Recording Industry Professor Michelle Conceison is an expert in artist management, marketing, brand management, concert promotion, entrepreneurship, and strategic planning.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Ethical Philosophy from Tufts University and an MBA from Simmons University, both in Boston. Prior to joining MTSU, she taught graduate and undergraduate level music business and arts administration at Northeastern University, marketing and brand management in the MBA program at Simmons University, Advertising in the Experimental College at Tufts University, and she was a Graduate Assistant in Creative Writing at the University of California at Berkeley.
Before joining the music industry and higher ed, she worked in advertising in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and New York, working with AT&T, Bank of America, General Motors, Saturn, Sirius/XM, and Musician’s Friend (Guitar Center). She bought some of the first search keywords Google sold in 1999 while working in San Francisco. Later, as vice president and director of media, she built and led Search practices at leading agencies Arnold/MPG/Media Contacts and Digitas in Boston and Starcom Worldwide in Chicago. She managed teams that formed the search and social media landscape and has been involved in many innovations that shaped the digital media industry as it is today.
She is also a successful and respected artist manager and owner of MMGT, an integrated marketing and artist management company she founded in 2004 that specializes in managing international singer-songwriters and bands in folk, bluegrass, Americana, and roots music. She has guided their careers as they have toured the awards, earned Grammy nominations and won numerous awards. She uses her real-life experiences to prepare students for the changing music industry.
She has emerged as a leader in the Americana, Folk and Bluegrass worlds. She is secretary of the board of the International Bluegrass Music Association and chair of its Task Force on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. She is co-chair of the Nashville Chapter of Women In Music. She is also the programming manager for Folk Alliance International, for which she has served as past board president and a board member for nearly a decade. In 2017, she won the Spirit of Folk Award, “presented annually to honor and celebrate people and organizations actively involved in the preservation, presentation, and promotion of folk music through their creative work, community building, and demonstrated leadership.” She is a graduate of Leadership Bluegrass.
Folk Alliance International has published two of her two papers that are considered to be significant in the advancement of folk music. In 2015, she was the lead author on a paper entitled “Understanding Copyright, Royalties and Practical Application in Folk Music.” Four years later, she was lauded for authoring initial findings from a multi-year research study, entitled “Measuring Folk,” that she presented at the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) conference. She speaks regularly on topics such as teaching online, cultural equity and anti-racism, and music marketing strategy.
She talked with Dean Beverly Keel about everything from her music industry research to her favorite TV shows.
Tell us how you decided to pursue a career in the music business. What was your first job? What drew you to artist management?
I pursued a career in advertising before music, but my music experience did start in college. I went to Tufts University in the Boston area. I hosted folk and singer-songwriter concerts on campus, raising funds from student organizations. I volunteered at Club Passim in Harvard Square and had an internship at Planetary Group/Concert Ideas. I loved music and wanted to get involved any way I could. I did not know what jobs existed. I just followed opportunities as they came. After school, I had interviews at record labels, publishers and ad agencies, and advertising stole my attention for a decade or so. One time, on my way to work at an ad agency, I heard an artist busking in a subway station and I volunteered to help her with marketing. One thing led to another as I took on more responsibilities as I learned more. One day she called me her "manager" when she introduced me, and I was struck with an immediate feeling that something important had happened. I had no idea there was a name for what I was doing, but I knew it was a life-altering moment. Through the course of working with her, I met other artists and songwriters in the Cambridge/Somerville music scene. I helped folks out the best I could as I learned to do the job. I went to business school, focusing on international marketing and music management. I wrote a business plan for my artist management and marketing services company, Mmgt, which I launched after B-school and still run today. So my first paid job in music was at my own company!
When and why did you decide to pursue a full-time career as an educator?
