Jody Gerson knew she had a knack for identifying future stars even when she was just “Xeroxing sheet music and lead sheets” for a publisher in her first post-college job. She went on to prove it at major publishing companies like Warner/Chappell and Sony/ATV, signing 14-year-old Alicia Keys in 1996 and Norah Jones in 2003, among other promising young talent.
For the past four years, Gerson has headed Universal Music Publishing Group, which she helped break free from its traditionally behind-the-scenes role and become “not a passive participant but an active one, in artists’ and songwriters’ careers.” Upon entering UMPG, Gerson immediately started tearing down silos between departments like artist development and marketing; she also expanded UMPG’s sync team and ensured film and TV deals with major studios become a centerpiece to the company’s growth strategy. Gerson added budding superstars like Post Malone, Tierra Whack, and Billie Eilish to the existing roster of legacy hits like Paul Simon, Billie Joel, and Elton John, nixing the company’s habit of “only signing sure things.” Under her stewardship, UMPG has boosted its revenue by 40%, and it crossed the billion-dollar mark for the first time in 2018.
“Fortunately, our bets on new talent have been right more than they’ve been wrong,” Gerson says — modestly, since it’s her own keen talent-scouting instincts that’ve locked down many of those bets. Gerson also believes that music publishers, despite being traditionally more of a behind-the-scenes business than their glitzy record-label counterparts, can use their relationships to other industries to greatly boost the value of their music. “In publishing, I get to hold artists up. I get to support artists and songwriters, not just think of them as a brand,” she says.
As one of the music industry’s top female executives, Gerson says she is conscious of her status and wants to use it to motivate young women in the business — just as she had to be encouraged into her leadership role herself, originally. ”For me, power is the ability to empower others,” Gerson says. “I had to be pushed into this job by other women who said I could do it. I didn’t know I’d be a great chairman. But now that I’ve done it — I could do anything.”