After over 20 years in the music industry, MAC Presents’ Marcie Allen is most proud of her work that uplifts others. As an adjunct professor at NYU, she travels from her home in Nashville to give music business students hands on training, including a Q&A with Deadmau5.
As a mother to two brilliant step-daughters who attend the same all-girls school Allen attended, she continues to encourage future generations. Allen was named a distinguished alumni at her former school – Harpeth Hall in Nashville – and was asked to speak in front of 700 young women, including her daughters.
“It was a really powerful moment for me,” Allen told Amplify. “As far as accolades and awards that I’ve received over a 20 plus year career, that one meant the most to me just because I remember sitting in that auditorium and wanting to be on the stage.”
Music has always been Allen’s passion, especially since her grandfather was a wildly heralded musician.
“I think my love for music is from being raised by my grandfather who used to play his vinyl albums and quiz me on the music. And I do that with my step-daughters now when I take them to school in the morning,” Allen explained.
“I was always known in high school and college as knowing the bands before they broke. Whether it was Dave Matthews or Counting Crows or Nirvana or Pearl Jam or Red Hot Chili Peppers,” Allen said. “These were all the artists I was listening to and introducing my friends to. I would go to the record store and they would have the artists of the week and you would put on headphones and listen to the cassette.”
Since those days, Allen has worked throughout the music business in booking, marketing, and now owns her own company MAC Presents which builds creative partnerships between sponsors and artists.
“In the music industry, you have to be able to pivot,” Allen said. “And have pivoted a couple of times in my 23 year career and I’m not afraid to fail forward and I’m not afraid to take risks. And I don’t take no for an answer.”
Amplify caught up with Allen to learn more about how she has continued to pivot her way to success for over 20 years and how she is passing her knowledge on.
How did you get started in the music business?
I started booking bands when I was in high school. Harpeth Hall High School in Nashville,which is an all-girls school. My very first job in the industry was answering phones at the Charlie Daniels Band management office. My aunt has managed him for over 35 years. I fell in love with music. My grandfather and grandmother raised me and my grandfather was Hoss Allen. He’s in the Gospel Hall of Fame, the Blues Hall of Fame and was a very famous radio DJ. I was around the whole music industry. It’s in my blood.
Then I went to Rhodes College in Memphis. I was Tri Delta there and was social chair for three years booking bands. Then I had a summer internship at Live Nation, which at the time was Cellar Door Concerts in Washington D.C. I worked for Brian O’Connell and Geoff Gordon. Geoff Gordon is now the president of Live Nation Philly and Brian O’Connell is now president of Live Nation Country. I became director of marketing at the age of 21. That was 23 years ago.
What kind of music were you booking for your high school?
For prom to be exact. It was for Harpeth Hall and then I got hired by another high school to book their prom. Then in college I was booking at my sorority and other colleges in Memphis hired me to book for them. I didn’t graduate from college. I went to college for three years and ended up going on full time as director of marketing for Cellar Door in D.C.
Were you booking local bands in Tennessee at first?
Yes. It was local bands. It was not country, that’s for sure. My favorite music has always been hip-hop and also rock. My favorite bands were Led Zeppelin and that kind of thing.
Is that what you listened to growing up?
Growing up I was listening to Led Zeppelin, Steve Miller Band, the Rolling Stones. Those are my favorite bands and then when I graduated high school those were the days of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. But I also loved N.W.A. and in college Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” was on repeat. Now I do all the sponsorships for Cara Lewis, for her company CLG. We share office space and have a strategic partnership, so I’m in heaven.
Did you go to a lot of shows growing up?
Oh yeah. I was going to see the Black Crowes, Drivin’ N Cryin,’ The Connells, The Smithereens. I went to a whole bunch of concerts with my friends.
Were there any venues you frequented?
328 Performance Hall which is no longer there. The Exit/In. That was all we had back then. There was no Marathon Music Works. Nashville was such a different place when I was in high school. We didn’t have an NFL team or an NHL team. It was a sleepy, great place to raise your family kind of town. There are very few people in the music industry who actually grew up in Nashville and are still here. I’m a bit of an anomaly. Which I think it is serendipitous because it crosses over into what I do now. I have a foot in both worlds. I know all the people who grew up in Nashville that are in different industries and then obviously knowing all the music industry people that are transplants. What I do with the music experiential agency is have a foot in the music industry world and then I have a foot in the branding world.
If you weren’t in the music industry, is there another job you think you could have done?
I was going to be a volleyball coach and a history teacher. Well, that’s what I thought. So it’s interesting how it’s come full circle where now my music has always been my passion. Now I’m able to actually teach what my true passion is which is the music industry. I think it is important to help the future leaders of tomorrow.
When did you start teaching?
I taught at NYU Steinhart Spring of ’13 and that was concert production. And then I taught at NYU Clive Davis this past spring. That was a branding course. This fall I taught at NYU Steinhart, again as an adjunct professor, and that was business structure of the music industry. Spring of ’18 I’m teaching as an adjunct professor at both NYU Clive Davis and NYU Steinhart.
How did you get into teaching?