I come from a long line of educators in a big family. My father taught at the same high school for 45 years. All but one of my siblings have taught--two still do. My sister Mary is a phenomenal high school teacher and my sister Claire is in the Music & Theater Arts Department at MIT. Not to mention my cousins and their kids. We have so many teachers that we joke about holding our own educators conference one day! So, it comes as no surprise that I have always taught throughout my professional life. While working in advertising, I taught classes on marketing, brand management and digital media at my alma maters Tufts University and Simmons School of Management. I was lucky to be invited to teach as an adjunct at Northeastern University in Fall 2012, and then joined the faculty full time in Fall 2013. I chose a full-time faculty path because the more I teach the more I understand. Teaching makes me a more helpful manager to artists and the music communities I serve, and it pushes me to always pursue more understanding. In the classroom, I stay tapped in. I can't just sort of understand the music business. I have to fully understand every aspect in order to teach it to students. I am compelled to continue to critique commonly accepted notions in the industry, and update my understanding as the industry evolves. I seek better ways to describe a complex industry. I am endlessly curious about the way systems work. Academia creates opportunities to learn and teach about the industry from many perspectives, not just from one manager's vantage point. Since coming to MTSU in 2018, I have conducted more research in partnership with music industry organizations and academic colleagues alike. I believe together we can lighten the path to an ever-improving industry for the benefit of our students and alumni.
Talk about moving from Boston to Nashville several years ago. Why did you decide to make that move? What was that adjustment like?
I moved to Nashville in December 2015 to be closer to the music industry. Nashville had a reputation of being a strong community with a legacy of valuing songs and songwriters. I had been managing for 14 years, and most of the networking I did then required travel. I wanted to experience living in a city that people come to for music, and I wanted to contribute to a community of likeminded music-making folks. I wanted to expand my American cultural knowledge, too. I lived in New England and California, and spent time in the Northwest and Midwest. In Nashville I found a lower cost of living (then) and was excited to be close to many friends I had known for years working in music. I was like a kid in a candy shop! All of a sudden, I could see music at a number of venues on any day of the week and meet music people if I walked into any coffee shop. I'm a big history buff, too, so I immersed myself in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, made maps of places I wanted to see, and sought out obscure locations where country music history was made. Working in Nashville now reminds me a lot of what it was like to work in advertising in San Francisco in the late 90s. That city was reinventing itself in the dot com boom - and the industry was expanding along with the city. Nashville is reinventing itself now, and Murfreesboro is an integral part of that change.
What can you tell us about your contributions to Marketing Recorded Music: How Music Companies Brand and Market Artists, which is the textbook co-authored by Prof. Amy Macy, Prof. Tammy Donham and Belmont Prof. Clyde Rawls?
When Amy Macy and Tammy Donham asked me to contribute a chapter on Merchandising to the textbook, I was blown away! While I have published papers, this is my first published chapter in a textbook. I have been teaching from previous editions of the textbook for many semesters now, so I was deeply familiar with the content. It really is the essential text on marketing recorded music. To write the chapter, I channeled my 21 years of experience advising artists about merchandising and managing their inventory, distribution and fulfillment. I'm a very process-oriented thinker, so I aimed to infuse the chapter with not just a strategic approach to design and pricing, but also tactically how modern marketers tactically operationalize the process from design - to a fan wearing a T-shirt to artists getting PAID. I sure hope it is helpful to students!
You are taking a lead in diversity and inclusion efforts in both research and professional organizations. Tell us about your work with the organizations. What inspired you to become involved ? What can you tell us about your paper, "Studying Diversity in the Music Industry," that will be published in the upcoming MEIEA Journal in the MEIEA Summit Proceedings issue?
In the past, when I conducted research it happened because I had a burning question I couldn't answer. With "Studying Diversity in the Music Industry" it was different. It wasn't me studying a topic anew, but rather gathering up studies that had been done to look at them together to see what could be learned from all of them. I was reading a lot of studies about identity, diversity, representation, inclusion and pursuit of equity in the music industry. More were released every month or two, and the research seemed to shift over time. First in focus, then in language, then in methodologies/approaches. I was having a hard time keeping up with all the research, not to mention synthesizing it. I wanted to be able to share it with students so we could have data-driven discussions about where the music industry is going. To do so, I needed to further my understanding of how the studies intersect. I realized if I was having a hard time keeping up with all of it, maybe other professors were, too. The music industry moves fast of course, but also, from 2020-2021 college professors had to pivot hard to continue to maintain the level of quality education we aspire to offer. There was a lot competing for our attention. I wanted to make sure the studies that came out in that time were not missed by music industry professors. So I presented a summary at the Music & Entertainment Industry Educators Association (MEIEA) Summit, and my detailed paper will be published in the proceedings issue of their journal. In the paper, I talk about how the nature of music industry diversity research has evolved, and I summarize findings of some recent studies. I tell some stories of how research came about or was conducted - because the music industry can learn a lot about how to make more research happen from those stories. One of the stories I tell is about country music and the instrumental role YOU (Dean Keel) have played as a journalist, educator and industry leader collaborating with others and advocating for change!
