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Music City

Halie Hampton is the rarest of all things: a true local. Originally from Ashland City, she was raised in Nashville and is an MTSU Blue Raider who started interning in the promotion department at Sony Nashville while still in college. Under the tutelage of Lesly Simon, Hampton learned the radio business from the secondary markets up—and believes her time as Arista’s Regional Manager of Promotion gave her the diversity to balance her support work for Brooks & Dunn and Rascal Flatts with primary management of “Just Something People Say” writer/singer Rachel Wammack.

How has breaking artists changed?

Despite the challenges that we as an industry are facing breaking female artists specifically, the creative possibilities and ways to get there feel endless. It’s really a matter of what’s the best way for your artist. Even eight years ago, when I started my career, it felt very robotic the way artists were introduced: You went on a 12-14-week radio tour, released a first single at the end and were lucky if you secured a support slot on a decent tour after a slew of free radio shows.

We still operate in some of those ways, but now, with all the other creative options to bring the music to people and build fanbases and engagement between streaming platforms and social media, it’s not only really fun but you can launch a new artist in a lot of ways. Having that flexibility makes a massive difference in getting more artists into the pipeline and to the fans.


Kristen Ashley met Mitchell Tenpenny on Nov. 10, 2015—and that inspired the Trussville, Ala., native to name her company 11/10 Management. A lot of ground has been covered since the Belmont grad was hired by Riser House’s Jennifer Johnson. Beyond meeting the artist who changed her life, she was part of the team that helped the “Drunk Me” and “Alcohol You Later” star release two EPs before teaming with Columbia Nashville for his Telling All My Secrets debut.

Believing that “fans want new music frequently” allowed Ashley—now partnered with Haley McLemore at Red Light—not only to give Tenpenny autonomy, it also led her to client Kenton Bryant. “With how critical playlisting is these days, the sky is the limit,” she offers. “When I heard Kenton on an Apple Music playlist, I had no idea who he was and became a fan.”

How has breaking artists changed?

Being strategic with when and what we release to keep the fans’ attention. It’s important to have music coming out regularly, so we’ve made releasing new music a priority, with several collaborations in the works. Historically, you get a record deal and go to radio. Presently, artists are utilizing the DSPs, SiriusXM, social media and YouTube, as well as terrestrial radio and touring. Find the best path and go full force. It’s amazing when forces come together, but it’s not the only path now. To see Mitchell being streamed heavily in the U.K., Australia and Japan, even though he’s never visited those countries before is something we’ve not been able to accomplish in our genre, and those fans are vital.

Best lesson learned?

There’s always a solution to any problem.


Eden, N.C.’s Crystal Dishmon may have earned a degree from Belmont and honed her skills as a tour manager, but it was after joining Marion Kraft’s Shopkeeper Management as day-to-day for Miranda Lambert, as well as Lambert’s Pistol Annies girl gang, that she came into her own. Today, she still handles those tasks, but she’s also managing Canadian Country Music Association Humanitarian of the Year Tenille Townes, whose “Somebody’s Daughter” is gaining traction. Citing her patience as a key skill, Dishmon wants to invest the time to create something that will last. Staying focused on “developing a foundation for long-lasting careers,” she believes, “It’s vital to keep that priority top of mind.”

What are the advantages of this brave new world?

More open lanes for music and artists who do not fit within a certain genre or mold. 10 years ago, if you didn’t fit into the mainstream of a genre, then you didn’t have an outlet to really get your music heard. With streaming, there are more open doors.

Has breaking an artist changed?

It takes more than a couple of hits to have a career. You have to craft a continuous story to define who the artist is and what they stand for to give fans something to identify with. More so than ever before, fans want to know about artists and identify with them. This is a big shift from how it used to be.

Best Advice?

Not only do I not have to have all the answers, but I’m not expected to. My value is in my ability to ask for advice when needed, then take that advice and make the best decision for my artist.

With more doors open and endless avenues to go down, how to cut through the noise becomes critical.


Melanie Wetherbee is an unlikely champion for California turbo-traditionalist Jon Pardi. But the Massachusetts native—who got her degree at Middle Tennessee State and her first job as publicity coordinator at then RCA Label Group, followed by a stint at McGhee Entertainment—led to a key role Pardi’s breakout with a 2017 CMA Best New Artist win and a Single of the Year nomination for “Dirt On My Boots.”

The Red Light manager, who also works with Jillian Jacqueline, believes the standard for breaking artists remains the same. “You still need to build a strong hard ticket, you still want your fellow music community to get behind them, and you still want your artist to stand out as if no one else could fill those shoes and make people believe it. Plenty of artists break through based strictly on the credibility factor, while never having a radio hit, so what defines that kind of success? It could mean you fill decent-sized theaters, win Grammys and make a good living the rest of your life.

What’s the biggest hurdle?

The ever-shortening attention spans and need for instant gratification. Obviously, there’s a shifting hunger in the way we consume things. But the reality is, quality product that’s been positioned to the marketplace properly will continue for a longer period of time naturally on its own. The consumer will tell us when they’re done with it. We’ve seen it with Jon’s California Sunrise album. It came out over three years ago, and it’s still streaming between 9-10 million times a week on average. “Night Shift” only went Top 5 but is about to surpass a million in sales/consumption. So, it’s another instance where streaming and radio don’t necessarily tell a parallel story.

Best Lesson?

You can make all the right moves and prepare all you want, but when it comes down to it, there’s only so many factors you absolutely control. What happens next, you just have to accept and work with.