NYU called and said ‘We’re interested in having someone in the music industry bringing this real-world, hands-on experience to our undergrads. I booked Garth Brooks for the first concert at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. I booked it with my old boss Rob Beckham. I was his assistant back in 1997 at WME in Nashville. I wanted my students to see what went into the production of an 80,000-person concert, because there’s not a lot of artists that can sell those tickets. Those are the kind of things that I think the students will never forget and it also builds camaraderie.
Have you had any mentors in the industry?
Hands down Marsha Vlasic at Artist Group International and Cara Lewis at CLG. They’ve really paved the way for women. I was booking shows with Cara when I had my first company,Mad Booking, that I started in 1999. I booked Eminem at Voodoo Music Festival in 2000. I booked Voodoo for its first three years. In 1999, I booked Moby with Marsha Vlasic. She said ‘You have to trust me. Moby is going to explode.’ She was right.
For the industry, your current company MAC Presents has a female-heavy staff.
I am a huge supporter of women. Having gone to an all-girls school really instills that you can do anything. It’s really where I got the foundation to be able to be where I am today and to have the confidence to be in, let’s be honest, a male-dominated industry. There’s not a lot of female executives who own their own company. There’s there’s only a handful of us. There’s some very high powered female executives in the industry but they don’t necessarily own their own companies. I think that’s why I’ve been so close to Marsha since she has owned her own agency for years.
We all stuck together. There is a group of women in the industry that I’ve come up with. We came up the ranks together, supported one another and we prop each other up. If you look at the women who have been in this industry for 20 plus years, you never hear stories where they are tearing each other down. We’re all helping one another.
Can you talk a bit about MAC Presents?
I started MAC Presents in my dining room in Nashville in August of 2004 to be the bridge between corporate America and the music industry. I felt there was a huge void. In 2004, according to IEG’s sponsorship report music sponsorships was a $550 million business. In 2017, it will reach $1.5 billion. Besides streaming revenues there’s not really anything in the industry that’s tripled in value. I wanted to try to be a leader in that new revenue space, but I didn’t want to just be transactional. There’s a lot of people that do brand partnerships. There’s very few people that do the execution on the deals. So that’s why we are a music experiential agency.
We’re just kind of rocking right along and working on projects with Southwest, Nielsen, Samsung and with Citi. We’re working with Foo Fighters and then working on Cara Lewis’s entire roster. I’m really proud of the Khalid/Forever 21 deal that we did this year. I’m really proud of all the stuff we did last year with Chance the Rapper with the H&M Kenzo deal. All of the sponsorships around his Magnificent Coloring day festival.
Do you foresee any challenges ahead for the music industry?
No. I think we have so many opportunities with technology, data, streaming, and with brands. Music sponsorships are still the red-headed stepchild versus sports, where sponsorships are a $90 billion-plus business. We have a long way to go and we have a huge growth opportunity. So I’m more energized about where my little world sits within the music industry probably than I’ve ever been. It’s an exciting time. But I think the key to a successful partnership between an artist and a brand is that it has to be authentic and it has to be creative. Then it has to be executed well. Otherwise it’s just a really expensive secret.
Is there anything about the music business you wish you could change?
More women owning businesses in the music industry. There are a lot of amazing, unbelievable, inspiring female executives. Whether it is Jacqueline Saturn, Michele Anthony, Sharon Dastur or Allison Smith at BMI. There are some huge executives who are female, but I would like to see more female business owners as well.
What bands are you into right now?
I love love love Judah & the Lion. They are one of my favorites as well as Khalid.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I love hip-hop. I’m a horrible singer, but I love to rap in the car when I’m by myself. And that I have an obsession with fruit tea. Being from the south, I always have a glass of fruit tea or ice tea with me.
Do you have a prized piece of memorabilia?
My most prized piece of memorabilia is an autographed photo of Jay-Z that Danny Clinch shot. I love that I’ve done so much work with Danny Clinch. I’ve always loved Jay-Z and I booked him to play Vanderbilt’s homecoming in 2009. That was a big moment for me.
If you could time travel to see any show, who would you see?
I would go back and see Led Zeppelin in 1971. That was two years before I was born. That was the height of their fame.
Is there a song that is stuck in your head?
There’s one song that is always stuck in my head. It’s one of my favorite songs. It’s the Rolling Stones’ “Beast of Burden.” When I did the sponsorships for the Rolling Stones’ 50 & Counting tour in 2013, Citi was the sponsor. Being able to go on that tour was one of those moments when you realize you’ve hit a benchmark for success. Even though I had been in the industry almost 20 years at that point, being able to work on that tour with the Rolling Stones and winning the Billboard Concert Marketing and Promotion award and a Clio award was really special to me. I went to all those Rolling Stones concerts growing up with my dad. My dad has probably been to 60 Rolling Stones concerts. I have probably been to, not including the 2013 tour, 10 or 12 shows.
Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet, that you would like to?
I really want to work with Adele, but I don’t think she is very interested in working on brand partnerships. I went to a bunch of her shows on the tour and I went as a fan. When people in the music industry tell you, I bought a concert ticket and I sat in my seat the whole show, that they are really passionate about the music and about that specific artist.