When Opportunity Knocks, Take the Plunge

Sometimes we go out looking for our life’s work, and sometimes it finds us. In my case, getting into the music business was not something I had dreamed about, or even considered when planning my life and career. But one day, the opportunity presented itself and I decided to take the plunge. It was a decision that would be life-changing for me, and one that I have found success with in spite of being a woman in what is literally a ‘good old boys’ club.

The opportunity first presented itself when progressive country artist Jason Thomas released his first single in October 2005. He did so without any support from a recording company and without a music promotion team. I decided that perhaps I could help him, and so I jumped into music promotion feet first. I thought: How hard can this be? I like a challenge, and I wasn’t disappointed because this turned out to be one.

I did some research and received a quick crash course in radio promotion and the music business. Then, I began to reach out to radio programmers across the land, and one fine day Jason's first single "Somebody Down Here Loves Me" (penned by veteran Nashville songwriter Tom Shapiro) charted at No. 61 on the Music Row Chart. This breakthrough was really miraculous in a way, since we had none of the usual tools that are typically associated with this kind of success — no major label support, no top-dollar music promoters, no huge budget to market the song. Just to prove to myself and others that it wasn’t a fluke, I have done it two more times, charting two more top 100 songs.

In 2010, I expanded the company from radio promotions exclusively. We’re now doing marketing and imaging for other artists, as well as our own. And we have ventured into song publishing, producing, social media marketing, music video development, web site design, SEO, and booking. We’ve hired employees and interns, and we’re poised to grow an already successful enterprise.

What I’ve Learned Along the Way

The music business is a big business but, like a lot of industries, the inner circle of major and influential players is extremely small. In fact, it consists of basically a couple hundred people. And, to make it even more complicated, it’s kind of insular and closed. This is not a circle that you can just push your way into. It's the consummate boys club and they don't particularly like outsiders. You have to be invited in, and I have to say that over time I have made slow but sure progress. Credibility doesn’t come easy in this business, especially if you’re a woman. Like any business, however, if you want to succeed you have to avoid over-promising, deliver over and over again on the promises you have made, and be consistent.

"I think that being a woman will turn out to be a competitive advantage for me."" -Pres., MD Records, Kelli McGarraugh

Perseverance is vital. I don't get discouraged very easily. That alone has allowed me to prosper in the ultimate “What have you done for me lately?” business. There are always going to be obstacles of one kind or another, and you have to keep the momentum going without letting it get the best of you.

A word about priorities. I set mine way back at the beginning of all of this. My family would hold the highest place in my life. I’d try to always be there for my husband and children. I would do what I think is right in every situation and I would walk away from questionable deals. While there are inevitable pressures and siren calls to change these tenets, I do abide by them, and I think I’m better off for that in so many ways.

Women And Business - A CNBC Special Report
Women And Business - A CNBC Special Report


It might be a bit of a generalization to say this, but in some ways, I think that being a woman will turn out to be a competitive advantage, and here’s why. In a business that is in upheaval because of all the new technology and the changes it has brought (declining sales of CDs, etc.) I think it’s easy for most men in my business to just forge ahead, rather than slow down, take a look around, be strategic, and embrace the new normal. Thankfully, my degree is technology-focused, and that knowledge is helping me take a long-term view and adapt to the new world of recording and publishing.

How am I doing vis-a vis the glass ceiling? I am making daily progress toward breaking through it. A top 20 hit would make all the difference.

Hopefully soon.

Kelli McGarraugh is President of MD Recordsin Nashville Tennessee.