On a sunny Saturday afternoon in April, a group of young women gathered inside Georgia State University’s 25 Park Place to learn from some of the “leading ladies” in the Atlanta music scene. Located in the heart of a musical hub, the university is a hot spot for aspiring artists and entrepreneurs looking to break into the city’s booming entertainment industry. The panel, hosted by the Atlanta chapter of Women in Music, featured industry leaders such as Tammy Hurt and Michele Caplinger, both of whom have worked within Atlanta’s music scene for decades and recently helped implement a tax incentive that the city hopes will drive more revenue to the local music industry.
The panel’s moderator was writer and Women in Music Atlanta chair Christina Lee, who pointed out in an article for our May music issue that while women are often unrepresented behind-the-scenes in the industry, “Atlanta is slowly bucking the trend.” In fact, one of the best things about Atlanta’s music culture is the many women who are hard at work behind-the-scenes. From managers to music executives, here are 10 you should know:
Malita Rice | Manager and founder of Mogul Mentality
Rice moved to Atlanta nearly a decade ago to study criminal justice at Clark Atlanta University, hoping to land a job with the FBI. But her knack for connecting creatives led her instead becoming a successful entertainment entrepreneur, helping to facilitate deals and partnerships for artists such as Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital. She’s cast more than 100 music videos and worked on casting for season five of Love & Hip-Hop Atlanta before turning her focus to building her own company, Mogul Mentality. Founded in 2014, the management company works with clients such as OG Parker and Deko, the production duo responsible for hits such as Migos’s “Walk It Talk It.”
Mali Hunter | COO/Partner of Tree Sound Studios
Visit Tree Sound Studios and you might see celebrities ranging from rapper 2 Chainz to the stars of OWN’s Greenleaf utilizing the space. Hunter, the COO, is just as likely to be found facilitating yoga classes or hosting a healthy dinner for the artists (she’s an organic chef) as she is managing the studio from her office. Hunter’s own experiences as a musician have made her an passionate advocate for artists. She’s been known to push her team, from interns to engineers, to branch out, leading to them produce their own gold records. She fondly remembers how artists such as B.o.B and Rae Sremmurd spent time sleeping on the couch in the studio while working on their breakout hits. In addition to her work at Tree Sound, Hunter also works as the president and founder of the Retnuh Agency, selling songs for television and film.
Michele Caplinger | Senior executive director of the Recording Academy’s Atlanta chapter
Caplinger initially had a background in musical theater, but she quickly immersed herself in other parts of the music industry when she moved to Atlanta in 1981. Before becoming the senior executive director of the city’s Recording Academy chapter in 2000, Caplinger did national tour press for artists such as Janet Jackson and Fleetwood Mac and gained some experience in the artist management realm. “I dabbled in a lot of stuff,” she says. “Enough to be dangerous.” In her role at the Recording Academy, Caplinger meets with artists and industry insiders about the initiatives that are available to them through the Academy—beyond the Grammy Awards. “They know us because of the Grammys but what they don’t know is all of the stuff that they need to know,” Caplinger explains. “How we advocate on behalf of them in regards to them getting paid, our MusiCares program [a Recording Academy resource that delivers ‘financial, medical, and personal emergencies’ assistance to artists, according to the website] or our professional development programs.”
Over the past decade, Georgia has given more than $1 billion in tax credits to movie and TV production companies through tax incentives that have made the state the third busiest place in the country for film and TV, according to the AJC. Caplinger was one of several industry insiders who recently worked to create similar tax incentives for the music industry, focusing on scoring, recording and touring. The hope is that with Atlanta already serving as a music culture center, and with the burgeoning film and tech industries that are already in place, major music companies will soon start to open offices locally so that Atlanta’s rising behind-the-scenes talent and top artists won’t have to travel to New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles to conduct business or earn a living.
