UMG Nashville President Cindy Mabe knows what it means to be a fan. Long before she was running point on the marketing of newcomer Carrie Underwood and former classmate Brad Paisley, she was taking notes while watching awards shows and cornering her local radio personnel to get her questions about ‘how it works’ answered.

The marketing-forward veteran, who understands that each artist is unique, has created a roster that is hand-tended and always growing. Whether it’s Chris Stapleton, Kacey Musgraves, Eric Church, Luke Bryan, Jon Pardi, Alan Jackson, George Strait, Brothers Osborne or Mickey Guyton, Mabe homes in on her artists’ strengths, protects their fragile sides and finds the trajectories that work for all.

Running a ticketing/meet-and-greet business while still in college, the young woman who acted as promotion coordinator and SoundScan puller at RCA Nashville while taking night classes to finish college wasn’t—and isn’t—afraid of the work. After extricating herself from a dead-end job at RJ Reynolds, bailing on UNC-Chapel Hill and landing in Nashville, the passionate—some would say fierce—executive has created a singular career for herself. This is Cindy Mabe’s story, in her own words.


“We were from a tiny town surrounded by tobacco fields and woods. There wasn’t a ton to do, so we played in the woods and ran through the tobacco fields. You helped your granddaddy pick sweet potatoes—that’s what our life was like. We lived on a plot of land; my grandmother lived right in front of us, my aunt lived to the left of us, my uncle lived to the right of us. It was sweet and a wonderful place to grow up. When my kids go back there, they would prefer to be there than to be in Nashville.

“What touched me the most was music. It was more than just country music, but country is my sweet spot, for sure—the storytelling, the escapism. My first records were Charlie Daniels and Dolly Parton. Around high school, it was Reba; on my softball team, they would call me Wynonna because I played The Judds from front to back. I went to every concert that I could drive to. I owned everything George Strait ever made. Alabama was huge, Randy Travis—those were my go-to artists.

“But growing up, I got to a place of, ‘I’m a Type A personality; gotta figure out what the next step is.’ Rushing so hard to get through being a kid to getting through school, getting through college. Once I got there, I was like, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’

“I would take on all these extra jobs and hated every one of them. I wondered how people lived like this. People worked at RJ Reynolds—that’s where I worked, you know. I also tried to do other things, everything from waitressing to selling knives to working in the mailroom. I did it all. And they were all terrible jobs. Some people can shut their brain off and it’s just about paying the bills. But for me, it tore my soul up.

“When I was in college, I thought I’d go into sports marketing, because the Winston Cup was still with RJ Reynolds at that time. That was attainable; it’s my backyard—NASCAR is in Charlotte. But I wasn’t passionate about it, so I thought, ‘How does my local radio station have Alabama coming in to do interviews? How does that happen?’ Then I thought, ‘I don’t know anybody at the radio station, but I could call and see if somebody would at least explain this to me and help me figure out how we go from here to there.’

“That’s what I did. I called the general manager. He let me come in for an interview. I literally quizzed the man on everything about how radio works, why the artists come through here. I was so desperate to find what I’m here for, knowing I am not here to work at RJ Reynolds.

“I had gone to Nashville when I was 16 years old for Fan Fair. I was like, ‘I’m home. These are my people.’ It really was the turning point. We had The Nashville Network, so my information came from my local radio station, TNN and the awards shows. I literally have notebooks full of information that I gathered from them, from who an artist thanked on a CMA or ACM Awards show to what artists were on every label. By the time I ever moved to Nashville, I knew everybody. I knew the [label] presidents, who were high up enough that they were called out on awards shows. So it gave me this crazy roadmap.


“What sold me on Belmont was the intern board. You saw all these jobs that were right there on Music Row, when Music Row was still Music Row. I had some great teachers and some not-so-great teachers. My class had Brad Paisley, who was dating my roommate at the time. Kelley Lovelace [who would become a hit songwriter] was cheating off my finance papers so that he could pass finance.

“I just wanted to be at a record label. The first one was Arista Records. I knew Arista because I knew Alan Jackson, who was booming at the time. It was a new label, and I had heard all about Tim Dubois and Clive Davis from listening to people talk on the CMAs. Plus, I love Pam Tillis; I was in her fan club. But Alan was my guy, which is weird, how full circle we’ve come. [The Arista opening] was for publicity. What I learned is that I was not meant for that.


“The next semester, I found one for marketing at RCA. I’m like, ‘Oh yes!’ First week, I don’t know the rules of it, so I go in and they’re doing this Aaron Tippin song; they’re saying, ‘We’re going to send this to radio on this day.’ The next day I come in with a handwritten marketing plan on what we really should do with the project. I’m an intern; I’ve been there for two weeks. But they’re like, ‘You’re kind of intense over here; quiet but intense.’ Later that day, they were like, ‘It’s actually a pretty good idea.’ We ended up doing the idea.

“As Christmas approached, Joe Galante came back from New York. They’re like, ‘Hey, we’re getting rid of half of the staff and half of these artists.’ There were too many jobs to do and not that many people. So Randy Goodman said, ‘Hey, people say good things about you. Would you like to bid for a job?’

“They wanted me to come in and pull the SoundScan every morning, back when you had to be in there at 5am so everybody had it before work. Then I became the sales coordinator, but I had to move my classes to night.

“It was just a massive process, but it taught me a ton. I was still just a college kid, and I knew how to do all that stuff. It was awesome to soak it up—anything anybody wanted to teach me. I also got to do the tickets, meet and greets—no one ever wants that job. But I would take whatever they would give me.


“Joe did not have a lot of time or patience for people, so he’d walk down the hall and ask a question and just keep talking. Once he let me sit in the marketing meetings, he would say, ‘Cindy, what is your opinion on this?’ If I didn’t spit it out [right away], he just moved on; it was embarrassing. If I was passionate about something, I could make myself jump in really quick. So Joe’s like, ‘She needs some media training,’ and he paid for me to go to media training. It helped. It was a terrible experience, but also invaluable.

“Unfortunately or fortunately, however you see it, Joe unleashed a beast in me. When things would start going sideways, I’d jump in to where he’s like, ‘Cindy, you’re either going to go really far in this company or you’re gonna get your tongue cut out of your mouth.’

“There were several meetings where he said, ‘Cindy, you can’t talk in this meeting.’ I don’t think I was being super-aggressive, but even as an introverted kid in a very male-dominated room, I could not be a yes-man. People would look at the floor whenever I opened my mouth, like, ‘I can’t make eye contact with you because you’re going to get burned alive today.’ And several days I did. But great things came from that, in my opinion...”

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