BRND MGMT’s Matt Graham was working at The Fader when Jimmy Iovine signed an act he was managing. It wasn’t long until Scooter Braun invited him to co-manage Cody Simpson, and that’s when the Great Neck, New Yorker realized he’d found his true calling. Today, he works with progressive traditionalists Midland, who are establishing a new kind of country hipster sound and throwback style, as well as non-country acts Desure, The Score, Wale, Nicky Romero, XYLO and Corey Harper.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities in this new world?

Streaming and social media have obliterated the old means of distribution, which allows us to build artists from the ground up in a very economical way. The emerging middle class of musicians is now a place where we can sort out who’s the next crop of stars rather than playing a guessing game.

If you can build an artist into a small-to-medium-size fanbase, you can look at the metrics and evaluate whether this person has the potential for exponential growth or is more likely to remain a niche artist.

What about the hurdles?

I no longer think you can break an artist without all the pieces being in place. You have to have great music, great visuals, great socials, a great story, a great live show. Nothing can be off, because there is no place to hide your weaknesses anymore.

It’s a jigsaw puzzle that requires many small pieces to come together. We have to be expert generalists, which means we can no longer just understand all the aspects of the music industry; rather, we need to be experts at all aspects.

Best lesson learned?

Try your best to stay out of the way when it comes to your client’s friends, family and money.


Morris Higham’s Will Hitchcock joined the company in 2007, working with Marc Oswald during the glory days of Muzik Mafia, Big & Rich and Gretchen Wilson. But the Belmont grad really hit his stride when he aligned with Clint Higham and went all-in on Old Dominion, the current ACM and CMA Group of the Year. In addition, the Bratt, Fla., native manages Warner Nashville 2019 launches Walker County and Ryan Griffin in an environment where “Clint empowers us to go do it. We’re given the reins to make it happen.”

When offered one of two acts—one with a major-label deal and a big producer attached, the other trying to build it on their own—Hitchcock chose the one whose music moved him. “They had created a sound on their own. They were writers, pitching their demos to other people. Some of those demos became the first songs Old Dominion put out.”

Though every label passed, Hitchcock and Team MHM kept working. First came touring, then “Break Up With Him” landed at SiriusXM; soon OD signed with Sony Nashville—and the #1s started rolling in. For Hitchcock, it was knowing OD had it, then trusting that streaming, satellite radio and live would matter.

Biggest hurdle?

Balancing how much the artists give access, and what things to keep for them. With social media, knowing what you should save for yourself can be tricky, but it’s necessary. Also, with Walker County, who’s coming in October, we realize there’s a lot of opposition for females, and there are plenty of women who are very deserving, but these girls are something different, and I think that matters right now. The difference, the musical attitude—it’s more than gender, it’s like Old Dominion—a sound.

Best advice?

Don’t be desperate. It’s okay to be picky and not take something just because it’s got a deal. Have faith in your gut. When you’re young, you get wowed by God-given talent—the big voice or the songs—but if they’re not driven, it rarely works. I’ll take the artist who says “I’m gonna make this happen no matter what” every time.


For Sandbox Entertainment’s Lisa Ray, who got her start at 16 by hectoring the manager of a North Carolina Record Bar to work there, her “break” came when WEA Distribution’s John Esposito spotted the music-hungry Appalachian State grad and offered her a job as a pop and urban field-marketing rep. When Espo went country, he annexed Ray and put her to work on Chris Janson, Devin Dawson, Ashley McBryde and a pop-leaning duo managed by Jason Owen named Dan + Shay, pictured above with Ray.

After five years at Warner Nashville, Ray moved over to management “in one of the easiest transitions in the world, because I was still working with two of the best people ever, Jason and Espo, on an act I believed in from day one.” Over the last 18 months, D+S have had a global pop smash with “Tequila,” stunned with a Grammy performance, won Best Country Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and are now seeing crossover success as “Speechless” lands Top 25 Pop and Top 10 Hot AC, while “All to Myself” hits the Country Top 15.

With all the disruption, what’s the biggest hurdle?

Some may say it’s a hurdle, but I think being able to put out the best songs and know they could have an unexpected life because of the blurred lines is awesome. Some people see that as a disruption, but I see it as a reality and an opportunity. People used to look at crossover as a bad thing, but the streaming world has reminded us that stated genre-defining limitations really don’t apply.

Fans want to consume more and consume more often. Genres overlap, and being nimble allows the artist to offer music in many different forms—maybe a remix or an alternate version. Fans eat that up, so we should be providing as much as we can to any consumer who wants to listen.


Charleston, South Carolina’s Lynn Oliver-Cline is Kappy’s counterpart at River House Management. The former Hootie & the Blowfish intern, who started the label that’s become a management/publishing powerhouse, still works with a string of writers, as well as managing Jameson Rodgers. Loving the flexibility major labels have, she folded River House into Columbia Nashville, where “It feels like we can pursue some out-of-the-box ideas and be supported. They’re so open to new ideas, in part because they have to be, but the new world is bringing artist development back in a really big way.”

With all the disruption, what’s the biggest hurdle?

Trying to provide exclusive content to everybody who needs it to support their individual platforms. It’s really taxing trying to be everything to everyone at all times, online and on social media. Artists want to write and play music, but there’s so much time that is spent on this other stuff that was never expected before, especially as far as video content. There are a lot of expectations, and I think things really have to be well thought out and strategic when you’re speaking to your audience, no matter where it is.

Best Advice?

The devil is in the details. Always.