On her proudest achievements thus far:
“While [many people understand] the success of the [2008 Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act], the only piece we found missing was music. No one was incentivizing music. Being so involved and instrumental in the passing of the Georgia Music Investment Act last year by Governor Nathan Deal [has been one of my proudest moments]. [I’m also proud] to be a mother and to be able to say that I have a child, a strong, happy marriage, and I have this wonderful career. I feel very blessed and fortunate to be able to balance all of that.”
Tammy Hurt | Managing partner, Placement Music, LLC
Hurt prides herself on being a product of the music programs in Cobb County schools. A drummer and musician, Hurt has utilized her artist experiences to advocate for Atlanta’s music industry, serving on the board of governors of the Recording Academy’s Atlanta Chapter and as a founding member of Georgia Music Partners, a nonprofit that serves to “help Georgia’s music industry grow to become one of the country’s biggest and best, which promotes both job growth and culture.” Alongside Caplinger, Tammy was also instrumental in the passing of the Georgia Music Investment Act in 2017. This year, she’s taking time to spread awareness about the incentive, visiting SXSW and other popular music events.
On using tax incentives to strengthen entertainment in Atlanta as a whole:
“I look forward to what’s next. We’ve got such an incredible entertainment industry, and I think as we holistically approach that instead of [working in separate] silos, we become stronger as one [industry]. We’re very capable of that happening.”
Janecia Love | Marketing coordinator, Reach Records
When Love decided to move to Atlanta just after earning a communications degree from Oklahoma State, she didn’t have a job lined up. She’d completed an online interview with Reach Records, a Christian hip-hop label, but, convinced she’d bombed the interview, figured she’d just move to the city and find a job with an ad agency. A week later, Reach hired her as a marketing coordinator. Since she began in 2017, Love’s job has expanded beyond social media to include being an on-set presence during music video shoots and other campaigns to make sure that the visions of artists such as Lacrae are being fully executed. Her career is just beginning, but Love has proven herself as one to watch, serving as the vice chair of membership for the Atlanta chapter of the Women in Music and constantly positioning herself alongside longtime industry movers and shakers.
Diamond Peebles | Day-to-day manager, 6lack
Peebles started her music industry career working with “Swag Surfers” F.L.Y. and assisting the future co-manager of 21 Savage, Justun “Meezy” Williams, with clients. The Stone Mountain native first met her current client, LVRN singer 6lack, back in high school. They were later roommates, both looking for their next moves in the industry, and their relationship was “more of a friendship and a support system” initially, she says. Thanks to that trust, she’s now completely in charge of 6lack’s schedule, making sure he gets to and from every photo shoot and recording session on time, and that those events run smoothly even when she’s not around.
Ebonie Ward | Brand manager, Future and Freebandz
An Atlanta native, Ward’s career in the music industry started when she opened Fly Kix ATL on Peter Street nearly a decade ago. The men’s clothing boutique curated music events and in-store appearances with artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Future early in their careers. Serving as a liaison between artists and their teams enabled Ward to step into the music industry and build relationships with influential artists, including Future. “I basically oversee his image in its entirety,” Ward says of her current role as his brand manager. In addition to spearheading the creative elements of projects ranging from photoshoots to music videos, Ward coordinates day-to-day logistics for the rapper and manages some of the other artists on his Freebandz label. Although she’s been hard at work behind-the-scenes for years, Ward got her first official recognition as a creative director on Future’s self-titled and Hndrxx albums in 2017.
On being a product of Atlanta’s culture:
“Music is Atlanta. I can remember being the little girl who sat by the radio listening to V103 and Greg Street. When Birthday Bash was at Lakewood Amphitheatre, I was the girl who would save all of her money just to go. [Music is] completely engulfed in what Atlanta’s culture is. There’s so much amazing talent that has bled through the city and changed the world—Outkast, Dungeon Family. It’s always been a major part of who I am and what I wanted to become. Growing up in Atlanta, [music is] just a part of who you are.”
