily in the past year, adding six new positions to its now 22-person staff — “a testament,” says Moore, “to our commitment to remain boutique, full service and all-in.” The company also expanded its tax and royalty departments and other segments of the operation. “We are excited to continue to provide a family-like culture and the highest level of business management and financial planning services to our clients,” she says.

Bret Guest
Business manager, Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group

Amid the uncertainty of touring income during the pandemic, the Tri Star team guided its clients “through the constraints of 2021 into the hybrid touring environment” — a mixture of virtual and in-person events — to keep those artists going, says Guest. The company does not identify its clients but has previously reported representing Florida Georgia Line and Reba McEntire. “Throughout this dynamic period,” says Guest, “we focused on alternate revenue streams such as digital appearances and catalog investment opportunities to maintain positive cash flow.”

Jeremy Holley
Laura Hutfless
Co-founders, FlyteVu

Entertainment marketing agency FlyteVu worked with some of country music’s biggest artists over the past year on several promotional campaigns, including Kacey Musgraves’ Simple Times Machine with Spotify, in which she introduced fans to her star-crossed album and film by taking them back, as the title would suggest, to a simpler time. They also spearheaded two major collaborations with Cracker Barrel, with Christian artist Tauren Wells performing on the country store’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float, and Mickey Guyton teaming with Pentatonix for Cracker Barrel’s festive holiday special, Sounds of the Season.

Kacey Musgraves, Country Power Players
The marketing agency FlyteVu guided Kacey Musgraves’ Simple Times Machine promotional campaign with Spotify. Dimitrios Kambouris/GI

Andy Moats
Executive vp of music, sports and entertainment, Pinnacle Financial Partners

Like other financial institutions, Pinnacle has helped its clients keep their doors open through the pandemic while also significantly expanding its label and publishing business beyond Nashville into New York, Los Angeles and London this year, which has placed the music, sports and entertainment team on a record pace in terms of loan production. “We’ve become one of the largest music banking teams in Music City and beyond,” Moats says, “with plans to add more great music bankers to an already impressive group.”

Kerry O’Neil
Partner, O’Neil Hagaman; co-founder/co-owner, Big Yellow Dog Music

With the pandemic putting tours on hold for most of 2021, O’Neil’s business management consultancy worked with clients to reassess and reset their intellectual property investment goals through major acquisitions, increased A&R investment and strategic sales and new ventures. Looking ahead, COVID-19 and inflation can still make for a stressful path for touring acts, but “our close coordination with the artist touring teams have allowed us to adapt, often on the fly, to these quickly changing environments so our artists can entertain their fans and run a business,” says O’Neil, who is also co-founder and co-owner (with Carla Wallace) of indie music publishing firm Big Yellow Dog Music.

Sarah Trahern
CEO, Country Music Association
Tiffany Kerns
Vp of industry relations and philanthropy, Country Music Association; executive director, CMA Foundation

The CMA has been working to remove “barriers of entry” for prospective members to improve diversity in the industry. The new, more inclusive membership strategy includes “pipeline opportunities to ensure an equitable future for our business; education and professional development for our members, staff and the greater industry; and intentional and thoughtful community partnerships,” Trahern says.

Damon Whiteside
CEO, Academy of Country Music
Lyndsay Cruz
Executive director, ACM Lifting Lives

Damon Whiteside, Country Power Players
Damon Whiteside Illustration by Hsiao Ron Cheng

“ ‘Pivot and innovate’ has definitely been our theme for the past year,” says Whiteside. In March, the ACM Awards became the first major awards show to exclusively livestream, shown globally on Amazon’s Prime Video. Last August, the academy held its ACM Party for a Cause concert in Nashville for the first time to benefit its philanthropic division, ACM Lifting Lives, guided by Cruz. This fall, the academy will open its new headquarters in Nashville after nearly 60 years in Los Angeles. Whiteside is most proud of the fact that the ACM Lifting Lives COVID-19 Response Fund distributed nearly $4 million to those in need since the pandemic’s start. He took the time to expand on some other big changes at the academy.

