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Making Music (And Profits) With Jody Gerson

Haley Paskalides  |  March 11, 2024

How Jody Gerson transformed Universal Music Publishing Group and is working to make the music industry more inclusive for women.

Music is ever-present in our lives, from our morning exercise routines until bed. And we all have a “life soundtrack” of songs that transport us to a moment or an era — one note and you’re right back there. Music is also a multi-billion dollar business… But who runs this business? Despite so many of the biggest performers being women — Taylor Swift, Alicia Keys, Billie Eilish, and Lana Del Rey to name a few, the industry itself has long suffered from a lack of women and diversity — not only on the talent side but also on the executive side. 

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One of the most powerful longstanding players in this business is Jody Gerson,  Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group. She’s the first woman ever to hold the position at a major music publisher. Since joining UMPG in 2015, she’s also transformed the company, which has now surpassed $2 billion dollars in revenue. 

Gerson fell in love with music from a young age, at her father’s nightclub in New Jersey. 

“I saw the greatest entertainers of that time from Frank Sinatra to Diana Ross and the Supremes to The Temptations to Ray Charles,” Gerson says. “I also have to say I was somewhat precocious, and would watch the entertainer backstage as they were getting ready to go on stage. Some people threw up because they were so nervous. Some people practice their chords. So I started to understand from a young age how artists feel, how artists think, and the anxiety of an artist. And I really feel like that prepared me for this job.”

After college, Jody Gerson moved to New York City knowing that she wanted to work in the music business. She ended up landing a job at Chappell Music as the archivist, and it was there, among the lyric sheets for old New York songwriters, that she learned to identify a hit song. 

“I think we all feel it in a way. What was it about the song that you fell in love with your partner to? What was the big high school prom song? Simply, it’s about hearing a song and remembering it,” Gerson says. She also says the key is to listen to the melody first. If you can hum the melody and combine it with a profound lyric, that’s what makes a hit song. 

Now as Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, she is working to make the industry more inclusive for women. In 2019, she co-founded a global nonprofit “She Is The Music,” with Alicia Keys. The organization hosts songwriting camps and offers mentorship programs to increase opportunity for all women in the industry. 

“Women who want to be in the music business tolerated a lot of bad behavior for many years. I believe that women will not have the kind of success we want to have in business unless we support each other,” Gerson says. “So, our solution is to create communities of women who support each other and who push each other into position. And when they’re feeling like, ‘Oh my God, can I do that job?’ We come together and we say ‘You absolutely can do that job, and here’s how you’re going to do it because we’re going to help you.’” 


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