Kei Henderson | Co-manager, 21 Savage
Henderson originally thought she wanted to be a music journalist, but while writing for publications such as Complex, The Source, and All Hip-Hop, she became intrigued by the world of artist management (in particular, an assignment interviewing Bun B’s manager piqued her interest). Henderson eventually moved away from journalism by throwing parties, promoting events, and working as an assistant in sales and marketing for Complex. With connections she first made during this time, she’s spent the past decade managing artists and met her current client, 21 Savage, through her work with Atlanta collective Two-9. (Key!, once a rapper in the collective, went to high school with Savage.) In addition to managing one of today’s biggest rappers, Henderson recently formed a label, management, and publishing company called Since the 80s—a joint venture with Capital/Motown—alongside managers Barry Johnson and Zeke Nicholson.
On how her Atlanta roots helps her find success:
“Everybody wants to f— with someone from Atlanta and being from [here] just helped to widen up my resources and my contacts.”
Shanti Das | Former music executive; Press Reset founder
Das has worked on marketing campaigns for legendary artists such as Prince and Outkast. Beginning as a college intern at Capitol Records, Shanti was hired by Atlanta-based LaFace Records just after graduation as a member of the label’s marketing team. The first single Das worked on was Outkast’s debut, “Player’s Ball,” and after working on promotional campaigns for artists such as Usher, TLC, and Toni Braxton, Das moved to New York, where she acted as the senior director of marketing for Arista, the senior VP of urban marketing of Columbia, and the executive VP of marketing at Universal before moving back to Atlanta in 2009. In recent years, she’s cofounded ATL Live on the Park, a showcase for emerging urban and pop talent, and done marketing work for clients such as Johnny Gill, Kelly Price, the Atlanta Hawks, and the Atlanta Braves through her company, Press Reset. But perhaps Das’s most important initiative has been launching Silence the Shame. The campaign leverages her celebrity connections to bring awareness to mental health issues, with musicians such as Big Boi, Ne-Yo, Nick Cannon, and Keri Hilson sending tweets and speaking on panels. In May, a day-long Silence the Shame campaign raised about $30,000 to support programs geared toward erasing the sigma surrounding mental illnesses.
On the impact of her work with Outkast in the 1990s
“I don’t think any of us really knew the magnitude of what those projects would become, but we did know that they were special. Prior to [Outkast], Atlantans would rock New York hats and [also] really support the [music coming from the] West Coast. Outkast was one of the first authentic hip-hop groups to come out of Atlanta. Shout out to Another Bad Creation and Kriss Kross, who certainly helped put us on a map from a pop culture perspective, but Outkast really put us in a different realm.”
Cynthia Charles | Freelance lead talent buyer and festival director, ONE MusicFest
Charles has worked with the popular urban music festival ONE MusicFest since 2012, but she’s been in the live music industry for 15 years. As the lead talent buyer and festival director for ONE—which has featured acts such as Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Migos, Ms. Lauryn Hill, and the Dungeon Family collective—Charles curates and books the artists that appears on stage. It’s a six-month process of finding talent that not only meets the festival’s goals and objectives, but also falls within their budget. “We make a wish list and then we go down and make decisions based on pricing and availability,” she says.
This year’s festival lineup, which was announced earlier this week, finds Nas returning alongside fellow headliners Cardi B and Miguel. But the most exciting part of the lineup for many local hip-hop fans will certainly be the “Atlanta Crunk Set” which is billed to feature YoungBloodZ, Ying Yang Twins, Eastside Boyz, Kilo Ali, and more.
On women achieving greater opportunities in the music industry:
“I would love to see [more] opportunities for women to step out of support roles. There have been a lot of women, not only in Atlanta, who have served as the backbone or the ‘woman-behind-the-brand,’ but haven’t been given the resources to step outside of being support staff.”
And that’s not all: This article from our music issue features former Organized Noize manager Dee Dee Hibbler and her daughter, Malia Murray; Grand Hustle Record’s Hannah Kang; Spotify’s Amber Grimes; Twelve Studios’s Dina Marto; and Mean Street Studios’s Kesha Lee.