Why are you moving to Nashville?

It was a difficult decision, being that the foundation of the academy has always been West Coast. However, the core reasons that the ACM was founded there do not really exist anymore. Our board, artists and members are mostly Nashville-based, and it is more effective and efficient that we be located here in the heart of country music.

How do you measure the success of the 2022 ACM Awards since traditional broadcast viewership metrics don’t apply?

We measure success the same way every other show does in a changing media landscape, which is to evaluate how it impacts the performers and nominees in a positive way, be it streaming, social, merch, etcetera. We also look to the fans directly, across digital and social platforms. Also quantitative stats: Our social engagement numbers were up dramatically year on year. We also look to streaming performance across [digital service providers] in response to live performances.

Damon Whiteside and Dolly Parton, Country Power Players
Damon Whiteside and Dolly Parton Stacie Huckeba/Amazon Studios

This year marked the ACM Awards’ return to Las Vegas after two years in Nashville. Does the show work better for you there?

After two years of more heartfelt, emotional and poignant shows, we were thrilled to be back in Vegas and somewhat return to our “Country’s party of the year” positioning, which is a huge part of the show’s history and heritage. While it was a fun, upbeat and colorful show, there were still heavy COVID-19 protocols we had to adhere to, so we couldn’t freely party like we had originally hoped. As we plan for 2023, we will look to bring as much of the party back as we can, but also embrace our new tag line of “This is how we country!”

What are the plans for the ACM Honors in August?

This year’s ACM Honors are special because it’s the 15th anniversary. We had to take a year off due to the pandemic, and we are thrilled to be back again, especially on the historic Ryman [Auditorium] stage. We are working now on a distribution plan so that this special show can be seen more widely. Miranda Lambert, unfortunately, was unable to physically join us [at the ACM Awards] in March for her triumphant entertainer of the year win, and so we’re particularly excited to celebrate her as our triple-crown honoree [reflecting her awards for top new female vocalist, female vocalist and entertainer of the year]. We want to give her that special moment.

Country Power Players

David Crow
Michael Milom
Partners, Milom Horsnell Crow Kelley Beckett Shehan

Milom and Crow represented a number of artists, including Luke Bryan and Keith Urban, in the post-pandemic relaunch of major headlining tours for 2022 and helped turn clients’ “COVID-19-born revenue diversification activities” into permanent parts of their long-term business plans, including cementing strategic partnerships like Kelsea Ballerini’s deal with CoverGirl. They say the best way lawyers can help clients often is less about one big deal and more about “a series of smaller but critical deals that propel careers in unique ways.”

Derek Crownover
Denise Stevens
Partners, Loeb & Loeb
Tiffany Dunn
Co-office administrative partner, Nashville, Loeb & Loeb

Crownover has expanded Loeb & Loeb’s representation of artists, songwriters and publishers in Nashville, working with a team to coordinate publishing catalog sales, artist signings and more. His longtime business strategy and planning work with Sam Hunt, Craig Wiseman, Big Loud, Ashley Gorley, Dallas Davidson, Gabby Barrett, Jordan Davis, Creative Nation and the estate of Otis Redding Jr. continues. Crownover also has recently guided agreements between Natalie Hemby and music publisher CTM; Ashley Gorley and Domain Capital and Sony Music Publishing; and is working on the partial sale of Sam Hunt’s catalog. Dunn’s numerous clients have included Luke Combs, whom she represented in connection with the release of his deluxe edition album What You See Ain’t Always What You Get and his Bootleggers Radio project with Apple Music, as well as deals with Columbia Sportswear, Ford Motor and NASCAR. Among her multiple clients, Stevens represented Carrie Underwood for recording projects, TV appearances, her Las Vegas residency and her recent tour, as well as Underwood’s CALIA clothing line and a show on Apple Radio.