Can you reveal anything about your new research findings about diversity/representation on the Americana radio chart that you have been working with Dr. Jada Watson on for the last year?
This week at Americanafest, we will present our report entitled "Representation in the Americana Radio Chart (2018-2021)." In that report, we share some history of Americana radio and the chart, and the ongoing dialogue that has been going on in the Americana music community about efforts to improve diversity and inclusion. In brief, our findings after analyzing four years of weekly data, over 10,000 rows of data, can be summarized as follows. In 4 years, 526 artists had songs reach the Top 50 of the Americana Radio Singles Chart. 87.6% of those artists were white, 61.7% were men. 23.6% were women - 21.1% white women. Only 12.4% were BIPOC or multi-ethnic ensembles. While we all have hope that things improved in that timeframe, the year-over-year data showed very little change. The report goes into great detail to show different vantage points on the data, including analysis of top artists on the chart and the way tracks move once appearing on the chart. Readers of this are encouraged to read the full report at mmgt.co/research My hope is to engage in meaningful dialogue with folks attending the upcoming Americana music event about what can be done to understand barriers that exist to inclusion. The more dialogue we can have, the better!
You continue to manage several musical artists. How has your role as a manager evolved over the years?
I currently manage Kyshona, The McCrary Sisters and Della Mae. I'm not sure my role has changed so much really, on a day-to-day basis, but I like to think the more I understand the more I can do for artists and the greater music community. I will say, my team at Mmgt has become increasingly committed to working with artists who have social missions in their work. I'm lucky to work with incredible people!
What do you do when you aren’t working?
Oh, good question! I work a lot these days (see above). But when I do have downtime, I spend time with my partner Katie, her awesome kid Maddie and our dog and cat. I like to cook, garden, game, and I am in a couple book clubs. I have a deep lifelong passion for breakfast and love inviting friends over now that we're able to see each other again
What TV shows/movies have you enjoyed watching?
TV: RuPaul's Drag Race, Bob's Burgers, Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Movies: Respect, Amazing Grace (Aretha Franklin), Lightyear, Sing and Sing 2. Recently I was moved by the documentaries made about Sheryl Crow and Shania Twain and how revealing they are of our music industry and society's perspective on powerful women in music.
What musical artists were your touchstones? Who are you listening to now?
Touchstones: Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Stevie Wonder, The Smiths, Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, Kathy Mattea, Indigo Girls, Ani Difranco, The Story, Mary J Blige, Alanis Morrissette, Patty Griffin, Kris Delmhorst, Bonnie Raitt, Sara Watkins, Ruthie Foster, Lori McKenna, Lake Street Dive, Adele, Lisa Hannigan, Mavis Staples, Brandi Carlile, gosh many more…. Listening to: Kyshona, The McCrary Sisters, Della Mae (‘cause managers listen to their clients most!)
What advice do you have for the rest of us on time management, productivity, etc.?
I love my work, and I spend a lot of time on it. But I do make time to chill out, too. Getting rest makes me more productive when I am working. I try to put my phone away when I sit down to eat - as a manager's emails and texts are constant. The longer I do this job, the more I am able to relax into the constant flow. Things feel less urgent, yet I still get them done quickly. Sometimes I simply beg forgiveness when something takes longer than I want it to. I wish I had more advice! Everything I started to type here just feels like, "Well, that's easier said than done," or, "That's what everyone says." Maybe the most important thing I can say is BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT and you can.