Russell A. Jones Jr.
Attorney, Law Offices of Russell A. Jones Jr. and Associates

Jones, whose talent roster includes Toby Keith, Tim McGraw and Trisha Yearwood, says the “public is hungry for live music” in the wake of the pandemic and that clients such as Garth Brooks, who is on year three of a three-year stadium tour, are happily obliging. “After months of trying to outguess the length and effects — including numerous governmental responses — with respect to the pandemic, my clients are now touring again.”

Joel Katz
Senior counsel, Barnes & Thornburg

Katz, a veteran negotiator for senior executives, represented John Esposito in his transition from chairman/CEO at Warner Music Nashville to chairman emeritus, as well as Ben Kline’s ascension at Warner Music Nashville to co-president. The attorney, who also serves as special counsel for the CMA, counts label heads Scott Borchetta (Big Machine Label Group), Mike Dungan (Universal Music Group Nashville) and Randy Goodman (Sony Music Nashville) among his clients.

Chip Petree
Managing partner, Ritholz Levy Fields

Petree, whose clients include Chris Stapleton, Brothers Osborne, Tyler Childers, Ashley McBryde and Billy Strings, handles catalog sales not only for top country talent but also buyers like Spirit Music, Primary Wave and Influence Media. Over one-third of the $100 million-plus in catalog business he has recently handled has been related to country copyrights. Like many in the industry, Petree says he’s excited that “the past year has seen successful returns to touring.”

Jess Rosen
Shareholder/co-chair, Atlanta entertainment and media practice, Greenberg Traurig

A go-to attorney for top country talent, Rosen has represented Miranda Lambert since before she signed a recording contract, so he understandably took great pride when she won the ACM Award for entertainer of the year in March. “Being part of that is the greatest example of long-term artist development,” Rosen says. He also represented Kenny Chesney in January in a deal that “created a dynamic relationship” with Hipgnosis by selling 80% of the artist’s catalog. Also on the catalog front, Rosen handled artist-asset sales for Alabama, Martina McBride and Nicolle Galyon.

Contributors: Rania Aniftos, Jim Asker, Katie Bain, Ed Christman, Mariel Concepcion, Stephen Daw, Bill Donahue, Thom Duffy, Chris Eggertsen, Deborah Evans Price, Josh Glicksman, Gary Graff, Paul Grein, Lyndsey Havens, Steve Knopper, Elias Leight, Heran Mamo, Taylor Mims, Melinda Newman, Jessica Nicholson, Glenn Peoples, Kristin Robinson, Tom Roland, Dan Rys, Andrew Unterberger, Deborah Wilker, Xander Zellner

Methodology: Nominations for Billboard’s executive lists open no less than 120 days in advance of publication. (For a contact for our editorial calendar, please email thom.duffy@billboard.com.) The online nomination link is sent to press representatives who send a request for notification before the nomination period to thom.duffy@billboard.com. Billboard’s 2022 Country Power Players were chosen by editors based on factors including, but not limited to, nominations by peers, colleagues and superiors. In addition to information requested with nominations, editors consider industry impact as measured by metrics including, but not limited to, chart, sales and streaming performance as measured by Billboard, Luminate and social media impressions using data available as of May 11.


Leading Schools of the Country Power Players

The most frequently cited alma maters of the 2022 class of honorees.

Middle Tennessee State University, Country Power Players
Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro is an alma mater of several of the 2022 Country Power Players. J.Intintoli

Auburn University (Auburn, Ala.)
Enrollment: 24,505

Belmont University (Nashville)
Enrollment: 6,626

Florida State University (Tallahassee, Fla.)
Enrollment: 32,543

Indiana University (Bloomington, Ind.)
Enrollment: 32,986

Lipscomb University (Nashville)
Enrollment: 2,997

Middle Tennessee State University (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
Enrollment: 19,188

University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Ala.)
Enrollment: 31,670

University of Kentucky (Lexington, Ky.)
Enrollment: 22,227

University of Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.)
Enrollment: 24,254

Vanderbilt University (Nashville)
Enrollment: 7,057

Note: Enrollment figures as of 2020 and sourced from U.S. News & World Report.

This story originally appeared in the June 25, 2022, issue of Billboard.